From the Ocean to the Sahara

From the Ocean to the Sahara

Style: PioneerGroundbreaking tours to unique destinations
Duration: 28 days
Type: GroupSmall group tours with a maximum of 12 travellers


Join this great expedition across the Sahara. We journey across Guinea Bissau, Senegal, 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


Tour Highlights

  • Discover the untouched Bijagos Archipelago off the coast of little Guinea Bissau
  • A unique journey travelling northwards from Guinea Bissau, crossing Senegal, 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 - 17 March 2018
End Point: Marrakech - 13 April 2018
Transport: 4WD
Countries: Guinea Bissau, Senegal, 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 – 17 March 2018

Arrival and transfer to the hotel. Overnight in a comfortable hotel. No meals  

Day 2 – Bijagos Archipelago – 18 March 2018

After a short drive to the small town of Quinhamel 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. During the long dry season interesting cultural ceremonies take place. We will experience the Vaca Bruto Festival where dancers embody the spirit of the Vaca Bruto (wild bull) with great realism. All villagers attend this fascinating ceremony. Overnight Orango Parque Hotel or similar (BLD)

Day 3 – The Initiates Island and Rubane Island – 19 March 2018

Our boat will take us to Canhabaque Island (Ilha Roxa) where we will walk to discover villages hidden in the forest. Due to the remoteness of the archipelago and the lack of transport and the deep attachment of the locals to their traditions, the Bijagos tribes have been little influenced by the external world. Women still wear the saiya, a traditional skirt made of straw. Life in the villages is characterised by the initiations, rites, and secret ceremonies. Canhabaque is the most traditional island of the archipelago. We will visit villages where the young men have to go through a seven-year initiation rite living in a “convent” with no contact with women. Later we arrive at Rubane Island where we overnight in a comfortable hotel with large wooden bungalows hidden in the vegetation facing a wild beach. (BLD)

Day 4 – Ancestors Cult – Bolama Island – 20 March 2018

This morning we visit Bolama Island. Bolama was 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 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 - 21 March 2018

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 in a comfortable hotel. (BLD)

Day 6 – Mangroves, Ocean and Overnight Sailing – 22 March 2018

This morning we take a short journey (6 miles) on a local “Bush Taxi” to a meeting point with a local boat. We then discover mangrove swamps, remote islands and villages. We will attend traditional dances of Diola women. Our private navigation continues through a mangrove ecosystem to an island on the Casamance River where we board the Aline Sitoe linear Ship. Later this afternoon we will cross the estuary joining the ocean. Overnight in simple cabins with private shower and WC. (BLD)

Day 7 – Dakar – 23 March 2018

Early this morning, we enter Dakar harbour. 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. Later we return to Dakar and take in some of the sights such as the “Plateau” district and the IFAN Museum, which hosts a fantastic collection of African Art, and the Presidential Palace. Later we drive to Lac Rose. Overnight Hotel Traza or similar. (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 8 – To Saint Louis – 24 March 2018

We will leave the lake for a wild drive on the beach. We will pass by remote fishing villages with hundreds of large wooden canoes which are beautifully painted. Arrive in Saint Louis in the early evening. Overnight at Hotel de la Poste (a historical hotel built in 1850) or similar. (BLD) (Note: Driving on the beach will be subject to tide times)

Day 9 – Saint Louis and Djoudj Ornithological Sanctuary – 25 March 2018

Explore the narrow streets of Saint Louis before taking lunch in a typical local restaurant. Drive 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. Overnight in the park lodge. (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.

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 10 – Nouakchott – 26 March 2018

This morning we 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 in a comfortable hotel. (BLD)

Day 11 – North to the Sahara – 27 March 2018

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 2 nights. Overnight La Gueila Guest House or similar (BLD)

Day 12 – Chinguetti – 28 March 2018

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 13 & 14 – Dunes and Mountains – 29-30 March 2018

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. On day 14 we arrive in the small mining town of Akjoujt. Overnight camping on day 13, day 14 overnight at Hotel Oumgrey or similar. (BLD)

Days 15 & 16 – Sahara Exploration – 31 March-1 April 2018

We navigate our way in a landscape of dunes, encountering remote villages and camel herders and following tracks in the immensity of the Sahara, the planet’s largest desert. To cross the high ranges of dunes we will reduce the tire pressure and use gps, maps and compass to navigate. Day 15 accomodation is a mobile camp and Day 16 is hotel accommodation at Club de Peche or similar. (BLD)

Day 17 – Tropic of Cancer – 2 April 2018

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 at a hotel in Dakhla. (BLD)

Day 18 – Rio de Oro – 3 April 2018

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 19 & 20 – Western Sahara – The Forbidden Track – 4-5 April 2018

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 21 – From the Desert to the Ocean – 6 April 2018

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 22 – Dunes and Lagoons – 7 April 2018

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 23 – Estuaries and fisherman – 8 April 2018

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. The road then brings us to Guelmim, an ancient caravan terminal. Here we will discover the remains of the ancient Trans-Sahara trade. Overnight in a comfortable local hotel (BLD)

Day 24 – Oasis and Casbah – 9 April 2018

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 Foum Zguid (BLD)

Day 25 – Dunes and Fossils – 10 April 2018

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)

Day 26 & 27 – Cavern Dwellers and the Secret Valley - 11-12 April 2018

This morning we depart and follow the classic but spectacular, road in the Dra Valley. 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 breathtaking 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 26 will be spent at a hotel in N’kob region and Day 27 at a hotel in Ouarzazate. (BLD)

Day 28 – The High Atlas to Marrakech – 13 April 2018

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 this afternoon in Marrakech after our astonishing journey where day rooms will be available to freshen up before a transfer to the airport. (BL)

Arrival and departure transfers provided on a shared or private basis depending on location. On occasions the transfer will be operated by a hotel shuttle bus (*please see notes below)
Arrival and departure transfers
All accommodation
Services of English speaking guide / tour leader
Full board from Breakfast on Day 2 to Lunch on Day 28
Entrance fees for sites listed as part of the itinerary

International flights
Any airport taxes
Travel Insurance
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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