Kololi Beach

A sleepy village just 40 years ago, the resort of Kololi is now the hub of the Republic of Gambia's burgeoning tourism industry. A marked increase in the number of international visitors heading to this small West African nation has seen Kololi experience the biggest tourism boom in the country and today it is a buzzing tourist resort awash with plush hotels, lively clubs and bars, a sophisticated dining scene and stunning palm-fringed sands. Despite the growth in tourism, however, the area retains plenty of African charm and the influence of local culture is evident in the nature of the architecture as well as in the relaxed pace of day to day life.

Kololi is the busiest and most established of the holiday resorts that line the Gambia's Atlantic coast and is a good introduction to the Gambia for those who want to take in the dramatic natural beauty of this exotic West African country without sacrificing any home comforts. Many of Kololi's hotels are luxurious affairs set in their own lush gardens and most are surprisingly affordable by Western standards. Whilst the area offers lively nightlife and international dining, it is also possible to find quiet retreats and there is no end of opportunity to get off the beaten track and get back to nature.

Those looking for a Gambian experience filled with late-night thrills and spills will find the best place to stay on Kololi is the area known as the Senegambia strip, which has seen the most tourist development in the Gambia. Clubs, bars, casinos and restaurants of varying quality are all to be found in abundance here, with vendors, promoters and taxi drivers all noisily competing for the custom of the many foreign visitors that flock here during peak season. North of Senegambia is Palma Rima, a slightly quieter area with a long, sandy beach and plenty of upscale hotels.

Visitors to the Gambia who are looking for something a little more relaxed and low-key should make their way inland to Kololi village, where the abundant vegetation and tranquil pace of life provides much more of a taste of the 'real' Gambia.

The Gambia's recent tourism boom has been predominantly based around two key elements - the spectacular wildlife of the region and the sunkissed, palm-fringed beaches that line the dramatic Atlantic coastline of the Gambia.

Kololi's expansive beach cannot, in fact, be entirely attributed to Mother Nature's generous nature. The beach has had a generous helping hand from mankind - in 2004, some one million cubic metres of sand were added to the existing beach, which had been seriously depleted over the years by coastal erosion. The man-made nature of the beach doesn't detract from its appeal to tourists and today the sands are busy with sunbathers, runners and families by day, whilst at night it throngs with revellers taking advantage of drinks promotions at the many relaxed beach bars that see DJs playing a largely reggae-based musical selection until the wee small hours. Live music and traditional dancing may also form a part of the evening's entertainment and visitors will have plenty of opportunity to talk to locals about life in the Gambia.

Whilst Kololi's beach is not entirely a wonder of nature, the same cannot be said of the lush inland. Visitors heading to the Gambia in the hope of spotting some exotic wildlife are unlikely to be disappointed on an overland safari or a trip up the majestic River Gambia. Hippos, monkeys of all shapes and sizes and even chimpanzees are all native to this part of the world and the hundreds of beautiful bird varieties that flit among the trees here make the Gambia a hugely popular destination for birdwatchers. Tour operators in the Kololi area are on hand to take visitors on wildlife-spotting adventures and it is possible to choose from back-to-basics jungle treks to luxurious jeep and boat safaris complete with plush jungle lodge accommodation.

When it comes to dining out in Kololi, visitors are spoiled for choice. The steamy climate means that exotic fruits and vegetables are plentiful, whilst the wonderfully fresh fish and seafood is another jewel in Kololi's culinary crown. Simple beach bars serve up delicious snapper and barracuda baked in foil, along with fresh prawns and wonderfully spicy soups and stews.

Elsewhere, the area's popularity with international tourists means that it is now perfectly possible to find anything from Thai and Japanese dishes to Italian pizza and pasta as well as North American-style fast food. A colourful fruit market in Kololi is a great place to try out the many wierd and wonderful fruits and vegetables that grow here and budget travellers will appreciate the opportunity to line their stomachs for very little money.

Visitors heading to Kololi will almost certainly arrive at Gambia's capital, Banjul, whose international airport lies less than an hour's drive from Kololi. Most hotels will arrange airport pickups and tourist transport tends to be a great deal more comfortable and reliable than the local buses.

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