Returned yesterday from a fantastic first trip (10 days) to the Gambia, booked through the Gambia Experience and all well organised from start to finish. Air conditioned coach took us to Ocean Bay Hotel, making 4-5 other hotel drops en route.
On arrival in hotel, were all given a refreshing lemongrass iced tea drink. Luggage porter took our cases to our rooms – you don’t really have much choice, but a £1 coin or 50 Dalasai tip does the job.
First impressions of hotel/room:
Relaxed, welcoming atmosphere, spacious feel about the place, clean rooms, lacking natural light, due to being in shade and slightly tinted windows. Agree with other people’s comments on room being dated (bathroom mainly needing some TLC/upgrading), however it’s always well cleaned and didn’t bother us at all.
Gym (with 6 pieces of kit) feels like it was equipped by Argos about 15 years ago and unless you want to tone your inner thighs I wouldn’t bother.
There are 4 types I believe – standard, deluxe, premium and suite. Had the deluxe which had twin beds pushed together. Premium and above have doubles apparently.
TV has about 10 channels; BBC News 24, CNN, 2 sports channels (showed some Premierships games) and then foreign channels, however at night there were typically 3 film channels (English audio, foreign subtitles).
Hot water seems hotter in the morning. Baths not in standard or deluxe rooms.
Ca. 4 European plug points, including bathroom.
If you ask, hotel can spray room once a day for mosquitos. Weren’t bitten once incidentally, although did have a plug in mosquito repellent, used Boots Soltan lotion (with mosquito repellent) and wore special bracelets at night. Bought some malaria tablets from on-site medic.
Towels can be changed as little or often as you like.
Air con works very well too and can also be left on whilst not in the room.
Mini bar stocked beers, waters and sodas ,but never used it, just stuck our own drinks in.
Only minor qualm about the room was the big square shaped pillows, which took getting used to.
Due to us being located on outskirts of hotel complex, we couldn’t get internet (free wi-fi) access, however everywhere else you can – lobby, pool and even the beach.
Food/restaurants in hotel:
Pleased we followed other people’s advice and didn’t go all inclusive (you have to wear a red wristband for the duration of your stay) as there’s so much choice/value outside of the hotel – so chose B&B rate.
Breakfast was always nice and had a good choice of cereal, cooked meat, eggs, bacon, sausages, bread, pastries, toast, waffles, juices, fruit and yoghurts. No flies or birds dive-bombing your table, just the 2 well behaved ‘local/house’ cats.
Only hotel restaurant we ate at on site was the Ocean Clipper restaurant – twice it was that good. Quite pricey by Gambian standards, but nice décor, friendly attentive staff and lovely food. Booking recommended apparently, but there always seemed to be a few tables spare.
Disappointing lunch at the beach bar, so would probably recommend the Calypso, about 100 metres along the beach – not part of the hotel, but overlooks a crocodile pool and has hammocks.
There are half a dozen eateries nearby, some of which we’d heard mixed reviews on.
Hungarian (50 metres) – incredibly cheap drink/food, yet really tasty and popular.
Italian Connection (300 metres), freshly cooked food, but we were the only people there so felt a bit awkward. Choice of eating outside or inside, which was quite dimly lit and the walls were an homage to all things Italian.
Mr Bass (100 metres) local lively bar showing football and serving a variety of food – pizzas, pastas, snacks, meat dishes, etc.
Surf ‘n’ Turf (200 metres) – apart from the day-glow orange décor inside and out, food was good, tasty. Manager was keen to see us visit again as were given 2 free mojitos and local shots.
Smiling Coast – popular restaurant, lovely food and has live music on Monday, Wednesday, Saturday. Went on the Saturday and had a great time. Good band (who had a hilarious inoffensive travelling/groupie ‘dancer’ seemingly trapped in his own trance-like world), great female lead singer singing both African songs (unknown to us) and well known UK/US songs. By the end, most of the diners were up and dancing.
Ngala Lodge (1.5 miles, so either a 30 min walk or 5 min taxi) – beautiful, romantic setting, lovely grounds (part of the Ngala Lodge Hotel) overlooking the sea, fine-dine cuisine. Very expensive by Gambian standards (still less than a nice London restaurant) but great food – about £60 for a nice two course meal with drinks. Booking essential I’d say as was busy. Aim to go before its dark to experience the view and walk round the place.
Clay Oven (1.5 miles – very near to Ngala Lodge) – came highly recommended and can appreciate why. Friendly staff, nice atmosphere and realty tasty Indian food with plenty of choice.
Ali Baba (Senegambia strip – 20 mins in taxi). Big place, very popular with tourists and locals, had big screen to watch football. Choice of pizzas – which we had and were very nice – pasta, meat dishes, etc. Also had a good live band who people got up and danced to.
With the Gambia Experience book, there’s voucher for pretty much all the above (with free dessert or 10% off) but forgot most times to use them.
The Gambia Experience (our rep was Buba J – informative and helpful) offer about a dozen tours, from river trips, to bird watching, safari (into Senegal) and 4x4 drive. Sadly due to ferry problems, the safari was cancelled, but we did the 4x4 drive, which was very good, albeit quite a long day. We were picked up first (8.15am) and dropped off last (6.30pm). Went through Serekunda (very busy) and some poor areas out into ‘the country’ in our 20 seater 4x4, off the beaten track. Visited a junior basic school, which was a fantastic and humbling experience. The kids seemed fascinated and excited to see us and appreciated us seeing their school. Pens, pencils, crayons and notebooks seem a scarce resource so would recommend taking donations along. They also LOVE lollies learnt too, a-la Chuppa Chupps. Footballs are a highly sought after item too, so you’d make a little kid’s year if you took one. Later visited a local family/commune and allowed to see their place – very Spartan and basic. Also got to taste some locally made wine/spirit and visit a museum. Lunch was provided on a bar on Paradise beach.
Used a local ‘bumster’ (as they’re called) to take us on a guided walk to the crocodile park, a 25 minute walk through some very poor areas, but again, such an eye-opener and a great experience. They’re so friendly and positive. Didn’t feel threatened at all, however having our local guide with us helped. Crocodile park was good, if only to say “’I’ve touched/stroked a crocodile”. Not frightening at all and they hardly move – they’re fed with fish early in the morning so aren’t hungry for the rest of the day. Very sacred place and animal apparently, with about 100 crocodiles living there.
Were also taken to the monkey park which is such good fun. There must have been about 200 monkeys, predominantly one breed out of two. Definitely take some peanuts (in shells) as they’ll quite literally climb over you to get one – great experience and lots of fun. The second breed (red monkeys) don’t come near you and just stay in the trees, almost flying from one treetop to the other.
Private to hotel and monitored by hotel beach security, moreso to make sure the beach sellers (juice-makers, fruit salad makers, cashew nuts, typical beach tat, etc) don’t hassle you or over step the mark, in what feels like an imaginary ‘don’t cross’ line.
Towels and mattresses are provided free daily.
Wi-fi acces on the beach is great, although slightly annoying when people loudly Skype friends/family.
Beach bar is nice and would recommend the 6.30-7.30pm happy-hour where cocktails, beers, soft drinks, wines are half price as it also gives you the opportunity to speak to and meet other guests.
At first the bumsters (about 7-8 of them), who have a desk right across the road from the hotel, are a bit annoying and won’t leave you alone unless you kindly (or rudely, if that’s your style) ask them to leave you alone. However, they do have their benefits in that when you’re with one, you do get left alone by locals trying to sell you something. They can obviously also arrange tours for you, which they typically escort you on and also get you good rates for taxis. They seem happy/keen to tag along with you when you’re out and about and would sometimes be waiting for us outside our restaurant that night, to walk us ‘safely’ back to our hotel to fend off any unwelcome guests, even though you feel very safe wherever you go. They are all friendly and mean well and we actually enjoyed the company of our ‘dedicated’ one, even inviting him out for a drink a couple of times. If you don’t want their presence, they seem fine being politely told “we’re fine thanks and are going to walk on our own”.
Not sure how others fair/ed but it’s not a bad idea to take some immodium - we braced ourselves for it, but not sure where we got it from. The local currency (all notes) is very old and dirty, so would recommend taking some anti-bacterial hand gel.
Great first-time experience in The Gambia, great value, guaranteed sunshine (October to March), lovely friendly people, both in the hotel and out and about. Would definitely go again and happily stay at The Ocean Bay Hotel.
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.