Holiday travel to distant, more unusual destinations is no longer just the remit of the seasoned adventurer. With the expansion of cheap flight options, more and more resorts, that were previously “off the radar” for the traditional holidaymaker, are now available. The Gambia, situated on the west coast of Africa is one such option. The major benefit of this location is undoubtedly its climate, which boasts almost year round daily sunshine and very agreeable subtropical weather. Rainfall is negligible during the months November to May, however the rainy season months of July, August and September are best avoided. Average daytime temperatures along The Gambia’s Atlantic coast are a pleasant 24 degrees Centigrade with around 9 hours sunshine every day outside the rainy season.

The country sees itself as a viable alternative to winter Caribbean holidays in that it offers very similar weather without the disadvantages of long flights and big timezone changes. The Gambia operates on GMT meaning that jetlag is not a problem and the typical flying time from Europe departure airports is around six hours.

The authorities of The Gambia are very open about what the traveller can expect during their stay. They admit that the road system is in need of some repair, that street sellers can be a nuisance sometimes and that the local electricity supply may fail occasionally. These problems are in themselves part of the charm of the country. It is not a high-tech, over commercialised holiday destination, although with the many five star hotels and resorts, visitors will find all the creature comforts they need. Over 100,000 foreign visitors travel to The Gambia annually with half of those people coming from the UK.

Before I go on to describe the real attractions of this country I must point out that safari excursions, like those offered in other parts of Africa are not available and the coastline is also unsuitable for scuba diving due to strong Atlantic surf and undercurrents.

Regular flights to Banjul, the capital of The Gambia, leave from six UK airports currently, offering the traveller plenty of choice.

So what makes The Gambia an ideal winter getaway? Well obviously the weather is a big factor, but the unspoilt landscape together with the friendly local population serve to generate a charm rarely experienced in other holiday areas. The vast beaches are both dramatic and peaceful, food and drink is both high quality and reasonably priced and local culture is easy to experience. Because the country is still developing as a tourist resort, money goes a lot further there than in other, more developed resorts. Only forty years ago the number of tourists visiting the country could be measured in the hundreds but, despite rapid expansion since then, the authorities have been keen to maintain tight control over development. They have allocated specific areas of the coast for tourism development and restricted building heights to three stories to avoid the problems seen in the holiday hot spots of southern Spain and Portugal. There is a wide choice of high quality hotel accommodation and top class restaurants offer value for money when eating out.

For visitors who need more than long lazy days on beautiful beaches there are a number of popular excursion types to choose from. Although the traditional African safari is not an option, birdwatching trips can be spectacular, with the Tanbi Wetland Reserve proving popular due to its location just south of Bajul. The unspoilt Pirang Forest Park, the Makasutu Culture Forest and the ancient burial grounds at Wassu are all options for getting away from the beach.

Flights to The Gambia arrive at Banjul airport which is situation 20 km from the main town. Transfer is usually by taxi at a cost of around 10 pounds for a single journey. The airport itself was once a World War II Allied airfield, but a new terminal, opened in 1997, brought modern amenities.

Michael Baker