My decision to visit Gambia was the outcome of a series of choices driven by impulse, passion and a dash of logic. Oh and I wanted somewhere warm without paying a packet. Makes sense or curious? Please read on.
Dawn at the agency said she would have suggested Egypt (me having been to Turkey, Morocco and Tunisia in more recent years reflecting my non European interest) but due to security was offering Canaries or Gambia. Then a colleague of hers from the back of the office said she had been there and it was “great”. Considering I knew not this person in the slightest, this was the precise moment that logic flew out and my passion for the ways of Africa over 18 years of my life up to 2002 took over. Dawn also took over in her way and came up with a price competitive proposal.
The outcome in summary was a great 2 week holiday in the KOTU BEACH AREA with various day trips marred only by some nuisances that were compounded by travelling as a single female and which abated in the latter part of the first week. I provide details at the end as to how best to deal with these as in my opinion they alone should not prevent people going.
Organised to the following headings:
8.Annoyances and Nuisances
9.A non binary perspective
The currency is the Gambian Dalasi at approx. 58 per £ and rates varied between 58 and 60 (between Jan 2nd 2016 and 16th when I was there). Many money changers at Kotu beach open 7 days per week late to 9/10pm and hotel rate approx. 1Dalasi per £ less favourable than these. Currency not available outside country and hotel should be able to get you started on converting if required..
Very glad I went although unlikely to return unless a trip to the interior of the country as not a sunbed woman, where various nature reserves which I might combine with a Senegal trip or similar.
Pictures below- click to access and click again to enlarge to full screeen
The Bed and breakfast package was recommended to me as there is plenty of food venues in the area (see Restaurants). Trip advisor showed that there was a range of opinions from very happy to unhappy with the Palm Beach hotel. These seemed to be driven by the quality of the rooms. Fellow residents talk was that the hotel management company had deferred maintenance as their multi year lease was coming to an end, but as the lease had just been renewed for 10 years and hence improvements were now happening. Suspect that all why it was such a keen price in January.
Most of the rooms are organised into 3 rows of 8 bedroomed blocks. My room in Row C was on 1st floor facing away from rest of hotel, furthest from poolside and overlooking the adjoining mangroves. See Photos.
Most happy with room, cleaning, towels, hot water and view. Bathroom functional and very clean. In comparison with UK star rating I’d say 2star based on my room. Lower standard room would pull that down for the hotel. Yes the TV was crooked on the wall, water flow in sink not powerful but these were minor quirks.
Reception staff pleasant when required for check-in where very organised as nearly midnight, got to room to drop bag and also changed money too (slightly less than local dealer rate) and able to have a drink at the bar- most pleasant after a long day and took maybe 20-25 mins for all of that checking in to get to bar stuff. Safe facilities next to Reception at 200 Dlasei per day or approx. £3 per 24hrs
Beach bar service good with food coming from hotel under shrinkwrap: a nice touch of improvisation to keep warm. They (kitchen staff) spiced up dishes as required as otherwise bland to my taste. Sunbeds available.
Poolside bar only used for part of a few evening entertainment events (busy programme available with events nearly every night), but quicker to get drinks at bar rather than table service.
Piano Bar as it is indeed called that had a snooker table, pool table, telly for uk footie and seating and quite pleasant but very warm for a late evening drink (opened till very late). No piano sighted or heard
Breakfast from 7am to 10am and gets busy after about 8 has a fair selection of pancakes, eggs to order, two fruit offerings, bread & cheese, and a small hot selection. Limited cereal and a single juice will upset people used to a larger spread. I was happy with available choice and enjoyed on adjoining terrace as day broke and temperatures rose from low 20’s.
Grounds: Well maintained and lovely sights and sounds of birdlife from the mangroves.
Massage: Excellent back massage with great hands enjoyed from on site service at good rates.
Location is good and central to the busiest stretch of a very long beach but connected to local strip 10/12 mins walk away by badly lit road- bring torch or rely on night vision. I felt safe and more so once I got used to the chatter of the human nuisances. Eg “Hello Boss Lady”. “Need taxi?”
One of my main reasons for travelling outside Europe is to experience the variety of foods, their way of cooking and the spices used. Coastal countries such as Gambia have the additional advantage of access to fresh fish.
Three styles of cooking were very much enjoyed
Not tasted before were 2 types of white fleshed fish, both delicious although my preference was for the latter
Beer: Julbrew is a quality lager in 330ml bottles widely available chilled at approx £1 each. Happy hours and less touristy places lower that price. Price of beer at airport on departure was 75 Dalasi
Softs. Vimto is a raspberry blueberry mix made under UK license and refreshing- looks like what we have in the UK. Malta is a sweetened non alcoholic guiness style right through to its blackness with white froth and might become a nice drink to 1 in a million type people. Also available were a fruit cocktail, a grapefruit (with a bit of tang) and a pineapple drink. Coke products are available including fanta sprite but did not see any diet versions. This country likes its sugar and not surprising it has a big diabetic problem.
Foreign Spirits: Main brands at approx. 75p per tot.
Imported wine: Red/white wide ranges of prices and country of supply and quality not checked.
Water where hotel kiosk pricier at 250Dalasi for 6 bottles of 1.5L than local supermarkets at 150 Dalasi but water is so heavy to try save on that.
Most favoured and used most often
Close to my top tier.
Fair quality places
There are 3 categories of provider.
As a single female traveller who found most Gambian men deaf to “no thankyou” and as I could not bring my Taser I decided to go with the safest option; Gambia Tours were great for me, the guides informed, the drivers safe and the tours ran to time; a rarity in Gambia.
I went on 4 one day tours.
Lahmin Lodge / Azubuko Nature reserve
South Gambia day Tour
James Island slave history trip
Fathala Lodge / Senegal
Trip booked but cancelled due to lack of numbers was a half day Banjul, Batik factory, and craft market.
Other tours available
Overnight stay at Fathala lodge.
Cooking Gambian style
8 Annoyances and Nuisances
9 Non Binary perspective
As a T-woman I had no direct or indirect hassles other than those for all single women and pairs of women. My own personal rules stopped me from organising trip with male taxi drivers / guides as I feared being the only tourist.
I also declined opportunities to go out to listen to local, jazz and rock music in places in Banjul which I was assured does take place as I feared something going wrong away from auspices of Thomas Cook, Hotel, big tour company. As a country the Gambians as a majority and the laws are very unkind to their own LGBTI community and it only takes a bight spark gender-bigot in some Banjul night time venue to challenge my gender and my world could turn unpleasant rapidly. This reduced the potential happiness from the holiday