The Fathala Wildlife Reserve in Senegal is located to the north of the Gambia, very near the border. Most tour operators offer day trips to Fathala. The trip from the resorts in the Gambia includes an interesting ferry ride, a border crossing, and wild animals. Be prepared to spend a day in the hot sunshine. Not only will you spot wild animals, but you will also get the chance to see some of the villages in the northern part of the Gambia.
Information about Fathala Wildlife Reserve
Fathala is a Mandinka word that means “Do Not Touch”. The reserve, located near the Gambian border, consists of 6000 hectares of original and protected forest. Animal species that were once a part of the Senegalese fauna have been reintroduced in the reserve where they are being looked after by the staff. The tours there are like mini-safaris or safari lite, with open-game viewing vehicles. During our trips, we had two guides (one from the Gambia and one from the reserve), as well as a driver. We saw giraffes, warthogs, a rhino, zebras, antelopes, etc. All in all, the tour inside the reserve lasted for about two hours. You can find more information about the wildlife reserve here >>
Booking a Trip and Heading to Senegal
There are multiple tour operators and locals who will want to help you arrange a day trip somewhere when you visit the Gambia. We looked a lot at the price and the services included. We booked our trip through ScanTours. In fact, we were approached by a Swedish-speaking guide when we were out and about. As we wanted to try different tour operators, we decided to go with this one. We were not disappointed. The tour included ferry tickets, the drive, entrance to the nature reserve, lunch, and drinks. The cost for the trip was 3500 dalasi per person, altogether 10500 dalasi. That is approximately 240 euros altogether for the three of us.
The day started with an early breakfast. We were picked up by the driver and our guide at 7 a.m. We first picked up a Dutch couple from their hotel before continuing our trip to the ferry crossing in Banjul. Watching the ferry approach Banjul was a real experience: there were so many people, so many colors, and so much noise. The time was about 10 a.m. when we were on the other side of the river, in Barra. Both the ferry and Barra were bustling with people. From Barra, we continued to the Senegalese border. On the way, we saw crowded local buses, children singing, goats, cows and a lot of mango trees. I had never expected mango trees to be so big. The border crossing was chaotic but quick. Our guide handled the paperwork, we got our passports stamped, and the journey continued into Senegal. Suddenly all the signs were in French.
Arriving at the Fathala Wildlife Reserve
The drive from the border to Fathala is not long. Once there we used the bathrooms before we were greeted by our guide. Then she jumped into our car and started to tell us about the reserve, pointing out different animals and giving us information about them as they passed. The rhino was extremely calm, the giraffes were a curious bunch. The warthogs seemed so happy and cheerful and zebras are so incredibly cute. We also saw some giant elands, the largest species of antelopes.
I have always thought that sitting in a car, with a soft breeze on your face, is the ultimate feeling of freedom. Those are the moments when life suddenly feels so tangible, and you feel invincible. When you’re sitting in a car, with a soft breeze in your face, and you realize that you are in Africa, the wow factor is even greater. To me, Africa is so many stories and narratives so different from my own. On that day in that car, I thought about a lot of things. I thought about the nature surrounding me, about the continent that is Africa, about history. Suddenly I was philosophizing right and wrong, good and bad. The feelings I experienced in that particular context were so very different, so very much more acute, than my usual feelings. I don’t know how my co-travelers (my sputniks) experience the trips, at least they seemed to be enjoying themselves and the views.
Leaving Senegal and Returning to The Gambia
At noon we had a break for drinks. We then took a last look at the rhino, the zebras, and their friends before heading out of the park. Somehow the animals appeared to get along so happily with each other. I wish people could be a bit more like them. The sun had taken its toll and I slept very soundly after the border crossing back to Barra. A few words about the border crossing. I mentioned before that it was chaotic – it was. There were kids, farmers, adults, goats, donkeys, and goats wandering around, with no apparent destination. Many of them tried to sell something or asked for something. There were cars that still had European registration plates. Our guide took once more care of the paperwork while we were waiting in the car.
We had lunch before hopping on the ferry back to Banjul. The restaurant was right next to the terminal and it seemed to be very popular among tourists. We were served chicken with either chips or rice. Simple, but nice. Once back in Banjul, we found our driver and were taken back to our hotel.
Useful Facts & Tips
Here we have collected some useful facts and tips for those taking a day trip to Fathala from the Gambia.
- Look around for a suitable tour company. There are plenty to choose from, so don’t automatically stick to the first one you can find. The prices are more or less the same, but some tours include some additional services. For example, we got free drinks during our trip.
- Cover your head and bring some water. It’s hot! You will spend most of the day outdoors.
- Eat a proper breakfast, it’s a late lunch.
- EU citizens do not need visa for Senegal.
- You will probably not spend any money in Senegal, so there is no need to exchange money.
- Don’t forget your passport.