In 1961, the Queen took a royal tour of The Gambia, a small country lying on the Western coast of Africa, bounded by Senegal. Since then, tourists have flocked to its sun-soaked landscapes for a sunny winter getaway, navigating their way through its exotic wildlife – which includes monkeys, hippos and crocodiles – as well as its breathtaking forests and stunning coasts, with welcoming locals guiding the way.
We headed on a Gambian adventure to find the top 10 things you'll want to try for an unforgettable trip...
For more information head to gambia.co.uk and visitthegambia.gm.
Where to have a luxurious break: Ngala Lodge
Tucked away by the coast about a half hour drive from the capital city of Banjul, Ngala Lodge is the ultimate destination for couples looking for a peaceful, romantic getaway. Comprising of 24 unique suites – some of which have their own private infinity pools – the beautiful resort boasts two swimming pools and access to the beach so you can make the most of the country's sun-soaked weather. The restaurant and bar overlook the resort's lush green gardens while there's an infinity pool just on the coast so you get that ultimate holiday feeling no matter what you're doing.
For more information head to gambia.co.uk/Ngala.
Must-visit: the Makasutu Forest
The Gambian landscape is unlike anything you've ever seen – and at the heart of it lies the stunning Makasutu Forest . Filled with luscious green trees, beautiful views of the river and exotic wildlife, you'll get a sneak peek at just a part of The Gambia's incredible wilderness. Don't just stay on land though, make sure to take a canoe trip along the river to explore the breathtakingly beautiful mangroves and tranquil atmosphere - and you might even spot a crocodile!
Embrace local culture: learn to cook a traditional meal with the charming Ida
Ida Njai is somewhat of a local legend, regularly inviting tourists to her gorgeous home a short drive away from Tanji fishing village. Don traditional garments and join Ida on a trip to the local market to hand pick ingredients ahead of one of her famed cooking lessons – and at the same time witness the incredible hauls of fish from the local catch of the day. Head back to her home where not only will she show you how to cook her mouth-watering recipes from scratch, but she is also incredibly knowledgeable about the area and can give you some great local tidbits.
Day prices are £35pp, overnight stays are £85pp and can be pre-booked. For more information head to gambia.co.uk
Where to stay for a romantic break: Coco Oceans Spa and Resort
This superb beachfront hotel has everything you need for ultimate relaxation. There are countless tranquil spots for guests to enjoy the beach and the sunshine, while individual cabanas are perfect for some privacy and cooling down in the shade. The main restaurant makes the most of the fresh sea air and breathtaking setting with al fresco dining, and there's even a champagne breakfast to start the day in true holiday fashion. The hotel's beautiful spa offers endless treatments whether you're after a massage, a facial, or perhaps 15 minutes in the sauna.p>
For more information head to gambia.co.uk/CocoOcean
How to explore: a four wheel drive excursion
Head off the beaten track and discover the Gambian village way of life, whether exploring the bustling markets or stopping off to learn how palm wine is made. Most four wheel drive excursions also include stops at the country's luscious beaches and fishing villages, or you can stop by local schools and meet the incredibly hospitable villagers.
For more information on pricing and excursions head to gambia.co.uk/excursions. Excursions can also be booked with West African Tours.
Where to see the breathtaking landscape: the Mandina Lodges
These luxurious lodges are unlike anything you've ever seen. Nestled in the heart of the Makasutu Forest, the rooms can only be accessed by boats on the river ensuring total privacy. You can choose stilted or floating rooms to make the most of the peaceful river surroundings, or if you canstay in the mangrove and jungle lodges at the heart of the forest to fully immerse yourself in the surroundings. Soak up the sun or cool off in the pool – this location was built for total relaxation.
How to see local wildlife: guided tours
Anyone who has visited The Gambia will know it's a bird watcher's paradise, with an abundance of colourful birds from rollers to kingfishers inhabiting its ecosystem. Guided treks in the Makasutu Forest often give you a chance to spot baboons, and there are even crocodile parks for the more daring of adventurers. There's also hippos and a wide variety of monkeys – ask your tour guide for a glimpse at the best viewing spots.
Where to take the kids: the Kombo Beach Hotel
If you're after a vibrant atmosphere, this is the place for you. Located right on the beach, the hotel has a wide range of activities from pool games, aerobics, tennis lessons and even birdwatching with a local guide, ensuring there's always something to do. The fun carries on into the night, with themed dinners, traditinal music and dance shows that celebrate the best of Gambian culture.
For more information head to gambia.co.uk/kombo
Give back: visit a local school
Charities such as Sponsor A Gambian Child provide plenty of opportunities to see the incredible work done to keep young kids in school, especially for those who can't afford it (there is no free education in The Gambia). The Mansa-Colley Bojang Nursery School is an impressive example – it already boasts a library, canteen and large classrooms. Local children are extremely friendly and eager to learn – and with an impressive programme run by the charity to sponsor teacher training, they're getting a great education.
For more information head to sponsoragambianchild.org
Where to get inspired: the Wide Open Walls project
Celebrating the best of street art from renowned artists around the world, this impressive project has seen local compounds across the Ballabu region decorated with awe-inspiring designs and images. As well as local artists, organiser Lawrence Williams has worked with the world's leading street artists to create the amazing artwork. Pay a visit to the Mandina Lodges where Lawrence can share everything from future plans to how the project has made a difference in the lives of the local community.
For more information head to mandinalodges.com/makasutu-forest/wide-open-walls