The Gambia is a narrow country that stretches inland from the beautiful West African coast, following the course of the majestic River Gambia. It may be the smallest country in mainland Africa, sandwiched between north and south Senegal, but it's beginning to be noticed by the British package tour trade as an exciting alternative to the crowded resorts of Europe. It has also gained fame for its incredibly varied and accessible bird life.

The Gambia's emergence as a tourist destination was aided by the best-selling book turned television series , by Alex Haley, detailing the life of the author's grandfather, allegedly captured in the country and transported to the US as a slave. The book and television series caused a sensation in the 70s and put The Gambia on the map.

The capital of The Gambia, Banjul, stands on the south side of the magnificent river estuary, a worthy commercial centre that for most tourists is little more than the gateway to the hotels spread along the 25 miles (40km) of beautiful sandy coastline.

These palm-fringed Atlantic-washed beaches have been dubbed 'The Smiling Coast', as much for their tropical splendour as for the friendliness of the local people, who welcome visitors whole-heartedly at the nature reserves, quality hotels, and craft markets. All this is just six hours' flying time from London, close to the equator, on the same latitude as Barbados.

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