Advantages Sunshine, Mid-haul flight, Everyone happy and helpful
Disadvantages Friendship is not free!
I visited The Gambia in April 2008 and must admit I had mixed feelings when I returned. Looking back now, we did have an amazing holiday, but I will admit it was far from a relaxing experience!... however we did come home with some great memories.I had read all the reviews and was prepared for the friendliness of the locals - after all they call it the 'Smiling Coast'. Everyone is friendly, wants to show you around, take you to their home. Even when you have a bit of a tan you will get approached constantly when you are outside your hotel - predominately by the local 'bumsters', who are unemployed young Gambian men eager to earn some money by showing you around and some can be very very pushy.
However, we did befriend a local and this in many ways made our holiday a lot more interesting and easier. Accompanied with a well chosen friend we were able to travel on the local buses and local taxis and learnt so much about life in Gambia. We also went on a couple of organised excursions through Thomas Cook, which were the Truck Safari (£35) and the afternoon River Cruise through the Mangroves (£28), both good trips - just expensive. We had been to Goa a year earlier and were expecting things to be just as cheap, but prices were roughly what you would pay in the North of England. The exchange rate was quite bad at that time.Weather was perfect in April. Hot and dry during the day, but not humid. In the evenings temperatures dropped and were really pleasant for sleeping. We found we rarely needed the air con on at night.
A great place to visit is Makasutu Culture Forest. We travelled independently rather than an organised excursion. It is a beautiful place with lots of wildlife, we were in very close proximity to a family of baboons, but felt in good hands with our guide. The entrance fee includes a trip down the Mandina Bolon in a dug-out canoe. If you like wildlife and birds The Gambia is most definately a place to visit. Bilijo Monkey Park in Kololi is free to enter - bear in mind you might get followed all the way down the beach with offers to show you around the Monkey Park - we refused and used one of the Guides based at the entrance, for a small tip/fee. Best time to visit is at dawn to see the birds, in the afternoon we saw groups of monkeys, which were unbelievably tame.Food and drink in The Gambia was much more western than I expected. But try the local Gambian dishes - the Chicken Yassa is delicious. Good restaurants which I would recommend in Kololi are: Jo Jo's, Paradiso and Ali Babas Garden Restaurant. For nightlife I cannot praise the Chossan Bar enough for live African & Caribbean music and dancing. Can be full of 'oddly matched couples' late on - but has lots of character and atmosphere!
Would I return? Yes, if the price was right. We did not find ourselves having a relaxing time, but we did not go away with the intention of lazing on the beach. We had an interesting, eye-opening experience and a great introduction to African Culture. Gambia is far from one of the poorest countries because of its tourism, but you do not have to wander far from the Resort to see poverty. Only 6 hours on a plane - you must try it.
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