Guest Post by Matt Smith.
The Gambia, a tiny country on the West Coast of Africa and around 6 hours from the UK, still remains something of an undiscovered destination; and when it does get mentioned it tends to be thought of as primarily a beach holiday destination. Whilst it does have some stunning beaches there is a good deal more to this country than just lying in the sun….
Due to its size and population density, it doesn’t have the ecosystem to support sweeping herds of wildebeest or roaming packs of hyenas; but what The Gambia does have, thanks to its diverse and well managed habitats – from estuarine to pasture, woodland and rain forest – is an astonishing array of bird life (some 540 species) not to mention monkeys, hippos, crocodiles….
And the best thing? How accessible it all is.
Location 1: Baktou Hotel Gardens
Mentioning a hotel garden with regards to wildlife might seem an odd thing, but in many ways Bakotu is like a microcosm of The Gambia.
Sit awhile in the shaded spot at the back of the hotel grounds, or simply sit outside your room and the wildlife will come to you: buzzards, vultures, whistling ducks in the sky overhead, bee eaters, gonoleks and red-cheeked cordon-bleus flitting through the trees; baboons and green vervet monkeys foraging for food in the dense foliage; and huge monitor lizards padding noisily through the leaf litter shed by the huge fig trees.
Location 2: Brufut Woods
The woods at Brufut are something of a local secret and are reached through the labyrinthine backstreets of Serrekunda and out through the scrubland that characterises the Gambian hinterland.
Here you’ll find an active community project harvesting local knowledge – and find some of The Gambia’s rarer bird species from the white-faced scops owl to the unbelievable long-tailed nightjar.
Location 3: the myriad tributaries of the River Gambia
If you travel anywhere in The Gambia you’ll invariably come across either the main body of the river or one of the many hundred of tributaries that fan across the surface of the country. A boat trip on these mangrove-lined waterways is a quintessential part of any trip to the country.
From one of the larger boats or hand-carved pirogues you’ll see all manner of sea birds from ospreys to giant storks and pelicans. And if you’re lucky you may just see one of the saltwater crocodiles that populate the area.
Location 4: Upriver
The River Gambia is over 700 miles long, and rises on Fouta Djallon plateau in northern Guinea. Various settlements dot its banks, from the rudimentary to the more populous, including the old capital of Janjanbureh. Hippos haunt its waters, as do crocodiles and its renowned for providing some excellent freshwater fishing.
One of the more interesting places is Chimp Island– a chimpanzee rehabilitation centre set up by Stella Marsden in 1969. It is 300 km inland and can be quite a trek to reach but the set up is fantastic with excellent accommodation and a genuinely caring environment for the animals, all of whom were rescued from appalling circumstances.
As well as the resident chimpanzees, whilst you’re there you’ll also see plenty of other wildlife including the resident hippos and plenty of noisy red colobus monkeys.
Visit The Gambia Blog.