About Bakau beaches
Tucked away on a low cliff between the mouth of the River Gambia and the Atlantic Ocean, Bakau is a small, densely populated coastal town with a good scattering of pleasant hotels. Its western and eastern enclaves, Fajara and Cape Point, are well-to-do havens while central Bakau (home to fishermen, cooks and musicians) is a maze of crowded compounds where chickens and children scurry to and fro under the mango and pawpaw trees. This vibrant, mixed community lends the town a firmly down-to-earth, authentic atmosphere.
The best beach in the area is at Cape Point; the sand here is attractive and well kept, although strong currents often make the water unsafe for swimming. The central Bakau beach is a noisy, busy fishing centre, where fishermen mend their nets and workers sort through the catch. Further west, a russet-coloured laterite cliff fringes the town; the scraps of beach at its foot are mostly tricky to reach. Fajara beach, in the far west, is broad and rather grubby, a favourite spot for impromptu beach football matches.
Beyond the beach:
Bakau’s most famous attraction is the Katchikali crocodile pool deep in central Bakau. Sacred to the local Mandinka tribe, who believe that bathing in water from the pool will cure infertility, it’s home to a family of docile-looking Nile crocodiles. The town has a tiny clifftop Botanical Garden (Cape Point Road) with a few fine tropical specimens that are always a-flutter with colourful birds.
Gambians are extremely welcoming to children. Cape Point, eastern Bakau, has one of The Gambia’s most family-friendly hotels, the Sunbeach (Kofi Annan Street), with good facilities, an activities programme and a bright atmosphere. The larger resort hotels all have swimming pools and can provide babysitters on request. There are no dedicated family attractions in the area but kids like the crocodile pool, the market and the beach.
The popular beaches at Kotu and Kololi are 10 minutes away by road, but if you’d rather see more of the ‘real’ Gambia, head down to Tanji, where you can watch fishermen haul their brightly-painted canoes onto the shore, or follow the coast south to explore the attractive beaches near the simple villages of Gunjur, Sanyang and Kartong. The wetlands and palm groves of nearby Kotu are excellent for birdwatching, and nature-lovers should also try an early-morning visit to the Abuko Nature Reserve or Pirang Forest Park, both a short journey away. Local tour operators offer enjoyable day trips to James Island and the Makasutu Culture Forest, cruises through the mangrove creeks near Lamin, and eye-opening visits to local villages, schools and clinics.
Ngala Lodge (www.ngalalodge.com), a boutique hotel with a quirky, arty charm, is one of the area’s top-end addresses. The restaurant here is extremely romantic, and definitely worth a splurge. Or swap the busy resort area for a luxury wilderness retreat: treat yourself to a stopover at Mandina Lodge (www.makasutu.com) near Brikama or enquire about Sandele, the new high-spec eco-lodge near Kartong.