Day 1: DAKAR – Senegal
Arrival at the international airport Blaise Diagne, located on the outskirts Dakar and transfer to Lake Rose. Free dinner.
Day 2: FROM “THE” FISHERMAN VILLAGE TO GORÉE ISLAND – Senegal
Spectacular drive to discover the largest fisherman village in Senegal, more than 4,500 wooden pirogues came to the shore with the catch of the day. We will leave our vehicles for a less intrusive and fun local transport, a donkey chariot, ideal way to approach the fisherman selling their catch to the women, the queens of the market. We will familiarize with the artisans carving the large pirogues, the painters decorating them with bright colors. We will end the visit with an interesting encounter: a “Marabut” (local holy man) will receive us in his large mansion. Specializing in blessings intended to protect dugouts and fishermen, the Marabut will know how to introduce us to ancient techniques of geomancy and divination.
Lac Rose, locally known as Lac Retba, is a shallow saltwater lake surrounded by dunes. 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 collect salt from the water in an artisanal way. Arrival to Dakar, ferry to Gorée Island. The right time to enjoy Gorée atmosphere is at sunset when all tourists are gone and, in the morning, before the crowd arrives. In Gorée island, slaves were crammed, waiting to be shipped to the Americas, entirely restored, the island still bears witness of those times. Nowadays, its breezy climate, history and ancient architecture, together with nice restaurants and boutiques, make Gorée an interesting and trendy destination for local and foreign visitors.
Day 3: DAKAR METROPOLIS – Senegal
Before the crowds arrive, we will leave the island on the ferry to Dakar. Dakar became an important centre of the political, artistic and intellectual “renouveau” during the independence time and it is still the liveliest metropolis in the French-speaking West Africa. In the “Musée des Civilisations Noires”, we can admire great collections of Tribal Art, textiles, and contemporary local art. Discover “Plateau” district, the Presidential Palace, a typical market. Lunch at the “fishing club restaurant” known for the best catch of the day (vegetarian and other meals available) . The totally restored Dakar-Bamako railway station, a great case of Art-Déco architecture dating from French colonial times, meeting with young artist specialized in the Graffiti (street art) that has made Dakar a centre of contemporary metropolitan culture. Visit to galleries and handicraft markets. Overnight stay at the Le Djoloff Boutique hotel, a balanced mix of traditional African furniture and modern comfort. Or similar.
Days 4: THE SALT PANS OF KAOLAK – Senegal
We head to Kaolack town, in a region of salt pounds pans Lunch in a restaurant. Kaolack, situated on Saloum River is an important port for exporting peanuts and salt from Senegal and nearest countries and a large traditional market.
Day 5: GAMBIA, BETWEEN ARCHEOLOGY AND CONTEMPORANEITY – Senegal – Gambia
Early departure heading to the region between the north bank of Gambia River and Senegal, which has hosted one of the largest megalithic civilisations on earth. Sine Ngayene is the richest megalithic site with 1,102 erected stones.
We cross the border with The Gambia, a tiny country surrounded by Senegal and experience a “very local” ferry crossing of the large Gambia River estuary to reach Banjul, the capital of the country. Visit to the centre and to the national museum. Optional: evening live music in town.
Day 6: DANCING MASKS – Gambia – Casamance (Senegal)
Arrival at Casamance border, the southern region of Senegal. The natural environment will gradually change from savannah to forest.
In the late afternoon, we will attend the ritual dances of Diola sacred masks. The masks belong to a secret society and the identity of the dancers is not revealed; it is said that the mask is animated by the spirits. Drums, dances and a colourful crowd will enliven the tiny village in the shade of larges kapok trees.
Day 7: ANCESTORS CULT – Senegal – Guinea Bissau
Crossing the Guinea Bissau border we pass from French speaking country to a Portuguese (Lusitano) speaking Africa and enter the region of the Manjaco ethnic group. In tiny villages hidden in the forest we discover sculptured wooden poles called “Pecab” representing the spirits of their ancestors, the “Pecab” are kept in sanctuaries known as “Cab Balugun”. After asking for the permission to the elders, 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: the village. Arrival at Bissau.
Day 8: BIJAGOS SACRED ARCHIPELAGO: THE GHOST CAPITAL – Guinea Bissau
Experience a three day spectacular navigation on a speedboat to discover the Bijagos Archipelago, its
fascinating nature and isolated tribes. The Archipelago, composed by 88 islands and islets, is located at an average of 40 miles from the coastline. Bijagos is a “geographical jewel” for natural and cultural richness.
Bolama was the former capital of Portuguese Guinea from 1871 to 1941, when it was moved to Bissau.
When the Portuguese left, native people came to squat this town. The town is now falling apart, partly invaded by tropical vegetation. Bolama, which has been built according to the model of a «Castrum Romanum» (roman citadel), is now a mix of straight large avenues, sunny and lethargic empty squares, dry fountains, bush-like gardens and falling apart Neo-Palladian administrative buildings. In the shade of the columns of the former governor palace, goats graze peacefully; although inhabited, this town enjoys a fairy-tale atmosphere of a ghost town.
Day 9: VACA BRUTO DANCING CEREMONY – Guinea Bissau
Short navigation to discover Bubaque island, the “capital” of Bijagos Archipelago, and its market.
Afternoon: due to the remoteness and the deep rootedness of the locals to their traditions, the Bijagos people have been little influenced by the external world. Life in the villages is characterized by initiations rites and secret ceremonies. In some villages, the young men must go through a seven-year initiation rite living in a “convent” with no contact with women. In Bijagos Archipelago life is still ruled by the “cycle of seasons”. During the long dry season the major ceremonies take place. Vaca Bruto (wild bull) is the most spectacular mask of the islands, the dancers convey a realistic presence by bowing and facing the ground. The mask’s eyes made out of frosted glass, real horns, leather ears and a rope through the nostril provide the mask with a real aspect of an untamed animal which represents a man in full possession of his physical strength but still with an immature behaviour, as he has not yet undergone the final initiations. All the villagers attend this fascinating ceremony.
Day 10: ISLANDER LIFE – Guinea Bissau
Morning relax at Ponta Anchaca wild beaches and swimming pool, or walking excursion in the island.
Afternoon navigation to Bissau.
On request (not included) Early morning departure for an excursion to Orango Island in search of a residual fauna of Hippos that has acclimatised with the life on islands. Mainly living in fresh-water swamps, sometimes they could swim in the ocean. Local guide will lead the visitors, the encounter with the hippos is not always granted. Arrive in Bissau a vehicle will be waiting for us for a brief city tour. Bissau is a tiny but intriguing capital, interesting the old Portuguese architecture and a huge fort, a reminder of the slave trade era.
Day 11: GRIOT: THE AFRICAN TROBADORS – Guinea Bissau
Early morning departure. After lunch, we leave the main road for a small village in the Malinké region.
The Malinké are the descendants of the ancient Mali Empire and are spread on the current territory of Mali, Guinea Conakry, Ivory Coast, Senegal and Guinea Bissau. Griots are musicians and story tellers lineages dating back to the 13th century. The village we visit is known for the Griot families that have maintained these traditions from the time of the Empire. Well-known also for their skills in producing musical instruments, they will perform a concert. Arrival at Gabu.
Day 12: THE LARGEST MOUNTAIN MASSIF – Guinea Bissau – Guinea Conakry
An old and manually pulled barge will allow us to cross Rio Corubal, the natural border between the two Guineas to join the small border posts of Guinea Conakry in a region inhabited by the Malinké and the Fulla (also called Peul) tribes. Stopover in small villages where the arrival of foreigners is a rare event.
A small, bumpy track between the savannah and the forest will lead us to a larger road, the starting point of our exploration of the Fouta Djalon massif; its fresh and salubrious climate made it the preferred holiday-place by the French during the colonial era. Coniferous forests remain as evidence of that time. Considered the most spectacular area of Guinea, thanks to the mountains, plateau, savannah and deep valleys, the Fouta Djalon is considered the “water reservoir” of West Africa. As a matter of fact, 3 rivers that give name to four nations: Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Gambia, have their offspring in Guinea. This territory is inhabited by the Fulla (also called Peul), famous for their beauty and their skills as the main stockbreeders of Zebu cows in West Africa. We will visit isolated villages, with large clay houses decorated with bas relief, high conical roofs with several layers of straw. Evening arrival to Labe.
Day 13: FOUTA DJALON – Guinea Conakry
Full day dedicated discovering the Fouta Djalon. In the morning we will visit Labe market, the busiest market in the region. Leaving Labe and the main road, we will discover a fantastic natural environment where mountains meet savannah and deep valley with forest. The highest waterfalls in West Africa are framed by the forest, in a pristine landscape. After having been introduced by our connections to the elders, presenting traditional gifts as cola nuts, we will have the honour to be received by chiefs and dignitaries sitting in council. In a very large clay round hut with a decorated grass roof, dressed in traditional costumes the descendant of one of the oldest Fulla Kingdom will tell us the history of their people and accept to answer our questions about the origins of their tribe and the traditional rules still practiced.
Arrival at Dalaba at 3,900 Ft. (1200 m.) altitude.
Day 14: AFRICAN BAS-RELIEF – Guinea Conakry
Visit Dalaba, a small and pleasant town. The “casa a palabra” (the house of word) with fine adobe bas-relief is in a pure Fulla (also called Peul) architectonical style. Here the chiefs used to gather to meet the colonial administrators. Visit to the villa built by the colonial governor and later used by the first president of independent Guinea. The leader of the independence was Sekou Touré, one of the most radical anti-colonialist African politician; he refused any cooperation with the French and created strong ties with the Soviet Union and a personal friendship with Ceausescu. Some villas used by the ministers and by the guests of Sekou Touré are reminiscences of that time. In a today ruined villa, Miriam Makeba met and married Stokley Carmichael, an exile from the US who was among the inspirators of Black Panthers armed wing. We will leave Dalaba following the southern slope of the massif to reach Mamou, a trading town, visit to the market.
Days 15 and 16: MASKS IN THE FOREST – Guinea – Sierra Leone
A tiny track joins a border with a remote area of Sierra Leone, crossing rivers in the forest, using old manually pulled barges. Arrival at the village of Kamakwie. In a region, where foreigners are rare, if lucky, we will assist to traditional sacred masks dances. Evening of day 16 arrival at Free Town.
Next day drive heading to Freetown peninsula.
DAY 17: FREETOWN PENINISULA, A LONG HISTORY – Sierra Leone
Freetown origins: in 1786 the first three hundred and eighty freed African slaves arrived in Sierra Leone from America where they have fought in the independence war on the side of the British. After having lost the war the British sent them to Sierra Leone and created the first freed slave settlements. Few months after their arrival, the newcomers were starving, got new and unknown diseases and fight with the locals, who could hardly stand them. A few years after the Napoleonic war, Freetown was displaying the British flag and had been attacked by seven vessels of the French navy and destroyed. Few survivors escaped on the pirogues sent by the slave’s traders.
In 1808 Freetown became the capital of the first British colony in tropical Africa. At that time the Krio peoples, or ex slaves, were more than 50.000, creating an elite class who put pressure on the administration for a better education. In 1845 Fourah Bay the first University in West Africa was built. During Colonial time Freetown was known as the “Athens of West Africa”.
Afternoon drive along the coast at the slopes of the Freetown peninsula mountains, only the yellow of the beaches divide the green of the forest from the blue of the ocean. The country has been named after these mountains, the Sierra (mountains) of lion. A local boat will bring us to Banana Island.
Day 18: BANANA ISLAND – Sierra Leone
Full day circumnavigating, exploring and walking to discover a pristine paradise such as mountains, large primary forests, villages and remote beaches. For the more active travellers a half day hike in the forest or continue the circumnavigation of the island. Lunch picnic, dinner and overnight return to our base.
Day 19: BUNDO: FEMALE MASKS – Sierra Leone
Brief navigation, to join our 4WD vehicles and departure in the north east direction.
In most parts of Africa, the masks are male’s prerogative, however among the Mende people and neighboring populations the masks Bundo are a female’s domain and they have a crucial role in girls puberty rites. In a tiny village we will experience the exit of these masks, an event that calls for the participation of a colourful crowd.
Day 20: RAW DIAMONDS – Sierra Leone – Liberia
We will leave in the morning for a full day dedicated to diamonds.
Diamond seeking is as addictive as gambling and the possibility of finding a “fortune” becomes true just for the few most lucky. Diamonds have played an important role in the past civil war. The quantity and quality of “stones” still to find is important. We will follow a track to reach a village with huts made by clay and straw. After greeting the chief, some villagers will take us to the site where we can meet the diamonds’ seekers in action. A villager will explain us the technics of artisanal mining and “sand washing”. A spectacular road in the forest will bring us to the Mano River and to the border with Liberia. After the formalities, we will continue to reach Monrovia in the evening.
Day 21: “LIBERIA”: THE LAND OF FREEMEN – Liberia
Liberia is the only African country which has never been either a colony or a protectorate; Liberia was founded by Krio, freed slaves who came back to Africa from the USA and for this reason was named “Liberia”. Krio are 5% of the population and they are the main actors of the economy and politics, they are considered the creator of the Nation and of the modern economy. 80% of the population speaks the local Krio language, a sort of American-English “Pidgin”. Our ocean-view hotel is the right starting point to have an interesting walking-visit of the town. Freemasonry had a great impact on the history of Liberia and Krio culture, visit of the Grand Masonic Temple imposing building, and if we’re lucky, meeting with the Grand Master. A symbol of Monrovia is what left of the Ducor Palace Hotel, inaugurated in 1960 was one of the first five stars in Africa. Located on a rocky hill in the highest point of Monrovia, dominate the whole town and the gulf. The hotel hosted social events and parties of the African elites at the effervescent time of independence. In the large swimming pool facing the ocean Idi Amin used to swim caring his gun at the belt while his friend Miriam Makeba was singing. After the civil war the building was looted several times, the hotel is now abandoned and closed, but seeking the right permission, we may be able to visit it. In 2008 the government made a deal with Ghaddafi to rebuild it, however the project, as many other Libyan development projects in Africa, never came to conclusion thanks to the regime change war that Europe and America started to overthrow Ghaddafi. The building of the National Museum is itself a display of Krio traditional architecture, within we discover a large collection of ancient masks and ritual objects. The visit includes a photographic show about the civil war which took place between 1989 and 2003. Old colonial buildings, stone Krio churches will be also part of this intriguing town visit.
Lunch and departure for Gbarnga.
Day 22: AFRICAN WILD FORESTS – Liberia – Guinea Conakry
Early morning departure for a day of driving to the northern part of Liberia and to the greatest forest region of Guinea Conakry. Crossed the border, we will continue through large rubber plantation (hevea) to reach Nzerekore and Macenta in a hilly and luxuriant landscape. After dinner we leave the hotel to join a village and participate in a spectacular event: the masks will leave the forest and dance at the light of a large fire….
Day 23: BIRD MEN, TOMA MASKS & LIANA BRIDGE – Guinea Conakry
A small track in the lush vegetation will bring us to a remote village to assist at one of the most spectacular and less known sacred dances of West African forests: the dance of the Bird Men. We are proud to be the discoverers of Bird Men. The Bird Men have their face painted in Kaolin and are totally dressed in feathers, they belong to a special initiatory community, that has secretly passed from father to son over the centuries. The Bird Men are believed to hold magical powers that can make them invisible, they are were the best messengers during tribal wars, able to cross the enemy lines. Tom-tom drummers and all the village will participate to the event.
This region hides many secrets. The liana bridges are masterpieces of a unique “tribal technology” and can measure up to 70 m. They are built exclusively with vegetal materials, as wood and lianas, without the use of nails or rope nor other materials external to the forest. Only the initiated can harvest the lianas and woods and they leave them in the forest, it is believed that a powerful spirit will build the bridge
To guarantee the secrecy of this “magical technology”, during the preparation of a new bridge,
neither women nor not initiated are allowed in the forest. Arrival to Nzerekore after an intense day.
Day 24 and 25: REMOTE BORDERS & DAN MASKS – Ivory Coast
We will leave in the morning Nzérékoré. We will continue through a track to a remote border with Ivory Coast.
When mountain Tonkpi, with its peak comes into view we will be close to our destination.
The small town of Man, surrounded by 18 green mountains is the capital of the We, Dan and Guéré ethnic groups, known for their masks, considered among the masterpieces of African art.
Full day discovering the Man region. In a nearby village, encouraged by the incessant rhythm of tam-tams, masks will emerge from the forest. According to the cosmogony of Dan people, there is a supreme god that creates the world and communicates with humans only through its intermediaries, the masks. During the masks’ dance, the distance between the humans and the spirits disappears, the cosmic and the social orders are restored, and gratitude is expressed to the gods and the ancestors. Dan Masks are one of the finest African masks known for the balance of its shapes. Man’s market is an important market where villagers come from the region and from the
neighbouring countries. It will be possible to find a large choice of handicraft and, with a bit of luck, authentic masks and traditional objects.
Day 26: MAGICAL TRADITIONS – Ivory Coast
Full day dedicated to experience vibrant tribal culture and magic traditions.
4X4 vehicles will be needed to reach a remote region where the arrival of foreigners is still a rare event. The track across rudimentary bridges made of logs will lead us to an isolated settlement inhabited by the Gueré whose masks are recognized and collected for their powerful expressive power. The masks will dance through the village.
If lucky we will witness the rare “Jugglers” performances. Girls initiatory juggling is an ancient tradition, now vanishing, we have discovered one of the last villages where it is still practiced. The initiated girls, their faces painted with white kaolin, will perform a spectacular acrobatic dance, “flying” from one dancer to another…
Return to the main road and reach the town of Daloa in the evening.
Day 27: CATHEDRAL IN THE SAVANNAH – Ivory Coast
Day of driving south-est. We continue our journey across coffee and cocoa plantations, dotted only by small villages. Ivory Coast is the world’s main cocoa producer, the second is Ghana and together they represent more than half of the world’s cocoa production.
In a village of the Guro tribe, we attend the Zaouli dancing masks. The Zaouli mask, was probably inspired by a girl named “Djela Lou Zaouli”, however, the stories on the origins of the mask are varied and each mask can have its own symbolic history. The uniqueness of Zaouli dance is the fine and sophisticated movement of the legs and the fits.
In the afternoon, arrival to Yamoussoukro, the country’s formal capital since 1983 and the native village of Houphouët-Boigny, the first President of the Ivory Coast. Here the Ivorian dream of the 1970s and 1980s has come true, the dream of a country that, despite its shortage of major natural resources, has built up the most flourishing economy of French speaking West Africa, to the point to rival in architectural style and size the European capitals.
We visit the Basilica of the Virgin of Peace, inspired by St Peter’s in Rome is the largest Christian building on earth, the high colourful glass windows are unique. In the city, we see wide boulevards where the few cars try to avoid big potholes, Zebus and chickens, huge government buildings, the lofty hotels up to 14 floors high and even an artificial lake inhabited by crocodiles, everything has an abandoned look. What is most striking is the feeling of emptiness because of the nothingness surrounding this illusion… Despite the title of capital city, the ministries, embassies, and the presidency of the republic itself remain in Abidjan.
Day 28: ABIDJAN, SKYSCRAPERS AND LAGOONS – Ivory Coast
We drive on the only highway of the country to reach Abidjan in late morning, a modern and colourful African metropolis. Beyond the lagoon, the “plateau” (the City District) is growing very fast, while most of the African cities grow horizontally, Abidjan grows vertically. Not much land is available and the little available must be continually recovered from the waters of the Ebrié Lagoon. The modern City District is defined to the west by the harbour and its endless queues of people waiting for a public boat, and to the east by the silhouette of Saints Peter & Paul Cathedral, built in a futuristic spirit by Italian architect Aldo Spirito in 1980.
In the Youpugon district we will meet the Fanico people who wash clothes in the river and dry them on the surrounding lawns. Hundreds of colourful fabrics spread out on the grass create a giant patchwork. The chaotic traffic is a negative result of the fast-economic development of this country, that after the civil war has, some years, reached a 6% growth of the GDP.
Day 29: GRAND BASSAM – Ivory Coast
Short drive to Grand Bassam, an old town built on a sand bank between the lagoon and the ocean. It was the first capital of the French Ivory Coast colony and now a maritime leisure resort for the Abidjanese. Thanks to its calm avenues shaded by tall trees, large bougainvillea and well-preserved colonial buildings, Grand Bassam has a magical atmosphere. The old post office is a jewel of colonial architecture. The Costume Museum, in the former governor’s palace, with its large outer staircase is a true architectural gem and its unique collection of tribal costumes, masks, ornaments and ethnographic photographs gives an interesting perception of the country’s history and culture. In late afternoon we will reach the small town of Aboisso.
Day room available and transfer to the airport. End of our services.
UNIQUE DEPARTURES: this itinerary is part of the Trans-Sahara and West Africa Grand Expedition from Marrakech to Dakar and Cotonou.
EXPEDITION LEADERS: with long experience of West Africa, and knowledge of the regions and local cultures, assisted by local guides.
EXPLORATORY ITINERARY: This journey is an expedition; participants must be flexible and ready to enjoy the unique encounters, but also some unexpected situations that are part of the “African Experience”.
On land: for most of the itinerary on roads, tracks, we will drive in 4WD air-conditioned vehicles, on some asphalt roads we will travel in air-conditioned minibus
On water: ferry to Gorèe Islands, speedboats for the three days of navigation at Bijagos Archipelago, fishermen boat to Banana Island. Barges to cross rivers in the forests.
Yellow fever: mandatory.
Cholera: not required at the time of editing the program, please check before departure.
Malaria prophylaxis: absolutely recommended.
Senegal: visa not needed for most nationalities including US, Canada and European union citizens. Please contact us for the complete list. If visa needed please obtain two entry visa.
The Gambia: some nationalities do not need a visa, some others can obtain it at the border, a few others must obtain an invitation letter, please contact us in advance.
Guinea Bissau: single-entry visa is required; we can obtain the visa during the expedition. Please inform us in advance.
Guinea Conakry: two-entries needed. E-visa https://www.paf.gov.gn/dnpaf/?page_id=335&lang=en
Sierra Leone: visa available at the border (cost 100 USD).
Liberia, Ivory Coast: single entry visa is required. The Ivory Coast E-Visa is not valid for entering the country by land, a visa from the embassy is required.
Note: Guinea, Liberia and Ivory Coast have diplomatic representations in Dakar that may issue visas, contact us in advance.
Lunches: cold meals (picnics) or restaurants.
Dinners: in the hotels we will enjoy a great variety of fish specialties. Vegetarian or specific meals are available on request, please contact us in advance.
HOTELS: carefully chosen, due to a possible lack of rooms’ availability in some hotels, the tour leader may have to replace hotels with others as similar as possible. Four star hotels in the capitals and more. Best available hotels inland, always with air-conditioned rooms. A camp on Banana Island in Sierra Leone.
LUGGAGE: due to the nature of the itinerary, please limit your personal luggage to 45lb (20 kg), soft sacs are recommended.
INSURANCE: mandatory for medical assistance (health care), repatriation, physical and material damages.
TransAfrica will not be held responsible for any material and physical damages during or in consequence of the tour.
Discover an insurance policy proposal: https://transafrica.biz/en/travel-insurance-en/;
NOTICE: The itinerary is designed to experience fascinating places where foreigners hardly arrive. We need to be tolerant and flexible to fully appreciate the unique nature and wildlife, the spontaneous hospitality of the local populations, the African magic and mystery, the metaphysics, ceremonies, life philosophies and religious beliefs that people are willing to share with us.
Itineraries, visits, overnights and accommodations are subject to changes, improve and adapt to tides time, recent experiences and news from the fields, force majeure. The changes are decided by the organizer. We are not responsible for any delays and cancellation due to external conditions.