Monthly Archives: June 2014

Getaway to The Gambia

Green Vervet Monkey, The Gambia

Often overlooked as a tourist destination in favour of more well-trodden African countries, the tiny finger-shaped nation of The Gambia is finally starting to come into its own. Nicknamed “The Smiling Coast of Africa” (although some would argue it resembles more of a moustache), The Gambia is one of the safest places in Africa to enjoy a getaway. And with plenty of beaches, nature activities, and world-class resorts, you’ll be smiling too. It’s also pretty easy to get there. Thomas Cook Airlines flights to Banjul, the nation’s capital, operate several times a week.

Here’s a quick look at what you can expect while you’re there.

Albert Market

Albert-Market-Banjul-The-Gambia

Occupying the same space since the 1800s, Banjul’s chief market is also the hub for most of its activity. Shops, stalls, stand and carts manned by friendly (and colourful!) locals offer everything from fabrics to fish and clothes to chickens. Bring your haggling skills though — the first price is never the agreed upon price, with discounts to be had up to 90% off the initial quote. Allow a few hours to meander through the maze of alleyways, and another hour to find your way out.

Kachikally Crocodile Pool

Kachikally-Crocodile-Pool-The-Gambia

Located in Bakau about 20 minutes outside of Banjul, the Kachikally Crocodile Pool pulls double duty — it’s a premiere attraction for tourists, and it’s a sacred site for locals. The crocodile is a symbol of fertility in The Gambia, so women travel here from all across the country, and even neighbouring countries, to undergo a ritual bathing and blessing ceremony. It’s thought that the waters have healing powers to aid in conception. More than 100 crocodiles inhabit the banks along the water, and many are tame enough that they can be petted — with the assistance of a guide of course. Laws forbid locals from getting financial gain from the pools, so the fear of getting ripped off here is never a worry.

Bijilo Forest Park

Green Vervet Monkey, The Gambia

No visit to Africa would be complete without monkeys, and the Bijilo Forest Park has them in spades. Situated just 11 kilometres outside of Banjul, this small nature reserve occupies a spectacular location just up from Senegambia beach and its stunning cliffs. You’ll see plenty of Green Vervet Monkeys, and if you’re lucky, the endangered Western Red Colobus Monkey as well. Although it’s tempting, refrain from feeding the monkeys with nuts being hawked by local vendors. Discarded bags become a problem for the wildlife and the park’s caretakers, and hand feeding these beautiful creatures disturbs their natural behaviour. There are also over 130 species of birds in the park, so plan on spending a full day here.

 

Breathtaking Lakes You Can Visit by Rail

Lake Offensee, Lake District, Austria

Landlocked? No wheels to get you around? Got a hankering to experience some water activities this summer? Fear not, millions of Europeans are in the same boat (see what we did there?) Mercifully, much of Europe sports a stellar railway system, so even if you are not blessed with the luxury of lakeside living, there are plenty of gorgeous lakes that are merely a short train ride away.

So get your water wings and inner tubes at the ready, and check out these breathtaking lakes you can visit by rail.

Lake Garda

Lake-Garda-Italy

Italy’s largest lake (and some would argue its most beautiful) is served by no fewer than three train stations — Desenzano and Peschiera del Garda in the south, and Rovereto in the north. Each acts as a gateway to some pretty fabulous activities in the region. Take for example the Medieval Market in Tignale. Accessible by bus from the Rovereto train station, the yearly summer evening market features acrobats, fire-eaters, and period costumed townspeople offering everything from local handicrafts to jam and liqueurs.

 Windsurfing Lake Garda, Italy

If it’s the water you’ve come for, windsurfing is available year-round at Lake Garda. Gardasurf Water Sport School is located in Brenzone, which is linked by bus to the Peschiera del Garda rail station, offers windsurfing classes for both young and old, and if windsurfing doesn’t quite suit your fancy, the facility also offers dinghy, sailboat, and catamaran rentals.

Although most folks think of the ocean when they think of diving, Lake Garda offers some stellar fresh water diving opportunities for those up for the challenge. Many of the dive shops are situated in the southern lake resorts of Arco, Riva del Garde, and Malescine (served by the Rovereto rail station.) Ambiente Acqua in Arco offers PADI diving certification courses as well as day and night dives for those already certified.

Austrian Lake District

While technically it’s proper name is Salzkammergut, this area is more popularly referred to as simply the Austrian Lake District. And with a total of 76 lakes in the region, there are plenty of activities to keep you occupied, and of course plenty of rail options serving the Lake District.

 Lake Traunsee, Lake District, Austria

Holding the distinction as Austria’s deepest lake, Lake Traunsee can be accessed from the train stations at Gmunden in the north as well as Ebensee in the south. For history buffs, a paddleboat steamer from the 1870s still plies the waters offering tours of the lake for visitors. There are plenty of free beaches along the 12km shore as well for those looking to take a dip on a budget.

 Lake Offensee, Lake District, Austria

Although the water temperature can be a bit chilly chilly (it’s worth checking), sunny days are the perfect time to visit Lake Offensee for a refreshing dip. The scenery here is amongst the best in Austria, and since it attracts fewer visitors than some of the larger bodies of water in the Lake District (Lake Offensee takes only 90 minutes to walk around), there are days that seem like you have the whole place to yourself.