Culture Forest, Gambia
In Gambia the name Makasutu is a local Mandinka
word which means holy
& "sacred deep forest".
Makasutu Culture Forest is located about 5 km to the north east of
& is a lush green wilderness fed by a tributary of the
Gambia River called the Mandina Bolon. It is a private eco-tourist reserve which
is open to the public for full or half-day cultural guided eco-tours of the forest.
Within the reserve there is the 5 star luxury eco-tourist lodge called
Mandina Lodges which is right on the tributary within lush
There are a variety of eco-systems within the Makasutu
protected wilderness area namely: savannah, mangroves, a dense mature
tropical forest, Guinea woodland and semi-wooded grassland.
Part of the itinerary for day trippers is a chance to enjoy some Jola
traditional tribal dancing, drumming and singing as well as a meal at
the "Baobab Restaurant & Bar" serving a traditional Gambian lunch (organically
grown Gambian food +220 448 3335). There
guided canoe rides among the mangroves and creeks, and a chance
to try out some traditional herbal medicines & remedies as well as
birdwatching on the salt
flats by the river which are teeming with birdlife such as the
European Pied Wagtail. You can take part in pottery, cooking,
furniture making, wood carving lessons & see a palm wine tapper at
work as he manages to get to the top of a palm tree very quickly using
just a rope. You can also see people weaving, silversmiths
at work as well as
fishing and farmers whose practices have remained unchanged over the
years. All profits made from the local craft area go back directly to
the village craftsmen who don't pay any rent.
The gradual development of
Makasutu Culture Forest has been in line with the owner's (English expats -
English and Lawrence Williams) eco ethics of combining
eco-tourism & responsible travel with sustainable economic development, for example providing local
employment to the nearby villagers of Kembujeh, using solar power
for their energy needs and replanting trees in areas that had
previously been felled by farmers clearing to make fields. Visiting groups are kept deliberately small to
reduce any detrimental impacts on the forests area's fragile eco-system.
How It Began:
The story began in
December 1992 when the 2 entrepreneurs were looking for a spot in
Gambia to build an eco-retreat in the Gambia's bush wilderness. They found
Makasutu cultural forest however, the Alkalo and villagers were
reluctant to sell it to them as legend has it that it was haunted by
'djinns' and the legendary 'Ninkinanka' (a pre-historic dinosaur)
furthermore it was reserved for sacred tribal rituals. They managed to buy one-and-a-half
hectares of land and departed. However, when they returned they found
many trees cut down by Sierra Leonean refugees who needed farmland to
grow food to eat. After some personal help they managed to secure the
purchase of over 1,000 hectares of land! Eventually 15,000 trees were planted and dozens of wells were dug. After 7 years of toil and endeavor and the construction of a base camp the area was formally opened
to tourists in July 1999. Mandina Lodge
itself came only as an afterthought because so many tourists said they
wanted to stay there for their holidays. The lodge has since become
one of the top lodges in Africa and has won many international prizes.
There are now over 150 employees from the nearby village as a
deliberate measure to halt villagers from moving away from the area
and into the towns.
Makasutu is relatively easy as a sturdy 4 by 4 jeep can get you there
in about 1 hour from the coastal hotel resorts.
Places to Eat:
Baobab Restaurant & Bar
(serving organic food)
Makasutu Wildlife Trust at