What We Think
We are delighted that our 10th year of working at Makasutu has been the best yet from customer feedback - and many small but significant changes were made during summer 2012 to give this unique property a facelift, which has obviously paid off. For peace and tranquillity in the heart of the African bush, the striking riverside Mandina Lodges at Makasutu Forest offer an unforgettable experience in the wilderness with the chance to discover the people and wildlife of The Gambia that have made the forest their home: the amazing birdlife, monkeys, monitor lizards and ever-increasing troupes of baboons. Mandina Lodges is featured in the book '1001 Escapes To Make Before You Die' which is a guide for those in search of the world's most unusual and beautiful places. The owner, Lawrence Williams was also presented with the National Order of The Gambia by the President in April 2012.
During the day you can choose to relax by the large pool, blissfully soaking up the atmosphere, disturbed only by birdsong and the hum of chattering monkeys; or take advantage of the expert guides provided, to explore the forest and mangroves on foot or by canoe. In the evening, enjoy a refreshing drink in the new bar area overlooking the mangroves, whilst meeting new friends and sharing stories of your experiences that day. Dinner is served al fresco in one of the wooden or tented dining areas, and sometimes the fire is lit with the dancing flames creating a magical mood. Please note that, due to the remote location, menus are simple but of a good standard.
There are now nine lodges, with a tenth to be completed by November 2014, maintaining an exclusive yet slightly rustic feel, all built to a high standard, largely from local materials, although as you would expect in this rural setting they come equipped with fewer practicalities than mainstream hotels – we believe this simply adds to the charm of the lodges and an authentic bush experience. There are three styles of lodge at Mandina – spacious Jungle Lodges are set back from the river close to the restaurant/bar and pool area, whilst the popular River Lodges are either floating or on stilts. Next winter 2013 will see the introduction of the new, spacious Mangrove Lodge which enjoys a private location beyond the jungle lodges, on a small inlet nestled in the mangroves. Each lodge has a private but roofless bathroom and composting toilet (except the Jungle and Mangrove lodges which are flushing). The impressive Stilted Lodge is on two floors with separate bedroom, outside deck and lounge area on the lower level plus upstairs day room, whilst the Jungle Lodges each have their own private roof terrace looking out towards the mangroves and jungle. Fans are employed instead of electricity sapping air-conditioning and, following substantial investment, solar power is now used most of the time.
Situated just 45 minutes from the coastal resorts on a tributary of the River Gambia, the 1000 acre Makasutu Cultural Forest is the result of almost 20 years’ hard work by two Englishmen who were inspired by the beauty of the area and motivated to return and build unique accommodation. James English sadly passed away in 2011, however Lawrence Williams continues to have a big presence at Mandina (along with his much-loved pet dogs and cats!) and is well known to our many repeat guests, and we are delighted that James' former wife, Linda, has decided to make Mandina her home and the property has benefited from her 'woman's touch'!
The focus has always been on ensuring the local population benefits from the forest and emphasis has been placed on using local materials and employing staff from the surrounding village communities. This means that service is very friendly but perhaps not as polished as in some resorts. There are also strong links between the Makasutu Wildlife Trust and the Gardens for Life programme sponsored by The Eden Project in Cornwall. The owners are also involved in organising a project called 'Wide Open Walls' which involves international street artists offering their talents within the Ballabu Conservations Area. In 2010 they painted the village of Kubeneh, which can be visited from Mandina and is well worth seeing - further villages are planned in future. The project has gone from strength to strength and another group of artists dedicated time to a second village in June 2011, another being planned during summer 2013, with the ultimate objective of creating an area of cultural interest to visitors which will help support the villages in the future.
We believe a stay at Mandina provides a unique chance to experience the real Africa in comfortable and striking surroundings.. The lodges are easily accessible, only 30 minutes from the airport and guests can spend their whole holiday at Mandina or for longer stays combine with a coastal hotel. Alternatively, why not consider a visit to the Chimp Rehabilitation Project Camp, 3 and a half hours inland from Mandina?
Chris Packham, ornithologist, presenter of the BBC's Springwatch and Autumnwatch, and frequent visitor to The Gambia, stayed at Mandina for the first time in 2010. He said: "the accommodation, the service, and the food is totally amazing – not to mention the beautiful creek side location... If you want a break from the hustle and bustle of the coast this is the place to chill and unwind. You’ll never want to leave!" Chris will be returning again in February 2014, leading a group of birdwatchers staying at Mandina.
Mandina Lodges will accept children of all ages at present although this is not recommended due to the location - as the property is by the river, parents must supervise children at all times. In addition, there is little in the way of entertainment for children and Mandina is likely to become a child-free property in future.
Please note that the standard excursion programme is not possible from Mandina, however, for a supplement, why not enjoy a romantic Sunset Cruise in your private dugout canoe complete with bottle of wine, to see amazing egret colonies roosting and other wildlife settling down for the night? The tranquillity of the area as well as the changing colours of the river as the sun sets will stay with you. You may also want to try your hand at fishing - either by boat (we recommend you bring your rods if you are a keen angler), or amateurs have also had success simply fishing off the pontoons of the floating lodges or jetty. The chef is more than happy to cook anything of substance that you catch for your dinner.