Maybe you haven’t heard, but there’s big things happening in Janjanbureh. We asked Dave Adams to tell us more…
For those of you not familiar with the place, Janjanbureh offers something completely different to the coastal regions of Gambia and perhaps we should start by saying that it’s not for everyone. If you want a swimming pool, imported fillet steaks and a nightclub, then you’re going to be disappointed.
However, if you like amazing wildlife, a mellow vibe and simple pleasures like sleeping under the stars and if you want to really experience a traditional Gambian welcome, then it’s the place for you. The River Gambia National Park (aka Baboon Islands) and UNESCO world heritage site of Wassu Stone Circles are both just a short boat ride away and the town itself boasts a unique colonial history and a vibrant local culture.
While previously, it could fairly be said that there was a shortage of organised entertainment for the kind of guest who likes to keep very busy, an exciting partnership between the community, the Government and the EU-funded The Gambia Youth Empowerment Project YEP is changing that situation. A range of projects are being developed that aim to attract adventurous, active travellers.
For example, over the last six months, local tour guides association JustAct have been mapping walking and cycling trails that visitors will be able to use independently or with a guide to explore the island’s fascinating history and further afield to local villages.
In a complimentary project, youths have been trained and supported to work with local communities to make the visitor experience less invasive and more engaging. The village of Tabanani, located a beautiful 7km cycle ride and short river crossing from Janjanbureh, is one of the villages to benefit from the community based tourism initiative. Now when you visit the village, you can sip cold wonjo juice while you chat with local craftspeople, learn their skills and maybe grab yourself a bargain souvenir. A local guide with give you a tour, explain the history of the village and invite you to meet and chat with the community elders. This is a world away from the old style ‘village safaris’ that all too often seem to consist of tourists arriving like Father Christmas, throwing sweets out of the back of a vehicle to snotty-nosed children who’s only words of English are ‘Toubab, give me…’
One of the most exciting events has been the revival of the Janjanbureh Festival, something that had been discussed amongst the community ever since it stopped more than twenty years ago, but which didn’t happen until last year. Now called The Janjanbureh Kankurang Festival, this celebration of the local masquerade culture receives support and visitors from various countries around the world and is set to become a vibrant part of every year’s tourism calendar.
For the adventure traveller, local social enterprise business Fair Play, Gambia River Adventures has been developing a range of kayaking expeditions whereby guests stay in villages or camp in the bush along the river bank. They also offer private riverboat charters that allow guests to journey the length of the country, sleeping onboard surrounded by unspoilt nature and visiting the best that the provinces have to offer on the way.
The development of these activities has gone hand in hand with workshops and training for local service providers in customer service, hotel management, catering and tour guiding. The partnership believes that Janjanbureh can be both an attractive eco-tourism destination in its own right and also serve as a convenient, safe, English-speaking stopping off point for overland travellers and backpackers heading further into West Africa. It is still early days in the revival of Janjanbureh as a must-visit tourism destination and there are other exciting projects under development, so watch this space.
If you haven’t yet checked out Janjanbureh, why not plan a trip for the 2019 / 2020 season? Don’t wait too long to book though, we’re all expecting a busy year!