A Travellerspoint blog

Gambia

A return to Gambia

Senegal day one


View Senegal 2016 on ToonSarah's travel map.

In 2014 we had visited Gambia for some winter sun so in search of similar two years later we decided to check out Senegal. But initially that meant a return visit to Gambia!

There are two options for flying to Senegal from the UK, either to Dakar (via Brussels) or via Banjul in neighbouring Gambia. While the former may seem to make more sense, and is convenient for the hotels on the more developed coastal strip a few hours south of the capital, flying to Banjul is the preferred option if staying in the handful of hotels just across the border in the Sine Saloum Delta region – and that is where we were headed.

The Gambia Experience and sister company Senegal Experience have pretty much of a monopoly on travel and hotel bookings to the region from the UK (many of the hotels can only be booked through them) and charter flights come as part of the package. On our previous visit to The Gambia with them two years before our flights had been with Monarch; this time they were with Titan.

Because the flight left Gatwick very early, we opted to stay the previous night in the South Terminal’s Hilton Hotel. The cost of this was balanced by not having to leave our car at the airport, and it also meant we avoided the anxiety of getting to the airport on time, especially in unpredictable winter weather. So we were in the airport the next morning in good time and stress-free.

While nothing special, there was also little to complain about in the flight. The plane, an Airbus, was new and the leg-room generous. Service was friendly, and passenger announcements clear and comprehensive. While the flight was late in leaving this was through no fault of the airline – a checked-in passenger failed to present himself at the gate so his luggage had to be unloaded. Don’t you just love people like that?!

The flight lasted a little over six hours. Unusually, in-flight entertainment was provided via an app which we had to download in advance to our tablets. Presumably if you have no such device you have to do without, but that isn't a great hardship as the selection of films on our flight at least was quite limited and uninspiring. Meals were included, as were tea, coffee and fruit juice, though other drinks had to be paid for. The food was unexciting but quite tasty for an airline meal - pasta salad, chicken fricassé, chocolate cake.

Our route took us over Spain, Portugal, Morocco and down across the Sahara to West Africa. From my window seat I had good views and the pilot pointed out landmarks such as Lisbon and the Moroccan coast line.

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Over Spain?

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Off the coast of Portugal

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Coming into land in Banjul

We landed about 30 minutes late at Banjul (thanks to that non-appearing passenger) and cleared immigration after not too long in the queue. After collecting our luggage, we were met by a Gambia Experience rep who directed us to the bus that would take us to our overnight accommodations in the Gambia. Stage one of our journey was completed.

Overnight at the Kombo Beach Hotel

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Kombo Beach Hotel

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Our room

Our choice of hotel for this evening was pragmatic. Our brief stay didn’t justify a splurge on the lovely Ngala Lodge where we had stayed on our previous visit, so we just went with the travel company’s suggestion of Kombo Beach as being close to the airport and mid-priced. This is a rather large hotel which, while it wouldn't be our choice for a holiday base (too large and ‘packaged’ for our taste) was adequate for our one-night stays either side of our time in Senegal.

Rooms are in four big three-storey blocks – ours on the first night was in the fourth, furthest from reception, bar and pool. This was a bonus as it was quieter and also had a good view across a tennis court to some palm trees and the beach beyond.

Our room was very simply furnished but provided with a safe, small fridge to chill drinks, and air conditioning. It had a balcony with a couple of plastic seats, a good-sized and comfortable bed, and an over-bath shower in the en suite. While the shower was good, the curtain was of the horrible flimsy sort that seems to attack anyone showering within a foot or more of it!

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View from our room


We watched the sun set over the beach from our balcony, then spent the evening in the bar, where drinks are reasonably priced and snack meals (burgers, panini etc) are available. We could also have eaten in the adjacent open air buffet restaurant, but I'm not a fan of buffets in hot climates, and in the dark we failed to spot the smarter table service restaurant on the far side of the pool. So we had a pleasant enough evening and retired to our room for a prompt night as it had been an early start that morning.

Posted by ToonSarah 11:21 Archived in Gambia Tagged sunsets_and_sunrises hotel flight africa gambia senegal Comments (8)

Back to an English winter

Senegal day twelve

Our final night of this trip had been spent in Gambia, as it would have been impossible to do the long drive back from Fimela in Senegal, catch the unreliable Barra-Banjul ferry and be confident of making it to the airport in time for any flight, let alone the regular chartered mid-afternoon one to London. The bonus was a few final hours in the hot African sun before flying back to the February chills of home.

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Sunrise, Kotu Beach

The balcony of our top floor room at the Kombo Beach Hotel gave us a great view of a lovely sunrise through the palms.

And after a decent buffet breakfast we took a walk along the beach.

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On Kotu Beach

Kotu Stream

There was just time too to head along the road to a popular Kotu Beach spot. The road that leads off to the Kombo Beach and a few other hotels crosses the Kotu Stream, and the bridge here is a popular spot for bird-watching. In fact, at 10.30 every morning you can come and watch the vultures being fed. That would have been a bit late for us, with a flight to catch, but even earlier in the morning there was plenty of activity to enjoy.

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The view from Kotu Bridge

The downside was that, as everywhere in The Gambia, we were hassled by would-be guides, taxi drivers, boat owners and sellers of all kinds, both during our walk and while standing on the bridge trying to take photos or simply enjoy the view.

I did my best to repel or tune out those clamouring to sell me a tour or drive me anywhere else other than here, and found this despite the hassle a pleasant place to while away some time. Bird sightings were good and included various herons (a Western Reef Heron and a Grey Heron), Hooded Vultures, Long-tailed Cormorants, a Spur-Winged Lapwing, Pied Kingfishers, a Red-eyed Dove, Wide-tailed Swallows, Whimbrels and more.

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Western Reef Heron, and Grey Heron

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Long-tailed Cormorant

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Pied Kingfisher

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Wide-tailed Swallow

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Whimbrel

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Spur-Winged Lapwing

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Hooded Vulture

As well as the birds we enjoyed watching the fishermen with their traditional nets.

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Fisherman by Kotu Bridge

There was a small and rather exposed hide right by the bridge, and there may well have been others along the nature trail but we didn't have time to explore that as we had to get back to the hotel for our airport pick-up.

Our flight home was so uneventful I kept no notes! And after an equally uneventful overnight stay at Gatwick’s Hilton hotel, we braved the chill of London and headed home.

Posted by ToonSarah 09:37 Archived in Gambia Tagged sunsets_and_sunrises bridges birds fishing wildlife beach hotel flight river africa gambia Comments (7)

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