In 2014 my wife and I discovered the delights of a 6 hour direct flight from Manchester to Banjul, The Gambia.
We booked the Kairaba Hotel following good reviews on Tripadvisor.
When we got back after a 1 week lovely relaxing and interesting holiday, full of wonderful bird life, my wife keeps saying she wants to go back next week and keep going many times!
I recommend coming here for complete relaxation and for easy access to good bird guides for a fascinating amount of bird-life; especially so for novices such as ourselves with little interest in anything too demanding on our time and energies… 🙂
For bird watching we used an official Gambia Bird Guides Association member, Modou Saidy, whome we found through his very informative website prior to arriving in the Gambia www.gambia-and-senegal-birdstours.com.
Being complete novices, we have learnt that it is best to organise either for a half day morning tour (e.g pickup 7.30, drop-off midday) or afternoon tour (e.g. pickup 3.30, drop-off 8pm). That is because you won’t see so many birds during the heat of the day.
During our stay, Modou took us to Tujereng Woodland, Brufut Woods, Kotu Creek and Abuko Nature Reserve. All were interesting places to go. If it our experiences are any to go by though, Tujering Woodland was the best ‘novice’ location. This is because the open woodland environment makes it easy to spot many birds; as well as being a bit further away from industrial development. We also saw many good birds in the gardens of the Kairaba hotel – where we were shown round by their resident bird guide, Aladin.
With the excellent help of Modou; who had a very keen eye and great knowledge, as well as the ability to attract birds with his owl whistles; we spotted the following birds:
Grey Heron, European Honey Buzzard,Osprey, African Harrier Hawk, Dark Chanting Goshawk, Namaqua Dove, Senegal Parrot, Klass’s Cuckoo, Striped Kingfisher, Little Bee-Eater, Hoopoe, Vieillot’s Barbet, Grey Woodpecker, Pied-winged Swallow, Winchat, Senegal Eremomela, Northern Crombec, Whistling Cisticola, Senegal Batis, White-shouldered Black Tit, Yellow Penduline Tit, Beautiful Sunbird, Variable Sunbird, Yellow-crowned Gonolek, African Golden Oriole, Northern Red Bishop, Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu, Woodchat Shrike and the Northern Grey-headed Sparrow. Also our guide and I saw the Green Turaco flying off…
Northern White-Faced Owl, Greater Honeyguide, Pied Flycatcher, Black-necked Weaver, Village Weaver, Orange-cheeked Waxbill, Lavender Waxbill, Yellow-fronted Canary, Western Grey Plantain-eater and the Common Bulbul!
Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, African Paradise Flycatcher, Common Wattle-eye, Black Crowned Nigh Heron, Hamerkop, Palm-nut Vulture, Pied Hornbill, Western Bluebill, Red Billed Firefinch and the Little Bee-eater. This was also meant to be a good place for the Turaco, but we were unlucky not to see them that day…
Malachite Kingfisher, Pied Kingfisher, Blue-bellied Roller, Fine-spotted Woodpecker, African Reed Warbler, Brown Babbler, White-billed Buffalo Weaver, Red Billed Firefinch, Long tailed Cormorant, Black Kite, Intermediate Egret, Senegal Coucal, Long tailed Glossy Starling, Fork tailed Drongo, White-faced Whistling Duck, Palm Swift, Black Headed Heron, Black Heron (seen in distinctive feeding posture with wings spread over head to form shaded ‘umbrella’), Western Reef Egret and the Great Snipe.
Splendid Sundbird, Blue-breasted Kingfisher, Broad-Billed Roller, African Grey Hornbill, Beautiful Longtail Sunbird, Purple Glossy Starling, White-crowned Robin Chat, (Albino) Northern Black Flycatcher, Yellow-billed Shrike, Yellow-crowned Gonolek, Village Weaver, Bronze Mannikin, Whimbrel, Bronze Mannikins and Pearl-spotted Owlet.
I thoroughly recommend buying a Helm Field Guide book called ‘Birds of Senegal and The Gambia’ to take with you so that you can look-up and make a record of all the birds you have seen. Unless you have a lot of patience and very good camera equipment, you appreciate the illustrations of the birds you have seen!
As far as we can tell, there are two ‘stations’ from where you can pick up a Gambia Bird Guides Association guide. There is the one at Kotu Bridge (5-10 minutes drive from Kairaba – where Modou is stationed) and also one just outside the Kairaba and Senegambia Hotel.
There isn’t any standardisation/guidance on prices/fees. We paid a rate of about £60 per day for the 2 of us; which included Binoculars, Transport and Entrance Fees where applicable (Abuko – although I don’t think it is very expensive…). I am sure you can ‘haggle’ if you wish, but bear in mind these are hard working, talented people and life is hard for them if you think they only get trade during the tourist season. I would recommend our guide Modou and have left a review for him on Bird Forum.
We didn’t venture very far for our dining, and were more than happy with the choice and quality of food. Our favourite places were ‘The Shikra’ at The Kairaba (excellent fine dining, romantic setting), the ‘Lebanese’ just outside the hotel. We were also impressed with the prompt and helpful service at ‘La Scala’, which was the flavour of the month with everyone when we visited. We spent almost every lunchtime at the restaurant by the pool (‘The Malimbe’) which had tasty fish and salads. All places very affordable.
For places to eat further afield, I would recommend using a green ‘tourist taxi’ you can book through reception. Places we were told that were worth a visit were:
The Coco Ocean Hotel, The Coco Residence, Butchers Arms for evening meals and the Calypso Beach Bar for lunch.
My tip for holiday money is to bring it all in sterling and change it at the nearest ‘Western Union’ Exchange by the hotel. You’ll get the exchange rate pretty much ‘on the nose’.
My tip for saving a bit of money at The Kairaba is to always add your meals to your room bill, and then settle in Dalasi (local currency) at the end of your stay.
My tip for tipping is to do so reasonably generously as they will be very grateful and will remain pretty helpful and friendly throughout your stay!
My tip for deeper relaxation is to take the excellent massages offered at The Kairaba, just ask for Jennifer!