Gambia is the smallest country in Africa, completely surrounded by Senegal and the Atlantic Ocean in the west, pure, interesting, diverse and with some of the best affordable luxury offers for a truly unique winter sun holiday.
With the sweetest locals you will ever meet, no wonder it’s lovingly called: The Smiling Coast of Africa'. And while it’s just the 6th country I visited on the African continent I can certainly concur with Gambia's nickname, as most Gambians are so friendly, pure and seemingly always smiling, regardless their situation.
As besides the fact that we had a wonderful relaxing time at our 4-star resort, the excursions were sometimes also confronting.
Exploring local Gambia
This was my second visit to this special country, so I was already aware of this, but especially in the streets of Gambia the inequality is highly visible due to a government with little commitment.
For as luxurious as it is in the resorts, as poor is it in the streets and so little has improved for the locals since my first visit 21 years ago.
And while this can be shocking, and I don't want to look down on African countries at all, I think it's also important to be more aware of these huge differences in our world. To me the positive thing of visiting these countries, is that you're able to contribute to local tourism, supporting the people directly.
And personally I also found it humbling, making me even more grateful for the privileges we have here.
Affordable luxury in the Gambia’s winter sun resorts
But if you’re not into the local experience you can always stay at your resort, where everything is clean, well organized, relaxing, comfortable and luxurious. At our all-inclusive Kalimba Beach Resort we had many options to enjoy the great weather, directly on the beach, at nearby beach clubs or at the resort’s several pools.
With 3 elaborate meals a day, stunning tropical settings, smiling friendly staff and entertainment every day, you certainly feel pampered and right at home.
During our 1 week trip we enjoyed the winter sun of Gambia start November, the perfect time to visit this unique African destination and escape the winter cold in Northern Europe. Luxurious, yet still very affordable opposed to other destinations this time of year.
And not only did we relax to the max at our swim-up pool suite, we also did 2 day trips to explore more of the Gambia and its river. The perfect combination of relaxation and adventure, which I can highly recommend for your visit!
At the end of this blog I will share some tips on how to best support the locals while there, but first:
How to get there?
From the Netherlands there are not many airlines that fly directly to the Gambia, and not whole year either. Tui Fly and Corendon Airlines are the only ones that offer direct flights from Amsterdam to Banjul.
And Corendon has several package deals for flights including accommodation, that are great value for money, starting from €749 for 7 nights all-in!
Do note that Corendon only flies this route twice a week and solely offers holiday packages to Gambia as a winter sun destination, from November - April.
They have 13 different accommodations to choose from, ranging from small-scale/boutique hotels or apartments with breakfast, to all-inclusive 4 star hotels, like ours.
Where to stay in the Gambia?
We chose to stay at the affordable luxury Kalimba Beach Resort, centrally located in west Gambia, on the Atlantic Coast and just a 30 minute drive from the airport.
A very convenient adults-only hotel, opened in December 2019, spacious and clean. They organize several activities here every day, but it’s also perfect for a relaxing holiday in a beautiful tropical setting. Located directly on the public beach of Kotu, lined by palm trees, with all the facilities you might need:
Several pools spread out through the resort
A spa with massage options & extensive fitness equipment
2 bars and 2 restaurants, also in the neighboring Tamala Beach Resort
91 different rooms, divided over 9 buildings of 2 floors high. The rooms range from premium, to sea view and premium pool access, like ours, with 2 private loungers on your terrace
And there are plenty of sunbeds, either by the pools, spread out through the hotel gardens or on the beach
The rooms also have very good wifi, air conditioning, a TV, safe, fridge, coffee & tea maker and beautiful canopy beds with mosquito nets
Find out more, incl.the best package rates for your dates, on: Corendon-Kalimba Beach Resort.
Although I prefer smaller boutique hotels in general, the location of this resort in stunning tropical gardens was perfect, tranquil with plenty of lounge options, really nice staff and the beach wide and spacious.
Get an impression through this gallery, swipe to see all:
Where to eat?
And although we did not have to leave the resort at all, I can certainly recommend to go out for dinner too, as other restaurants are easy to reach by taxi from the hotel.
It’s not recommended to drive yourself in the Gambia, but there are some restaurants located just a few hundred meters from Kalimba Beach Resort. And 2 km away, in Kololi on the Senegambia strip, there are plenty of restaurants and bars to choose from.
The ones we tried ourselves or came recommend by others are:
Poco Loco Beach Club, a must for its nice (international) food, delicious cocktails and live music shows every night
Scala restaurant, a bit more expensive but with high quality food served in a lovely in- or outdoor terrace setting
El Sol Mexican restaurant & steakhouse
Gusto Italian restaurant
Gambia day tours with African Adventure Tours
I love relaxing, but after a few days I always get the travel itch again and just have to explore. And when visiting unique countries like the Gambia, a few tours are a must, in my opinion!
But as the quality of the roads is not that good, with hardly any traffic signs and Gambians drive like mad men, it’s certainly not recommended to rent a car here..
There are however plenty of tour companies that offer great (half) day excursions, showing you the highlights of the country.
Ranging from nearby nature reserves to 1- or 2-day tours all the way to east Gambia or even across the border to Senegal, some also with overnight stay.
Although small, the country is stretched a long way into the east, with only a few good main roads. That's why it will take much longer to get there. However, getting to the north and south border is easier and faster.
We did 2 day trips with a reliable tour company run by locals:
African Adventure Tours Gambia, with whom we mainly explored the west and southwest this time. We visited:
a few markets to buy souvenirs
a private nursery school, that was in much need of help, due to a recent storm
witnessed a lovely traditional dance performance by locals
and drove all the way to the border with Senegal in the south
Get an impression through this gallery:
We did a half day trip to Abuko nature reserve as well, where you can spot monkeys, crocodiles, if you're lucky, and special bird species in the wild. Something bird-watchers from around the world travel to Gambia for.
And we did a trip in a traditional wooden longtail boat, through the mangroves at Lamin Lodge. A lovely place to have lunch and see the beautiful Gambia river, the country’s namesake.
Looks even better from above, don’t you think?
How to support locally in Gambia?
Tip generously, but according to the local standards, which is about €2 - €5 in general each time
We tipped for the room cleaning every day and other staff members that put in extra effort to help us
Although they do pay a bit better in the resorts, salaries vary a lot, in general only about €70 - €100 a month, so tips are definitely welcome as extra support for people’s families
Also good to keep in mind that Gambians had it extra rough the past years as they did not receive any support when they were out of work due to Covid, and usually have 3 or more kids
Go on tours with local companies to support directly and buy gifts and souvenirs from non-commercial parties
Donate directly at private schools, as they get no support from the government, so donations are much needed and well-used
Bring clothes, candy, pens or other supplies to gift to schools and small villages. Just make sure to ask your guide for advice on who to give this too, so it will be distributed fairly
And of course you can do much more if you want, African Adventure Tours is surely able to advise you in this as well.
When to visit?
The best time to visit the Gambia is during the winter months, as it's always warm and sunny, especially after the rainy season from November til May. November - February are however the most pleasant due to its temperatures and low humidity, while December and January can get a bit more crowded, because of Europe’s holiday season.
The coastal areas are less affected by the rainy season from mid-June to mid-October, so they can be visited all year round, as the temperatures in the Gambia are always alwaus around 27 - 35 degrees Celsius. But keep in mind that in the winter months it can also get a bit more chilly in the evenings from December-February.
We also found it very nice and surprising that we hardly had any mosquitos during our stay from 9 - 16 November. And that almost every one speaks English quite well!
I hope I was able to inspire your own winter sun holiday, for which Gambia is perfect!
For more info about this special African country and the affordable luxury winter sun holiday packages of Corendon, find all details on: Corendon-Gambia.
Check my previous Zanzibar blog: Authentic Chic Zanzibar or the other African destinations I visited so far for more inspiration.
And feel free to let me know what you think of the Gambia via the comments below or follow me on social media, via the buttons at the bottom of this page, for even more pictures and videos of this affordable luxury & very unique winter sun destination.