Seven days, two countries, monkeys, rhinos and a boat crossing with 50 sheep for company; all in a week’s work! Ian Davis, a new recruit to Serenity Holidays takes his first visit to The Gambia.
Having recently started a new role looking after commercial and product at Serenity Holidays, I was keen to see the great product that we have with The Gambia Experience. It’s a part of the world I haven’t travelled to before, and I looked forward to seeing what’s on offer, having heard so much about the destination. I spent the week travelling the country, starting in the north before working down to the southern resort areas, and even taking the short trip over to visit neighbouring Senegal.
Visiting in the middle of January was pleasant, as the daytime temperatures were 25 to 30°C and the evenings cooled to the low 20s; this allows holidaymakers to enjoy the beaches in the day but also have a break from the heat in the evenings.
First impressions were good; leaving London Gatwick on our Titan Airways charter at 08.30 allows you to set off early morning rather than the middle of the night, and you arrive in The Gambia by late afternoon, which gives you time to settle in ready to start your holiday. We even managed a visit to Mandina Lodges on arrival, which was a lovely and unique treat to start my Gambia experience.
Above images: Mandina Lodges.
I was really impressed with the Titan flight; the aircraft itself has less seats than a standard charter flight, so there’s more legroom and it’s generally a more comfortable experience for all on board. We were treated to Star Class too, which provides a separate cabin at the front of the aircraft, with upgraded food service and inclusive drinks, so I arrived into Banjul very well fed and watered.
Above: Titan Star Class seats.
The Gambia provides its visitors with a lively and sometimes bustling atmosphere in the towns and villages; this is a great experience and an assault on the senses to a new visitor to Africa such as myself. It’s not to be feared though, for me it brought back memories of what holidays are all about; new and exciting experiences and adventures. Another positive is that no matter what accommodation you choose, you’ll be in a relaxing environment enjoying a stunning location.
Best value hotels
Due to the six-hour flight time it’s certainly worth staying for two weeks, although shorter durations work equally well, and there’s a good selection of B&B properties that allow you to explore the local area and stay on a budget. My favourite best value properties would be African Village, Cape Point or Sunu Hotel, which is in central Kololi, which is full of bars and restaurants.
Above: African Village
Above: Cape Point Hotel
Above: Sunu Hotel
Always good value, the recently refurbished Sunbeach Hotel at Cape Point has expansive facilities, and due to its location on the point, a dual aspect view to the sea. When I visited it was lunch time; the buffet looked extensive and the outside bar area and pool offered plenty of space to relax, or you can set up on the sandy beach and enjoy the cooling sea breeze.
Above: Sunbeach Hotel
An old favourite
Ngala Lodge, an exclusive hotel with The Gambia Experience, was originally a colonial house. Its raised location above the beach and well cared for gardens go hand in hand with great views, and the suites are incredibly comfortable. The Lodge itself is B&B, but the restaurant is also open in the evening and a special place to dine with tasty local and international dishes. For an added touch of adventure, you can opt for a pre-packaged twin-centre with Fathala Wildlife Reserve, mentioned below.
Above images: Ngala Lodge
A personal favourite of mine
The White Horse Residence. I was wowed by the amazing views across the pool and gardens to the golden beach and ocean, and as there are only eight guest rooms, friendly service and a relaxing environment are assured. The beach is only a 250m walk, and when you arrive, don’t be surprised to be the only people on the sand; this is a secluded and peaceful location.
Above: White Horse Residence
The new kid on the block
African Princess Beach Hotel is a new addition for winter 2018/19, and with a beachside location, swim-up rooms, a modern design and plenty of facilities, the African Princess is a great addition to The Gambia and our hotel collection.
Above: African Princess Beach Hotel
Fathala Wildlife Reserve and Lodge in Senegal
Now this is my type of camping! Visitors staying overnight get the chance to enjoy luxury safari tents, and let’s face it, when it has a double bed, free-standing bath, air-conditioning and outdoor shower, I’m not sure it can be called camping, but it was everything I imagined about staying in a luxury safari lodge.
The watering hole is just in front of the lodge and your ‘tent’, so you can sit and watch the animals as and when they come to drink. The sunset cruise offered by Fathala sails past mangroves, baobab trees, plenty of birds, possibly dolphins and crocodiles too, all with a G&T in hand. You can find out more about Fathala here.
On our journey back to The Gambia from Senegal we took a pirogue, which is a traditional Gambian boat, and our crossing was shared with a local shepherd moving his flock across the river which made for an interesting experience. But don't worry, this is not how our customers make the crossing but the ferry also offers a real taste of African life.
I had a great first trip to The Gambia and I’m certainly keen to return. The welcoming people, accommodations for all tastes, new experiences and adventures to explore are all wrapped up with superb uncrowded beaches. If you’re tempted to see for yourself, why not start planning your own Gambia experience?
My top tips for first-time visitors
- Stay for as long as you can to get as much out of your visit as possible.
- Take some time away from your hotel to get out and about and experience the local area - The Gambia offers a very safe introduction to Africa.
- Take a trip to Senegal, there are some wonderful opportunities on offer.
- Our accommodation is chosen by experienced experts with first-hand knowledge, so be sure to use their expertise when considering you holiday.
- If you’d prefer a flying visit, our flights also lend themselves to short, four-night breaks.
- The hotels I’ve picked out are my personal favourites, if you decide to visit, perhaps a memorable twin or multi-centre holiday will help you identify yours?