The Gambia's sleepy river capital, Banjul, and the surrounding area (the towns and beaches around the capital are sometimes collectively referred to as Kombo) offer good food, beaches and great bird-watching, all of which can make it worth a stay of a couple of days. The area is the focus of the package-tour industry, so it offers plenty of accommodations and services (which will be particularly welcome if you've been spending time in less-developed parts of Africa).

While in town, visit the Albert Market (African market) and the National Museum (prehistoric, historic and ethnographic displays). Religious sites include the interesting Catholic cathedral, the smaller St. Mary's Anglican Cathedral (it has a corrugated metal roof) and the Great Mosque (the majority of Gambians are Muslims).

Changes in the political landscape of Banjul have brought additions to the physical landscape. Completed in 1996, a monument called Arch 22 commemorates Yahya Jammeh's 1994 coup. The 115-ft-/35-m-high arch, complete with eight Doric columns, contains a museum full of such underwhelming artifacts as the chair Jammeh sat in to announce his coup. In front of the arch, a large bronze sculpture depicts a Gambian soldier rescuing (or, as cynics suggest, kidnapping) a child.

Be on the lookout for informal soccer games, games of cricket at the Victoria Recreation Ground, cows coming home from pasture (via the beach) and people preparing fish for the market. On weekend afternoons, you can see wrestling matches (sign up for one of the organized trips that leave from the hotels).

Resorts can be found nearby in Bakau, Fajara, Kotu and Kololi. Serekunda, a town just south of the capital, has a more authentic West African atmosphere than the resorts, and it's only a 10-minute ride to the beaches. Local tour companies operate a variety of day trips and cruises, including bird-watching excursions, trips into Senegal and ventures to nearby Bijilo Forest Monkey Park, Katchically Crocodile Pond and Abuko Nature Reserve. Abuko is an impressive park 15 mi/20 km southwest of Banjul and may be visited on an organized tour, but we prefer to go by bush taxi or minibus so we can walk the reserve's trails in relative solitude. Most visitors will see red colobus and green vervet monkeys, Gambian sun squirrels and other small wildlife. However, far more amazing are the 200-plus species of birds that either live there permanently or winter there. A stream surrounded by a forest runs through the center of the reserve. Banjul is 125 mi/200 km west of Georgetown.

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