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- A gray cat slinks past a wooden house. There’s something a little intimidating attempting to describe.
Click on the above links or just scroll down to read all. I’ve tried to make this as comprehensive as possible but if there’s anything missing, please let me know and I’ll answer your questions and update the info.
We recommend the Senegal Bradt Guide by Sean Connolly, a book for which I was a major contributor. I’m also currently updating the Bradt Gambia guide, due for release in late 2017.
When to come
We are here year round. The rainy season runs from July to October and trekking would be unpleasant then. The optimal time is November to April, and this is also when the cheap flights run from UK to Banjul, Gambia (about one hour travel time from Abene).
The Senegalese visa has now been abolished and most nationalities should get a stamp in the passport for 2 months upon arrival.
Visas aren’t required for Brits and other Commonwealth citizens in the Gambia. Please check with your local embassy if you are of different nationality.
In Senegal, the local currency is CFA (pronounced say-fer), which is the currency across much of Francophone Africa. There are approximately 750 cfa to £1 or 650 cfa to 1 euro.
In the Gambia, the currency is Dalasi and there are around 65 dalasi to £1. Note – this has dropped to 50 recently.
If bringing cash, euros are more widely accepted than UK £ or US$. In fact, Euros are often the only foreign currency choice.
ATM’s are widespread around the tourist regions of Western Gambia and accept visa and mastercard.
Major cities in Senegal have ATM’s accepting visa & mastercard. Please note, the closest ATM to Abene is 70 km away.
If arriving from Banjul airport, the options are to change money at the border, home to pirates and bandits (sometimes known as border money changers) or to change euro’s in a few of the shops in Abene – the preferable option. There is also a Western Union in Kafountine, 7km away, but as always, money transfers here incur fees.
Prices in the Gambia are similar or sometimes slightly cheaper.
We are in Abene, a small village in the Casamance which is a lush tropical area of Senegal sandwiched between Gambia and a couple of Guineas. The beaches look like screen-savers. Click to read about us in the Guardian newspaper.
Generally it’s cheaper for Brits to fly into Banjul, Gambia. This is also close to Abene (about 90 mins to 2 hours including border crossing). If your flight arrives before about 6pm, it should be possible to reach us the same day. The border closes after dark. Thomas Cook and Monarch offer cheap from November to April and bargains can be had. It takes about 6 hours and as you watch from the window you can imagine doing it overland and crossing the Sahara.
Here’s a link to cheap Thomas Cook flights.
Alternatively you can fly to and/or from Dakar (try edreams.com).
Vueling fly via Barcelona year round and are another cheaper option.
We can arrange a private car to pick you up in Banjul airport, Gambian coastal resorts or Ziguinchor. This costs 45,000 cfa for the group.
The GPS co-ordinates for drivers are: WGS 84 N 12° 59.493′ W 016° 43.621′
Local transport from Dakar
There are four options:
Local transport from Ziguinchor
Sept place are the eight seater shared taxis that I find most comfortable of the public transport options. Most towns will have a gare routiere where these run from. For long distances, they usually leave early (before 7am). Seats 1 or 4 are my favourite. Prices are fixed by the Government and squeeze the drivers to the extent that they make their profit by charging for baggage. From Ziguinchor gare routiere, ask for Abene and the cost is 2500cfa per person and takes 90 minutes. They’ll drop you at the junction in the village of Diannah (make sure you tell them or you’ll end up in the next town). From there you can take a motorbike for 500 cfa. Ask for Simon and Khadys – usually someone will know us. Alternatively call or SMS me on 00221 773414356 and I’ll pick you up from the main road or arrange a motorbike to go collect you.
If you make your own way to the village, please note there is another campement called “Les Baobabs” as well as boys who will attempt to lead you to other guest houses. It’s best to call.
Buses tend to be overfilled and overloaded, plus they stop all the time. They’re slightly cheaper, but not enough to make them a worthwhile option, in my experience.
Local transport from the Gambia
There are a couple of options. Taxis out of the airport are expensive and you’d be better off arranging private transport with me. Alternatively take a taxi a short distance to the town of Brikama (head to the garage). From there you can take local transport that’s heading either directly to Kafountine or if it’s going to Ziguinchor, go as far as Diouloulou. Then change to Kafountine and jump out at the junction for Abene and follow instructions above to get to ours. Costs are very low but journey times may be long and comfort levels compromised. One thing to watch out for is if they’re going via the official border at Seleti. If they take you the bush route you will get stamped out of Gambia but not into Senegal. Not a problem if you return the same way, but if you’re continuing around the Casamance you should get stamped in to avoid problems.
Kartong: The other route – and this is perhaps one of the most spectacular ways to arrive – is via Kartong. You can take local transport from the beach resorts to the village of Kartong on the southern border of the Gambia. Ask for the river side and you’ll pass through a small border post (Gambian only – you won’t get stamped into Senegal, so as above, only do this if returning the same way) then take a canoe across the river which costs 5 dalasi. Once in Senegal, it’s 2500cfa to Abene on a motorbike or 1000 for a place in a jeep (but you may wait a long time). It’s about a 10km drive through bush and forest. Once in Abene ask for Simon and Khady and the driver will be directed. Alternatively, I’ll come and pick you up from the river crossing (10,000 cfa) – we can stop and sample some palm wine on the way back.
I would recommend printing the map off or saving it to any devices you bring. Then I don’t have to keep drawing maps!
Here is a map of Abene (courtesy of the Senegal Bradt Guide) :
Is it safe?
The British Foreign Office website cautions against travel out side of the main tourist routes in the Casamance. There was a very low level of rebel activity for many years (a peace agreement has now been signed), further to the east. This has not affected tourism locally and the only minor incidents have been opportunistic bandits using the troubles as an excuse to cause their own trouble. Sadly, something that could happen anywhere.
In our view, Abene and the regions in which we travel and trek are as safe as any developing country and we regularly visit these areas with our young son. With our extensive network of friends and family, we keep an ear close to the ground and hold our guests safety as sacred.
The region has recently been cleared by the French foreign office as safe for travel.
Local crime is very low compared for example to a typical British city. Normal precautions should be taken and we have a safe in the main house and can store passports and wallets for the duration of your stay.
What about malaria, mosquitos and other medical issues?
I didn’t see a mosquito between December and April of last year and despite many years of living in malarial zones, I’m yet to catch it. Neither has Khady. Having said that, prevention is better than cure and we recommend using repellants, covering up at night and sleeping under the nets we provide. Please follow your doctors advice for medication.
We carry some basic medicines and first aid materials – these aren’t always easy to come by and we recommend you bring some basic supplies as well as any necessary medication.
Recommended vaccines – please check with your doctor. Generally, it’s unwise to travel in the tropics without being up-to-date on tetanus, polio and diphtheria (now given as an all-in-one vaccine, Revaxis), hepatitis A and typhoid. Immunisation against rabies, meningitis, hepatitis B, and possibly tuberculosis (TB) may also be recommended.
Yellow fever: A yellow fever certificate is not a legal requirement in Senegal or Gambia although it’s not a bad idea to have one.
If you’ve read either of my books (available for purchase in our bar!), please don’t worry about all the exotic afflictions I’ve encountered – I’ve been living here a long time and am prone to crawling about in swamps. Beside the occasional “Banjul belly” our guests invariably have a trouble free stay.
There are places with wifi in Abene and nearby Kafountine (which tends to be faster than the abysmal rates in Abene). It seems to have gotten slower over the years and now the cellular phone connection is working much better, so if your phone is unlocked, we stock SIM cards in our shop.
Food and drink
Breakfast is included and is usually in season fruit and juice, tea or coffee, local French style bread and different spreads.
We can provide lunch and evening meals at Khady’s Jungle bar, located next to the front gate. We mostly cook local delicacies or sometimes western ones with a local twist. Please let us know if you have any dietary requirements. Most meals involve fish and occasionally chicken.Typical local dishes (2000 cfa/person) include:
Other Dishes (fish/chicken & chips, salads, pizza, curry, pasta and more available on request & subject to availability – we don’t have supermarkets here!) – typically 3000cfa.
As a predominantly muslim country, many people don’t drink. But many do. Local beers are lagers and include Flag and gazelle. Palm wine tastes like slightly fizzy water poured off of yoghurt – an acquired taste which I have acquired. If you can find a fresh supply you are in for a treat. Cadeau is fermented cashew nut and tastes muddy. You can also find gin which is more like firewater.
The usual fizzy drinks are available as well as bissap which is a ribena like fruit and sugar concoction. Spicy sweet coffee (cafe touba) is available most places and Kankillyba – tea.
What to bring
Generally speaking, as little as possible is always my advice.
Clothing – light, comfortable clothing for hot weather.
Senegal practises a very relaxed Islam and normal beachwear, shorts and bare shoulders are not deemed offensive.
In December-January, it can get cool in the evenings so a fleece is advisable and a light sleeping bag if trekking.
Comfortable sandals are fine and perhaps something sturdier if trekking.
Other things: Camera, a good torch, mosquito repellant, sun screen, sun glasses, swim wear, a book to exchange in our library.
Some people hand out sweets, pens etc to kids. However, this can encourage begging, not to mention tooth decay. As hard as it can be, it’s better to support local ngo’s and charities
Cheese is never refused (by me).
If you are travelling here direct from home and have baggage allowance, I would appreciate it if I can buy and send any items I need to your home address. The local postal system doesn’t work.
Willing to work?
We are willing to discuss reduced rates or free accommodation for anyone with a skill they can share or willingness to work. Current jobs required:
And there’s more….
We have European 2-pin sockets (adaptors easily available) – please note that we can’t charge anything with a heating element (e.g. hair dryer/kettle).
Water is pumped from the well and not advisable for Westerners to drink, but we can provide large 10 L or regular bottles of mineral water.
Although the showers are refreshing cold water we will happily heat a bucket of water to supplement or preferably just leave one outside all day – it’ll be scalding by evening.
I usually have copies of my books, Squirting Milk at Chameleons and Chasing Hornbills, for sale (8000cfa, small discount if you buy both) and am happy to sign them with a personal message.
“Simon Fenton leaves Britain in search of adventure and finds Senegal, love, fatherhood, witch doctors – and a piece of land that could make a perfect guest house, if only he knew how to build one.
The Casamance is an undiscovered paradise where mystic Africa governs life, people walk to the beat of the djembe, when it rains it pours and the mangos are free.
But the fact that his name translates to ‘vampire’ and he has had a curse placed on him via the medium of eggs could mean Simon’s new life may not be so easy.”