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Kartong (Beach & Village, Gambia)

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Bird Watching Beach Area
Introduction:
Kartong Village & Kartong beach ecotourism resort are located in Kombo South District, in the West Coast Region on the southern tip of the southwest coast of The Gambia, in West Africa. The rural settlement lies on the Kombo Coastal Road, near its termination, & near the international border with the Senegal, which is demarcated by the Allahein River (San Pedro River). Kartong (also spelt Kartung) is a multi-ethnic village community, largely made up of Mandinka, followed by Jola, & other minority tribes such as Karoninka & Balanta. The village has a population of about 5,500 people; is about 60km from Banjul capital, & is one of the smallest & oldest settlements in Kombo South.

Accommodation:
There are a handful of basic to luxury lodges & camps along the coast, as well as inland. There is a decent guesthouse in the town itself and is part of the Lemonfish Art Gallery. It has 5 guestrooms with modern facilities & breakfast. If you want a room on the waterfront then see the Boboi Beach Lodge with its shared bathing facilities, 12 round huts, a bar and restaurant & you can pitch your tent there too. Another place to stay is the Halahin Lodge, which is on the seafront and has 5 African style round huts & a restaurant. There is also the luxury Sandele Bay Eco Retreat.

Beach Area:
This far south on the Atlantic Ocean coast you can find some of The Gambia's most deserted, wild and picturesque  bays, where the dry sand feels softer with a cleaner, more consistent colour than in any of the other resorts beaches along the 10.5km strip of coastline.

As you move further south along the Kartong promontory, the palm tree fringed beaches seems to get a little wider and there is an access route leading directly from the northern end of the village to the beachfront. Occasionally you will see fishermen from nearby Gunjur, as well as Senegal and Ghana pull in shad, sharks and squid for the fishmongers to trade from the shed that makes up the fish market in this secluded corner. Various animals such as herds of cows will occasionally make an appearance - they are usually fairly docile though, so they shouldn't disturb your sunbathing.





The beachfront is also a superb location for camping, but do ask for advice from the Kartung Association for Responsible Tourism (KART), who have a Visitor Centre information office in the centre of town. (Tel no: 4495887)

General Area:
The main built-up settlement is encircled by ocean, scrub, dune swales, and to the east, streams, desolate salt pans and mangrove swamps which are adjacent to the River Allahein (also known as the Halahin or Hallahin Bolong). The main Kombo Coastal Road cuts through the settlement and ends a few kilometres further south at the banks of the river.

Founding Family History:
According to oral history, Kartong village was founded by the (Buwaro) Buwarow family, who migrated from Guinea Bissau to Gambia over 450 years ago. They were later joined by the Sonko, Touray, Manneh, Jabang and Jammeh families respectively. The most obvious reason for the settlement's location was to gain easy access the sea and river for fishing.





Tourist Attractions & Things To Do:
 Folonko Crocodile Pool
Also known as the Mama Folonko Sacred Shrine and Museum, the crocodile pool is located about 200 meters away from the highway on the South West of the Kartong village and is claimed to have been founded by the leader of the Tijaniyya sect in West Africa,  Sheikh Umar Futiu Taal, in the first half of 19th century.

Folonko, one of The Gambia's three sacred sites with crocodiles pools, is about 1.12 hectares in size, and the pond in the centre has a 10 meter radius and is enclosed by gallery forest. The site is under the auspices of the National Centre for Arts & Culture (NCAC) in Banjul.

Replenished by a source of freshwater and covered in a layer of pakanju-water lettuce, the pool is located in a shaded grove of kobo figs and rhun palms. The place is more remote and visited by far fewer tourists than its counterpart at Kachikally in Bakau. It is used as a place of pilgrimage where people bring gifts in return for good fortune, at a time of crisis or to help women overcome infertility. Older women from two of Kartong's groups, Christian Karoninka Mandinkas and Muslim Mandinka visit to pray and request for help a few times a week. They also oversee visitors, who come here with offers of cash, Kola nuts, grain salt or other gifts.

 Gambia Reptiles Farm
Going southbound the reptile centre is located just before you get to the village. The place is really a conservation area where you can see various reptiles up close such as snakes, (both venomous and non-venomous), including Nile monitor lizards, Agama lizards, turtles, crocodiles, Senegalese chameleons, geckos, spitting cobras, as well as non-reptiles such as centipedes. The Gambia Reptiles Farm also tries to educate local people about the benefits of having snakes in their local environment. The entry fee is about 2.50 (Tel no: +220 779 5008 email: paziaud@yahoo.fr).

  Bird Watching
More than 260 bird species have been recorded at Kartong in varying habitats which are tidal mud flats, mangrove swamps, sand dunes, Guinea savannah scrubland, foreshore, remnant of high forest and rice paddies. Parts of the area used to be excavated for sand for the building industry. This activity has long been halted and the old sand pits now fill up with water from the rainy season and as a result is now a magnet for numerous indigenous and Palaearctic migratory birds.

Among species you can expect to see here are the Malachite Kingfisher, African jacana and crake, European Roller, Pygmy Goose, Green Sandpiper,  Peregrine Falcon, Wryneck,  African Collared Dove, Woodchat Shrike, Marsh Sandpiper, Painted Snipe, Purple Swamphen, Blue-naped Mouse Bird, and many others.

You can also visit the Kartong Bird Observatory which is on the edge of a disused sand mine. The research station rings and studies birds in its central wetlands recording area. KBO also has trained bird guides, refreshments and accommodation can be arranged. They even have courses on Senegambian cooking, as well as organising bush walks.

 Sports Fishing
Stala Adventures is a fishing and birding resort who are based in the area, and even provide basic but clean accommodation located on the river bank. The kinds of fish species you can expect to catch are red snapper, barracuda, catfish and puffer fish.

 Kartong Festival
The village hosts the yearly festival which offers visitors an opportunity to experience local culture and traditions in the form of music, art and dance from The Gambia, Senegal and other West African countries. The inaugural event was hosted in November 2005 and is now held once a year in February.  The festival usually starts with a traditional procession through the streets, and performances in nearby lodges and other venues, ending at the arena, for an evening of traditional and modern dance, music and mask parades. (Tel no: 9933193)

 Lemonfish Art Gallery
This is a privately operated fine African art gallery, film-house and guest house rolled into one. The Lemonfish Art Gallery hosts exhibitions on contemporary African painting, sculptures and other pieces produced by Gambians and other artists in West Africa. They also show African films and offer courses in pottery and batik making.

 Kartong Association For Responsible Tourism
The KART Visitor Centre is your first port of call if you intend to get the most out of the village and surrounding locality. They can provide you with travel information, local guides for bird watching, fishing, dug-out canoe cruises around the mangroves or bush trekking, and you can even hire bicycles to more easily explore the rural location.

The main goal of KART is to promote the resort as an ecotourist holiday destination, and try to avoid some of the negative impacts of tourism on the local environment. Money that is generated by their activities goes towards improving local amenities in the settlement and helping local villagers.

 River Allahein
This is the southern end of the Gambian coastline which terminates at the mouth of the Allahein River. A series of dynamic sand spits and beach ridges runs parallel to the shore from 'Kartong Point' to the mouth of the river. You might want to take a pirogue cruise to explore the saltwater creeks and mangroves on your side of the river border. There are plenty of fishermen willing to take you for a fee of course.

If you go by bike from the village, you can ride further south along the main road to the most southern end of the west coast. After the military checkpoint you go south a short way where you will come face to face with the Allahein River, where the road turns right towards the beach's small fishing centre. If you turn left you will get to the fish houses. Straight ahead of you is the estuary and beyond is the Casamance region in Senegal. It is possible to cross the water from Kartong and visit Kabadio, Diannah,  Abene and Kafountine, but you must get an exit stamp on your passport first. Please note that this area of Senegal has seen separatist unrest in the past; therefore you should seek advice on traveling there from your own country first.

 Restaurants and Bars
There is an Italian restaurant called Vincenza's pizzeria (formerly Franco's) at the end of the road on the left fork, just after the fish smoking houses. It is situated on the river bank and gives you beautiful, unspoilt views of the saltwater mangroves on the other side in Casamance.

Health & Safety:
Being close to the border crossing the town is fairly safe having a good military presence there as well as a police station. Be careful about venturing out alone on foot at night outside the settlement or you lodgings, and do carry a pocket torchlight after sunset, even in your accommodation as lights can suddenly go out.

Also avoid swimming in the Allahein River or near its estuary as the tidal currents can be strong.


See also Travel Packing List

Travel Information:
To get to Kartong from Gambia's Banjul Airport just take a green taxi which will take you south via the district capital of Brikama town, and down towards the south west coast. When travelling to the village please note that this is as far south as you can go by car as the Kombo Coastal Road terminates at the estuary of the Allahein River. You will find a military checkpoint just after the centre of the village on the main road.

If you are thinking of going into Casamance in Senegal then do seek official advice from your country.

If you are intending on staying here for more than a few days then do take along enough personal supplies such as toiletries. If you do run out then you can re-fill by going to the nearest area with a sufficient number of shops is Gunjur, and there is a small mini-market inside the Elton Petrol Station in Tanji.

[Geographical coordinates 13.1000 N, 16.7667 W / Kombo South, Western Region (WCR)]
 
 
See also nearby Gunjur    Sanyang
 
     
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