Sandele is a wonderful place - for all sorts of reasons...peace, tranquillity and a 'real' slice of West African life being chief among them. The beach is beautiful and unspoiled, and lying in one of the hammocks is surely one of life's pleasures. Sandele's remoteness is one of its wonders - you can't help but relax. I have just returned from a week's yoga retreat and it was one of the most fantastic weeks of my life.
I read the negative reviews with interest: if you're looking for a pristine, marble front desked hotel with manicured lawns and a white linen suited man fetching you cocktails each time you click your fingers, then Sandele isn't for you - but understand it isn't supposed to be those things...
What Maurice and Geri are doing is different and special. Their commitment to the local area, and to Gambia more generally is at the heart of what they do, and it extends beyond Sandele itself. In terms of the property itself, it's probably only a quarter of what Maurice and Geri want to achieve, and I've no doubt they will get there - but get there without exploiting either the environment or the local people.
The food is fresh, local and plentiful - I don't know how much the people complaining about the portions normally eat because there was more than enough for me. The breakfasts in particular are delicious, especially the local doughnuts and the omelettes are fabulous! Tea, coffee, fresh juices and smoothies - what's not to like?!
Also, and I am a fairly squeamish person, but please believe me: the composting toilets DO NOT SMELL...again, I don't know what people have been doing, but I certainly never experienced any smells in my bathroom (& the person who said the shower made the toilet smell, how could it, they aren't connected??) Of course, where water is heated by the sun, it isn't going to be warm first thing in the morning, but it's plenty hot enough after about 11am - in fact, in the afternoon, it's almost too hot!
The staff are warm, friendly and helpful - reflected by Maurice and Geri's commitment to having at least 80% of their staff drawn from the local community - and can't do enough to help. Again, this isn't five-star, silver service, but it's not supposed to be like that. Giving local people jobs and skills is part of what Sandele is about; the staff are more than competent and their friendly personalities and desire to help more than make up for having to wait more than a minute for some juice or your dinner.
Sure, pristine isn't a word one could use to describe Sandele, and there are things that could do with a bit of sprucing up, but in many ways, that's part of its charm.
I'll return to Sandele, no doubt - and not least to see how Maurice and Geri are getting on with a brilliant project which is centred around giving something back and not simply making money. It's easy to be cynical, but even half an hour with them will make you change your mind. I'm not saying it's a panacea for all the things that are wrong with tourism in Africa (and beyond), but it's certainly a start.
If you're looking for something that would be at home in Vogue or Tatler, you won't find it at Sandele, but if you want a slice of Gambia which allows you to relax, calm down and learn a little along the way, you certainly will.
And you'll do that without taking more out of Africa than you brought in - I'm not sure many places can say the same.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Sandele is an award winning ecolodge located on a stunning deserted beach in Southern Gambia. We offer accommodation in luxury lodges, nestled in the bush a hundred metres from the beach. The Retreat is operated in conjunction with the local community of Kartong, who benefit from the development and running of the resort and who will assume complete responsibility in twenty-five years time. ... more less
- Reservation Options:
- TripAdvisor is proud to partner with Expedia so you can book your Sandele Eco-Retreat reservations with confidence. We help millions of travellers each month to find the perfect hotel for both holiday and business trips, always with the best discounts and special offers.
- Also Known As:
- Sandele Eco-Retreat Hotel Kartong
- Sandele Eco-Retreat Gambia/Kartong