The 10 Best Things about Mandina, according to our guests.
1. The Guides
The service provided by the guides at Mandina is second to none. Experienced guides are available to take guests on forest walks, canoe trips, or full day excursions can be arranged as well as visits to local villages, markets and schools, local charges may apply. Guests always comment that their guide gives them a complete sense of security, as well as breaking down barriers so that they feel they are experiencing the real Gambia rather than following a pre-ordained agenda. The guides all have years of experience, some having worked at Makasutu for over twenty years, speak excellent English and are experts on the flora and fauna throughout the country. They will tailor outings to suit their guests.
2. The Wildlife
Makasutu is home to many wild animals, such as monkeys, crocodiles, mongoose, monitor lizards and, of course, a large troop of baboons, which are very naughty, sometimes very vocal but generally quite laid back. Most guests also like to make friends with the pet dogs and cats that live at Mandina.
Hundreds of species of birds live in the forest and as the season progresses and water becomes scarce, you can see bee-eaters, kingfishers, swallows and weaver birds splashing into the pool to cool off and natural bird stations have been created to make Mandina a nirvana for birdlife, so much so that Chris Packham leads small group tours here each year.
3. The Tranquillity
With just nine lodges, some in the gardens and others on the river, guests can be sure of privacy and peace. There is no Wi-Fi, mobile connections are erratic, no TV and no ‘entertainment’, although twice a week a kora player and a drummer provide background music during dinner, so there is nothing to disturb or hide the sounds of nature.
4. The Staff
All the staff come from the local villages and the informality of Mandina means that they treat the guests as friends, going out of their way to provide the best service they can. Guests will generally have the same waiter, housekeeper and guide throughout their stay and hot water for tea and coffee is delivered to each lodge every morning.
5. The Location
On the edge of a mangrove-lined creek, guests can watch the fishermen go by in their canoes, see the ladies collecting oysters and crabs, take river trips, walk in the forest or just chill out by the magnificent pool. Many people connect mangroves with mosquitoes. Not here. The creek is tidal, the salt water providing no breeding ground for them.
Some people may be put off coming to Mandina by the fact that it is relatively remote and in the middle of a forest. In fact, this works in its favour. This is not a tourist area so bumsters and thieves stay away. Guests are probably safer here than they would be at home.
7. The Lodges
The design of the accommodation at Mandina is not what you would expect to find in the middle of the forest.
The floating lodges, with their polished wooden floor and walls and high roofs, rise and fall with the tide and provide a perfect platform for watching the sunrise while drinking your early morning tea or coffee, as does the huge stilted lodge.
The three jungle lodges are enormous, with a spiral staircase leading up to a roof deck level with the treetops, where there is a second bed, complete with mosquito net, another shower and a table and chairs.
The smaller, but delightful, Mangrove Lodge has a tall grass roof and its own private terrace out into the mangrove, from where you can watch wading birds in the pools left by the tide.
8. The Wide Open Walls Project
Visit the villages with your guide to see first class street art in the most unlikely location. This is a project started eight years ago by Lawrence Williams. Street artists from around the world are invited to Mandina off season to paint in the villages, making a living gallery for visitors. The closest is just a canoe ride away, however a couple of examples can also be seen at Mandina itself.
9. The Sunset Cruise
All guests have the opportunity of doing the sunset cruise in a small motor boat which takes them out to the mouth of the big river and on the way back stops at a tiny mangrove island to watch hundreds of birds come in to roost for the night. It’s an extraordinary spectacle. The trip costs approximately £75 per couple for residents of Mandina including a bottle of wine and lasts about three hours, leaving late in the afternoon.
10. Fishing Opportunities
Bring your own rods and you can fish from your floating lodge with great success and if it’s big enough, the chef will cook your catch for you; or you can give it to one of the staff. Fish caught this season include sole, angel fish, butterfish, stingray, grouper, catfish and frogfish. We also have a small boat for creek fishing and basic rods for hire. Undersized fish should, of course, be returned to the river.