From the Ocean to the Sahara


From the Ocean to the Sahara

Style: PioneerGroundbreaking tours to unique destinations
Duration: 29 days
Type: GroupTravel with a small group of other travellers

Dossier

Join this great expedition across the Sahara. We journey across Guinea Bissau, Senegal, the Gambia, Mauritania, Western Sahara and Morocco. This is a peaceful 'raid' from south to north in an ever changing natural environment. From the Atlantic coast of the largest desert on earth, through the interior of Western Sahara, to Marrakech, this is amongst our most exciting, ground-breaking tours.

On this expedition, we will discover the main natural, cultural and religious environments of this part of the African continent and this itinerary is the result of many years of research and experience by our team out in the field. Local cultures are still authentic: Berbers in the Atlas Mountains, legendary Reguibat and Sharawi nomads of Western Sahara, the Moorish fishermen who are located at the edge of the desert and ocean and the largest African brotherhood practicing Islam. In the forest we discover the animistic religions, tribal kings, dancing masks and shrines of remote village and for nature lovers we hope to encounter the African manatee, the rare saltwater hippo, and the nesting site of green turtles. Join us on this amazing adventure.


Tour Rating 

Fitness ●●●○○ | Off the Beaten Track ●●●●● | Culture ●●●●● | History ●●●○○ | Wildlife ●●○○○

Tour Pace

Busy

Tour Highlights

  • Discover the untouched Bijagos Archipelago off the coast of little Guinea Bissau
  • A unique journey travelling northwards from Guinea Bissau, crossing Senegal, the Gambia, Mauritania, and Western Sahara, to Morocco
  • Travel by 4WD from the sacred Forest of Casamance to the Sahelian savannah in the Ferlo
  • Desert of Senegal and onto the heights of the Atlas Mountains

Tour Essentials

Accommodation: Mix of hotels, some of which are basic, and camping
Included Meals: Daily breakfast (B), plus lunches (L) and dinners (D) as shown in the itinerary
Group Size: Maximum 16 (On this tour you may be joined by travellers from companies other than Undiscovered Destinations)
Start Point: Bissau - 4 April 2020
End Point: Marrakech - 2 May 2020 - evening departure
Transport: 4WD
Countries: Guinea Bissau, Senegal, the Gambia, Mauritania and Morocco

Tour Itinerary Notes

While our intention is to adhere to the day-by-day itinerary as printed below, a degree of flexibility is built in. Overnight stops may vary from those suggested and on occasions alternative accommodation, of a similar standard to that named below, will be used.

Tour Guide

This tour is generally led by Italian Alberto Nicheli who has been living in West Africa since 1985, although it was back in 1972 that he organised his first trans-Saharan expedition.

Alberto’s sense of adventure and huge amount of experience makes him ideal to lead this tour. He has a profound knowledge and understanding of African art and of the many traditions and customs of the people who inhabit these remote territories.

Alberto has worked with and handled the logistics for leading companies such as National Geographic and the Discovery Channel. He has worked on archaeological and ethnological expeditions to investigate customs and traditions of the Tuareg people and pre-historic rock art in the Sahara.

Without doubt to travel with Alberto will only add to the experience of what is a unique expedition.

Day 1 – Bissau – 4 April 2020

Arrival and transfer to the hotel. Overnight at Hotel Azalai or similar. No meals.  

Day 2 – Bijagos Archipelago – 5 April 2020

We commence the expedition by exploring the Bijagos Archipelago, located around 40 miles offshore and the largest archipelago in Africa consisting of 88 islands, 21 of which are permanently inhabited. Our first visit is of Bolama Island, the former capital of the Portuguese Guinea from 1871 to 1941 before the capital was moved inland to Bissau. When the Portuguese left, native people came to live in this town which is now falling apart and invaded with tropical vegetation. The town is made of large, sunny and lethargic avenues, empty squares, dry fountains, bush-like gardens, and charming administrative buildings in neo Palladian style. In the governor’s palace we can still see the classic columns surrounded by peaceful goats. Although inhabited, this town now resembles somewhat of a ghost town. We arrive to Rubane Island where we stay for two nights. The afternoon is free to enjoy the wild beach or swimming pool, or explore the island. Overnight Ponta Anchaca or similar (BLD)

Day 3 – Dancing Masks – 6 April 2020

This morning is at leisure. This afternoon we will experience the Vaca Bruto Festival where dancers embody the spirit of the Vaca Bruto (wild bull) with great realism. During the long dry season interesting cultural ceremonies take place. All villagers attend this fascinating ceremony. Overnight Ponta Anchaca or similar (BLD)

Day 4 – Ancestors Cult – 7 April 2020

Our navigation around the Bijagos Archipelago comes to an end when we arrive into Bissau. We then drive to a region inhabited by the Manjaco ethnic group. The Manjaco call the traditions “Gendiman”. We will visit villages to discover the sculptured wooden poles called “Pecab” that represent the spirits of their ancestors, in a sanctuary known as “Cab Balugun”, a tradition which is still very much alive. After asking permission we may have the opportunity to see different generations and styles of sacred wooden sculptures; one of the last chances to enjoy tribal art in its original cultural context. Overnight in simple bungalows. (BLD)

Day 5 – Casamance – 8 April 2020

This morning we cross the border with Senegal and arrival in Casamance, the most animistic region in the country. In a remote village, we will visit the adobe fortified buildings, an interesting example of traditional African sculptural architecture. These large clay and wood buildings, where the internal light comes from a central hole in the large roof, protect the inhabitants from outside attacks. These buildings are known as “impluvium houses”, an African variant of the ancient roman houses. In the afternoon we follow an isolated path to a tiny village where we witness the dancing masks. Masks are a part of the animistic Djiola culture – people both fear and respect masks and consider them spirits who play an important role in solving conflicts between villagers. In the evening arrive in Ziguinchor. Overnight Kadiandoumange Hotel or similar. (BLD)

Day 6 – Banjul – 9 April 2020

This morning we cross the border into Gambia and head for its capital Banjul. After a period of troubled politics, the country is now stable again and open to tourism. We have a brief bird watching experience before visiting the town centre and the interesting National Museum which focuses on different areas of the country such as archaeology to recent history, art, music and photography before arriving in the Senegambia area. Overnight in a comfortable hotel. (BLD)

Day 7 – Megalites – 10 April 2020

We cross the river by typical African ferry and cross back into Senegal. Between south Senegal and the north banc of the Gambia River we will discover the world’s largest area of megaliths. We visit the biggest site in Sine Ngayene that includes more than 52 stone circles with 1102 erected stones and also discover the ancient quarry where, thousands of years ago, the megaliths were cut from laterites rock. Overnight at Kabatoco Safari Lodge or similar (BLD)

Day 8 – Dakar – Goré Island – 11 April 2020

This morning we travel to Dakar and visit the town centre and traditional market. We board a ferry to Goré Island, facing Dakar. Goré was a place where slaves were crammed into vessels waiting to be shipped to the Americas. Some restored buildings remain to bear witness of those times. Today its breezy climate, history and ancient architecture, together with nice restaurants and boutiques, make Goré an interesting and attractive destination for a visit. Overnight at Maison Muncipal or similar, a comfortable guesthouse in an ancient, restored building (BLD)

Day 9 – Dakar – Lac Rose – Lampoul Desert – 12 April 2020

Return to Dakar and visit the ‘Village des Arts’, made up of more than fifty workshops of contemporary artists. Discover the range of art work from painting and sculpture and pottery to photography and filming before we head to Lac Rose. In the afternoon we cross the dunes to reach our comfortable, fixed camp in the Lampoul Desert. Overnight Lampoul Eco Lodge or similar (tents with beds and private facilities) (BLD)

Lac Rose

Lac Rose, also known as Lac Retba, is a saltwater lake surrounded by dunes. The water is ten times saltier than the ocean and due to the high concentration of salt the lake often shimmers in pink; swimming in the lake gives the sensation of floating. More than 600 people work collecting salt from the lake, in the traditional way.

Day 10 - To Saint Louis – 13 April 2020

We will leave the desert behind and head for Saint Louis. Explore the narrow streets of Saint Louis before taking lunch in a typical local restaurant. Overnight at Hotel de la Poste (a historical hotel built in 1850) or similar. (BLD)

Saint Louis

Saint Louis is a charming old town and the first capital of all the French colonies in West Africa. The old town is built on two long islands near the estuary of the Senegal River, between the river and the ocean. The first island has been the administrative colonial capital of French West Africa until 1902 when the administration was brought to Dakar. The second island, near the ocean, is inhabited by the large local community of fishermen.

Day 11 – Djoudj Ornithological Sanctuary - Nouakchott – 14 April 2020

Early morning departure to Djoudj National Park; a natural oasis composed by hundreds of miles of partially flooded lands. This paradise is the best habitat and nesting site for over a million migratory and sedentary birds. We will take a boat excursion where we should be able to visit banks and islands with an astonishing concentration of pelicans. We then depart for the border of Mauritania. The landscape will change from dry savannah to desert with a range of dunes. We shall arrive in Nouakchott by early evening. Overnight at Hotel Azalai or similar (BLD)

Djoudj National Bird Sanctuary

Lies on the southeast bank of the Senegal River, North East of St-Louis. It provides a range of wetland habitats which prove very popular with migrating birds, many of which have just crossed the Sahara. Of almost 400 species of birds, the most visible are pelicans and flamingos. Less conspicuous are the Aquatic Warblers migrating here from Europe; for these, the park is the single most important wintering site yet discovered. A wide range of wildlife also inhabits the park, which is designated a World Heritage Site.

Day 12 – North to the Sahara – 15 April 2020

This morning an early departure heading North. We cross the Adrar Mountains through scenic landscapes to the oasis of Chinguetti where we spend the next three nights. Overnight La Gueila Guest House or similar (BLD)

Day 13 – The Remote Oasis – 16 April 2020

Discover Ouadane, the remote oasis in Mauritania. Founded in 1147, Ouadane is now mostly in ruin although some of the stone houses are still inhabited. In ancient days this town was an important trading point between Maghreb and black Africa. We return to Chinguetti following a route where we discover remote oasis hidden in the dunes. Overnight at La Gueila Guest House or similar (BLD)

Day 14 – Chinguetti – 17 April 2020

Today is a full day dedicated to discovering Chinguetti, an ancient Berber town founded in the 13th Century that became a main caravan and religious centre. Its stone mosque dated from the foundation of the town is considered the second oldest mosque still in use. Part of the old stone town is inhabited. Chinguetti also boasts great collections of ancient manuscripts. The Ksar, made of white stone with 5 towers, is a remarkable example of the Arab-Berber architecture. We spend time discovering the magical atmosphere of this oasis which is considered as being the best preserved in Mauritania. Overnight La Gueila Guesthouse or similar (BLD)

Days 15, 16 & 17 – Dunes and Mountains – 18-20 April 2020

Discover the remote oasis and Moorish nomad tent settlements and the even more of the scenic landscapes of Mauritania: valleys, high mountains, golden yellow sand dunes with peaks of dark and red rock, and lost adobe villages. We find our way in an ocean of sand in the Inchiri region, one of the lesser-known areas of the Mauritanian desert, finally arriving into Nouadhibou on day 17. Days 15 and 16 spent camping on the sands, day 17 overnight at the comfortable El Medina Hotel or similar (BLD)

Day 18 – Tropic of Cancer – 21 April 2020

We drive north and at the Guerguarat military post we will cross the southern border of Morocco, the only open frontier between Morocco and Mauritania. The region is part of the former Spanish Sahara territory and the site of a long war between the Polisario Armed Front and the Moroccan army. Presently, it is part of Morocco. After the border formalities, we will cross a few miles of “no-man’s land” where different traffickers have made their base in new and old cars and trucks apparently abandoned. The no-man’s land is the unmarked border, a theoretical line in the desert that “divides nothing from nothing”. Our route continues north following the cliff separating the desert from the ocean. After crossing the Tropic of Cancer we continue to Dakhla. Overnight Hotel Dums or similar. (BLD)

Day 19 - Rio de Oro – 22 April 2020

The exceptional beauty of this landscape makes the Dakhla peninsular unique and special. We take an excursion to explore the coastline and discover pristine ocean waves lapping against the sand dunes. We have lunch at an oyster farm. Later return to the hotel and in the evening, we visit the animated night street market. (BLD)

Days 20 – 21 - Western Sahara – The Forbidden Track – 23-24 April 2020

In Dakhla we will meet our local guide, a nomad from a Sahrawi tribe who will lead us through the next three days of a true desert crossing in the Western Sahara. We will experience the vast desert regions of Tiris and Zemmour. Overnights camping in the spectacular Sahara landscape. (BLD)

Day 22 - From the Desert to the Ocean – 25 April 2020

After crossing the automated conveyor belt, the longest in the world, taking phosphate to the Atlantic coast (phosphate is the main resource of the region) we will arrive to Laayoune, a “frontier” town, and the main base of Morocco economic development in the Sahara. By late afternoon we arrive at Tarfaya on the Juby Cape, (less than 100 km from the Canary Islands). Tarfaya is a former “Aeropostale” base, which pioneered airmail transport from Europe to Africa and Latin America. We will visit the interesting museum on Aeropostale and Saint Exupéry. Overnight Hotel Casamar or similar. (BLD)

Day 23 - Dunes and Lagoons – 26 April 2020

From Tarfaya, the road follows an exciting route through a crag that separates the desert and the ocean. The Naila lagoon is a unique inland sea, separated from the ocean only by rows of dunes. We will take a boat excursion exploring these remote wild shores. We will visit a ghost military fort, which still “guards” the former borders between the French protectorate of Morocco and the Spanish Sahara. This place has the feel of the set of an old Foreign Legion movie. Overnight Ksar Tifnidit Hotel or similar (BLD)

Day 24 - Estuaries and Fisherman – 27 April 2020

We will leave Tifnidit and cross a steep range of dunes. The Dra estuary region is visited only by the most intrepid travellers. Between the cliffs and the Atlantic Ocean there are no paved roads. We will discover tiny temporary settlements of fishermen, ghostlike colonial military posts, dunes, and camels. With a spectacular drive we will cross the “plage blanche,” driving many miles on the beach between the dunes and the ocean (Note: this itinerary can only be done during low tide). With the tide is high we will leave the beach and follow the river bed (Ouadi), the only way out between the high dunes and the ocean. We return to Ksar Tifnidit for the evening (BLD)

Day 25 – Oasis and Casbah – 28 April 2020

Guelmim has always been an important, ancient caravan terminal. Here we will discover the remains of the ancient Trans-Sahara trade. Following a road in an astonishing landscape we will discover a luxuriant oasis of thousands of palm trees and shady gardens, a real miracle in the desert. Near the oasis, there are fortified adobe villages, called Kasbah, still partially inhabited. This scenery will give us a “timeless” feeling as if we were in the Middle Ages. Overnight in a comfortable hotel in Tata – Les Relais des Sables Hotel or similar (BLD)

Day 26 – Dunes and Fossils – 29 April 2020

We will leave the main road and cross the spectacular landscape of the Iriki saltwater lake through the flat, dry, salty plane and enter a region of large dunes called Erg Chegaga. Here we need the expertise of the driver to guide us through the sand labyrinths, some of the wildest desert on the planet. Overnight in a fixed camp with beds in the tents. (BLD)

Days 27 & 28 – Cavern Dwellers and the Secret Valley – 30 April – 1 May 2020

This morning we depart and follow the classic but spectacular, road in the Dra Valley. Visit an ancient rock art site, where hundreds of fine graffities dating back thousands of years show the lives of people living in the region. We will leave the main road to explore the less visited regions of the Djebel Sarhro mountain range. Following a tiny and remote track that climbs rocky valleys through a breath-taking landscape of mountains and desert we will arrive at some large caves where shepherd families still live permanently, the last reminder of an ancient troglodyte civilization. We explore a tiny village in a “paradise valley” that we have discovered. Hidden in a narrow depression and invisible to the surroundings highlands, this green miracle is an oasis with a creek and waterfalls. The Berber inhabitants will be delighted to have us as visitors. Day 27 will be spent at a hotel in Zagora, and day 28 at Ibis hotel in Ouarzazate. (BLD)

Day 29 – The High Atlas to Marrakech – 2 May 2020

This morning we depart north to cross the spectacular High Atlas Range, following a panoramic route that will take us through the Tin Tichka pass (2,260 m). We will arrive in Marrakech in the early evening after our astonishing journey where day rooms will be available to freshen up before a transfer to the airport. (BL)

Inclusions:
Arrival and departure airport transfers – please see notes below
All accommodation
Services of English-speaking guide / tour leader
Full board from Breakfast on Day 2 to Lunch on Day 29
Drinks at meals during the nights in the mobile camp.
All transfers in 4WD
Entrance fees for sites listed as part of the itinerary

Excluded:
International flights
Any airport taxes
Travel Insurance
Visas
Additional drinks

*Please note that airport transfers will be provided on the advertised start and end dates of the tour. In addition arrival and/or departure transfers will be provided in conjunction with any pre and/or post tour accommodation that has been booked and paid for through Undiscovered Destinations. In all other cases charges may apply for airport transfers.


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