Fajara Things to Do
You could spend all your time in your hotel and its grounds, especially one as lovely as Ngala Lodge, but to do so would mean missing much of what the Gambia has to offer in terms of wonderful wildlife, interesting history and friendly people. You can easily book excursions through your tour company, hire one of the local official tourist guides (who have stands outside the larger hotel complexes elsewhere, though I didn’t spot any in quieter Fajara), ask your hotel to arrange a guide or simply walk or take a taxi or tuk-tuk. We used a mix of all of these – one tour (“Roots”) booked through The Gambia Experience, walking to nearby sights and two half-days exploring with the guide recommended by Ngala Lodge, Habib (see separate Favourites tip).
Places to go to include local markets, fishing villages, some historical sites (mainly those associated with the slave trade), wildlife attractions (don’t miss the monkeys in Bijilo Forest Park!) and in particular bird-watching. While I would normally write tips here about the various things we did and saw, the truth is that wherever you stay in The Gambia you are not far from anywhere else, and all of the places we went to can be visited from any of the coastal hotels. So I will cover them all in tips on my general Gambia page instead.
The beach at Ngala is fairly small and is almost completely covered at high tide, although the hotel has thoughtfully built a substantial decking area at the foot of the cliffs that allows you to sunbathe, or rest in the shade of a day bed, close to the sea at all times. When the sea does go out you find a pretty cove, scattered with some rocks and a few little rock pools and surrounded by low red cliffs. It is very pretty and photogenic. If you time your walk here carefully you can apparently go round the headland to the south and on to the much larger beach at Kotu, but you will probably have to return by road or on the footpath through the golf course as the beach route is only open for a short while. This does mean though that for most of the time the beach is private, accessible only to guests at the lodge and only occasionally visited by hassling bumsters.
This isn’t the best of places for swimming, as the waves can be large and unpredictable, and there’s a strong undertow. Some other guests at the hotel, who come here regularly, told us that a young lad died here a year or so back – a local who you might have thought would know the waters too well to be caught out. So do be careful. I restricted myself to waist-deep splashing in the waves and used the hotel pool when I wanted to swim.
But we did spend many a happy hour relaxing on the decking area, watching the waves and the local fishermen, and taking strolls for photography at low tide. If you’re looking for an attractive, photogenic beach, this one is for you, but if you want wide open sands, safe swimming and lots of room for ball games, look elsewhere.Related to:
1 Hotels in Fajara
The restaurant at Ngala Lodge is open to non residents and thus merits a separate tip. We ate here on several evenings during our stay and enjoyed every meal we had. The chef, Jonathan, has a well-deserved reputation, having trained in London and worked in many places around the world. His cuisine is described as “healthy and light,” and there’s a lot of fish and fresh vegetables on the menu. You’ll see the salad leaves growing in the hotel garden and they’re picked fresh for each meal.
There is music and entertainment every evening. This is mostly low key jazz or a wonderful Senegalese singer called Tabou Diop (see her on YouTube) whom we enjoyed a lot on several evenings. But once a week (on the Sunday when we were there) there is an African evening with traditional music, dancing and even fire-eating! Unfortunately I missed this as I was feeling a bit shaky after too much sun on our Roots excursion, but I have a feeling we’ll be back one day.
Favorite Dish: Among the dishes I especially enjoyed here were the Cajun tuna with a delicious spicy coating and the duck breast with a raspberry-based sauce. And we both loved the lunch-time three cheese salad too. But we didn't have a single dish that disappointed!Related to:
- Food and Dining
This somewhat unusual restaurant started life as (as the name suggests) a butcher, branched out via deli meats into serving lunches, and today is a fully fledged restaurant with a very good reputation - the chef even has his own TV series! We ate here one evening at an outside table from where we could watch all the passing activity on the street – but also unfortunately suffer a little from the traffic fumes. Despite this, we enjoyed our evening and I’d recommend this as a good quality local restaurant if you want to eat outside your hotel in a friendly low-key setting. If you're in a party any larger than two I would suggest you book, as it's not a massive space and a large group had reserved on the evening we visited restricting it still further. We had no problem getting in but a group of six who arrived a little later had to wait some time.
Favorite Dish: I ate the fried Brie as a starter and the Moroccan chicken for my main course, both of which were good. I was less impressed by my dessert of grilled fruits as there was a large proportion of watermelon which didn't really suit this way of serving, in my opinion. Chris liked his duck spring rolls, simple grilled chicken and the home-made "Italian" ice cream he had for dessert.
With two Julbrews each we paid just over 2,000D (a little over £30) in total.
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Favorite thing: As an alternative to doing the holiday company's excursions I would recommend booking a trip or two with a good local guide. One of the best, judging by the many plaudits he gets, is Habib. He can be booked through the reception at Ngala Lodge or via the contact details below, and offers a range of half-day and whole day trips.
Although we did one organised excursion (to see the various places associated with the slave trade in general and with Alex Haley's book "Roots" in particular) for the most part we prefer to do our own thing – either alone or with a guide, depending on the location, ease of getting to places and so on. So we booked Habib's services for two morning trips in the more immediate area and after chatting to us and making some suggestions he came up with a great programme.
The first trip took us to Serrekunda market, where he guided us through the narrow lanes and told us about all the produce on sale. From there we went to Kachikally Crocodile Pool, then to the Botanic Gardens and finally to Calypso at the Cape where we all enjoyed a cold drink and a spot of bird watching. We were out for over three hours and he charged us just £15 per person. Our second trip was shorter, just to the Bijilo Forest Park to see the monkeys; we were out for about two hours and he charged just £10 per person for this.
Habib is very knowledgeable, looks after his customers well and is great company. Seeing the sights with him costs roughly half the price of a comparable excursion and you have the benefit of flexibility and the complete attention of your guide. Do give him a try.
By the way, the reason he's wearing a Newcastle United strip in these photos is as follows. On our first day out he happened to mention that while Manchester United is the preferred team of many Gambians, he always supports whichever English team his clients for the day support - very diplomatically! When I said that in this case he would have to be a Newcastle supporter for his two days with us he revealed that had this shirt, a gift from a friend living in London, and promised to wear it on the following day, which he duly did!
You can contact Habib on (220) 989 1905 or email firstname.lastname@example.org