Just on the edge of the Makasutu Forest in Gambia you’ll find Mandina Lodges. A collection of nine lodges bound together by a dining area, swimming pool, bar and jetty. I arrived hot and tired 35 minutes from the airport to a welcoming reception.
Owners Linda and Lawrence, and their friendly team helped me with my bag and invited me to sit and relax with a gogo juice and an incredible view. The lodges look out over the Gambia River that flows by. At 4 o’clock on a Friday in December the tide was out and so all we could see was the river bed and the trees, but we were surrounded by birds – their calls and squawks were the soundtrack to Linda’s introductory overview. I soon found out there are 580 species of bird in the Gambia, the most anywhere.
“There goes the plantain eater. You don’t want to stand under a tree full of them, trust me.” – Linda
Linda told us the lodges are surrounded by baboons and we’d just missed an invasion by about an hour. They’d had to shoo the army of 2-300 of them out to stop them nicking anything that wasn’t screwed down. We were told not to leave anything in our outdoor showers or they’d have it away. The hotel deals with it all the time – I couldn’t wait to meet them all.
Once we’d gathered our thoughts she took us to see the floating lodges where the rest of my group were staying.
“Don’t be alarmed if you hear banging in the morning – our Goliath Heron likes to bash his eels on the side of the lodges.” – Linda
The lodges are absolutely beautiful. Four wooden structures just floating on the river, complete with an area for dining out and 360-degree windows for an all-seeing view of the wealth of wildlife.
Jungle lodges at Mandina
I’d offered to stay in one of the jungle lodges due to lack of availability. They were made out to be a second class choice, but when I saw Jungle Lodge One, where I’d be staying, I was in awe.
I had more floor space than in my London flat, where there are five of us. As well as more than enough space to dance around I also had a luxurious double bed right in the centre of the room, air conditioning, 40 windows (!), 4 wardrobes, 4 benches, 2 tables, a chest, 3 bedside tables, a toilet and sink, an outdoor shower and another sink, and… a roof terrace. The roof terrace had another bed with fan and mosquito net, a table, two chairs, and a beautiful view across the river and the other lodges.
All this just for me.
At around 7pm each night one of the awesome staff would go into my room and spray repellent, take all the curtains down (quite the job on 40 windows) and sort out my mozzie nets. Making it easy for me to crawl into bed when the time was right.
I only stayed at Mandina for two nights, but of course I had to sample the roof terrace bed too. I had a lovely snooze on the second day, causing me to be late for canoeing. I’d just gone for a quick lie down, but the chirping of the birds and rhythmic churning of the fan lulled me in. Add to that a beautiful cool breeze and a comfy mattress and I was a gonner for a good hour.
Other facilities at Mandina
There’s a beautiful swimming pool in the centre of the complex. It’s designed to have different sections so, I presume, you can feel like you’re on your own away from the other guests – not that there were any in there when I gave it a go. The bench going around the centre meant you could sit half in half out and watch the birds as they came to feast on the tree in the centre. I tried to have another dip on my final morning at 7am, but the cold and the dog – one of six – kept barking at me, so I felt it was a warning to stay out. I flip flopped back to my roof terrace instead.
Food at Mandina
The chef was kind and jolly. He seeks you out in the day to reveal the options for dinner. I tried the fish, the chicken and the beef during my stay, and all were absolutely delicious. I’d definitely vouch for the garlic bread, the soup and the pancakes too. We had a full English each morning – it was the perfect size to keep us energised for the day’s activities without overloading us in the heat.
Service at Mandina
All the staff at Mandina were lovely. I was told how welcome I was, how beautiful I was and asked if there was anything I needed on a more than daily basis. Perfect for a relaxing holiday. They couldn’t do enough for you and everyone introduced themselves personally, and remembered my name too. Lamin took us out for a forest walk and was friendly and knowledgeable, and that afternoon he paddled us out in the canoe to Kubuneh where he showed us the Wide Open Walls Arts Project, we met his family and saw how the villagers live in the small village.
My only qualm with Mandina was my paranoia. I would definitely have liked someone to have stayed with me in the lodge. My overactive imagination coupled with my malaria medication was not good for my nerves, especially when the ceiling fan blew the curtains and the sounds of nature spooked my now city-trained hearing. I need to stop watching horror movies.
Apart from that, my stay at Mandina Lodges was awesome. I’d recommend it to anyone looking to get away from it all, and have a memorable and relaxing holiday in the sun.
I was a guest of Gambia Experience but am more than capable of maintaining my own views!
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