If you have come to read this article, it means that you are considering a visit to Gambia. So you should definitely read this carefully because during your vacation in the country, sooner or later you will find yourself travelling from Banjul to Barra and vice versa, unless you are the type who visits Gambia only for the beach life and parties.
A brief introduction
The ferry service which operates between Gambia’s capital Banjul and the town of Barra is the most popular ferry crossing in the Gambia, serving more than 20,000 people daily.
The run between Banjul and Barra is supposed to start at 7 am with the last one at 9 pm. Sailing from Banjul to Barra or vice versa (which is only 5km) is supposed to last about 35 minutes. It is a journey that sounds very fast and easy, but it really isn’t. Let me tell you why.
What to do first at the ferry terminal in Gambia.
The first thing you have to do when you get to the ferry station is stand in line for the ferry tickets. The queue is often very long and people hardly respect their turn. So, you have to be strong enough to pull and push them away from you when they try to bypass you. If you don’t do so, you will never get your ticket, especially when it is overly crowded. For them it’s just as if you do not exist. They will just pass through, pushing you out from the queue like it were nothing. And since we are not used to this behavior, it takes a while before you realize what is happening.
In my case I had already done this ferry crossing in Gambia with the help of a taxi driver during my day trip to Jinack Island, but even though that was the case, when I found myself alone with Alessandro we had a hard time. But after a little while we understood their method. We did the same and finally got it done.
Is ferry crossing from Barra to Banjul dangerous?
We were told that pick pockets are common during the ferry crossing in Gambia. I don’t find it hard to believe. But nothing ever happened to us and honestly we never felt as if we were in any danger. But this doesn’t take anything away from the fact that you must keep your personal belongings guarded close to you. Beyond that there is no need to be afraid.
Ferry crossing from Barra to Banjul tickets.
For foot passengers the ticket costs D25 per person and D250 per vehicle. It can be purchased only at the ferry terminal.
There are people outside the ferry terminal who offer to buy the ticket for you. I can’t tell you if you can trust them but you could try it if you think that queueing is not for you.
You could also ask your taxi driver who took you to the ferry terminal in Barra or in Banjul to buy them for you. Of course, you will pay a commission for the service. I recommend that you keep a bunch of D10 slips to give here and there in order to move faster through the customs.
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What happens after buying the tickets.
Once you buy the tickets you enter the huge waiting area where you wait until the ferry comes. It could take hours.
Now, there are only two operating ferries and there should be a departure approximately every forty-five minutes. But this is not obvious. Since the vessels are very poorly maintained and most often overloaded, sometimes tragedy occurs, so you can easily end up waiting hours and hours.
Meanwhile, people just keep on coming in and the huge waiting area will slowly get more and more full of passengers carrying animals and loads of bags with goods.
Among them, there are also vendors going around selling different kinds of stuff: foods, water, dresses, electronic items, face creams, and so on. There are toilets in the waiting area but they leave quite a lot to be desired.
Embarking and disembarking.
Once the ferry arrives, as typical everywhere they first disembark the vehicles and then the passengers. After that, they first load the vehicles and then they open the gate which links the passengers waiting area to the ferry. There is about 200m distance between the gate and the dock. At that point people run towards the ferry, pushing and pulling each other and dragging their animals and bags behind them.
They do so because once the ferry is full they close the gate again; leaving out a lot of people, even the ones who already have tickets!!!
If you see that it is overcrowded you must do the same, especially if it is late evening because otherwise you won’t make it and the risk to stay is high.
How long does the ferry crossing from Barra to Banjul take.
When everything goes right the journey itself is not more than thirty minutes but breakdowns happen often, so expect the unexpected. I’ve heard that there have been occasions where passengers spent the whole night in the middle of the River Gambia due to a breakdown.
Remember that there are no toilets on board but food and water sellers come and go often.
Let me call it an experience.
I’m not giving it a star rating but in my opinion ferry crossing is a must-see while in Gambia. It is something you cannot see anywhere but in Africa. Moreover, this is a perfect way to see how the real Gambia moves on.
This experience will last forever in your heart.