Photo Essay: An expedition down the River Gambia

River Gambia Expedition route map

Two months, two canoes, three countries, one mighty river. Writer-photographers Jason and Helen Florio made the intense 650-mile west African journey to document the people living on the banks of the River Gambia from its humble source to its tumultuous mouth at the Atlantic.

“The River Gambia is one of Africa’s last major un-dammed rivers,” Jason explains. “It emerges in a remote village in the Fouta Djallon highlands of Guinea, growing along its course through Senegal and The Republic of The Gambia for 700 miles to the Atlantic Ocean, where the unassuming rivulet widens to over 8 miles.”

“Communities along its length rely on it for their very existence, and with plans afoot to dam the river, we wanted to create a modern day account of the people who live and work along it’s banks before construction begins and their lives change.”

The River Gambia Expedition by Jason FlorioThe source of the River Gambia emerging from under a rock in the Fouta Djallon highlands of Guinea. 

The River Gambia Expedition by Jason FlorioYoung boys pose for a portrait on the banks of River Gambia in Senegal. They said they had painted their faces like skulls and their chests with soccer team numbers for their own amusement.

The River Gambia Expedition by Jason FlorioMigrant workers from Guinea dig sand from the bed of River Gambia in Senegal in search of gold.

The River Gambia Expedition by Jason FlorioA village elder relaxes outside an abandoned colonial era warehouse in Kuntuar village in The Gambia. The village was once an important commercial hub in the peanut trade, but since the processing plant was moved to Banjul, the capital, Kuntuar has gone into decline.

The River Gambia Expedition by Jason FlorioA small ferry called a “barra” lands on the south bank of the river in eastern Gambia surrounded by cattle owned by Fula tribesmen.

The River Gambia Expedition by Jason FlorioYoung Gambian boys head home after an afternoon of swimming near the village of Fatta Tenda.

The River Gambia Expedition by Jason FlorioThe son of Bakary Dabo, the Alkalo (village chief) of Diagabu Tenda, The Gambia wearing a ‘fur’ coat on a cool morning.

The River Gambia Expedition by Jason FlorioFemale migrants from Guinea Bissau work along the shores of a tributary of River Gambia, in The Gambia, collecting oysters that hang from the mangroves.

The River Gambia Expedition by Jason FlorioA mother and daughter lay cous out to dry on the rocks in the Fouta Djallon highlands of Guinea  – source of the Niger, Senegal and Gambia rivers. In the background is the Dame de Mali, a rock formation in the profile of a woman  – purportedly turned to stone for infidelity.

The River Gambia Expedition by Jason FlorioAmadou Djallow, a tailor by day and hunter by night photographed in his home village, Horé Dimma, Guinea where the source of River Gambia is located.

The River Gambia Expedition by Jason FlorioMusa Jallow with his pet patas monkey who he rescued after hunters killed its mother.

The River Gambia Expedition by Jason FlorioCaptain Betran Jatta, one of the last few remaining full-time sailors on the River Gambia, sits aboard his tugboat waiting for the cargo of peanuts to be loaded onto the barges that he will pull down river to the captial Banjul for processing.

The River Gambia Expedition by Jason FlorioAt the dock at Basse Santa Su in The Gambia, young boys wash motorcycles for pocket money.

See these people and places come to life in this video from the trip:


To see more details from the expedition and more work from the Florios, visit their website.

Which photo was your favorite? Tell us in a comment below.