Gambia – Crazy holiday – but GOOD CRAZY!!

This is actually a hotel review for the Senegambia Beach Hotel on  Trip Advisor but talks more about my overall time in Gambia. 

In case you don’t want to read the essay below – in a nutshull loved the hotel. It’s 2*, so don’t expect a 5*. The people & the grounds are just fantastic. The food & drinks also really good. So if you want a fabulous room this probably isn’t the place for you! If you care more about everything else… stay here!

Landed at the airport and immediately accosted by people continually for the next hour (“let me take your bags” “I am the bus driver, give me money” “I put your bags on the bus, you have something for me?”). I knew it would happen, but still wasn’t quite prepared.. for instance.. I had change and was expecting to tip everyone at the airport, but didn’t realise that 50p was not enough for moving a bag from point A, to point B, 1 metre away, especially when apparently I’m told they earn £20/month? Seems more like per coachload?

Anyway onto the Senegambia – We arrived to a nice reception, checked in straight away (very end of tourist season) and then two guys brought our 2 bags down and showed us everything in the room “here is your TV, this is the remote, here is your bathroom”. Of course, we tipped them for their ‘information’ – but they were not too happy with this, we obviously did not give enough (seriously, a pound each – not enough for doing something we would have done ourselves & for pointing out the obvious!?) Really fed up by this point. But then.. things changed for the better!

Rooms: Basic. Very basic. TV worked fine, Bed’s comfy, cleaned every day. Room towels changed every day, but sadly not the beach towels, which were the ones we would have preferred changed daily. Mini bar worked fine, AC worked fine. Shower had no curtain & sprayed everywhere – still as had our towels changed every day we just lay them on the bathroom floor after drying – worked fine. No proper storage for clothes, but my bf always lives out of his suitcase anyway & as long as there are hangers I don’t mind too much. We were hardly in the room anyway, and though some bits were old/broken it really was fine. You get what you paid for in this respect.

Staff: Fantastic staff. The thing I did love about being in the hotel is that know you aren’t supposed to tip after everything you do and ask – and it’s pretty relaxing in that sense! (Of course you can, and we tipped our favourite staff at the end of the holiday) The staff were always happy to help and very friendly. The service was not too slow – we thought it would be as we’d heard of ‘Gambian time’. The bar staff were always happy to chat, the pool guys/lifeguards were just fantastic and we did some water aerobics & played tennis. I would recommend if you want some privacy before dinner in the evenings to request a room with a balcony. As nice as the Security guards were I did go on holiday to relax with my boyfriend, not always with a 3rd person! A few nights they would stop by & tell you how safe the grounds were (whilst talking to you.. not patrolling…) & obviously wanted money, etc.. All we wanted was a nice cold beer with each other before being accosted by everyone outside the hotel! As always, friendly & great chat – but sometimes it is just exhausting reciprocating this when you have paid your hard earned money to be there for relaxation, away from it all 😉

In general I loved this hotel – breakfast was more than adequate, everything well stocked, good range of food. Great having all the different birds & cats around (no monkeys at breakfast for us, but don’t worry – they were still wandering the grounds most afternoons!!) We ate lunch at the pool most days & it was good. In the evenings we always ate out, not because of poor food, but just because we like to spread our custom & try new things! I didn’t find the hotel particularly expensive – beers more than outside (ahh, the shop RIGHT outside the hotel, sort of attached to it, was much cheaper than a lot of the other local shops we found (as it was priced, so no bartering needed!) I’m sure outside of the strip it’s much cheaper, but if you don’t want to go too far go there! Also, the souvenir shop in the hotel was one of the most reasonably priced I have ever come across!! Many of the prices were cheaper than what we had spent 5 minutes bartering down outside (still knowing we are paying more than we should, but some times you just give up and buy!) The lady in there was lovely – so don’t be afraid to look & if you hate bartering, this is the place for you!

The beach was nice, though a word of warning for all – though the sea may look calm (or calmish) when the red flag is up DO NOT GO IN! A little incident happened & thanks to the lifeguards all was fine – however the undercurrents were very strong, and though the red flag was up no one stopped anyone going in (including 10 year old boys), and I even saw the lifeguards going in for a dip.. which hardly makes you think it’s unsafe in a world when hotels, etc now are overly cautious (anyone remember when you used to be able to use hotel pools past 6pm?). I do believe lifeguards are there not just to put up a flag, but to make sure people listen to it, but as they didn’t.. make sure you respect the flag/sea! (The days previously the sea was really calm)

The location for us, as first timers was fantastic! The strip is right on your doorstep with all the main bars & restaurants (I won’t go into all that on here) & there is a local tour guide hut right outside. We used them & also used Tilly’s Tours… the local guide told us they (the local guides) were much cheaper.. where as in fact they were more (I am sure we could have bartered down – we just couldn’t be bothered) The local tours are great though & very professional. So go with what you are comfortable with – Tilly’s have a fixed price (though you will be told otherwise by the guides, but the prices are on the walls!!)

If you don’t like animals – perhaps you shouldn’t stay here – you can easily avoid them but for some people this proved too difficult and they would start running and shouting after them for far more than necessary & ended up looking plain crazy & mean!! The grounds generally were really nice – the Vulture feeding was quite an experience, we also took the monkey tour with the birdman. You pay much more for this than going alone, but then he’s great & very knowledgeable, also about the birds of course! On the way back make sure you stop off to have a fresh fruit juice. We stopped at David’s bar & chatted with him for about an hour. Great guy (& fab juices).

Tipping was our main gripe & the saddest thing was often it happened that those that didn’t deserve a tip or very much of one, received the largest (due to no change but felt they should get something – even for singing the worst song I’ve ever heard to my boyfriend & I whilst eating dinner… “Smiling coast.. happy holiday.. Simon & Louise.. much in love… smiling coast…”) and those I wanted to tip more got less (due to lack of money on me at the time!) HOWEVER – it is very easy to just say “no thanks” to people trying to hassle you. It’s really that simple.

I absolutely loved the Gambia & we certainly did not want to leave but I really was fed up of the constant expectation for money – if I gave everyone a pound, or even 50p that expected it I would have spent all my holiday money without buying a thing (or eating or drinking anything)! Also found it highly amusing that those who were super friendly for ages “smiling coast, blah blah”, and then you tipped them, but not enough suddenly became not so smiley…(And actually really rude.. when I was tipping them as much as I’d tip someone in the UK for a similar experience!! Really dampened the whole experience) And for me that is why without a doubt Thailand is still the land of smiles where they do actually come for free!

Massages – about 5 mins walk right & left of the hotel are massage places. GO THERE! I made the mistake of having one from a lady who was on the beach part outside our hotel. It was an unforgettable experience. I was on a plastic chair (body massage? sitting up?) with 5 ladies all around me (and I mean chairs RIGHT next to mine..) screaming at each other..(talking, but like over excited British teenage girls talking about some scandal) throughout the (pretty appalling – I am not a massage expert but rubbing the same spot for 10 minutes? then another for 10 mins… and so on..) massage I was constantly asked when I would get my hair braided or nails done.. and told how I could help her children pay for their school fees… not exactly relaxing!! Had I been lying down & left to my own thoughts and afterwards asked these things perhaps I would have gone back for a mani or a pedi!! And left my toiletries, etc to her at the end of my stay!! One lady then walked off with my shoes for about 15 minutes.. and another lady used my bag to rest her hot coffee on (not very sturdy with my phone & digicam inside…) then of course at the end she tried to charge me double as she’d done my feet AND upper back even though it had been a “full body massage” (so in theory she still owed me!!) …. (which was way over the “expensive” hotel price!!!) Don’t believe me… go try for yourself… but you’ve been warned!!!

 

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