A visit to the Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Project’s (CRP) camp, a working project situated within the River Gambia National Park and a 4.5 hour drive inland from coastal resorts, is an unforgettable experience and provides an opportunity to visit more of the real Gambia and its wildlife.
Established in 1979, this is Africa’s longest running chimp rehabilitation project and is now home to over 100 chimps. Wild chimps disappeared from The Gambia in the early 1900s but now 4 separate social groups can be found on Baboon Islands, a group of three islands in the middle of the River Gambia. Set within the River Gambia National Park, the chimp camp is approximately 270 km inland from coastal resorts, with the small, eco-friendly camp accommodation located on the banks of the river overlooking the islands.
The highlight of your stay will undoubtedly be the included boat trips around the islands to view the chimps (who are known to the guides individually by name) and natural beauty of the area, with expert guides to teach you more about these amazing creatures and the birdlife you will encounter - so be sure to bring binoculars. These depart every afternoon for a couple of hours in small motor boats with a shaded canopy providing some cover. Although the chimps do fend for themselves, due to the growing population their food supply is supplemented on the island riverbanks every other day which is the best time for viewings, although it is unusual not to see them during each boat trip. Access to the islands for guests is prohibited so that the animals' environment is protected. As well as the chimpanzees, the area is home to a wide variety of animals including Red Colobus and Green Vervet monkeys, which often visit the camp itself, Western baboons, hippos, crocodiles and a vast array of birds.
There are a number of other activities available which should be explained to you on arrival and can be tailored to your particular interests. The camp's main focus is not tourism, however, so please bear this in mind and you may need to take the initiative on occasion to ensure that excursion options are fully explained! These include night walks to see bush babies and climbing to the alleged site of the demise of the last Gambian elephant for fantastic views - many are at no additional cost although you may choose to tip the excellent local guides. An additional morning boat trip is included for guests staying a minimum of 3 nights (although 'Little Africa' is available to other guests for a supplement). This takes you up a picturesque, meandering creek as well as alighting on the main riverbank for a short hike up to a viewpoint overlooking the river and its islands. CRP also works closely with the local villages, for example by setting up garden projects which can also be visited; or why not drop in at the Gambia Horse and Donkey Trust, a local charitable project? Be sure to take plenty of water and sunhats/suncream on all excursions, along with any bird books and binoculars that you may bring along - although these can also be borrowed.
The camp has just four twin-bedded safari tents, which were renewed during 2013 and are large enough to allow you to stand and move around, so you will be one of only a handful of guests. These are situated approximately 50 metres apart on elevated platforms high above the riverbank, reached via many steps, with fantastic views over the islands of the National Park. As an eco-camp the tents are comfortable but basic with a hand basin, outside shower (with water in tanks heated by the sun), and composting toilet shared between 2 tents, located a short distance away. A separate, flushing toilet is available close to the Waterhouse below, where all meals are taken. The twin beds are surrounded by mosquito nets and towels are provided, although we would recommend packing basic toiletries. Sunbeds on the outside terrace allow you to relax during the day and listen to the uninterrupted sounds of nature around you. Each morning hot water will be delivered to your tent for a cup of tea or coffee before breakfast.
All meals are included; these are simple, freshly prepared dishes served by friendly staff from the local villages in a Waterhouse on stilts. This has a partly shaded veranda and open terrace, ideal for relaxing, watching the wildlife by day and stargazing by night. Boat trips depart from here and you will spend most of your time here, either eating, relaxing and listening to the calls of the chimps and hippos, or chatting with new-found friends. A limited selection of soft and alcoholic drinks (beer and wine, no spirits) are available at reasonable prices.
2 or 3 night stays at the CRP camp are recommended and, as the camp is closed to tourists on certain days (currently Monday to Wednesday inclusive), we suggest that you discuss the best itinerary to meet your needs with our expert team. Any combination of hotels is possible, however we suggest combining with another property in our Unique Collection; for example, one possibility is a 7 night stay combining 3 nights at Mandina Lodges on Half Board, 3 nights at CRP camp on Full Board including a daily chimp viewing boat trip, and an overnight at a coastal hotel.
This is a unique property which offers a wonderful opportunity to experience more of the real Africa and its wildlife, however as a working project conservation is the priority and the camp is therefore closed 3 days each week to allow the team to focus on the chimpanzees. When open to visitors there will be ample opportunity for you to view (and hear) the chimps in their natural habitat – by boat as access to the islands is prohibited – and to understand more about the work being done to protect this species. Monies received from visitors to the camp are mostly reinvested for the care and welfare of the chimps with a percentage going to government conservation programmes as well as being used to support other associated project work that the CRP staff undertake involving local community development.
Please feel free to speak to our expert staff if you require further details about the journey or the camp itself, and view our photo gallery of the camp and tented accommodation to ensure it suits your needs.
The journey to the camp is fairly arduous, however it enables you to see local villages and the changing landscapes of The Gambia as you travel further inland. Transportation is by either air-conditioned 4WD or minibus for the 4 to 5 hour drive; most is on tarmac, however the final 9 mile approach to the camp is through villages on dirt tracks which can be a little bumpy.
There is no mains electricity so dining is by candlelight and solar-powered lanterns are provided for you at night. It is hot during the day with cool nights during the winter, getting hotter from March onwards, however the tents are built to remain as cool as possible and mosquito nets cover the beds within.
Please note that children under the age of 13 are not permitted at the camp. A good level of fitness and mobility is needed to maximise the enjoyment of this trip and to manage the many winding stairs to the tents as well as to get in and out of the boats. It is therefore not recommended for those with walking difficulties and, due to the limited number of tents, singles are unfortunately not permitted unless by special arrangement.