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Barra Town, Gambia
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Barra Town is a small riverside settlement located on the north bank of the River Gambia estuary, in the Lower Niumi District of the North Bank Region, and is 5km away from the capital of Banjul, on the opposite side of the river mouth, connected via the Banjul to Barra Ferry Service. Barra, traditionally known as Niumi ('the Coast'), has a population of about 6,000 inhabitants, made up of Serer, Mandinka, Wolof, Fulani, and other ethnic groups. Along with Farafenni, the town is an economic centre of the North Bank Region.

The town is the kind of place where most people who arrive, simply pass through, therefore there is very little in the way of accommodation. There is the grubby Barra Hotel (+220 7795134), the more civilized Black Cow Guesthouse, which has 7 en-suite guest bedrooms, a bar and restaurant and a dance floor. If you really need a good place to stay then try Sitanunku Lodge, to the south east of Essau. It has 5 deluxe ensuite lodges, a dip pool, bar and restaurant and full support staff services.

To the north of the settlement is Jinack Island, to the east is Essau and the North Bank Road, and to its northeast you have the villages of Kanuma, Mbollet Ba and Njongon. The ferry terminal is an important gateway for people travelling from the Kombos and into the Niumi and Jokadu districts, and is an essential point on the route to Dakar and Kaolack in Senegal, as well as southbound for travellers heading towards southwest Gambia and the Casamance region. Barra has a few vehicle fuelling stations, banks, taxi garage and bureau de change where you can change your money into CFA Francs. One of the landmarks of the town is the decrepit groundnut loading structure, with its beached lighters and lengthy jetty, overshadowing the wharf near the ferry terminal, and inactive during non-harvest periods. The small port is also used by boatmen in African pirogues transporting merchandise and passengers across, and up-river.

Beyond the semi-rural settlement there is plenty of traffic along the routes such as taxis, lorries packed to the brim with goods, and trucks loaded with basalt stones from Senegal. There are also tourist vehicles taking people on excursions to Jinack Island and north to Karang, Amdalai, and Fass, so as to get to the Senegalese side of the Niumi National Park, which is called the Saloum Delta National Park.

The rural area around Barra is tranquil, lightly dotted with villages, where sheep and goats walk between compounds fenced with dried palm tree fronds, and women labour away in well-irrigated vegetable gardens. During the rainy season the bush is vibrant in greenery, with cashew, tamarind and mangoe trees scattered within the villages, and fully grown palm stands as far as the eye can see.

South east of Barra, the lower Gambia River gently bends into a wide bay, densely fringed with mangroves, fed by the Buniadu Bolong, a stream that runs south of the Mandinka village of Berending.


 Fort Bullen
On the north-western edge of town is Fort Bullen, at Barra Point beach, built in 1826 by the British to enforce the ban on the slave trade, via the deployment of several large cannons. It was declared a National Monument in 1970s, and today, along with the Six-Gun Battery in Banjul, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its main function today is to act as a kind of light house, as it houses the navigation tower lights on its seaward side.

 Street Market
The rather forlorn looking produce and general market starts from near the ferry terminal and continues into the middle of town. There you can buy in-season fruits and garden vegetables such as mangoes, oranges, local Saloum Plums, as well as household wares, plastic kettles, clothing and footwear from numerous stalls and shops. If you are a traveller passing through, use this opportunity to stock up on essential provisions.

 Bird Watching
There are a number of scrubland and estuarine bird species to the north of Fort Bullen, around the beach, north along the Atlantic ocean's shoreline, and the mouth of the Niji Bolon. Here you might spot waders such as Oystercatchers, Sanderling, Common Sandpipers, and Whimbrels. There are also birdwatching opportunities for Royal, Sandwich, Caspian and Lesser Crested Terns, African Darters, and perhaps juvenile Greater Flamingos. At nearby Essau, to the east, you can spot resident and Palaearctic migrants such as Whinchats, Melodious Warblers, Mottled Spinetail swifts, Village Indigo Bird and Northern Anteater Chats.

 Dolphin Spotting
While on the ferry crossing you might see from the deck schools of bottlenose dolphins diving in and out of the vessel's bow-wave, or in the distance of the Gambia river estuary.

 Berending Crocodile Pool
Easily reached by road, 10km from Barra, and past Essau, is the Berending sacred crocodile pool, on a track just before the village. The pool is actually several naturally connected pools, and has a small population of crocodiles, which aren't very easy to spot, unlike their counterparts in Kachikally. This is an attractive place of riverine greenery and a lattice of air-roots that fringe it. In the distant past, the place used to be used by pagans, today it is visited by Muslim pilgrims who come here to pray. Barren women also come here to wash with the waters to overcome infertility, while others offer gifts in return for good fortune or to overcome bad luck. The place is run by the Sonko family, descendants of Burungai, a Mandinka king who caused much grief to the British colonials in Niumi from the early 1820s.

When crossing the ferry you need to be aware that there may only be a limited number of life jackets available. If possible buy a life jacket from a specialist store like CCT-Gambia Co. Ltd who who deal in fishing and boating equipment and supplies. Do also make sure that your travel insurance policy covers you for a visit into Senegal.

To get to the town of Barra from Banjul you take the ferry from the ports area. The trip is about 35 minutes long. To get to Senegal you take the northbound road to Amdalai, where you need to get through customs, get an entry stamp in your passport from the immigration officials, then cross the border checkpoint and onto Karang in Senegal. To get to Juffure, Albreda, and Kunta Kinteh Island, you take the North Bank Road which heads east to those tourists destinations.

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[Geographical coordinates 13.4833 N, 16.5500 W / Lower Niumi District, North Bank Region]

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