Perfect Weekend: 48-Hours in The Gambia, West AfricaBy Alicia Grimshaw
The Gambia is a thriving holiday destination, and with only a 6 hour flight, an all-year round tropical climate, and the same time zone as the UK; its popularity is growing. For many, The Gambia is only seen as a beach holiday, but after our recent visit to West Africa, The Gambia boasts more than sandy beaches and turquoise water. There’s plenty of wildlife and undiscovered coves and forests to explore. Here’s our top picks:
The Gambia: Where to Stay
The Run-Down: Ngala Lodge is an adult-only boutique hotel located on a peaceful cove offering incredible views across the Atlantic Ocean. It has all the amenities of a plush resort (swimming pools, sun bathing areas and an on-site restaurant), but with a more attentive and personalised service. There’s plenty of sun bathing spots, gardens which attracts wildlife, and a dreamy breakfast buffet.
The Rooms: Accommodation ranges from suite to tree-top rooms. All rooms either have a hot tub and a plunge pool. Casual, eh? But the real draw is that each room has its own personality; from the African art which festoon the walls to the Gambian throws and ornaments – there’s a real sense of belonging. The Macondo sea view suites are something else: sea views and your own private plunge pool.
The Lowdown: Mandina Lodge is when you really what to get away from it all. The bumpy, and somewhat uncomfortable car journey through the African bush is totally worth it, as what you’re greeted with is nothing short of paradise. It’s so peaceful you can hear the gentle hum of birds in the distance, the calming presence of the River Gambia, and the Kingfishers rustling in the reeds nearby.
The Rooms: Wake up to the sound of bird song in your very own floating lodge on the River Gambia – there’s nothing quite like it. The lodges are spacious and comfortable, and if you can get past using a shower outside and a composting loo – you’re in for an incredible stay. And if you prefer your toilet indoors, book a stay at one of the few jungle lodges. Like the floating lodges, the jungle lodges are roomy, and house all the classic hotel amenities.
The Gambia: What to Do
For a Gambian Banquet: Cooking with Ida
Team work makes the dream work, and so everyone is tasked with a job, whether that’s cutting peppers, bashing together herbs or stirring the stew. Throughout the cooking, Ida shares personal stories about life in Gambia, cooking and a few favourite games are also played. The banquet is a convivial family-style affair, where big pots are presented on the table, and every digs into peanut butter stew with fish, rice and okra.
For a Sports Match: Gambian Wrestling
The Lowdown: One of the most popular sports in West Africa, Gambian wrestling is a mash up between a pantomime and actual sporting ability. While the wrestling matches can be over in a matter of minutes, the warm up is where a lot of the fun is to be had. A compère is on the mic, there’s introductions, a lot of peacocking from the wrestlers and copious amounts of oil is shed over bodies. It’s all good fun, and audiences are encouraged to pick names out of the hat – a sort of Gambian sweepstake.
Wrestling matches take place all over Gambia, but the one at Paradise Beach is smashing. Grab a beer at the bar before heading into the compound to witness some incredible wrestling talent all under the baking Gambian sun.
For Wildlife: Bird Watching
The Lowdown: Bird watching may not be on the top of your holiday list, but the wildlife in Gambia is something that can’t be missed. There’s a wide variety of bird watching excursions that leave at the crack of dawn, as many of the birds are more active during the cooler hours of the day. First stop: Lamin Lodge for a cup of tea and puff puffs (deep-fried Gambian doughnuts) before heading onto the waterways in a traditional pirogue (a local dug out paddle canoe). In one morning you can spot up to 20o different bird species, and a guide is on hand to help. One for the budding wildlife watchers.
The Gambia: Where to Eat
Calypso Beach Bar and Restaurant
The Lowdown: Calypso Beach Bar and Restaurant at Cape Point is a lovely little restaurant with a raised terrace in the trees for pre-dinner cocktails, and tables under cabanas which sit adjacent to a freshwater pond – home to a few crocs and all kinds of bird life. The restaurant operates at a different pace to other establishments: it’s a peaceful haven. And when sun becomes too hot in the day, stop by for a chilled glass of wine under the thatched roof.
Eat and Drink: The menu’s seafood selection is the star of the show. Take your pick from the catch of the day, to prawns and other crustaceans. There’s plenty of steaks and salads, and they serve the biggest Strawberry Daiquiris we’ve ever laid our peepers on.
The Lowdown: Coco Ocean is on the more pricier side, and is one of the more high-end hotel in The Gambia. It’s everything under one roof type job; an on-site spa, private beach, numerous restaurant and bar, and other amenities. Even if you don’t stay at Coco Ocean, the three restaurant dishes up global cuisines, anything from European to Japanese and African.
Eat and Drink: Try the Beach Restaurant for more casual dining – there’s eats including the chicken caesar salad, burgers, veggie pasta dishes and build your own fajitas. Not traditional Gambian fare, no, but tasty all the same. And the chocolate mud pie is just divine.
The Gambia Experience is the UK’s leading tour operator to The Gambia and is the only operator to offer a year round programme. A wide selection of package and tailor made holidays are available along with a good choice of flights, including its own exclusive charter service with Titan Airways from Gatwick.
Ngala Lodge – The Gambia Experience is offering 6 night bed & breakfast packages from £799pp, based on two sharing a Suite and inclusive of Gatwick flights, hotel transfers and airport taxes
Mandina Lodges at Makasutu comprising 9 lodges – Stilted, Floating, Mangrove and Jungle Lodges – prices from £349 for a 3 night add-on stay ( ie to combine with a package holiday). This price is based on a jungle lodge and includes accommodation on a half board basis along with transfers. es
For more information on any of the restaurants and tours above, please see the website here.