“Bingo time! BIIINNNGOOOOOO!” shouted the lead entertainer as ‘Mysterious Girl’ blared out of the speakers and an order of fried chicken and chips was delivered pool side to another couple.
Djembe Beach Resort was the second hotel of our week stay in The Gambia and it would be hard to find any fault with it at face value. Clean, a nice pool, attentive and friendly staff, hot showers, wifi, right on the beach and a well stocked bar; it many ways it was perfect. But it lacked soul. Like many of the other hotels on the Kololi beach it had been built with the mass market in mind. And the good news was that business was booming! Hotels and restaurants all along the coast were full to the brim. However, with the curry houses, greasy spoon cafes and cheesy night clubs it felt more like the Costa del Sol than West Africa. There’s nothing wrong with that, but if you’ve travelled 3,000 miles isn’t it worth trying to learn about the community you’ve arrived in and see what it has to offer? The hotels on this strip, behind tall walls and gates, gave no way for a tourist to do this and many that I spoke to had no desire to either. The beach, bars and clubs did, but the majority of ‘interactions’ were conducted between older white people and young Gambians.
So would I recommend friends and family to stay away from The Gambia? Absolutely not! Once you travel just a few miles from the areas I talk about above the country has so much to offer. Stunning beaches, guaranteed sun in winter, cheap flights, friendly people, delicious food and hotels and lodges that find a happy middle between holiday comfort and representing the culture you’ve arrived in.
Our first few nights were spent at Nemasu Eco-Lodge in the south of the country, near Ganjur. It was perfect. Greg and Seedy, the respective owner and manager, organised a airport pick up for us, showed us round the lodge and made us feel completely settled as soon as we arrived.
The lodge is perched on a tree-filled hill, leading down to a secluded beach about 45 minutes from the airport. The bar, instead of stools, has swings attached from the ceiling and loads of comfy, locally made, chairs to relax in. The power comes from the solar panels attached around the resort and all of the buildings are made from local, natural materials. They explicitly state that sustainability is the key to everything they do and it’s easy to believe judging by their actions.The hotel also wants to showcase the best that The Gambia has to offer with drummers invited to perform and give lessons, a local masseuse welcome twice a week, delicious Gambian dishes on the menu (try the domada) and an array of excellent tours to take you across various parts of the country. There is also a brilliant roof top area to watch the sun go down across the Atlantic in evening. At £40 a night for a double room and breakfast the lodge is an absolute find and we wish we’d spent our entire week there. Djembe was fine but we’ll know better for next time.
In conclusion, I’d recommend The Gambia in a heartbeat. Avoid the tourist traps and you’ll have an incredible time and meet some wonderful people.