Learning to drum, visiting a school, witnessing monkeys and building sandcastles, these are just a few of the wonderful memories made on Kerry’s winter sun family holiday in The Gambia.
I’d waited a long time to take my children to The Gambia. I’ve worked for The Gambia Experience since 1999 and have been there 17 times over the years, travelling with colleagues, travel agents, my husband, my parents, and had always had a great time. I love The Gambia, but with two young children our trips to West Africa had stopped in favour of more typical family-friendly holidays (caravan holidays, Disneyland Paris, the med etc). I knew my children would enjoy the pool and beach in The Gambia, I just wanted to wait until they were at an age where they could appreciate everything else that it has to offer.
So, when my daughter Maggie turned eight and my son Freddie turned six, my husband and I felt it was the perfect time to introduce The Gambia to them as something a little different from their usual holidays.
We had the recommended inoculations at our doctor’s surgery (nothing is compulsory), and arranged a travel appointment at Asda as they can arrange pediatric malaria tablets for kids without a prescription.
Flying with Titan Airways
We travelled with my friend and colleague Suz, who was also introducing her family to The Gambia (her kids are nine and eleven), and travelled from Gatwick with Titan Airways, who were brilliant. The flight is only six hours and the kids spent the whole time engrossed in the in-flight entertainment on their tablets, breaking only to snack!
The perfect family hotel in The Gambia
We stayed at Kombo Beach Hotel which is great for families. We had two interconnecting rooms per family, but they also offer Suites that can sleep four people. The kids of course loved the pool and children’s pool and spent a lot of time cooling off in there.
Within the hotel they also played skittles, ping-pong, table football, beach football; they had drumming lessons, kora lessons (a traditional African harp) and did some tree climbing. The hotel also provided pool toys, buckets and spades, games and books, all at our disposal. The staff were brilliant with the kids and the entertainment guys in particular (who were often at a loose end as most other guests preferred not to do any activities) often came and asked the kids for a game of ping-pong or table football. I loved being able to have a bit of sunlounger time, just keeping a lazy eye on them from across the pool.
Breakfast at Kombo Beach Hotel
Breakfast at Kombo Beach Hotel is a fantastic spread – something to suit everyone. My husband enjoyed tucking into his full English cooked breakfast, my daughter Maggie loved asking at the egg station for different eggs every day, pancakes for Freddie (with rather liberal portions of syrup and chocolate spread), and I had my favourite holiday staple – a bowl of fresh fruit followed by bacon and eggs. Eating breakfast al fresco with a view of the ocean is the perfect way to start your day.
The hotel is directly on a fantastic beach and we took advantage of this nearly every day. The kids loved walking along to the fruit sellers, who sell the most amazing fresh fruit all peeled and cut for you or even blended into a juice. We made friends with the locals, gave away some toys we had brought from home, played in the sea, and of course made sandcastles. Although the sea can be rough, three days out of our seven the green flag was up and so we had a great time in the sea under the watchful eye of the lifeguard.
Excursions to see more of The Gambia
Of course, we were keen for the kids to see more of The Gambia, so we booked a private land rover tour and set off to Kachikally Crocodile Pool. Not for the faint-hearted (some of those crocs are BIG!), but a really interesting place, and being able to touch a crocodile was one of my son’s highlights.
We drove through Serrekunda Market, the largest market in the country, full of bright colours and interesting items – you could buy nearly anything!
Next, we visited Janbanjelly Lower Basic School – a school far away from the resorts and so rarely visited by tourists. My kids were very interested and surprised to see how different the school was from their own. The school is very basic, and the headmaster was extremely grateful for our donations of pens, books, crayons, paper, crafts and the like. I was pleased that my kids had been shown an entirely different way of school life, and hopefully they’ll be more appreciative of how privileged they are in the UK.
Our final stop of the day was to the home of one of our resort staff, Wally. He knew we wanted the kids to see a typical Gambian home and he invited us to visit his own compound. Around 35 family members all live together in various houses throughout the compound and they couldn’t have been more welcoming. Again, this was a fantastic insight into local Gambian life for the kids, and my daughter had a lovely time playing with the babies in the family.
Eating out in The Gambia
Very few restaurants have a children’s menu, but we ate out nearly every evening and all really enjoyed our meals. The kids were happy to split an adult’s portion of spaghetti bolognaise, chicken and rice, pizza, fish and chips etc. Service can sometimes be slow, so we always made sure we had things to keep the kids entertained; they were more than happy making loom band jewelry, colouring and playing card games at the table.
The resort of Kololi is worth a visit – we went most evenings and a few times during the day. There’s a nice ice-cream parlour just next to the Kairaba Hotel that we all enjoyed several times. The kids also found the daily vulture feeding at Senegambia fun to watch and loved following the monkeys around.
We visited Kololi craft market to let the kids spend their pocket money. Although tempted by the wooden animals, jewellery and bags, inspired by their music lessons at the hotel, Freddie chose a drum and Maggie chose a Kora. The whole market came to a standstill as the sellers then had a jamming session with the kids and their new instruments – complete with singing and dancing, such a fun moment for the kids. Of course, we ended up going back again, twice, each time coming out loaded down with all number of souvenirs as the kids learned quickly the new skill of haggling!
Our winter sun family holiday
My family and I had a brilliant holiday in The Gambia – the name of our company is called The Gambia Experience and that’s certainly what we had. The kids enjoyed so many new things, met new people, had a brief view of a very different culture to ours – and loved it. The Gambia may not be considered a typical family holiday destination, but what it lacks in water parks and chain restaurants it more than makes up for in character, charm and, of course, the fabulous ever-present sunshine. We all can’t wait to go back.