Our PR Executive Louise describes her long weekend in The Gambia, and the activities she got up to.
Deliciously rich, alive, vibrant, colourful, friendly, safe are just some of the words frequently used to describe The Gambia, and here’s why a long weekend break can be all that you need to experience that feeling…
A long weekend in Gambia
Setting off for a four night stay in The Gambia on a dreary Friday morning from Gatwick may sound like a long way to go however, an easy six hours later, and without any time change, I’m stepping off the plane, stripping off in 32 degree temperatures, facing much-needed brilliant sunshine and, yep, shades on, I had arrived! A 20 minute transfer ride away, catching glimpses of colourfully dressed locals, fruit sellers, market stalls, goats and donkeys en route, I was at my hotel and being welcomed into peaceful tropical surroundings at Ngala Lodge, (a beautifully designed, small luxury hotel) - greeted with a cocktail and sat on my balcony taking in the relaxing sounds of waves lapping on the shore below….the distant grey skies back home, a fading memory – bliss!
So, following an evening of alfresco dining overlooking the ocean, with a delicious variety of sumptuous cuisine including freshly caught Lady fish and Captain fish, I settled down for a good night’s sleep ahead of my next adventure. And, with just three full days ahead, I wanted to make the most of my stay - here’s what I had planned and can thoroughly recommend for a genuine insight into life in The Gambia:
Gambian Home Cooking day with Ida - shopping and dressing up
Just one of the many things I love about The Gambia is the food – it's healthy, flavoursome, there’s great choice and it's brilliant value. Fish, meat, fruit, rice, vegetables - all good staple stuff but the style and variety is quite something and it can be quite spicy. You can eat around the world too with Lebanese, Indian, Thai and European cuisine available in main resort areas with a good choice of restaurants. However for me the incredibly tasty/rich flavours of Gambian dishes, Domada, a delicious groundnut (peanut) stew with seasonal vegetables, Benachin, Chicken Yassa as well as freshly caught fish, are really quite something…
Cooking with Ida is a wonderful day and opportunity to learn about Gambian food. Led by Idam Cham, who has spent the last 20 years working in the tourism industry, she now offers cookery courses for small groups (max of 10) at her home in Brufut. The day starts by dressing Gambian style from Ida’s colourful array of outfits, and then it’s off to the market to shop for ingredients and to see the locals bring in their catch before heading back to prepare a traditional Gambian meal. Pounding vegetables within the comfort of the shady courtyard of Ida’s outside kitchen, we listened and learnt and shared cultural ideas before sitting down to eat our delicious feast.
Makasutu Forest - Baboons, Birds, Mandina lodges and Art - Hidden away, off the beaten track
Heading out to the 1000 acre palm forest at Makasutu in a 4 wheel drive open truck to witness baboons swing through the trees and cavort on the forest floor is just one of the highlights at this peaceful haven, which is just a 45 minute drive from coastal resorts. Encompassing five different eco-systems and set by a mangrove lined tributary of the River Gambia, Makasutu is home to a variety of wildlife including many species of birds and has become a focus of BBC presenter Chris Packham on one his annual birdwatching tours. Feeling a million miles from home, our guided walk through the forest, led us to base camp where a magnificent viewing platform provided amazing views over the forest and myriad of mangroves below.
Next up, a short boat ride in a traditional pirogue along the creeks (or bolongs as they are locally known) to the magnificent Mandina Lodges, offering striking accommodation in the form of floating, stilted, mangrove and jungle lodges. Here lunch was served up followed by a swim in the large feature pool which winds through its verdant grounds. A tour of Makasutu’s Wide Open Walls project is also worth a visit. This living art installation is located within one of the villages which have brought international street artists and local artists together to paint dwellings with their art which, in turn, helps create funding to support the community and to conserve the natural and cultural beauty of the area.
Often a highlight for many visitors to The Gambia is a school visit where a warm welcome from barefoot school children, proud and keen to show off their class rooms and school work, will form a lasting memory. Their enthusiasm to learn is really quite something and a very humbling experience. As our group entered Mansa Colley school gates we were greeted by the entire school singing - a sight to warm anyone’s hearts. Many visitors will also find a school visit a great opportunity to give something back to the community - with pens, pencils, notepads and monetary donations a way of assisting much-needed funding.
Paradise Beach at Sanyang
The Gambia’s golden sand coastline with its miles of uncrowded beaches and warm Atlantic Ocean is a popular attraction for beach lovers and, a trip to Sanyang’s Paradise beach won’t disappoint. Just south of the main resort areas its broad sweep of fine, pale sand, backed by coconut palms offers hammocks and sun loungers with a couple of shanty bars and a restaurant serving simple and delicious Gambian cuisine.
Image by Simon Galloway
Crocodiles at Kachically
With mouths wide open and unfaltering stares these incredible creatures basking on the banks of Kachikally crocodile pool are like stone statues, so much so, I had to take a second look! This is home to Charlie, a two metre crocodile and its oldest inhabitant now 70 years old and, fortunately, so I’m told, poses no danger to tourists posing to stroke him. “They are all fed well”, says the guide “so no problem!”
Gazing hesitatingly at the enormity of these aquatic reptiles we move on within the grounds of the reserve to its small museum. Here lies a fascinating insight into The Gambia’s rich history, with displays of mystical artefacts relating to local tribes. There is also a six acre woodland trail to further explore at your leisure. By the time I returned home back to the UK, despite having done so much, I felt incredibly refreshed, relaxed and regenerated from my experiences on my weekend away.
If you're now feeling inspired by a holiday to The Gambia, visit Gambia.co.uk.
Luxury holidays to The Gambia this spring/summer Read more
The 10 best things about Mandina Lodges, Makasutu Read more