When dreaming of a wildlife adventure in Africa The Gambia is off many people’s radar, but this colourful little country, merely a slither of land running along the banks of the River Gambia, should not be overlooked.
English is widely spoken here and the locals are the friendliest you could hope to find anywhere. Being just six hours flying time from London and in the same time zone means that jet lag is not an issue. Some people even visit for a long weekend.
If your desire is simply to relax by the beach or hotel pool you can still enjoy the wildlife, with many hotels having lush gardens full of colourful birds, such as bright red firefinches or the tiny sky blue cordon-bleu. Green Vervet Monkeys are a common sight too and a delight to watch at play as they tumble and wrestle with each other on the hotels’ manicured lawns, seemingly oblivious to passers-by. If the wildlife, however, is the main attraction for you, here are some of the highlights that you should not miss.
The Baboons of Makasutu Forest
Deforestation is a big problem in this part of Africa and some 20 years ago baboons in The Gambia were only common up-country. Thanks to an extensive reforestation initiative run by the owners of Mandina Lodge, the baboons have returned to Makasutu Forest and are now a thriving community of some 200 plus individuals. A visit to the forest is an excellent opportunity to observe many animals but the highlight is most likely to be an encounter with the baboons.
Close encounters of the Crocodile kind
The Crocodile Pool at Kachikally is sacred to local people and there is nowhere else that you can get so close to these ancient reptiles. A creek by the beach bar Calypso’s, on Cape Point, is a great spot for observing crocodiles at a more comfortable distance.
Chimps and Hippos at the River Gambia National Park
A journey up-river will be needed to see the fresh water hippos that live in the River Gambia or the Chimpanzees on Baboon Island. Day trips are possible but ideally a short stay at the Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Project will give you the chance to get the most out of your visit.
Over 560 species of birds
More than anything else though, The Gambia is known as a bird lover’s paradise as wildlife presenter, Chris Packham well knows – it is one of his favourite birding destinations in the world. Just a short stroll along a creek will reveal to you a myriad of species like the colourful Malachite Kingfishers, Long-tailed Cormorants or Village Weavers. There are many different habitats that can be visited but one particularly popular way to enjoy the birdlife is in a local pirogue or dugout canoe, along the tributaries of the River Gambia, passing mangrove swamps for glimpses of such birds as the magnificent Goliath Heron and the Sacred Ibis.
Find out more about holidays to The Gambia by visiting The Gambia Experience.
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