This is a great place to stay. I came here in late February for 3 nights, mainly for bird photography, after spending 6 nights at the coast. It's a long but interesting journey by minibus (2) and boats(2) and we arrived on the Lady Hippo after dark to a warm welcome and some great Gambian cooking by Binta. We were lucky to arrive 2 weeks before Mark, the owner's, wedding, and , along with his Mum and other guests, we helped him celebrate in advance. The wine and beer never ran out and the drumming and dancing lit up one of the evenings.
We met some wonderful people, the tents beside the Gambia River were great, the composting toilets were pretty much odourless and the beds very comfortable. Apart from a few sandflies, the insects were almost non-existent too - the NE breeze and dry atmosphere no doubt keeping them away. The swimming pool, filled with river water, which we thought might be a bit 'iffy' was in fact very pleasant indeed and well used whilst we were there. My Dutch neighbours had a small shock when returning to their tent one evening, to find a rather large Monitor Lizard lounging outside - all part of the rich scenery here! We watched Hippos from the boat, found an Eagle Owl roosting near the Camp and spent two hours getting very close to over 100 pairs of Red Thoated Bee-eaters at Bansang Quarry - all feeding young. For keen birdwatchers, Wassu turned up a Light Bellied Bustard on our return trip - a bit of a rarity in Gambia; worth searching for instead of looking at the stone circles.
Hard to think how the camp could be improved - it is certainly a cut above Tendaba down the river which, although great for birds too, looks rather depressing when approached by boat! I hear it's not that bad, but first impressions can be important. It could do with a major refurbishment.
Mark runs a logistically difficult operation at Hidden Gambia, but it seems to work well. We did suffer from a 1 hour late pick up on returning to the airport which left everyone a bit breathless and one of the mini-buses we were provided with at the coast was a bit of a wreck (dodgy brakes, crunching gear box, dented side, bald tyres, no seat belts, completely ineffective headlights etc etc) but the standard of driving was pretty good and it didn't break down! A slightly more modern vehicle would certainly increase the confidence levels of European travellers.
Other than that - I have nothing but praise for Bird Safari Camp and Hidden Gambia. I expect to return quite soon!
From being collected from our hotel to being delivered back to the coast, our time at Bird Safari Camp was quite unique. We travelled 200 miles - by road and then boat up the Gambia river, seeing birds, chimpanzees and monkeys on the lush riverbanks, arriving at the island camp at dusk.
We stayed in comfy, spacious tents overlooking the river, with our own solar heated shower. The whole camp is run as eco-friendly as possible – powered entirely by solar, composting, and growing their own veg. Because of its remote location, it’s full board with tasty meals taken communally with other adventurers, birders and guides.
Mark Thompson who runs the camp and Hidden Gambia was extremely helpful with all our arrangements, during booking our trip from England and when we had a problem while we were in the Gambia – alternative plans helped everything happen seamlessly.
Mark uses two lovely boats and various 4 wheel-drive vehicles to facilitate whatever excursions people want, maybe to see the abundant wildlife in this region – we saw monkeys, baboons, chimps, hippos, storks, owls and many other exotic birds – or visits to the local market to buy food and learn how to cook on open fires. Or we could just relax by the pool or in a hammock by the riverbank, in perfect peace with just the sound of birdsong and water lapping at the jetty.
If you just stay on the coast, you’ll miss out on a fantastic upriver experience, it’s so different here from anywhere else we stayed. Watching the egrets at dusk fly low over the river- glass of wine in hand - was special, or you can even sleep on the boat if you want, under the stars of an African sky – priceless!
My wife and I (and 2 other couples) spent 4 nights at the BSC. We thoroughly enjoyed the experience and had a fantastic time there. The journey up river from the coast was mostly by solar powered boat, the Solar Queen, which comfortably held 9 tourists and a couple of staff and Mark, the owner. We saw plenty of birds, expertly spotted for us by our guide, Ansoo, and also a lot of monkeys and baboons. We spent a night at the Tendaba Camp, en route, and had an excellent boat ride through the mangroves, again with excellent guides. The night in a hut in the camp was very hot, but there was a pool which was a blessing. The next day we continued for a short time on the Solar Queen before transferring to an air-conditioned mini-bus for a short drive, before once again going on the river in smaller boat - the Lady Hippo.
We arrived at the Bird Safari Camp late and were welcomed by the staff who explained how everything worked. After the heat at Tendaba, we opted for tents which were relatively new and provided excellent accommodation. They looked out onto the river and included an ensuite bathroom, in which everything worked, although the shower only provided cold, or luke warm, water but in temperatures of over 30 degrees, that was all that was required. The food was, at worst, adequate and at best, very good and there was plenty of it. Ice cold beers and soft drinks and some excellent South African wines were always available. Breakfast was excellent with bread freshly baked on the spot.
All the staff were knowledgeable, cheerful and friendly and in particular, Ansoo, the guide and Binta who manages everything, could not have done more. Whatever we wanted to do was never too much of a problem and we were honoured to be invited to Binta's home in nearby Georgetown.
The swimming pool was large enough to allow everyone to swim in comfort and cool off during the heat of the day. There was (solar powered) electricity in our tents and sufficient light to be able to comfortably read a book and it was cool enough to require at least a sheet to sleep under.
All in all, we would recommend this to anyone who enjoys getting away from the crowds, particularly (but not exclusively) if there is a strong enthusiasm for watching the huge variety of birds which inhabit this area. We also saw hippos in the river, but the guide was careful not to take us too close! And on the return journey on the Solar Queen, we were accompanied for about 15 minutes by a school of dolphins! Even on the various boat trips, food was provided at the appropriate times and tea, coffee and cold drinks at all times. Well worth a visit.
This is not the Ritz but it is not intended to be. For birding or just chilling out away from it all the Camp is perfect, it even has a good sized pool.
Having just returned from an 11 day trip to the Gambia, incorporating 4 days with Hidden Gambia, I felt compelled to write a fair and honest account of our experience for people considering a trip, who may have been put off by some of the earlier poor reviews.
First things first, this is not the trip for people whose idea of a good holiday is to lay on a beach all day, or by the pool at a luxury resort. The camps that are owned by - or used by - Hidden Gambia are basic (some more than others, more details to follow!) but the beauty of getting out of the main tourist strip and ‘up river’ is that you see a side to the Gambia which you wouldn’t otherwise get to see. The River Gambia is extraordinarily beautiful, serene and has an abundance of wildlife. During our 4 days with Hidden Gambia, we saw chimpanzees, baboons, red colobus monkeys, hippos, crocodiles, dolphins and various bird and reptile breeds.
Booking a trip with Hidden Gambia is very easy. Not only is the owner, Mark Thompson, very helpful and a source of information, but the website is easy to use and you even get a password to enable access to a part of the website where you can look at information sheets and view your own personal itinerary and booking details. The information sheets include topics such as what clothes/shoes to bring, what the weather is like and even how much daily spending money you should allow for (incidentally, it’s virtually impossible to exchange sterling for dalassi in the UK so just do it when you fly into Banjul – most of the hotels are quite happy to change money for you, and it also helps the local economy).
Transport up river is a mixture of boat and vehicle, and while some of the days can be quite long and tiring, the mixture of the two is fascinating as you get to experience the calm of the river and the diversity of the villages – some of which are noisy and colourful market towns, and others which are quiet and dusty, where goats wander aimlessly in the road and children stop their playtime to giggle and wave as you go past.
Passengers are well looked after with refreshments and – during the long road journeys – we were given opportunities to stop and have a walk about and stretch our legs.
During our four days with Hidden Gambia, we spent two nights at Bird Safari Camp on McCarthy Island and one night at Tendaba Camp. Bird Safari Camp is great – we had a fantastic welcome when we arrived on the first evening. Binta is the camp ‘house-keeper’ and welcomed us with cold drinks and a big smile. We had planned to look at both the huts and the tents before we made a decision, but we opted for a hut as soon as we saw them. According to other guests, the tents have larger en-suite bathrooms, and are apparently cooler in the evenings although we were more than happy with the hut we were allocated. The huts and tents have double beds and single beds and a bathroom with toilet, basin and shower. There is no hot water but if you wait until the end of the day to have a shower, the sun will have warmed the water sufficiently. There is electricity in the evenings as well, and free wi-fi. As well as the tents and huts, there is a communal dining area and bar where the meals are served, and a swimming pool with clean, chemically treated river water. Tendaba Camp seemed to be bigger, but in poorer condition than BSC. The accommodation consists of huts which are very basic but ok if you’re only staying a day or two. There are two bars where you can buy cold drinks and Jul-brew (Gambia’s famous beer, well worth a try!) and also a swimming pool. Incidentally, do try and spend some time walking around Tendaba village. It’s incredibly poor but the kids are delightful and love to have their photos taken. If you can, visit the school and give them a small donation – the teachers there do a great job and they will be very grateful for anything you give them.
The food at Bird Safari Camp is great – especially breakfast which consists of egg, cheese and the most amazing freshly baked bread you will ever taste!!! (cooked outdoors in a wood burning oven). Lunch and dinner are just as good, and there are always vegetarian options available. Meals are served buffet style, and if you have a long boat trip planned for that day, you are given a packed lunch – usually a baguette or something. The meals at Tendaba are satisfactory as well, although not quite up to Bird Safari Camp’s standard!
Tea and coffee seemed to be available the majority of the time. Plus, you could buy water and cold drinks from the bar.
The wildlife guides who work for Hidden Gambia are amazing at spotting birds and animals from miles away, so make use of them, especially if there is a particular animal that you want to see – they know the parts of the river where a sighting is most likely. The boat trips were brilliant, and I would recommend doing as many as possible. If you see an animal, they will get as near as possible (without frightening it) and will turn off the boat engine so that there is plenty of time to watch and take photos etc. One tip for keen bird watchers – bring binoculars with you!!
To summarise, Hidden Gambia is a company I would definitely recommend getting in touch with if you want to see a side to the Gambia that you definitely WON’T experience if you stay in the huge resorts near the coast. The people are lovely (especially Binta, Sam and Ansu) and you will be well looked after. We didn’t get to meet the owner Mark Thompson but he provides his mobile number and encourages people to ring him if they have a problem. We met a couple who go back to Bird Safari Camp year after year – surely testament to the fantastic hospitality and experience. Well done Mark and his team!!!