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Gambia and Senegal advice

Author meltwaterfalls
#1 | Posted: 6 Oct 2009 06:29 | Edited by: meltwaterfalls 
I'm scouting for travel advice again.

Does anyone know how viable it is to have a Day-Trip to Senegal from The Gambia? Specifically either Dakar or St Louis.

We will potentially be in the Atlantic coast resorts near Banjul so the airport seems fairly close.

Does anyone have experience of Dakar, is it even viable to see everything, get out to Ĭle de Gorée and get back to the airport in a few hours?

Are there any other sites that are worthwhile in the Gambia? James Island seems doable, but I am not sure about the trip out to the stone circles.

Author Solivagant
#2 | Posted: 6 Oct 2009 13:50 | Edited by: Solivagant 
By land from Banjul to Dakar alone will take best part of a day (get to ferry from your coastal "resort"/ferry across river/ taxi to border/get across/get to taxi park/get next taxi etc. I note that 2 of the supposed operators from Banjul-Dakar by air (Slok air and Intercontinental) have "suspended services" - in any case the idea of doing it there and back in a day trip by air sounds "difficult" both from a practicality/reliability and cost point of view - not the sort of trip many people want to do by air - except possibly to onward connect in Dakar?

Regarding the Stone circles - it took us 2/3rds of a day to get from Banjul to Jajanbureh (former Georgetown - which is on an island) by the south road many years ago using bush taxis. We then managed to get across to the northern bank to get a taxi to see the circles and back to Janjanbureh that day - but it was a 2 day trip from Banjul. I understand however that the north road has recently been fully tarmac surfaced (it used to be rather bad). It could be possible therefore to do it to the circles and back in a day from Banjul. By taking the northern route you reach the circles in a shorter distance as well. You would need a taxi to the ferry from your resort, get across (takes a surprising time even as a pedestrian!) and then do a taxi deal on the far side to take you/your "group" alone to the circles and back that day without waiting for the taxi to fill. It might be worth seeing if your hotel could arrange for you to be met on the northern side of the river at Barra by a prearranged taxi - might be more expensive than making a deal with a bush taxi when you get to the taxi park but would save time. It would be a long day but should be achievable with an early start! There might even be organised trips from the "hotel strip" now.
Remember in Africa everything takes a lot more time than you might think and schedules mean nothing - on the other hand throwing money at a problem can achieve surprising results!

Author meltwaterfalls
#3 | Posted: 7 Oct 2009 15:29 
Thanks for the reply, yep maybe wise-words.
I think Dakar would be a little too optamistic. I will have a look into the stone circles, if it is a viable long day trip then maybe that is a good option.

Does anyone have recommendations for places in Senegal that are viewable within a day from Banjul?

Author Solivagant
#4 | Posted: 7 Oct 2009 17:03 | Edited by: Solivagant 
The areas of Senegal very close to the Gambia north and south really aren't much different from the Gambia - the Casamance to the south is a very popular destination for the French but you wouldn't get there and back in a day from Gambia. And what is there? Mangrove swamps, creeks,birds and beaches - well, apart from some French atmosphere and cuisine you will get all that in the Gambia!

If you just want to have been into Senegal there are day trips to Fathala Wildlife reserve run by Gambian tour agencies. You might possibly get a taxi to take you there from Barra if you didn't want an organised trip but that leaves the problem of getting around in the park. I have also been told that Gambian drivers don't particularly like driving into Senegal because of the "hassling" they receive - hence why many taxis just go to the border where people change taxis - but this is only a few miles in so it may be ok. The "park" sounds a bit "contrived" with a lot of introduced species, but could be pleasant enough - you are not in East Africa or Zambia so you can only see what there is to see! A trip advert (and other examples of organised trips in Gambia but many of those you could certainly do yourself if you wanted) -
And from this description make up your own mind if it something you want to go on! tml

Re the trip along the northern route to the circles - It doesn't seem to be "on offer" by the Gambia holiday site above but that doesn't mean it isn't possible. I found these detailed road maps of The Gambia which show the Stone Circle sites very well if you relate them back to the UNESCO files.
The map titled "Saloum" etc shows the location of Kerr Batch and Wassu -the 2 Gambian sites.
Of course you could try to kill 2 birds with 1 stone by visiting the Senegalese Stone circles!! It sounds as if Sine Ngayele is the best bet and that is near to Kaolack -about 50kms north of the Fathala Reserve. See photo/map etc
Whether it is practical you could only establish "on location"!

Author meltwaterfalls
#5 | Posted: 11 Oct 2009 18:26 
Ah you read me like a book. I there is a way of ticking of new WHS and countries in one go I will always have a look into it.

Yeah I have managed to pinpoint the precise location of the Sine Ngayène
circles, they are actually a fair way from Kaloack as identified in the link provided above.

They are actually located at 13°41'42.37"N 15°32'7.70"W which is about 15km as the crow flies from the Gambian border post at Farafenni. It may be a possible trip. Here is an aerial map for those interested

Thanks for your help and advice on this one it is much appreciated.

Author Solivagant
#6 | Posted: 12 Oct 2009 04:35 | Edited by: Solivagant 
Yes, the link I found certainly provided a "rubbish" location for Sine Nagayne!!! - I had gone along with it as the river shown on it was the River Sine - it is strange that the circles should be called "Sine Ngayene" when they are not near the river Sine!
I have checked an old Rough Guide to West Africa which I have (1990!!) and quote from it
"....... the megaliths scattered across the plain between Nioro du Rip on the transgambienne N4 and Tambacounda. The most impressive site is the one known as Djalloumbiere at NGAYENE, hard against the Gambian border. Over 1100 pillars here make up 52 stone circles.... Its hardly more inaccessbile than Wassu in Gambia but is virtually impossible without your own transport. turning left 9km south of Nioro du Rip to Kaymour (17km) on a decent track, then continue south east another 15km via Tene Peul and Keur Bakari to Ngayene. From here you can head straight back to the main road at MEDINA SABAK 28 km from Nioro .
In the middle of the circuit10km due south of Kaymor is the village of PAYOMA where stones from the local circuits have been uprooted to support the buildings - including the mosque. Numerous other stone circles are visible at variuos points along these tracks.
Assuming you've got wheels or are using a taxi brousse there are more easily accessible sites along the Tambacounda highwayat MALEME HODAR (right by the road)and KEUR ALBE and SALI respectively 9km and 20km southwest of KONGHEUL on a minor road to The Gambia"

A more modern guide of Senegal or West Africa might give better information. Coming from Farafenni, Medina Sabak is virtually on the border so it ought to be possible to pay for a taxi brousse (might need to buy some CFA at the border from a money changer - though he might take Dalasi /US$ or Euro??) to take your party from the Senegal side of the frontier to the circles and back - you would have to spend some time crossing the border but would have also saved quite a lot of time compared with driving further along the Northern highway to Wassu or Ker Batch -and of course "pick up" Senegal at the same time!! It sounds "doable" with a distance of around 30kms from the Gambian border -albeit on tracks (at least in 1990). A decision you would have to make would be whether to pay for a private car from Barra to Farrafenni which would then wait for you in the Gambia (unless you could persuade him when making the "deal" to take you those few kms inside Senegal). I note from Google Maps that there is even a "back road" directly from Farafenni directly to the village of Medina Sabak missing out the main road - though whether as a foreigner you would strictly be allowed to take it and thus miss out the border guards is another matter! When we were stuck in S Senegal late in the afternoon needing to get back to Banjul our taxi brousse took back roads without any border guards (some frontier posts close after dark)! I just don't know how often taxi brousse would go from Barra to Farafenni - for 3 of you it might well be better to "pay up" for a taxi for the whole day -the driver might help you negotiate the Senegalese transport as well if he is unwilling to cross the border! You can finish up waiting a long time in Africa for Taxi Brousse to fill up -such that it can be worth just paying for the extra spaces! We did that ourselves to get to Wassu from the northern side of the Gambia river at Georgetown
Good luck - it sounds an interesting little "adventure"! Look forward to hearing how it goes if you do attempt it.

Author meltwaterfalls
#7 | Posted: 12 Oct 2009 12:39 
Thanks again. The paragraph from the guidebook stating how to get there is exactly the information I needed.

I picked up the latest Lonely Planet guide to The Gambia and Senegal (Sept 2009) and it doesn't even cover Central Senegal. Senegal in general is not well covered by guidebooks, most of the big ones lump it in with the Gambia if they cover it at all. I would image that the francophone publishers would cover it more.

The Central Gambia sections all but cover it, I can just about make out the location on their maps, but having more detailed information is really useful. I may attempt to translate it into French in case it becomes useful once across the border.

Still not sure if this will feature in our plans, the intention of the trip is a week of relaxing and a full day international trip doesn't fit the remit of that too well, but we will see.

Author meltwaterfalls
#8 | Posted: 14 Dec 2009 15:01 | Edited by: meltwaterfalls 
I thought I would just update this with the information I learnt after making the visit to Sine Ngayène in Senegal. There was very little information on visiting this site to be found anywhere so hopefully people may find this information of use.
This was a really rewarding place to visit in properly rural West Africa. The local towns were mudbrick with thatched roofs and wells for water so it is quite someway off the beaten track. Any semblance of paved roads ran out soon after leaving the main road at the border and by the time we reached the site itself it was only really navigable by 4x4 or an exceptionally skilled driver, fortunately we managed to come across a very skilled driver and a BMW saloon that could handle a fair battering.

Right the logisitics.
Sine Ngayène is located at 13°41'42.37"N 15°32'7.70"W about 15km north of the border post at Farafenni/ Medina Saback. This is where we came from.
The site is actually signposted from the Trans-Gambia Highway. If driving from the south then there is a large site saying welcome to the "Bienvenue dé la Area Mégalithique du Sénégambie" (or something along those lines my French is not particularly good) then on the right hand side of the road there was a small white arrow stating Sine Ngayne Site du Patrimoine Mondial.

There are signs every time you need to divert of the main course of the road, however there are long gaps between the signs and the road splits several times, thus some local knowledge would be useful (we picked up someone at the border who was able to help guide us there and ask for additional directions when they were needed).

The rough route these signs take you is Trans Gambia Highway -> Medina Sabak -> Sangap -> Loyene -> Ngayène -> Thiekene -> Sine Ngayène (approx 22km and approx 1hr 10 mins driving time)
This is not the most direct route there however the most direct route seems to cross a river bed which may cause problems in the wet season. I would hazard to say that this would be an impossible trip after heavy rain and certainly only attempt it in a 4x4.

On the way back we came a slightly different route of Sine Ngayène -> Payama -> Diguimar -> Medina Saback-> Straight to the border.

In terms of the Roads, the Trans-Gambia Highway was paved but riddled with potholes. From there to Medina Saback and on to Sangap it was a sort of laterite gravel road. After Sangap any form of paving soon disappeared and it was mostly dirt track. The section around Thiekene was particularly poor and our drivers skill was what got us through this.

The bad roads around Thiekene however did allow us to get a look at the quarry from which the stone pillars were hewn a thousand or so years ago.
Also if you do travel through Payama keep an eye out for some stones that have been relocated here to form the foundations of buildings in the village.

From the border and back including about 30/45 mins at the site took 3.5 hours in total.
At the time of our visit (December 2009) there was no set entrance fee and this required bartering with the villagers to gain access, having someone that can translate from Wolof was an absolute God send in this situation. We paid 10,000 CFA (€15 approx there were two of us a tourists + our driver/fixer/translator Muhammed and a local to the area we picked up at the border to help with directions so 4 people altogether) which in terms of the region was a large amount of money however we were left with little other choice, and I wouldn't really think twice about that entrance fee for two people at sites in Europe.

Once inside two guys from the village gave a very good description of the site, which was translated for us from Wolof by Muhammed. I had read the Advisory body report and the original Nomination file prior to my visit and the information that came back to us was spot on, and they also gave us more information when we asked question about specific issues, they really knew their stuff.

We visited on a long day trip from Kololi on the Gambian Atlantic coast, the centre of the regions tourist industry.
We looked at several different options but in the end we managed to arrange for a car and driver to pick us up from our hotel and drive us the whole way there and back. This included a ferry crossing from Banjul - Barra. The whole round trip took a little over 12 hours.
This was arranged through Hidden Gambia and I must admit our guide Muhammed was brilliant and this trip would have been nigh on impossible without him.

You could do it under your own steam by getting to the border and negotiating with a driver to take you to the site and back. The Gambia drivers I spoke to were mostly unwilling to drive beyond the border. I seriously doubt it would be possible to make this complete round trip in a day unless you had a private car as even with the best luck with bush and private taxis you would still spend a large amount of time waiting around and negotiating.

I got several quotes from Gambian Tour operators for the cost of the trip and I will put them up here a little later, needless to say Hidden Gambia's quote was the most competitive and after making the trip it seemed like exceptional value for money.

Author meltwaterfalls
#9 | Posted: 29 Jun 2011 07:51 | Edited by: meltwaterfalls 
Just in case anyone else stumbles upon this, there is now another WHS with-in striking distance of the coastal resorts of the Gambia. Namely the Saloum Delta which starts just across the border north of Barra (which is the other port of the Banjul ferry). This should be pretty simple to get to and much closer than the Stone Circles that I documented above.

Alas I didn't make this short trip but I imagine it would be a feasible day trip if you just wanted to tick it off, or I imagine you would be able to have a stay for a little longer and have a cruise around the delta. I imagine there may even be some tour companies that offer an all-inclusive break from the Gambian coastal resorts, as it is not much further than the Fathala Wildlife reserve mentioned above.

Hope that is of some use to you.

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