Should You Hire A Car in The Gambia?

I love hiring cars when I travel. There’s just something about the freedom that they offer that makes me feel alive. As my preferred method of travel, I tend to hire a car everywhere I go, and so when I came to booking my trip to The Gambia, it will come as no surprise that I was keen to hire a car for this trip too.

Except.

Except when I came to research car hire in The Gambia I was hit with a flurry of warnings. Every article I loaded up argued profusely against hiring a car in The Gambia. The roads were poor. The locals drive like loons. Cows are everywhere. It’s chaotic. The roadblocks are a headache. The take-home message was no, no, no, no, no – you should not hire a car in The Gambia.

Except.

Except I went ahead and hired a car anyway. And I survived.

In this article we’ve explore my personal experience with car hire in The Gambia.

Is Hiring a Car the Best way to Get Around The Gambia?

There are many ways you can explore The Gambia. Hiring a car is not the only option.

Let’s take a look at the other options available.

Tourist Taxi

The most popular way to get around The Gambia is to take a tourist taxi, also known as the green taxis.

They’re very easy to spot due to their striking green colours. These taxis are regulated and work with fixed price rates.

They are a pretty safe option but naturally are not the cheapest mode of transport in The Gambia.

As of 2019 the fixed rate for a tourist taxi from the airport to Senegambia (a 30 minute drive) is 800 Dalasis (£12).

Bush Taxi

Another mode of transport is to take a ‘bush taxi’. These are yellow taxis with green stripes. These are often taken by locals.

Whilst they are notably cheaper than tourist taxis, a key drawback of bush taxis is that they are often very old and in dubious condition. Many certainly wouldn’t pass a UK MOT.

Whilst in The Gambia I did see a couple of bush taxis at the side of the road with their bonnets open, an indicator that breakdowns can happen.

Gele Geles

These are shared minivans that are often packed with locals.

This is the cheapest form of transport in The Gambia.

The main drawback is that they aren’t the most comfortable ride so perhaps wouldn’t make for the most relaxing experience

What Are the Benefits of Hiring a Car in The Gambia?

With the abundance of taxi options available, why would you even want to hire a car in The Gambia?

There’s one key reason to hire a car – you can go wherever you want, whenever you want.

You can impulsively decide to go for a drive or visit a local town and if you see a place you like on the way, you can stop off there too.

Other benefits include the fact that you don’t need to wait around for a taxi you’ve ordered or haggle with a driver for the best price. You don’t need to scramble about as you give directions when a taxi driver gets lost. But mostly, you don’t have to follow a strict schedule.

A bush taxi being repaired after breaking down

How can I Hire a Car in The Gambia?

I’d recommend pre-booking a car online before your visit. There are many companies to choose from!

When hiring a car it’s incredibly important that you first check out a company’s reviews. Ideally you’re looking for all 5 star experiences. Be wary if you notice some 1 star reviews.

Your second step would be to check out their terms and conditions. Here are many questions you need to ask yourself and try to find the answers to:

Are there any hidden fees? Are there age restrictions? Do you need to pay for an additional driver? Does the company operate on a full to full basis (they give you the car with full petrol and you return it with full petrol)? Do you need to pay a deposit?

It’s also good to look through a company’s fleet to see what cars are available and their specifications. Important factors to look for are the age of the car, price per day, mileage and whether its automatic or manual.

If you cannot find any of the above information then you can always fire over an email.

When hiring a car, I always go for an automatic vehicle (personal choice) and ensure the vehicle has a low mileage (under 75,000 miles at least) and is only a few years old. Anything older than 5 years old would make me worry.

I hired a car through ‘AB Rent a Car’, one of the oldest rental companies in The Gambia. I was impressed with the car I received and had a seamless experience dealing with the company. My main advice would be that this company only take cash on arrival so make sure you have enough cash to pay for the car when you pick it up.

It’s also worth noting that AB Rent a Car (and main competitor Afriqcar) only allow you to travel 75kms per day otherwise you’d have to pay a mileage fee of € 0.21 cent extra per km for small cars or € 0.23 cent extra per km for a big car.

Can I Hire a Hatchback or do I Need a 4×4?

I hired a 4×4 because I wanted to be prepared for anything. Many roads in The Gambia are not tarred and contain many potholes. I would therefore recommend a 4×4 as the safer option.

Of course, a 4×4 has a higher price tag than a standard hatchback. For a large 4×4 you can expect to pay €72 per day compared to €33 for a small car.

It’s also worth noting that smaller cars may have restrictions on where they can go. The small car that AB Rent A Car offers is only suitable for driving along the coast.

What is the Cost of Hiring a Car in The Gambia?

As mentioned above, I paid €72 per day (£63) for my car rental. I got a nearly-new Mitsubishi Pajero which ran like a dream.

AB Rent a Car also offered me a Dacia Logan (compact 4×4) for €60 per day (£53).

Shopping around, these price is comparable to other rental companies. Afriqcars (another popular rental company in The Gambia) has a Dacia Duster for £55 per day and a Mitsubishi Pajero for £70 per day.

Afriqcar also offer cars at higher prices. You can even rent a Range Rover Evoque for £90 a day!

A bush taxi with a lot of luggage driving along the coast

Is it Safe to Hire a Car in The Gambia?

If you take relevant precautions and are aware of your surroundings then I would say yes, it is safe. However, I think only confident drivers should drive in The Gambia as it can be challenging at times.

I’m going to talk you through the precautions you should take if you choose to drive in The Gambia.

Don’t drive at night

I would advise against driving in the dark at all costs. There is no streetlighting and animals and people can cross roads at any point.

I also heard rumours of drunk driving at night so it’s best to avoid driving at this time.

Avoid busy towns and cities where possible

Towns and cities can be pretty hectic! There are cars, people and donkeys everywhere.

To drive through a town or city in The Gambia you have to know what’s going on all around you and be confident.

Cars will merge (or barge) onto the main road at any point. Expect this to happen whenever you spot a car coming towards the road, even if they are not indicating, and allow them to barge.

Driving slowly (but not timidly) through cities and towns is a must. Drivers may not indicate and could suddenly turn off the road at any point. There also may be sudden obstructions in the road such as a cow or donkey-driven cart.

Donkey-driven carts in busy Senegambia town

Take it slow

Most of the roads (except main roads) in The Gambia are not tarred. Sandy roads are full of bumps and potholes so you’ll want to take it slow to avoid any damage to your car.

Driving slowly is also important as animals and people may cross the road in front of you at any point.

Be aware of everything around you

Notice what’s going on and make a mental note of anything you see. A cow, a goat, a person. They may suddenly decide to cross and you will need to have fast reactions. I had to react quickly numerous times to spontaneous cow crossings!

Follow the law

Make sure you know what the speed limit is at all times and what the laws of the road are. Always follow basic driving laws.

Be safe

I think it goes without saying but always drive safely and in line with everything you have been taught.

Driving trough Sanyang village

Should I Be Worried about Roadblocks?

Whilst driving through The Gambia, it’s guaranteed you will encounter at least one roadblock. These are often carried out by the police but in certain parts of the country (such as near the borders) you can find military roadblocks.

Roadblocks are carried out at frequent checkpoints as a way for the police to monitor traffic and look-out for any trouble.

Online you’ll likely hear lots of warnings and horror stories about roadblocks. I know I was made to feel terrified of them but when I was in The Gambia and encountered them, every single one was fine.

I want to give you my best tips for roadblocks:

Make sure you have adequate documentation

This should be provided by your car rental company. AB Rent a Car gave me a 2-page document which I could give to the police to inspect at roadblocks. It confirmed that the car was legal and that we were renting it.

Be friendly

I think most issues with tourists at roadblocks occur when the tourist is rude. Acting like that will naturally put an officer on edge.

My protocol at every roadblock was to smile, wave and answer questions if required

99% of the time, I just smiled through my window and they’d wave me on without needing to speak to me. However, if they did stop me, I would politely speak to them and ask any questions they may have.

Only once, out of perhaps a dozen police roadblocks, did I hand my officer my documentation. When the officer saw it, he smiled and said he liked this document before handing it back and waving me on.

Don’t give bribes unless you absolutely have to

I see often on the internet that many police at the roadblocks just want bribes. They can hold you back for ages hoping for a bribe.

I personally didn’t encounter this.

I think if you have correct documentation then they can’t really hold you back. But I could be wrong.

Therefore if you do find yourself in a situation where you are being held, a bribe could be a last resort to get through.

I wouldn’t recommend bribing until absolutely necessary as it’s illegal and just encourages more illegal behaviour.

Be nice and show documentation first. Bribing is a last resort.

Final Thoughts

My experience of hiring a car in The Gambia was great. I selected a reliable car from a reliable company and stayed safe on the road. However, it’s worth noting that this is just my personal experience.

I would encourage you to look into the subject in great length before deciding if hiring a car is right for you or not.

Have you hired a car in The Gambia before? Let me know in the comments below!

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