One of the most fun and interesting aspects of traveling in Gambia is the cheap, rustic and local accommodation they have there for travellers. Tumani Tenda Eco Lodge is very different from anywhere I’ve stayed before, and it’s probably some people’s definition of paradise. Contact details to make a booking are listed at the bottom of the article.
The first thing to know about Tumani Tenda is that it’s in a very remote location. The nearest town is Brikama, and that’s where I took the gellygelly (shared minibus) from to get to the eco camp. Brikama itself has everything you need (massive market, loads of places to change money etc.).
The garage (gellygelly station) in Brikama is huge and extremely hectic and confusing, but this is quite fun and all part of the experience. The guys who load the buses will ask you where you’re going (probably 5 of them will be asking you at once, all coming from different directions and you won’t know where to look), and you just tell them you’re going to Tumani Tenda. If they don’t know where this is, tell them you want the gellygelly towards Soma.
Whichever boy you decide to listen to will probably then offer to carry your bag, and you can follow him to a little table where you’ll buy a ticket (a tiny handwritten piece of paper) to Tumani Tenda for 23 dalasi (£0.35) and they’ll show you which gellygelly to get on.
Once it’s full, the gellygelly will start moving, and you need to look out for a sign saying Tumani Tenda on the left hand side, just after a village called Sotokoi. It should take half an hour from Brikama to the Tumani Tenda sign. The sign is actually quite small, and the minibus will be going quite fast, so it would be easy to miss it. I’d suggest you ask the driver or a friendly person sitting near you to let you know when you reach Tumani Tenda, or you could follow your journey on Google Maps on your phone.
Once you’re off the gellygelly, you just have to walk down through the village (Tumani Tenda is the name of the village as well as the eco camp), and after 1500km, you’ll reach the school on your left, and once you pass that, you’ll see this little sign for the lodge:
The arrow points to the left, but that’s the car route. It’s actually quicker to walk to the right and follow the path through a few fields like this:
500km after the school, you’ll reach the eco camp which is made up of roundhouses, a lake and a big round sheltered area where food is served. If you go without booking, just wait in the big round sheltered area until someone shows up, and if you’ve booked, then hopefully they’ll be there, but I’d advise you to make contact with them the day before you travel just to remind them you’re coming, if it isn’t in the high season.
Rooms in the roundhouses (pictured below) cost 400 dalasi (£6.20) per night, including a basic breakfast (freshly baked tapalapa aka baguette with tea and coffee).
As you can see, the rooms have a double bed, mosquito net and a light. The light only works in the night because it runs from solar power which isn’t turned on all the time because they want to conserve it. There is no plug point in the room but you can always ask one of the staff to charge your power bank or phone for you.
The bathrooms are shared and they’re all in one block, pictured below. There are no doors, but you pull a curtain across so no one will come in if it’s closed. The water sometimes runs out, meaning one of the staff will fill up a bucket for you to use instead.
This is the big round area where food and drinks are served and where you can relax on a hammock:
Breakfast is included in the room rate, as previously mentioned, and you can also have lunch or dinner there for 250 dalasi (£3.90) per person if you like. They cook quite a lot of food and you can go up for more as many times as you like (they love it when you eat a lot because it’s like a compliment for the cooking) and you can request certain things within reason, for example I’m vegan so I requested “something with beans” (because I wanted protein and I know dried beans are readily available in Gambia).
From the eating area, you have a good view of the lake, which can be used for swimming, fishing and boat trips:
The camp is one of the most peaceful places I’ve ever been. You genuinely can’t hear anything except the birds for most of the day, so it’s definitely a good place to stay if you want an escape from city life or something like that.
Another huge positive about this accommodation is that it’s a perfect example of community tourism. The money from the visitors is added up at the end of the year during a village meeting where the villagers vote on what the money should be spent on. In the past, this has included things like street-lights in the village and improvements to the school. The staff are volunteers from the village and they make their money from tips.
Staying at Tumani Tenda is also a great way to get an insight into local life, as you’ll see goats and cows wandering around, houses made from local materials, wells, local farmers working and more, just from a simple walk through the village.
I’m glad I got to experience staying at Tumani Tenda, but for me, it was a little too remote to want to spend more than a few nights there, as I personally tend prefer places where you can easily walk to public transport and food sellers etc. I also think it would be different if I was travelling with a boyfriend/friend/family member who I wanted to spend quality time with, as this would have been the perfect place for that, but traveling alone to such a remote location meant that I only had the company of my books! Apparently they get busy sometimes during high season, but I was the only guest there at the time (beginning of April).
In summary, if you’re looking to get out of your comfort zone, relax, stay somewhere rustic and make sure your money is going to the local community, this might be the place for you.
If you want to book a room at Tumani Tenda, you can WhatsApp the manager whose name is Basiru Sanyang. His number is +2207915080, and he might take a few days to reply as there is no wifi at the camp (although they hope to get it next year) and he doesn’t always have data on his phone.