Where to stay in The Gambia?
In this, my second podcast episode, I talk about the different resort areas in The Gambia and the variety of accommodation available, to help you find the perfect place for you, whether you are looking for cheap and cheerful, upmarket chic, family friendly, environmentally friendly or maybe something completely off the beaten track.
First, lets head to the main tourist resorts along the coast, the most established of which is Kololi, also known as The Strip. There are a few large hotels here right by the sea. Both the Kairaba and the Senegambia are popular. They have extensive gardens with spacious lawns and plenty of shade-giving palm trees so you can easily find your own quiet spot, yet step outside of your hotel and you’ll find the liveliest couple of streets in The Gambia, full of restaurants and bars.
Bumsters abound and, as a woman, walking back to your hotel is like running the gauntlet, as you ward off one cheesy chat-up line after another, from the young men who hang around hoping to pick up a friendly tourist or two! Most of the time I just treat this as all part of the fun but it can get a little wearing at times.
On the plus side Kololi has a great choice of restaurants, selling every kind of cuisine, right on your doorstep. You’ll find shops selling anything you might need on holiday, including a pharmacy, a few exchange bureaux (which will give you a better rate of exchange than your hotel) and a bank with an occasionally working ATM. There are also a couple of nightclubs, a casino and a couple of internet cafes.
Further shops, restaurants and a children’s playground can be found in the Village complex, just a few minutes’ walk up the road.
Kololi is a great location for those who want to soak up the sun during the day and party at night as well as for those looking for a wide choice of restaurants within easy walking distance. It’s about a half hour drive from the airport.
Nearby Kotu, is a smaller version of Kololi with some great restaurants but little nightlife and just a few shops and exchange bureaux but no bank or pharmacy.
The long sandy beach in Kotu is really lovely with plenty of palm trees for those seeking a little shade. The sunsets are spectacular, perfect for a romantic stroll by the water’s edge. If the local lads bother you take of your shoes and paddle in the water – they won’t follow as they won’t want to get their trainers wet!
Despite the seemingly lack of night life I’ve had some great evenings in Kotu, dancing to the local drummers in the beach bar Dominos, which you’ll find by walking through the craft market and of course, Kololi is only a short taxi ride away if you fancy a livelier scene.
I’ve stayed at the Sunset Beach Hotel and Kombo Beach Hotel in Kotu and would happily recommend either of them. Kombo is a great choice for families, groups or couples. It has a couple of restaurants and plenty going on. Most evenings there is some kind of entertainment and if you’ve not seen an African drumming troupe before be sure not to miss them here. Plus the Kombo Beach hotel has been awarded the Travelife Gold Award three years in a row for its commitment to sustainable tourism.
The only thing I’m not so keen on at Kombo are the rooms overlooking the pool as the music in the evenings I found very intrusive. All the other rooms, in my experience however, are lovely and quiet. I’ve stayed here so many times it almost feels like my second home!
Sunset Beach Hotel, next door, is another favourite ( I have a few!) in a lovely location with the breakfast terrace overlooking the mouth of Kotu Creek, a lovely spot from where to watch a local fisherman casting his net as you enjoy your breakfast in the morning sunshine. The staff here are particularly friendly and helpful and I really liked the other guests, who I found interesting and down to earth. It is a few years since I’ve stayed here but I have no reason to think that standards have changed. I think Sunset Beach Hotel is a great choice for couples or solo travellers.
Other hotels in Kotu include Bakotu, a favourite of bird-watcher and BBC wildlife presenter Chris Packham and Bungalow Beach which has self-catering apartments including a few smaller single occupancy apartments for which you won’t have to pay a single supplement.
South Kotu consists of just a couple of hotels and self catering-apartments and some restaurants all on one street leading down to the beach. I’ve only stayed here the once but I found the bumsters particularly annoying here, although I do like some of the restaurants in particular Shiraz, which will give you delicious home cooking from Lebanon.
In contrast to Kotu or Kololi, you’ll find few bumsters at Bijilo just south of Kololi. There’s just a couple of hotels here by a long stretch of sandy beach, a few beach bars and little else. Perfect for a quiet, relaxing holiday and again if you fancy a change of pace the nightlife of Kololi is just a 5 minute taxi ride away.
Coco Ocean Resort and Spa in Bijilo, is without doubt the most luxurious hotel in The Gambia. Moroccan influenced architecture and decor have been used to great effect to create a serene atmosphere in this large, sumptuous hotel. I have never stayed here but I have visited a number of times and the rooms and suites are really lovely and the restaurants are excellent. I can also highly recommend the spa which I think is so good it deserves a future podcast episode all to itself!
A little further south still you’ll find the village of Brufut. The all-inclusive Sheraton Gambia Hotel is on the sandy beach here while the charming, small boutique hotel Hibiscus House, is set back from the beach tucked away in the village itself. I’ve not stayed in either but they both impressed me when I visited.
The Sheraton is not quite as high a standard as you would normal expect from this well-respected chain but it has a lovely character created in part by the colourful African murals that adorn the walls and also by the thatched buildings themselves, reminiscent of an African village. It is set in spacious grounds laid to lawn down to the sandy beach. I can vouch for the lunchtime buffet which is excellent, although I have heard it lacks enough variety when staying for the week. I have also used the spa here which I can definitely recommend. While an all-inclusive hotel is not for me as I like to try different restaurants and to spend my money with the locals wherever possible, I can certainly see why it is so appealing to many people.
New to Brufut this year is the lovely Leo’s Hotel. It is a very small, modern boutique hotel run by a charming Austrian couple. With just 5 double rooms plus one suite, each with a view over the pool and gardens to the Atlantic Ocean beyond and with no children allowed at the hotel, you are bound to find peace and quiet here. For more photographs and my review please visit the Boutique Travel Blog.
Kololi, Kotu and Bijilo and Brufut are all about a half hour’s drive from the airport of Banjul.
Heading back north along the coast, past Bijilo, Kololi and Kotu you’ll next reach Fajara. This is a residential area popular with expats as well as Gambians with a just a couple of hotels. You’ll find some excellent restaurants here, including Ngala Lodge, a small and quirky boutique hotel with a superb restaurant.
This hotel is another firm favourite of mine. I’d highly recommend upgrading to a first floor Atlantic Suite. These are very spacious and each one has a private Jacuzzi on a large terrace, overlooking the garden to the ocean. Steps down the cliff lead to a small private beach. What’s more, and the same can probably be said for Brufut and Bijilo, there’s not a bumster in sight either on the beach or outside the hotel. This is another adult only hotel and was voted by trip advisor users last year as one of the most romantic hotels in Africa.
If your budget is more modest, however, nearby Safari Garden, looks like a very good alternative.
Fajara is about a 35 minute drive to the airport
Just north of Fajara you will come to Bakau, a great area to stay in if you want to experience a slightly more authentic Africa. The fish market is a must see as is Kachikally crocodile pool but you’ll also find a craft market and banks, supermarkets, and plenty of restaurants selling local cuisine as well as international dishes. I’ve not stayed here but I have visited African Village which is a basic but pleasant hotel. As there is no air-conditioning, it would not be my choice in the humid summer months.
Bakau is about a 40 minute drive from the airport.
Next along the coast is Cape Point, on the mouth of the River Gambia, and by one of the largest beaches in the country – a huge expanse of sand and at one end you’ll find, Calypso, my favourite bar come restaurant, perfect for a quiet lunch under a thatched cabana, a romantic evening meal or perhaps a cocktail as the sun goes down, in a wonderful setting that feels as if you really are in the middle of nowhere.
Again Cape Point is not an area I’ve actually stayed in but the Ocean Bay Hotel, in particular, looks lovely although personally I usually prefer something smaller, I would be happy to stay here. There are a few restaurants and crafts stalls in the area, as well as a mini-supermarket and the larger village of Bakau is only a relatively short walk away.
Cape Point is about 45 minutes from the airport.
The capital of The Gambia is Banjul but it has little geared towards tourism, and is one of the smallest capitals in Africa.
Banjul’s Albert Market is a very interesting and colourful place to visit. There is just one hotel of note, the Atlantic Beach hotel, which is in a lovely location opening on to Banjul’s large sandy beach and is good choice for a hotel based holiday or for business travellers. Due to the lack of restaurants in the area, half-board or all-inclusive options are available.
Banjul’s airport is nearly an hour’s drive from the capital itself.
So as you can see there is a wide variety of places to stay and hotels along the coast of The Gambia. Sadly though few of these are owned by Gambians, however, they do all employ local staff often enabling each of them to support a large extended family. Many hotels also shop locally through initiatives such as Gambia is Good, supporting local small-scale farmers.
An alternative to the typical package beach hotel holiday, is to stay in one of the many privately run guest houses, such as Dalaba Residence near the Kololi resort area. While some might miss the facilities that the hotels offer, such as a swimming pool, others prefer staying in a real Gambian community plus guest houses can be considerably cheaper. They’re a good option if you want to stay in the country for some time or even if you are just passing through.
If caring about your carbon footprint is important to you and you are looking for something a little different away from the main tourist areas yet not too far from the airport, then I have two suggestions for you.
Firstly Sandele Eco Retreat near Kartong (the home of one Gambian’s best music festivals).
This is not a place I’ve stayed in myself but when I visited I was really impressed by the owner’s passion and commitment to the local community and sustainable tourism and technology. So determined are they to ensure the local community would benefit from the retreat, that they have registered the land that the it is built on in the village’s name and now lease the land back from the village. It will revert fully to village management at the end of their 25 year lease.
Sandele is in a lovely location, nestled in the forest by a vast, deserted sandy beach with high quality accommodation and a great restaurant. There’s a variety of activities on offer including yoga, bird-watching and fishing.
Sandele is just under an hour’s drive from the airport.
Another wonderful eco retreat is found deep in the Makasutu Forest and that is the lovely luxury Mandina Lodges. I was lucky enough to stay here for the first time just last month. Waking up looking out over the river from my four-poster bed on a floating lodge and listening to the forest awake was a magical moment that I will never forget. You can read all about it and the great time I had exploring the forest including meeting the 200 strong troupe of baboons here on ‘Travel With Kat’.
Mandina is about a 40 minutes’ drive from the airport.
There are of course, I’m sure, many other nice places to stay but the ones I have told you about here are the places that I have either stayed in or at least visited myself. There is one, however, that I’ve never stayed in, or even seen as yet that I do just want to tell you about and that is the Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Project’s camp. It’s a four-hour drive inland from the coastal resorts in the River Gambia National Park where 3 nights a week visitors are allowed to stay in the camp. I’m told staying here is an unforgettable experience and it’s the perfect place to get to know the real Gambia and its wonderful wildlife including the chimpanzees.
Wherever you decide to stay, we do of course, all have different preferences – one person’s dream holiday might be another person’s nightmare. It is worth doing your homework to find the place that is right for you. It can make a huge difference as to how you enjoy your visit to The Gambia and even how you perceive the country itself.
In my next podcast, instead of a typical Guide to The Gambia episode, I’ll be sharing with you one of my most memorable days in The Gambia when I was invited up-country to a festival of the Jola tribe.
You can subscribe to my podcasts on iTunes. Follow this link, click on ‘View on iTunes’ and then ‘subscribe’
Listen to or read Episode 1, if you’d like to know why I think The Gambia is a great place to visit, what there is to do there and how to get around.
The music featured in this podcast is ‘Under African Skies’ by African Cream Kids from MusicAlley.com
While I have worked for Serenity Holidays, which includes The Gambia Experience, since 2005, ‘Travel With Kat’ and my accompanying podcasts should not be taken as the views of Serenity Holidays or any of its subsidiaries. As always, I give you my honest opinion. My only bias, which I hope you will forgive me for, stems from my having fallen in love with The Gambia many years ago.