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.
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.
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
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
And this is what the area at the border looks like during the day.
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:
My entry stamp for the Gambia at Karang looked like this:
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.
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.
You can also change your money here, from USD, Euros and Central African Francs into the 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
I was pretty happy yo try my first Gambian beer, JulBrew that night!
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!
Here are my videos from this crazy day of border crossing from Senegal to the Gambia:
11 thoughts on “World Borders: My Crazy Adventure from Dakar in Senegal to Serrekunda, The Gambia”
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 Calgary
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
What a useful info! Thanks a lot! Short question – is it possible to cath sept place in Dakar at the night going to Karang?
Hi Ilya, thanks for the comment. I was there in 2016 and there were many problems at the time, I don’t think there were any night sept places back then, but things hopefully will have changed for you. I had to do it in the daytime. Safe travels. Jonny
I think you make a simple overland african journey sound much more difficult and dangerous than it really is (written by someone who is presntly travelling all through gambia senegal and mauretania and guinea bissau by sept place with my small children..)
Hi Jakob, NO you lied. This was horrendous, a horrible journey – if you did it – good luck dressing it up as a dream. A terrible journey during the time where there was a war on the border and the border was closed. Good luck with your travels but please don’t lie to me and cause my suicide like the other liars. I am probably the last honest travel writer alive. Safe travels. Jonny
I found now your blog and:
In 2017 I made the same trip as you, from Dakar to Banjul, though with a rented car.
In 2016 I made a similar trip though from Kaolack to Farafenni and across the Gambia river to Soma.
In Kaolack I met two Germans who made the same trips with shared taxi. A trip from Dakar to Banjul, back from Soma to Kaolack.
No one advised me or they to take that route, no one has said anything like you write about.
The only thing that was complicated was to get a ferry ticket and wait time. And crowd and bureaucracy on the border.
Good luck with your other trips if you do some one. Michaela
Hi Michaela, thanks for the comment. Yes it was a very safe and easy trip in the end despite the protests and liars about border closing and riots that I was told about. I was there around the time of the protests (May 2016) and was warned strictly by at least 10 people (in Dakar) DO NOT try to cross the land / water border! But I did it anyway. It seems the border does close just after darkness but you could probably bribe or talk your way across. Safe travels. Jonny
I travelled Dakar to Banjul by Sept-Place on Tuesday 31-DEC-2019
First off thanks for your initial post big help for me to do this trip.
Started at 8:00 a.m. with a taxi from my hotel to Gare Routiere Pikine Baux Maricheres, cost CFA 3,000 with help of hotel manager. In two days in Dakar CFA 2,500 was the lowest taxi price I got. Hotel manager told taxi driver to drop me off inside the gates of the bus station and not outside, this helps reduce touts. Some one did come to assist with luggage but I told them I was OK.
Asked drivers where the Banjul taxi’s were and walked over. The ticket seller (different person to driver) wanted to put me in the back seat of the sept-place, did that once, not doing that again. So I was moved to the next car and in basic French said how much for the front seat, said CFA 8,000 including one bag in the back. When I eventually got my change it was only CFA 1,000, told me CFA 1,000 was his commission, still happy to be in the front seat.
Had arrived at 8:30 a.m. was 9:30 a.m. by the time we filled up and left. Leaving Dakar was slow due to heavy traffic, also on main road not on motorway. Had two rest stops where you could run and piss by the side of the street, no real lavatory. Arrived at Karang at 3:30 p.m.
Good points are there is no ferry crossing at Foundiougne, looks like they have a bridge now.
Was dropped right by Senegal immigration, so no 1 km walk. Leaving Senegal was easy I was put in the foreigners line with 0 people and got stamped out easily.
Walked over to Gambia immigration/police, 50 meters away. They just write my details in a log book, no computers or scanners. The building is old and run down and you have to go to a room in the back. Most of the staff do not have uniforms so they look like they could be touts and not government officials. On the way out I was stopped by a plains clothes man for a drug search. Got worried it was a shke down, but actually was genuine search and he did not take anything, most interested in my emergency medication of Pepto-Bismol and other pills. Note Gambia immigration staff will try and sell your tour ask if you want to marry a local woman, etc. not sure of this is a joke or supplementary income for them.
Changed money in one of the “banks” (small office not a roving tout)recommended by the plain clothes customs office, rate was quite good.
Met one of the guys who was in my sept-place we walked over to the minivan area to go to Barra. He tried to negotiate a regular taxi but price was high, two of us ended up in a small minivan. CAF 50 to Barra. Driver tried to charge me 75 Dalasi, but the local guy spoke up and told him to charge 50 Dalasi only.
Dropped near the ferry in Barra, walked the wrong way initially but driver pointed the right way to me. At the ticket office walk through a maze of barriers to get the ticket CFA 25 for me CFA 10 for my bag. Walked into waiting area, big mistake as I should have walked out the back to the ferry immediately. I started trying to open my bag when a customs officer came and said he wanted to look at my bags. Two guys look at my bags and made me count all of the cash in different currencies I had, they were very polite and not pushy, then asked for GBP 20 to help them with living costs. Noticed the customs officer mentioned Manchester so changed the topic to football and got the story of how he has switched from Man U to Liverpool and then left quickly and got going out the back of the waiting room.
Bordered the ferry which took about 20/30 mins to cross.
Got a taxi to my hotel in Bakau for 200 Dalasi, driver started at 400 Dalasi, this was an exclusive taxi for me. Tip I had been given was walk away as far as possible from ferry terminal and then ask the last taxi you see to get a good price. Also avoids getting stuck in congestion.
Hi Rohana, thanks for the update, I am glad you had a fun time in Senegal and The Gambia. It was a difficult border crossing if I remember right but I got through it. Stay safe. Jonny