From the Sahara to the Ocean


From the Sahara to the Ocean

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 Morocco, Western Sahara, Mauritania, Senegal, Gambia and Guinea Bissau. Travelling by many different ways, this is a peaceful 'raid' from north to south in an ever-changing natural environment. From Marrakech to the Atlantic coast of the largest desert on earth, to the interior of Western Sahara, this is an itinerary that we are proud to present as absolutely new and unique.

Experience local authentic cultures: the most isolated Berber villages in the high Sarhro Mountains, and cave-dwelling families. Meet the legendary Reguibat and Saharawi nomads of the still untamed Western Sahara, currently part of Morocco. The Moorish nomads and camel herders, to fishermen living at the edge of the desert on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. In the south visit sacred forests where animistic traditional religions are still practiced, witness fetish and shrines in remote villages, tribal kings, dancing masks and initiations in the sacred Archipelago.

We will meet “timeless” men and women and visit “historical” sites such as Marrakech, Dakhla the ancient capital of Rio de Oro, Saint Louis, first capital of the former French West African Colonies, Dakar, the most cosmopolitan West African metropolis, Goré the slave-trade island, Bolama a forgotten capital in the forest….

Our North to South itinerary runs along the “uncertain border” between land and water: dunes and ocean, forest and lagoons, estuaries and islands. We follow the flyways of migratory birds, a constant and discreet presence along the whole journey. The departure date has been carefully chosen to correspond with the migratory period: in autumn, when millions of birds leave Europe and Russia to winter in Africa. We will discover the richest ornithological sanctuaries on earth and hopefully encounter the rare Salt water Hippos. The itinerary will reveal an astonishing range of different botanical species: from the strenuous flora of the desert to the luxuriant and gigantic plants of the forest.


Tour Rating 

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

Tour Pace

Busy

Tour Highlights

  • A unique journey across Morocco, Western Sahara, Mauritania, Senegal, Gambia and Guinea Bissau
  • Travel through some of the most untouched wilderness on the planet
  • Discover the untouched Bijagos Archipelago off the coast of little-known Guinea Bissau
  • A chance to see fantastic birdlife on the Atlantic coast at Djoudj National Park
  • Camp wild under a vast Saharan sky
  • Experience traditional mask dances in Senegal and Guinea Bissau

Tour Essentials

Accommodation: Mix of hotels and guesthouses and fixed camps - some of which are basic, 4 nights wild camping
Included Meals: Daily breakfast (B), plus lunches (L) and dinners (D) as shown in the itinerary
Group Size: Maximum 16 (You may be joined by travellers from companies other than Undiscovered Destinations)
Start Point: Marrakech on 15 November 2019 - you can arrive anytime on this day 
End Point: Bissau on 13 December - evening arrival, departure flight to be booked after 2100hrs
Transport: 4WD, public ferry, motorboat
Countries: Morocco, Mauritania, Senegal, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau

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 – Marrakech – 15th November 2019

Arrival in Marrakech. Transfer to a comfortable hotel in the heart of Marrakech. 

Day 2 - The High Atlas – 16th November 2019

Leaving Marrakech, we climb the High Atlas range with spectacular views up to the Tizi n Test pass, 2000m altitude. We stop at Ait Benhaddou, a beautiful adobe Ksar (fortified village), which is still partially inhabited, and sits on the ancient caravan route linking Marrakech with the Sahara. The area has also been the setting for many famous movies including Lawrence of Arabia. We will arrive in the evening at Ouarzazate, a large oasis at the edge of the desert. Overnight in a comfortable hotel. (BLD)

Day 3 – The Secret Valley – 17th November 2019

We will leave the main track to explore the less frequently visited regions of the Djebel (mountains) Sarhro. We will follow a small, remote track that climbs rocky valleys through a breathtaking landscape of mountains and desert. The goal will be to reach a tiny village in a “secret paradise valley” that we have recently discovered. Hidden in a narrow depression and invisible to the surrounding highlands, this green miracle is an oasis with a tiny creek and waterfalls. We arrive in the evening at the Zagora Oasis. Overnight in a comfortable hotel. (BLD) 

Days 4 & 5 - Dunes – 18th & 19th November 2019

From Mhamid, where the Sahara begins, our 4x4 will enter a region of large dunes called Erg Chegaga. We will cross the dunes to reach the spectacular landscape of Iriqui saltwater lake where we may see fossils. We will continue towards Icht. Day 4 overnight in a comfortable fixed camp with beds, restaurant and facilities, day 5 overnight in a comfortable hotel.  (BLD) 

Day 6 – The Caravan Route and Ancient Fort – 20th November 2019

Travel in a landscape of mountains, valleys and large oases of palms. The road will bring us to Guelmim, an ancient caravan terminal. Here we will discover the remains of the ancient Trans-Sahara trade. We will primarily travel along the coast following the migration routes of paleo-arctic birds that migrate to Africa every year during the season. We visit a ghostly military fort which still ‘guards’ the former borders between the French protectorate of Morocco and the Spanish Sahara. Here we feel like we are on the set of an old French foreign legion movie. An afternoon arrival at the comfortable Ksar Tafnidilt hotel, built using local material in a beautiful Saharan style. The hotel is managed by our friends, Guy and Magali, a French couple. Magali is a desert expert; she won the “Rally des Gazelle,” the most gruelling off-track competition reserved for female teams. Ksar Tifnidit is a meeting point for passionate Sahara travellers. Overnight at Ksar Tifnidit (BLD)

Day 7 – Estuaries and Desert – 21st November 2019

We leave Tifnidit crossing a steep range of dunes and arrive to the region of the Dra estuary 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, ghost colonial military posts, dunes, and camels. Leaving the coastline, we find our way along a river bed in a large canyon, the only possible path between high dunes, cliffs and the ocean. We return to our hotel. Overnight at Ksar Tifnidit (BLD)

Day 8 – Desert Lagoons – 22nd November 2019

From Tan-Tan, the road follows an exciting route through a crag that separates the desert and the ocean. We visit the Naila lagoon, separated from the ocean by rows of dunes. It is the largest salt lake in Morocco and a protected area of great natural beauty with prolific migratory birdlife. We are scheduled for a late afternoon arrival at the small town of Tarfaya on the Juby Cape, less than 100 km away from the Canary Islands. Tarfaya is a former “Aeropostale” base, which pioneered airmail transport from Europe to Africa and Latin America. Overnight in Hotel Casamar or similar (BLD)

Days 9 & 10 – Western Sahara – The Forbidden Track – 23rd & 24th November 2019

In Laayoune we will meet our local guide, a nomad from a Sharawi tribe who will lead us through three days of a true desert expedition in the Western Sahara. The former Spanish Sahara colony has been the site of a long war between the Polisario Armed Front and the Moroccan army and is presently part of Morocco.

Since the second half of the seventies and due to this long “sand war,” this region has been off-limits to travellers. Until today no peace treaty has been signed, but a cease-fire is respected. We are proud to be the first to bring intrepid travellers to the vast, sandy regions of Saguia El Hamra and Tiris Gharbia. In this true Saharan expedition, we will cross large dunes and get off the tracks to discover wells frequented by long caravans belonging to the legendary Reguibat nomads.  We will be camping wild on Days 9 and 10. (BLD)

Day 11 – From the Desert to the Ocean – 25th November 2019

Our off-track Trans-Saharan expedition will take us across a region of dunes, wells and nomadic camps of camel herders. This afternoon we take a road that will take us closer to the ocean.  This evening we arrive at a comfortable ocean front hotel (Hotel Doumss or similar) in Dakhla that will be our base for two nights. (BLD)

Day 12 – Rio De Oro – 26th November 2019

The exceptional beauty of this landscape makes the Dakhla peninsula a truly special place. The Rio de Oro (Golden River) is a 25-mile long sea loch situated between cliffs and dunes. Different colours paint the scenery: the intense blue of the ocean, banks of yellow sand, and green seaweed fields. The brown rocks and white dunes form an island during high tide. The small town of Dakhla was founded by Spanish navigators in 1502 and was called “Villa Cisneros". We visit the traditional fishing harbour and have lunch at an oyster farm then drive along the shore where we will see ocean waves lapping the sand dunes. Later we return to our oceanfront hotel in Dakhla. (BLD)

Day 13 – A Line in the Sand - Enter Mauritania – 27th November 2019

We continue our epic journey and a signboard will indicate that we are crossing the ‘Tropic of Cancer’ region. The expedition continues following the cliff between the desert and the ocean. Only a few vehicles drive this remote ‘highway’ going south to Mauritania, the only open border from Maghreb to West Africa. We will arrive at the border, an isolated military post in the desert. After the formalities, we will cross a few miles of no-man’s land. On the other side is the military post of Mauritania. This evening arrive into Nouadhibou. Overnight Hotel El Medina or similar (BLD)

Days 14 & 15 – Sahara Exploration – 28th & 29th November 2019

The next two days will be spent exploring the desert. Thanks to the experience of our staff and local guide, we will make our own itinerary, tracing an unmarked path in the sand of the Inchiri region, one of the lesser-known parts of the Mauritanian desert. In this region we will not find people, but discover traces of ancient human presence: stone tools and pottery remains of those that lived here many years ago. Spend two nights in a mobile camp (BLD)

Day 16 – Adrar – Dunes and Mountains – 30th November 2019

We will now explore even more of the scenic landscape of Mauritania: valleys, high mountains, yellow sand dunes with peaks of dark and red rock and lost adobe villages lit only by the moon in the night. Amatlich Erg (dune range) is one of the most beautiful dune ranges in the region. We arrive in Chinguetti in the evening where we spend 2 nights in a traditional guesthouse. (BLD)

Day 17 – Chinguetti – 1st December 2019

Crossing the Adrar Mountains, we will follow the Amorag track. This scenic landscape of gorges and highlands will lead us to the Chinguetti oasis, an ancient Berber village. Chinguetti was the capital of the Moorish Empire. Part of the old stone town is still inhabited. Chinguetti also boasts great collections of ancient manuscripts. The Ksar, made of white stone with 5 towers, is a remarkable example of Arabo-Berber architecture. We will spend the day discovering the magical atmosphere of this oasis, which is considered the best preserved of the Mauritanian oasis. Return to the guesthouse (BLD)

Day 18 – Ouadane, the Remote Oasis – 2nd December 2019

Today we discover Ouadane, the most remote oasis in Mauritania. Founded in 1147 and now mainly in ruin, some of the stone houses are still inhabited. This was an important caravan trading point between Maghreb and black Africa. We return to Chinguetti following the Ouadi (dry creek). Overnight at La Gueila Guesthouse or similar (BLD)

Day 19 - Noukchott – 3rd December 2019

Today we continue through the desert to Nouakchott, capital of Mauritania. Overnight Halima Hotel or similar (BLD)

Day 20 – Djoudj National Park – 4th December 2019

We depart for the small border post with Senegal. The natural border with Mauritania is the Senegal River and we will cross the river on a mobile bridge, moving into a humid area isolated between desert and dry savannah. The Djoudj National Park, declared a World Heritage Site, is a natural oasis formed by hundreds of miles of partially flooded lands. This humid paradise is the best habitat and nesting site for over a million migratory and sedentary birds. We will enjoy a boat excursion to visit an island with an astonishing concentration of pelicans. Arrive this evening at Saint Louis. Dinner and overnight at Hotel de la Poste, a historical hotel built in 1850 and which used to be the base of the “Aeropostale” (airmail pioneer operation) pilots. Totally restored, it has conserved the best old colonial atmosphere in town. (BLD)

Day 21 – Saint Louis, African and Colonial Citadels – 5th December 2019

A morning tour of Saint Louis, a charming colonial old town and the first capital of all the French colonies in West Africa. The best way to get around the narrow streets of Saint Louis will be on board a calash, like the locals do. Later in the morning we head south and drive for more than 62 miles on the beach, crossing dune ranges where we will reach Lampoul, our overnight stop. Overnight in a fixed camp (BLD)

Day 22 – Fisherman Village to Contemporary Artists – 6th December 2019

Today we arrive at Lac Rose. Also known as Lac Retba, a shallow 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. We visit the largest fishing village in Senegal where more than 4500 pirogues come to shore each day with their catch. We arrive into Dakar and visit ‘village des arts’, composed of more than fifty workshops of contemporary artists. We will meet some of the artists and discover their works, ranging from painting and sculpture to pottery, photography and filming. We will leave our vehicles at the port and board a ferry to Goré Island. Goré was where the slaves were crammed into while 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 local and foreign visitors. Overnight at Maison Municipal or similar (BLD)

Day 23 – Dakar – 7th December 2019

Today we return to Dakar and visit the town. We will see the ‘Plateau’ district, the Presidential Palace and a typical market. After lunch we drive to Kaolack. Overnight Hotel Le Relais or similar (BLD)

Day 24 – Gambia – 8th December 2019

This morning we depart for the border with Gambia. We take a ‘very local’ ferry crossing where we have lunch in Banjul. After a tormented political time, the country is now stable. We visit the town centre and the interesting National Museum. Overnight in the comfortable Senegambia Hotel, situated in a large park where it is possible to see 70% of the bird species of the country. (BLD)

Day 25 – Dancing Masks – 9th December 2019

This morning we take brief guided bird watching experience before departing for the border with Casamance, the southern region of Senegal. This afternoon we join the ritual dances of the Diola sacred mask, rarely seen by foreigners. This mask belongs to a secret society and the identity of the dancers is not revealed, it is said that the mask is animated by the spirits. The dances are colourful and a real authentic West African experience. Overnight at Kadianoumange Hotel or similar (BLD)

Day 26 – Ancestor Cult – 10th December 2019

We drive to the border of Guinea Bissau and the region inhabited by the Manjaco ethnical group. We will visit tiny villages hidden in the forest to discover the sculptured wooden poles called “Pecab” that represent the spirits of their ancestors, in a sanctuary known as “Cab Balugun”, a tradition still alive. After asking permission of the villagers, we will 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 Hotel Mar Azul or similar (BLD)

Day 27 - Bijagos Archipelago – 11th December 2019

Today we start a three-day sailing adventure that will take us to discover the Bijagos Archipelago, its’ fascinating nature and isolated ethnic peoples. The Bijagos Archipelago is composed of 88 small and large islands located at an average of 40 miles away from the mainland. We hope to experience a mask dance, the most spectacular of which is a helmet wooden mask called Vaca Bruto (wild bull). With eyes of frosted glass, real horns, leather ears and a rope through the nostril, the masks are animated by the bucking of the dancers. All the villagers attend this fascinating ceremony. Overnight at Orango Island in a comfortable hotel (BLD).

Day 28 – Saltwater Hippos – 12th December 2019

Orango Island, which is part of the Parque Natural do Grupo das Ilhas de Orango, is covered by a savannah and is known for the presence of unique saltwater hippos. From October to the first part of February it is possible to follow their tracks; however, as they move around the island searching for saltwater ponds, the local guides can lose their tracks for days. We arrive in the afternoon at Rubane Island. Overnight in a comfortable hotel (BLD)

Day 29 – Ghost Capital – 13th December 2019

Our first stop today will be the island of Bolama. Bolama was the former capital of Portuguese Guinea from 1871 to 1941 before it was moved to Bissau. When the Portuguese left, native people came to live in the town and it is now falling apart, partly invaded with tropical vegetation. We continue sailing to Bissau where our vehicle will be waiting for a tour of the town. This evening we have day-rooms in a hotel in Baiana square for a last shower before a late evening transfer to the airport and the end of a quite remarkable and unique expedition. (BL)

Inclusions:
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 29
Entrance fees for sites listed as part of the itinerary

Excluded:
International flights
Any airport taxes
Travel Insurance
Visas (contact us for details)
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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