Gambia – safaris, monkeys & beach

28th December 2016

Now I’m not ridiculous or uniformed, I knew Gambia had an imminent Presidential change but after checking word on the ground, I knew it’d be fine until mid Jan. Therefore a post Christmas trip was not only safe, it was also ideal in case the handover goes pear shaped and it is no longer a holiday destination for some time. Wish I’d done the same with Syria, so many treasures gone forever that we’ll no longer see.

My reasons for picking Gambia were simple, hot weather and no time difference as last year’s toddler jet lag was tough! The flight time is supposed to be 6 hours but due to small planes this is often longer due to a stop to refuel. It’s tricky keeping a toddler amused on a plane when they can see you’re on the ground and the doors are open. I rely on activity books with stickers from cheap book shops before I leave, always keeping one unopened one for the return journey.

My main aim for this trip was to have some downtime, which is unlike me or Betty, so a new concept for us. I managed this by alternating activity days with beach/pool days. The pool was freezing and quite deep so I tried to limit these sessions but the beach was excellent. Few minutes walk from the hotel, restaurant and bar on the sand and double beds with curtains for lazing out of the sun when needed. Having the little person compulsory early mornings meant we always got a good spot on the beach.

Betty loves animals as long as they keep their distance so I organised our trips with that in mind. I used tour companies for two of the trips and taxis for the others.

Abuko Nature Reserve

This reserve is about 20mins from Kololi in a private taxi and you can hire a guide on arrival for about £6 for a 2hr walk. The guide takes you to a crocodile pool with a raised hide for bird watching, down many winding paths to see birds and monkeys and then a sanctuary area for animal rehabilitation, mainly hyenas. The area has a snack area so attracts huge numbers of monkeys and vultures.

Monkey Park (Bijilo Forest Park)

A short walk from the main strip in Kololi is a small nature park commonly known as Monkey Park. Here you can also hire a guide for a few pounds to walk you around to find the monkeys and explain the fauna. The green vervet monkeys are used to visitors so will take nuts from your hands. All signs say don’t feed the monkeys but the guide sells them to you on arrival. Nowhere to wash your hands though so take from antibacterial gel.

Makasutu Cultural Forest

The cultural forest is about 30mins in a taxi from Kololi. This is a slightly pricier excursion and takes longer to visit so has an increased taxi fee to include waiting time. The forest entrance fee includes a pirogue/canoe ride in the mangroves seeing birds and animals, a walk through the forest with fauna explanations and many baboon sightings, a stop at the palm reader (with a reading if you pay a supplement), a palm wine tasting with demonstration of tree tapping and a huge buffet lunch. There is a pool to use if you stay for even longer and a bar. Betty wanted to take a baboon home with us!

4WD Day trip

We used Black & White tour company to see multiple sights in one day. Would have preferred it not to be in a 4WD as not the safest vehicle and hot in the midday sun. We started visiting the Crocodile Pool which is famed for it’s fertility improving qualities, kept Betty far from the free roaming crocs! Then we visited Serrekunda Market for a look at the produce. The local school was busy for a Sunday but the kids seemed happy and sang us a song, then we visited a family compound and saw a traditional house. Always a selling opportunity on these kids of tours so we stopped at the Brikama Wood Carving centre where all kinds of masks and animal figures were available to purchase. We spent a few hours at Sanyang Paradise Beach for buffet lunch and some lazing on the sand. Final stop at Tanji Fishing Village where we saw the traditional smoker block which is leased to a different family each year. A full, long day but a nice variety of activities.

Fatala Safari Park 

Don’t think Windsor Safari Park or Longleat, this is close to real! An open top jeep trip around a private game reserve where the animals can’t escape but do roam wild so you may not see them. We had to drive for one hour to find the giraffes. It’s a very long day starting at 6:30, short drive to Banjul to get the ferry which has a long wait. Then ferry trip for about 30mins followed by another short drive to the border. Passport formalities then another 30min drive to the park. We were in the park in the jeep for a good couple of hours so we didn’t get lunch, back at the ferry terminal, until 3pm. Good job I took lots of snacks for Betty. Back to the hotel by 5:30pm. It was a good day though, seeing a rhino, zebras, antelopes, warthogs and monkeys.

Baby/Toddler Friendly info:

Food: Gambia is a popular tourist destination so don’t expect to see the ‘real’ Africa. But as such there is plenty of western food. Pizza, curry, burgers and chips. They love kids so lots for them too.

Toilets: I didn’t find any baby changing anywhere and some facilities are lacking the basics. Queues can be a problem. Betty did very well as she’d only been potty trained for a couple of weeks.

Transport: The taxis are safer than elsewhere in Africa but few have seatbelts so no options for car seats.