As a gentle sea breeze brushes my face, I arch my back in the cat pose. Moving from one yoga hold to another, I unwind and the stresses of life slip away. Lamin expertly guides me through each posture, and after over an hour of stretches and holds while breathing in the salty air, I feel wonderful.
Disclaimer: I have visited The Gambia many times over the last 18 years on holiday, volunteering and while working for The Gambia Experience. I now work freelance but was delighted to be invited to return in December 2022 on a bloggers’ press trip funded by The Gambia Experience.
Top 5 Relaxing Things to Do in The Gambia
The Gambia is a laid-back little country, with miles and miles of unspoiled sandy beaches. Even in the height of the season the most popular beaches never get overcrowded. It’s the perfect place for a relaxing vacation. We spend so much time rushing around, especially in the lead-up to a holiday that it can be hard to truly relax while we are away. My trick is to get away from the main resorts and explore further afield. Here I’ve selected my top 5 ways to escape, off the beaten path in The Gambia but still within easy reach of the main tourist areas.
1. Chill out at Lamin Lodge
Northeast of the town of Lamin, through the mangroves across a rickety-looking bridge, made of sun-bleached wood, you’ll find Lamin Lodge, overlooking a tributary of the River Gambia.
From Lamin Lodge you can take a boat trip across the water or simply relax with a drink or a meal. I had a coffee with some delicious mini doughnuts with a view of the river recently. I’ve heard their lunches are good too but it’s the relaxing atmosphere and the lovely setting that makes this such a gem.
2. Feel pampered at Coco Ocean Resort & Spa
While not so much off the beaten path, this is certainly a fabulous place to relax and unwind and I couldn’t leave it out.
You’ll find the ultimate in self-indulgence here at the Spa, an elegant haven in the most luxurious hotel in the Gambia, Coco Ocean. They have a good range of treatments and massages, and compared to the prices I’d pay here in the UK, they really are very reasonable. My advice would be to combine a couple of treatments for a longer, totally relaxing treat. Read my review in full here, Coco Ocean, a luxurious beachside hotel and sumptuous spa in The Gambia.
3. Yoga on the beach
UPDATE: Sandele Eco Retreat is sadly no longer open. If you can recommend a location for yoga or meditation classes, please do let us know in the comments below.
I’ve always loved the idea of yoga on the beach but have never had the chance to put the thought into practice until recently. Sandele Eco Retreat and Learning Centre lies on a sweeping bay of white sand in The Gambia. I’d visited before to learn about their impressive sustainability projects. This time I pre-booked a morning yoga session.
I had an early start as it takes about an hour to get to Sandele – it’s well away from the tourist resort where I was staying in Kotu. As I walked through the gardens down a twisting path to the palm-thatched yoga circle I could already feel myself relaxing. With a view across the sands to the ocean and the sound of the waves, it’s a wonderful setting, and with expert yoga teacher, Lamin as my instructor, I couldn’t have been in better hands.
Afterwards, I tucked into a healthy vegan breakfast. Sandele are happy to cater for any tastes or dietary requirements, including meat-eaters of course, but there are few places that I know of where you can eat vegan in The Gambia.
Following my leisurely breakfast, I met up with some of the guys for Turtle SOS The Gambia. You can read about the fabulous work they are doing in a previous post, Saving the marine turtles of West Africa. I also learnt that the name, Sandele, comes from the Mandinka tribe words for ‘now be still’. There’s no place in The Gambia more suited to that phrase.
Sandele has two yoga circles and all guests may join their complementary morning or evening group sessions. Non-residents are also welcome and if you’d like to arrange a yoga session then please contact Geri here.
You might also enjoy, A Juice Retreat at Moinhos Velhos: Can no food make you feel fab?
4. A canoe ride through Makasutu Forest
About an hour from the tourist zone, down a very bumpy, dirt track lies the fabulous eco-lodge, Mandina Lodges. Day visitors are welcome to sample the peace and tranquility here – the perfect place to reconnect with nature.
I love it best viewed from the water, drifting along in a traditional canoe with the rhythmic slosh of the oar and a myriad of birds as a soundtrack. At low tide, you’ll see the oysters clinging to the mangrove roots and you may well see ladies collecting them.
I always remember one particular canoe ride when we stopped at the village of Kubuneh to see the street art adorning many of the houses from the Wide Open Walls project, such an unexpected sight in the Gambian bush.
As dusk falls many birds can be seen heading back to their favourite perch for the night, as the sun sets behind the mangroves – a beautiful sight.
5. Lazy Day Boat Cruise
If you prefer a bigger boat then you can explore the tributaries in a traditional pirogue with the Lazy Day Boat Cruise organised by The Gambia Experience. Sun worshipers can sit up top, where light mattresses are laid out for sunbathing. Downstairs you can sit in the shade and watch the oyster creeks slip by.
Above: Spoonbills and a Yellow-Billed Stork,
Leaving from Denton Bridge, the trip starts with a welcome coffee with a dash of brandy if you wish. As you drift along you’ll see some of Gambia’s aquatic bird life. I had a wonderful day on this cruise recently and passing one particular sandbank offered a great photographic opportunity with spoonbills, Sacred Ibis and Yellow Billed Storks all posing for my camera. Among the other birds we saw was a Goliath Heron which lives up to its name with a wingspan of over 2 metres.
Before lunch, we moored up and had a relaxing swim from the boat to build-up an appetite. After a good meal, I watched some of the others fishing while I sipped a cool Julbrew, the popular local beer, before we meandered back to Denton Bridge.
It’s a lovely, lazy, but not in the least bit boring, way to spend the day.
What to read next?
From tree-top towers to African street art to see more images from Kubuneh.
White domes, hot stones and a paper G-string to find out more about my experience at The Spa, Coco Ocean.
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