Little Bee-eater Merops pusillus
Note the blue eyebrow which is unusual in the west African race.
Tanji Reserve, The Gambia
See NASON, A. (1998)
This is not intended to be a complete list of accommodation in The Gambia but it includes places where birders have stayed and / or provided information about the hotel, the area and birdwatching potential. Note that you should check prices as those given may have changed since they were reported.
Exclusive bird watching access in Northern Gambia, holiday accommodation and unique bird tours.
Located in Jarjari Village in the Bao Bolong Wetland Reserve, Northern Gambia, Morgan Kunda Lodges has eight twin en-suite lodges and a communal Bantaba, offering a place to unwind with a refreshing drink and freshly prepared meals. Go for an evening stroll or take advantage of the viewing platform located within the grounds overlooking the wetland reserve. The exclusive location allows you to take unique bird tours into hidden Gambia where you can expect to see the rare Egyptian Plover, White-Crested Tiger Bittern and Martial Eagle.
The Morgan Kunda Lodges are a unique place to stay. All profits go towards the charity The Morgan Clark Foundation, www.morganclarkfoundation.org which supports the Jarjari Village School ensuring local children have access to education.
Banjul and the developed coast
The Kairaba Hotel. Tel 220 462940 fax 220 462947 email [email protected]
"This is rated as one of the best hotels in The Gambia and visitors report that it has picked up again lately and that the Shikra restaurant is particularly good. From personal experience in February 2003, this hotel seems best booked as part of a package deal rather than for a few days as part of an independent tour."
The above hotels are near the top end of the market. Whilst they may be particularly popular with birders, there is a very wide range of accommodation to choose from, dependent on your timetable, your budget and whether you need to take into account the needs of family members who have different interests.
The Badala Park Tel 460400, fax 460402 provides basic accommodation in a brilliant birding location in the Kotu area and is popular with birders on a budget. You will probably want to make an allowance for eating out in the evening.
The Bakotu Hotel Tel 465959, fax 465555 is also popular with birders, being smaller and quieter. A short walk through the gardens will take you to a viewpoint overlooking the Kotu stream.
"We really like the Safari Garden Hotel which has 12 double rooms in gardens with a swimming pool. The hotel supports a number of conservation initiatives, prides itself on not laying off staff during the "off season" and supports development programmes for the staff. The only disadvantage for birders is the location; but it is within walking distance of the Fajara Golf course."
Tel 495887 fax 497841 email [email protected]
The Atlantic Hotel, Banjul. Tel 220 228601 Fax 220 227861
Enquiries and reservation email:[email protected] Also included on web site www.corinthia.com "Good for the Bund Road, estuary watching and bird garden (an oasis in the dry season). If you decide to book direct, a) ask for a room overlooking the bird garden and b) ask if they will store your main luggage whilst you travel up-river." We would be particularly interested in feedback from birders who have used budget and locally owned hotels.
Tanji and Marikissa
Paradise Inn, The Gambia
Paradise Inn Lodge and Nature Park Tanji. fax +220 460 023 email [email protected] "Convenient for the Tanji (Karinti) Reserve including the Bijol Islands. Brufut is relatively close but you will need transport. The birding in the grounds of the lodge and nearby is also very good. Wet season sightings include the elusive Shining Blue Kingfisher Alcedo quadribrachys. They have their own bird guide Laibo Manneh whom we thought was excellent. Paradise Lodge will organise trips for you including Abuko / Kombo south area, Marikissa, Tendaba and Basse. For birdwatching trips Laibo charged £30.00 per person per day including transport (but not of course overnight expenses). In peak season you would be well advised to book him in advance. We revisited Paradise Inn Lodge again in February 2003 and would thoroughly recommend it for a relaxing few days or as an alternative to the hustle and bustle of the developed coastal strip."
'Alla la Darroo' guest house is a 45 minute drive from the airport and lies just South of Brikama on the road to Marakissa and the border South. "We have not visited it ourselves but for birders not requiring en suite accommodation and not in need of electricity to charge their batteries it sounds well worth considering." Despite references to the opportunities to sleep under the stars they assure us they do provide mosquito netting. They see themselves as an eco friendly establishment.
River Lodge some 10-15 minutes south of Marikissa, ( turn right at Darsilami) is a wonderful location. It is best known as an excellent lunch stop, they do have some thatched huts and a single long drop loo. 100D bed and breakfast (2000 prices). Only for the really intrepid with their own sheet sleeping bag and mosquito net.
Marikissa, The Gambia
Tumani Tenda, Sindola and Kemoto
Tumani Tenda PO Box 5425, Brikama, The Gambia, West Africa. Tel 01425 email [email protected]. An excellent development well worth supporting. The camp (follow the signs for Kachokorr forest) is run by representatives of the families in the local village. Accommodation is very simple but adequate with a flushing loo and shower. Food is also simple. Prices are very low, in February 2003 we paid £4.28 pp for room and breakfast and £1.00 for dinner. There is a local guide who will take you on a very enjoyable bird walk around the local area. Excellent birds include Brown-necked Parrots Poicephalus robusuts.
Tendaba Tel (Banjul Office) 465288, fax 466180. If you can only visit one up river location during your stay, this is the one to go for. Book your boat trip to the bolons of the Baobolong Wetland Reserve as soon as you arrive taking into account tides (you need to be at the head of the bolons for high tide if you are going to cross between the two without grounding the boat). The camp is locally owned and managed. You will need to specify en-suite accommodation if this is what your require. With more general parties coming here, the swimming pool is functioning again. Travel by bus to Kwinella and then walk 5 km (think about the walk when packing). We have seen a local man shipping packs on his donkey cart; if he is around that could be a worthwhile investment, bearing in mind the heat. Tendaba features on most birdwatching tours upriver.
Sindola Lodge is a new, luxurious facility located in bush country near Kanali, which is about 2.5 hours drive from the coast on a quite good road and not as expensive as one might expect. The Lodge has links principally with the Kairaba Hotel and features in several brochures. They organise their own transfers from the coast.
Georgetown & Basse
Baobalong Camp Tel: 676133 or 676151. This is run by local Gambian birders and there is excellent birding in and around the camp. It is popular with British birdwatching groups. "Good value - we enjoyed it."
Jangjang-bureh Camp On the north bank this camp is lit by oil lamps and has a bar overlooking the river.
Both of these camps can organise river trips and bird walks.
Jem Hotel, Basse Tel: 668356 Fax 668001 (or in the UK 01843 586985) Rooms (for double or single use) are D175 per night, with all meals extra. "For many years accepted as the best available in a limited market."
There are a number of birding guides in The Gambia, some associated with hotels which can organise birdwatching trips.
"The West African Bird Study Association (WABSA) have guides at their stall at Kotu Creek. You should make sure that you go to the stall rather than get picked up by pseudo guides lurking nearby. Unfortunately some people have been forging WABSA membership cards but if you are at the stall, other guides will soon see off intruders. You may want to use the WABSA guides listed in the Contact section of this website and make contact before you go. Some guides have left WABSA to join a new organisation but we have not yet had feedback from members as to how this is working out on the ground."
Solomon Jallow of WABSA manages a group of guides which includes Ansuman Drammeh, Aladin Jemeh, Tamba Jeffang, Sering Bojang, Buba Daffeh, Osman Sayand and Dembo Sonko. These guides have a good knowledge of identification and bird calls and where to find some of the rarer or more difficult species in all parts of The Gambia. They can organise all transport and accommodation. Tel: 907694. E-mail [email protected]
Clive Barlow has operated as a tour leader and bird guide in The Gambia since 1985 and is available throughout the year as a birding, photography, or research guide for both individuals and groups, see www.birdsofthegambia.com.
You need to bear in mind that in addition to being able to find and identify birds, you should feel confident that anyone guiding you up river will be able to organise reliable transport with the proper insurance for such an expedition and be able to pre-book accommodation. Fuel and vehicle hire are not as cheap as many other items in The Gambia so you need to be clear about whether these are included or not in the costs that are quoted. In November many of the top flight guides will be working for the numerous bird tour companies that bring their groups to The Gambia at this time. Other guides can find and identify the birds: the occasional difference of opinion can become a learning experience on both sides.
Flights: There are numerous scheduled and charter flights which connect Western Europe and other African countries with Banjul International airport which is close to the capital city itself and to the coastal resorts.
Books: The Books and Sounds section of this website shows a comprehensive range of field and other guides for birders visiting The Gambia and if you order from this site, you will be generating funds for our conservation work. The following travel guides have much valuable and interesting information:
The Bradt Guide to The Gambia by Craig Emms and Linda Barnett is written by professional ecologists based in The Gambia. Covering all of the basics it is particularly good in directing birders to lesser known areas with good birding potential and provides information about alternative accommodation to enable birders to stay on hand for early morning starts. It will be well appreciated by visitors interested in wildlife. The health section also includes useful information.
Lonely Planet Guide to The Gambia and Senegal gives sensible advice on a whole range of issues relating to a stay in The Gambia.
For a deeper understanding of the society you will be visiting read Michael Tomkinson's Gambia. Beautiful photographs illustrate this book which will be invaluable to students visiting the country. The book includes a directory which provides "a comprehensive if subjective guide to The Gambia's hotels, guest houses, lodges and camps, and of the airlines and holiday firms that serve it."
Roads: Travel in The Gambia is very straightforward, though the state of the roads away from the coastal resorts and Banjul means that it takes a long time to go anywhere. There are two main routes through the country, the tar road along the southern side of the Gambia River and the dirt road along its northern bank.
In November 2004 a correspondent reported "the south bank road is now in an appalling state with substantially increased journey times... The north bank road all the way from Barra to Georgetown has been almost completely rebuilt and is in excellent condition." In August 2006, this was confirmed as the best option although it is hoped that the south bank road will improve in the foreseeable future.
Independent travellers can hire vehicles or a vehicle with driver as well as trying more sedate options to see the countryside such as boats or bicycles. "Car hire is not really necessary: not only does the lack of signs make it difficult to go anywhere off the beaten track, but concentrating on driving around the potholes and avoiding other vehicles, especially donkey/horse/ox carts would make for a stressful experience." If you choose to hire a car, the general advice for travelling up-country is to bear in mind that car hire is expensive, the conditions of roads and vehicles make it important that you should be confident driving on dirt roads and have some basic mechanical knowledge, including wheel changing skills.
Public transport is very good value but tends not to suit birders who want to stop en-route. We beleive public buses still run to Basse on the road on the south side road, but we understand the express buses have been withdrawn.
Tourist taxis and car hire are not cheap (unless you are comparing with London prices). You should check that the driver's licence and insurance are up to date. The prices of tourist taxis are fixed so your trip isn't spoilt by the prospect of the lively and probably noisy negotiations when it comes to settling up. However, if you feel confident about dealing with this you can flag down a town taxi. Bush Taxis are usually minibuses travelling on fixed routes. They depart when full - guessing which one will leave next is impossible - just try and pick the fullest (but this means you get the least comfortable seat).
For longer independent trips most birders tend to use a taxi driver they have already met, whose driving and car they feel comfortable with for a long journey on bad roads. You do need to check that they are properly insured and should recognise that there will be sites that you will be unable to reach in an ordinary taxi. The most secure option, with proper public liability insurance is to hire a vehicle and driver from one of the tour companies. West Africa Tours Tel 495258 fax 496118 [email protected] offer a package of 4 WD vehicle, driver and guide, petrol included, around the peninsular area including Marikissa, with you being responsible for petrol beyond this. This arrangement ensures that you don't miss out on birding if the vehicle does suffer damage on the rather exciting roads - if it is not immediately repairable West African Tours will get another vehicle out to you asap - particularly important if you are travelling up river.
Bush taxis and buses connect The Gambia to many parts of Senegal. "Bush taxis are certainly the cheapest way to travel, but as first-time visitors we didn’t have the confidence to work out the routes and flag one down."
"We found that hiring a driver and taxi for the day (D800/£16) or half-day (D500/£10) was not too expensive, especially if shared between three or four people. The taxis vary in their quality / state of dilapidation, and unless you have a recommendation from someone who has been before, it is pot luck. But if you find a taxi driver that you like, it is usually easy to book him for the travel you need for the remainder of your trip.
Money: Note that you should recheck prices and exchange rates as those given may have changed since they were reported.
The Dalasis has continued to fall in value in recent years, and we found that both the Senegambia Hotel and the nearby banks and exchange bureaux were offering D49-50 to the pound sterling (€=D34), although the Paradise Beach Hotel near Kotu was offering only D45 to the pound. On arrival at the airport, it is advisable to have a couple of pound coins ready as this is the preferred currency for tipping by the porters at both the airport and the hotels. Note not having a porter at the airport is not an option: one will just pick up your bags, ask where you’re going and demand that you follow them.
Compared to Europe, travel and food are cheap, though they are, not surprisingly, more expensive around the hotels than elsewhere. We ate at a range of restaurants – Indian, Asian, Mediterranean, Lebanese, African – and typically paid D500 (£10) for a main course and a couple of drinks for two of us. A bottle of Banjul, the local beer, costs D30 (60p) and a four-pack of 1.5 litre bottles of water costs D150 (£3) from one of the three mini-markets close to the Senegambia Hotel. You can use sterling in shops and restaurants, but don’t expect to get such a good exchange rate. Many of the bird guides prefer to be paid in pounds, though will accept Dalasis if that’s all you have. We took our money as a mix of cash and sterling travellers’ cheques – cashpoints are becoming more numerous (for use with credit cards), though you can withdraw a maximum of D2000 (£40) at a time, and the power cuts seem to put them out of action regularly.
Communications: "Mobile phones have revolutionised communications in The Gambia, in a country where most homes do not have a landline (because Gamtel, the state-owned phone / tv / radio company, cannot afford the infrastructure costs). Almost everyone has a mobile, at least on the coast and in the big towns, and network coverage seems good in most places, even inland – the antennae are solar-powered, thus avoiding the problem of frequent power cuts. This means that all the taxi drivers and bird guides can be contacted directly when you’re in the country, and most also have e-mail addresses if you want to arrange something in advance. You can buy a local Africell Simcard in order to use your own mobile (though you’ll need one with a triband facility). * , but we found it just as easy to call from the hotel. Short local calls to taxi drivers’ mobile phones cost just D6-15 (12p-30p), though we didn’t call the UK, so have no idea what the bill would be.
*NB website editors note Gamcell, which has better coverage away from the coast, is not easily available - there is a long waiting list for these."
Health: Visit your Health Centre / Doctor to check on current health protection requirements. If this is your first trip to sub-Saharan Africa, it is best to call at your Centre when you book your holiday to avoid the possibility of having more than one jab at the same time. You will definitely need to protect yourself against malaria. There is now an alternative to Larium available in the UK. Given the tendency for birdwatchers to visit marshy places at dusk this is particularly important. It is advisable to keep your arms, legs, feet and ankles covered. Whilst some people are not keen on mosquito nets, it is best to always carry your own because ceiling fans and air conditioning are subject to failure (and they may be too cool / noisy to let you sleep).
Timing: The most popular times to visit are November to early December when many of the birds are still in breeding plumage, the rains have normally finished and the temperature is cooler. The arrival of the Harmattan, a wind from the North, in late December or January is bad for photographers. The wind carries dust from the Sahara which gives an overcast appearance to photographs. The dust can also affect the working of cameras and videos and be the scourge of contact lens wearers. The late dry season from February to April is a great time for raptor watching in The Gambia. However, by end of February the Egyptian Plovers Pluvianius aegyptius will have moved on. Birding in the hotter rainy season is clearly more challenging but can bring its own reward in terms of birdsong and spectacular breeding plumage.
Safety and health issues are no different from those in many African countries. Guidebooks, travel companies and websites provide much of the advice one needs, but key points warrant repetition here: (1) be aware of the risk of malaria and seek current advice, sleep in a sealed tent or under a net and take prophylaxis as recommended; (2) always ensure you have sufficient water and some method of purification (even if this comprises a pot and a campfire for boiling); (3) do not underestimate the danger of being in the sun for too long, ensure you use sun-block, drink plenty of water and wear a hat; (4) be aware of the risk of AIDS; (5) ensure that you take a reasonably-equipped first-aid pack with you including supplies of hypodermic and suturing needles.