World Borders: My Crazy Adventure from Dakar in Senegal to Serrekunda, The Gambia

World Borders: My Crazy Adventure from Dakar in Senegal to Serrekunda, The Gambia

World Borders: My Crazy Adventure from Dakar in Senegal to Serrekunda, The Gambia

This is an odd entry in my world borders series. It sounds really easy and it should be, but it turned into a topsy turvy adventure and I really didn’t know what was ahead, looking back it appears to have run smoothly, though on the day it wasn’t quite like that! The Gambia is completely surrounded by Senegal and is widely regarded as the smallest country in Africa. The only way to overland into The Gambia is therefore through Senegal. I was out in Senegal and the Gambia on the #MSMLostLuggage challenge with Money Supermarket. It was time to cross another border. I wanted to get from N’Gor beach in Dakar all the way to Serrekunda in The Gambia.

World Borders: My Crazy Adventure from Dakar in Senegal to Serrekunda, The Gambia

World Borders: My Crazy Adventure from Dakar in Senegal to Serrekunda, The Gambia

While based at the cosy Maison Abaka by N’Gor beach in Dakar, Senegal, I made the choice to head south to the town of Karang which is on the Senegal to Gambia border. With no laptop, a quick internet check and a gaze at a handy Lonely Planet in the guesthouse, it looked like an 8 -10 hour trip. It also looked fairly straight forward, for a long term overland backpacker like myself I assumed this would be an easy one.

Breakfast at Maison Abaka Dakar Senegal before the journey to the Gambia

Breakfast at Maison Abaka Dakar Senegal before the journey to the Gambia

I mentioned it to the staff at Maison Abaka over breakfast and the looks I got were one of surprise. I got these reactions:
– it will take you a minimum of two days
– Islamic extremists now control the entire border
– that trip is not safe
– take a flight instead

Senegal

Senegal

The Gambia

The Gambia

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eh??? Ouch??? What??? There is no way I am flying into the Gambia. I had lined up an excellent 5 star resort for the next two nights at Coco Ocean Spa Resort. I’m backpacking this overland, and now I learn the border is CLOSED!

Relaxing at N'Gor beach, Senegal

Relaxing at N’Gor beach, Senegal

I was so shocked. Everybody I spoke to said I was mad to attempt the border crossing on my own. I couldn’t believe it but yet I didn’t trust even the hardest Senegalese that I met. Time was ticking. I was aware in my mind that the border closed at 7pm. At least the border I planned to cross. I was also aware that the last Barra to Banjul ferry would be around 8pm.

World Borders: Looks like an easy journey from Dakar to Banjul right?

World Borders: Looks like an easy journey from Dakar to Banjul right?

Pretty crazy that these doubts that people had, now scared me and even worse, had lost me time. It was now 12 noon. I should have started my journey at 8 am. It was time to act quickly and I decided to cancel my trip to Gambia that day on the spur of the moment even though I was 100% that people were lying and were wrong – the border MUST be open and it must be safe. But everyone had scared me, rightly or wrongly, I didn’t want the risks anymore. So I got away from N’Gor beach, I moved hotels to another place in downtown Dakar. I hopped in a taxi to the Hotel Faidherbe, as I was aware of it and it was close to the last hotel I’d be staying in on this trip, the Hotel Baraka (which was full that night). I got inside the hotel and the place looked cool. I loved the location downtown and the staff were nice.

Hotel Faidherbe, Dakar, Senegal

Hotel Faidherbe, Dakar, Senegal

I decided to stay for the night and make my decision on the Gambia trip probably for tomorrow morning, it was now 1 pm. “Bed for a night please” says the travelling Northern Irishman. “Sorry Sir, full tonight.” came the reply. Yes they were serious.

The bar in Hotel Faidherbe

The bar in Hotel Faidherbe

In that case I asked “do you reckon the Senegal to Gambia border is safe today?” I think the lady on reception knew I was a long term traveller. “I think you can handle it” she said. My mind was made up again. I stepped outside and grabbed the first yellow taxi I could find. I was going today, I was going to do this border and forget what people had told me! Time was ticking…

Here’s a complete overview of how I did it.

12 noon – Maison Abaka N’Gor Beach – I left and walked onto the street and got a yellow and black taxi to the downtown area for 2,000 West African Francs. My driver took me to Hotel Faidherbe.

Hotel Faidherbe in downtown Dakar

Hotel Faidherbe in downtown Dakar

12.30 pm – I realised Hotel Faidherbe had no space so the best option was to walk onto the street and get a taxi to the shared sept-place and bus depot, known as Gare Routiere Pikine Baux Maricheres. Basically it’s a bus and taxi station for anyone leaving Dakar for long distance journeys. I got a taxi for 2,000 West African Francs. Locals pay a lot less and you also do when you taxi share, but I was in a rush for time now.

Taxi from downtown to Gare Routieres

Taxi from downtown to Gare Routieres

12.53 pm – I arrive at Gare Routiere Pikine Baux Maricheres and locate the seven seater car that is heading to Karang by the Gambia border. This is a large car known as a “Sept Place” (7 seats).

Gare Routiere Pikine Baux Maricheres

Gare Routiere Pikine Baux Maricheres

Gare Routiere Pikine Baux Maricheres

Gare Routiere Pikine Baux Maricheres

Gare Routiere Pikine Baux Maricheres

Gare Routiere Pikine Baux Maricheres

Basically once the seven seats are filled, then off we go. I check the price with the other passengers and it is 6,000 West African Francs all the way to Karang, to the border. It seems OK to me. What is weird is the signs above say “Banjul” (which is the capital of Gambia) but I know there cannot be a car that goes all the way to Banjul, as when I researched it, there are two rivers on route. The reason it says Banjul is just to make people clear that it is heading for the Gambia border.

Sept place section bound for Banjul

Sept place section bound for Banjul

Sept place section bound for Banjul

Sept place section bound for Banjul

Sept place section bound for Banjul

Sept place section bound towards Banjul

6,000 West African Francs for the ride

6,000 West African Francs for the ride

At this point, I am so so sure that the people trying to put me off were wrong. I am inside a taxi share to the border, my fellow passengers are also going to the border. So the border, must be open and not dangerous. Knew it. I just knew it! But we have to wait until the car fills up of course, and then we have a hell of a journey south coming up!

Waiting at the sept-place section in Dakar

Waiting at the sept-place section in Dakar

Waiting at the sept-place section in Dakar

Waiting at the sept-place section in Dakar

Waiting at the sept-place section in Dakar

Waiting at the sept-place section in Dakar

Waiting at the sept-place section in Dakar

Waiting at the sept-place section in Dakar

13.59 pm – Finally by around 2 pm, the car is full and off we go. We have left Dakar behind and drive south to a town called M’bour.

Dakar to Mbour

Dakar to Mbour

Waiting at the sept-place section in Dakar

Waiting at the sept-place section in Dakar

Waiting at the sept-place section in Dakar

Waiting at the sept-place section in Dakar

Waiting at the sept-place section in Dakar

Waiting at the sept-place section in Dakar

14.40 pm – A brief stop at M’Bour where the driver fills the car up with fuel. It’s pretty tight in the back but I have no luggage with me as I’m on the Lost Luggage challenge but I did bring my iPod and I have a small notebook to jot things down on.

M'Bour to Foundiougne

M’Bour to Foundiougne

Arrival in Foundiougne

Arrival in Foundiougne

17.00 pm – By 5 pm exactly we arrive by a river. I had hoped that this was somewhere near the border to the Gambia, but alas, after three hours we have only just arrived at Foundiougne. This is a small port in Senegal that must be crossed by ferry.

Foundiougne, Senegal

Foundiougne, Senegal

Foundiougne, Senegal

Foundiougne, Senegal

Foundiougne, Senegal

Foundiougne, Senegal

Foundiougne, Senegal

Foundiougne, Senegal

There is a charge of 100 West African Francs for the ferry, and we wait around 54 minutes here. I bought a pineapple juice and that was it.

Pineapple juice at Foundiougne

Pineapple juice at Foundiougne

17.54 pm – The ferry crossing is calm and peaceful and I meet Fatima from my sept-place and she recommends I don a life jacket so I do. She is so shocked I am travelling alone and not backpacking (i.e. no backpack), all I have is a small bag to put my coat and toiletries in (a bag I picked up in Dakar). I am the only white person in sight, of course.

Boarding the ferry at Foundiougne, Senegal

Boarding the ferry at Foundiougne, Senegal

With Fatima Boarding the ferry at Foundiougne, Senegal

With Fatima Boarding the ferry at Foundiougne, Senegal

Boarding the ferry at Foundiougne, Senegal

Boarding the ferry at Foundiougne, Senegal

Boarding the ferry at Foundiougne, Senegal

Boarding the ferry at Foundiougne, Senegal

Ferry ticket

Ferry ticket

Boarding the ferry at Foundiougne, Senegal

Boarding the ferry at Foundiougne, Senegal

Crossing Senegal by boat at Foundiougne, no backpack

Crossing Senegal by boat at Foundiougne, no backpack

The ferry

The ferry

18.14 pm – We arrived on the other side at Foundiougne. The ferry only takes 20 minutes and we motor on south, heading for Karang which is the border exit point for Senegal. Darkness falls as we crawl slowly to the border.

Goats on the road between Foundiougne and Karang

Goats on the road between Foundiougne and Karang

River by the road between Foundiougne and Karang

River by the road between Foundiougne and Karang

19.01 pm – A passport checkpoint just as it has turned dark. It’s a rocky road and desert terrain and we pass some scattered villages.

Final village in daylight on the road between Foundiougne and Karang

Final village in daylight on the road between Foundiougne and Karang

Leaving Senegal at Karang
20.09 pm –
We arrive in Karang and everyone exits the sept-place. It’s dark. Fatima and I are both heading to Serrekunda in the Gambia and she is interested in my travel story, and speaks perfect English and French so we exit Senegal together. We walk in the darkness to a booth on the right hand side. The staff in here are getting ready to close for the night. It was too dark to take photos, but on my way back across the same border 4 days later, I took these photos at the same border, in daylight, the next few photos show the border by day.

This is the exit point for Senegal at Karang

This is the exit point for Senegal at Karang

Weirdly though, everything runs really smoothly. I have no backpack, just this small bag with my coat and toiletries in it (which I accumulated in Dakar), so there is no bag check, they just look at my passport and stamp me out. The border exit from Senegal side was easy. There is no protest, no block, no delay. It’s everything a tourist dreams of on these crossings. It was easy. I am stamped out of Senegal at Secteur Frontaller de Karang:

Exit stamp for Senegal at Karang

Exit stamp for Senegal at Karang

And this is what the area at the border looks like during the day.

Senegal departure point

Senegal departure point

Senegal departure point

Senegal departure point

Senegal departure point

Senegal departure point

Senegal departure point

Senegal departure point

On the night, I made a quick video just before getting stamped into Gambia – police saw me and told me to turn the video off but here it is quickly:

Arrival in Gambia at Karang (to Fass)
20.20 pm – After getting my exit stamp for Senegal, in the darkness we arrive on the Gambia side of the border, it’s a short walk to the immigration office on the right hand side to get our entry stamps. This is just south of Karang (Senegal) and the nearest Gambian village seems to be Fass (a bit further south). The guy looks at my British passport, I tell him I’m here for a month as a tourist and he stamps me in, no issues. However, I did mention that I was warned about this border and here is why – there are frequent protests, strikes and closures:

Senegal to Gambia Border Closed – March 2016

Senegal to Gambia Border Closed – April 2016

Senegal to Gambia Border Remains Closed – May 2016

Senegal to Gambia Border Re-opens – May 2016

So I was very lucky to have crossed on a day (night) where the border was open. This is a photo by day of the Gambia side of the border:

Day time on the Gambia side of the border

Day time on the Gambia side of the border

My entry stamp for the Gambia at Karang looked like this:

Entry stamp into the Gambia

Entry stamp into the Gambia

A guy that works here is called Suliman and I chat to him once I have arrived in the Gambia. We get a photo together in the passport check room.

Arrival in the Gambia - Suliman and I

Arrival in the Gambia – Suliman and I

He tells us that there is a chance we can make the last ferry (supposed to be at 7pm). I’m still with Fatima at this point and we are ushered into a car share from this Gambian entry point.

Arrival in the Gambia

Arrival in the Gambia

You can also change your money here, from USD, Euros and Central African Francs into the Gambian Dalasi.

Gambian Dalasi

Gambian Dalasi

20.35 pm – Karang to Barra – So Fatima and I are now in a shared car and it leaves the border at 8.35 pm. Fatima tells me there is one final boat tonight from Barra to Banjul and that we should make it. If we miss that, we are screwed. We cannot cross the river and will need to spend the night in Barra. The shared taxi is 50 Dalasi each, which seems reasonable enough to me, it moves away pretty fast and zooms us down to the port town of Barra in 25 minutes or so.

Barra ferry port, Gambia

Barra ferry port, Gambia

Barra ferry port, Gambia

Barra ferry port, Gambia

21.09 pm – Arrival in Barra – we get to the ferry port at Barra and run for our lives. The last ferry has closed its gates and is boarding but we need to buy a ticket. I run to the counter and get two tickets for Fatima and I and we dash onto the ferry. It waits for us and we made it!! The ferry costs 25 Dalasi each and is a short 25 minute ride in the darkness across the river. I find the adrenalin rush incredible. I’m happy again and we cruise across the river with a glorious sky above.

Ferry ticket Barra to Banjul

Ferry ticket Barra to Banjul

Ferry from Barra to Banjul

Ferry from Barra to Banjul

Ferry from Barra to Banjul

Ferry from Barra to Banjul

Ferry from Barra to Banjul

Ferry from Barra to Banjul

21.42 pm – We arrive by ferry into Banjul, capital city of the Gambia. With a bit of hindsight and needing some decent luxury by the Atlantic Ocean, I had decided not to stay in the capital. Instead I decided to tour the sights of Banjul on a day trip, but base myself by tha Atlantic in Serrekunda at the Coco Ocean Resort and Spa. Serrekunda is in Senegambia Strip so I get a taxi share (with Fatima still with me) to a junction near here. At 50 Dalasi, this is the dearest taxi share of the night.

Arrival in Banjul in darkness

Arrival in Banjul in darkness

Getting the taxi in Banjul

Getting the taxi in Banjul

22.13 pm – We get another taxi from this junction to Serrekunda, where we pop into Sally’s Bar (a 24 hour bar). I grab a can of Coke (of all things) and Fatima buys some food and we wait on the final taxi share of the evening that will drop me off at the Coco Ocean Resort at Kololi, Serrekunda and continue on for Fatima and the other passengers.

Sally's Bar

Sally’s Bar

The final two taxis cost just 28 Dalasi and I was dropped off just before 11 pm at my resort. Phew!

23.00 pm – I check in to the absolutely stunning Coco Ocean Resort and Spa and when I see my Royal Suite here, I know it has been worth it! I check into my amazing room, get some fresh fruit biscuit and tea and then I head to the bar for my first Gambian beer and some bar snacks! Check out my article on my stay at Coco Ocean!

Relaxing at the stunning Coco Ocean Resort

Relaxing at the stunning Coco Ocean Resort

I was pretty happy yo try my first Gambian beer, JulBrew that night!

First JulBrew in the Gambia

First JulBrew in the Gambia

What a day and yes it was worth it, but please please be aware that this border really does close and that the journey is not easy if you are new to travel, it will take a lot of patience and waiting around and don’t talk to any scammers at the border points. There are also some corrupt officials at the border crossings. I’ve grown to selectively ignore them – they beehived for me when they saw that I was white and they left when they saw that I wasn’t giving them any time. Safe travels!

Senegal Gambia border Karang to Fass

Senegal Gambia border Karang to Fass

Here are my videos from this crazy day of border crossing from Senegal to the Gambia:

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About Jonny Blair

I'm Jonny Blair, a travelling Northern Irishman. Since leaving my hometown a decade ago I have managed to visit over 100 countries and over 600 towns or cities across all 7 continents. Along the way I have worked in countless jobs! Join my journey on Don't Stop Living - a lifestyle of travel as I provide you with tips and inspiration to live your travel dreams! Safe travels! Follow me on Jonny Blair Google Plus
This entry was posted in Africa, Dakar, Gambia, MSMLostLuggage, Senegal, Serrekunda, World Borders. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to World Borders: My Crazy Adventure from Dakar in Senegal to Serrekunda, The Gambia

  1. Ray says:

    What a crazy day of travel that must have been! Still love how a few people warned you that “Islamic extremists” had complete control of the border. If that were the case, then it would have been all over the news. The random strikes make sense now as to why they didn’t want you to overland it over to the Gambia.
    Ray recently posted…Backpacking Banff – The Drive from CalgaryMy Profile

  2. Jonny Blair says:

    Hi Ray, it was all over the news, that was the thing. But locals get scared and there were sadly no other backpackers about so I had to make a choice of should I stay or should I go. My instinct and the fact that the hotel was full made up my choice. Safe travels. Jonny

  3. Pingback: The Day I...Got Loads of Spots on My Head in Senegal - Don't Stop Living

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