SENEGAL, THE GABIA & GUINEA BISSAU
A unique itinerary crossing three countries “north to south” to experience a continuous change in climatic ecosystems and human environments.
NATURE. Following the “uncertain border” between land and water, we move across an incredible variety of natural environments such as desert dunes, savannah, estuaries, forests, and mangrove swamps, to end with ocean navigation to discover and enjoy the Bijagos Archipelago. North to south is also the route of migratory birds, a constant presence along the whole journey. Djoudj in Senegal is one of the main migratory bird sanctuaries on earth and Gambia is a well-known birding destination.
HISTORY, PREHISTORY & TIMELESS VILLAGES. We will discover historical sites such as Goré ancient slave-trade island, Saint Louis known as the first colonial capital of “French West Africa” and Bolama the Portuguese Guinea capital, which today is forgotten in the forest of a remote island. Dakar, contemporary large capital and African intellectual center since the time before the independence. We will experience the meeting with “Timeless” people as Nomadic herders and remote villages and discover a prehistoric site, with a thousand mysterious stone-carved monoliths.
ART, CULTURE & MUSIC. In the northern savannah, we will be invited to the camp of nomadic herders and we will meet with the largest religious and peaceful brotherhood that practices an African form of Islam that rejects fundamentalism and violence. In the south, we will be introduced to animistic traditional religions, tribal kings, dancing masks, and remote tribes who still worship ancestor statues; a unique chance to enjoy tribal art in its original contest. In the animistic Casamance region, we will witness the celebrations of the Diola mask, the incarnation of mythical spirits. Masquerade is a unique experience that involves the participation of the entire village in an intense mix of magic, music, and dances. We will focus also on contemporary art and music, Dakar has always been the cultural capital of West Africa, a melting pot of painters and sculptors from the whole continent. During the weekend nights in Gambia and Casamance, we will vibe to the rhythm of the music in the hot African clubs.
Day 1: DAKAR, THE CAPITAL Senegal
Arrival in Dakar and transfer to the hotel.
Day 2: DAKAR, CONTEMPORARY ART & GOREE ISLAND Senegal
Dakar became the center of political, artistic, and intellectual ” renouveau ” of the independence time. Visit the “Plateau” district, the Governor Palace, and some interesting markets as Kermel was built in a colonial style. Lunch in a typical restaurant. The afternoon is dedicated to the “Village des Arts” composed of fifty-two artist’s studios (ateliers). All disciplines of the visual arts are represented (painting, sculpture, ceramics, photography, video, installation, etc). The Village has a large gallery, which hosts exhibitions all year round. The Village is “the place” to meet the best artists and young talents of the Senegalese vibrant artistic scene. Arrival at Dakar harbor to board a ferry and spend a night on Goréè Island. Brief night tour of the island.
Day 3: GOREE, PINK LAKE, AND FISHERMEN’S VILLAGES Senegal
Waking up in Gorée before the crowd arrives is a pleasure, as strolling in the tiny stone-paved alleys of this historical settlement. In Gorée, slaves used to be crammed and then shipped to the Americas. The town is totally restored to witness those times, however, thanks to the nice breeze, the ancient architecture, and the many restaurants, and boutiques; Gorée today has become a very pleasant and trendy location. Ferry to Dakar and drive to Lac Rose, a shallow saltwater lake, surrounded by dunes, also known as Lac Retba. Along the coast we discover the largest fisherman village in Senegal, more than 4,500 wooden painted pirogues come to the shore with the catch of the day.
Day 4: SAINT LOUIS Senegal Saint Louis is a charming old town that was the first capital of West African French colonies (AOF). It has been the former base of the “Aeropostale” airmail pioneer operation between Europe, Africa, and South America. Saint Exupéry, the famous author of “The Little Prince”, was one of Aeropostale’s pilots following this route. The best way to visit the narrow lanes of Saint Louis is by calash, just as locals do, and walk in the fishermen’s quarters. Time to stroll in the tiny avenues and enjoy the unique atmosphere of this old town.
Day 5: BIRDS ‘SANCTUARY & NOMADIC PEOPLE Senegal Early morning departure to discover Djoudj National Bird Sanctuary, a natural oasis formed by hundreds of miles of partially flooded lands that has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This “humid paradise” is the best habitat and nesting site for over a million migratory and resident birds. Of the more than 400 species, pelicans and flamingos are the most common. Motorboat excursion led by a local guide-ornithologist. Continuation to the Ferlo Desert to discover the arid region where nomadic Fulani tribes herd large droves of zebu. The Fulani (also called Peul) are the largest tribe roaming West African savannahs, living in a vast area from Senegal to Chad.
A local guide will join us for a visit to the neighboring villages and shelters. When the herds come back, we might even be invited to witness the milking process.
Day 6: TUBA BROTHERHOOD Senegal
The rarely visited holy town of Tuba is the right place to appreciate the hospitality of the African brotherhood. Tuba inhabitants follow Mouridism and the town itself is a sort of theocratic “state within the state”, ruled by a Caliph. The founder of the Mouridi brotherhood was a Sufi named Amhadou Bàmba Mbake and still today the Mouridi have a large social and economic impact in Senegal, thanks to their peaceful (and African) vision of Islam, Mouridism has become the bastion that protects Senegal from radical Islam. Baye Fall , a member of a colorful branch of Mouridism, will accompany us during the visit.
Day 7: STONE CIRCLES Senegal / The Gambia
Early departure, we will leave the main road to discover the unique megalithic site of Sine Ngayene composed of 52 circles of erected stones, including a double circle. UNESCO has included 1,102 carved stones in its program. After Gambia border formalities, we will drive to the northern banks of the Gambia estuary where we will join a ferry with a colorful crowd to cross this large river.
Day 8: BIRDS The Gambia / Senegal
With an ornithological guide, we will discover different species of African birds in their habitat. Visit the National museum focused on different aspects of the country, from archeology to recent history, to art, music, and photography. Lunch and in the afternoon drive to the southern border with the Casamance region of Senegal. Evening arrival at our comfortable hotel on the banks of Casamance River where we will stay for two nights.
Day 9: SACRED KINGS Senegal
Visit an adobe-fortified building still inhabited by a large patriarchal Diola family, a very interesting example of traditional African “sculptural architecture”. These large clay and wooden fortified houses, where light comes from a central hole in the roof, are known as “impluvium houses” and had the function to protect dwellers from outside attacks. We will be received by the king of a Diola Kingdom. We follow an isolated path to a tiny village and… masks leave the sacred forest (where only initiated are admitted) to dance for an enthusiastic local crowd. Masks are part of the animistic Diola culture and Malinké traditions: people fear and respect masks, and consider them spirits who play an important role in solving conflicts between villagers. Evening return to Ziguinchor.
Day 10: ON THE EDGE Senegal / Guinea Bissau
Early departure for a long but interesting day. Guinea Bissau border crossing.
The road will bring us south to a unique eco-system where Bolon (sea arms) penetrate the land for more than a hundred miles creating a large temporary flooding area. The borders between salt water, land and fresh water are uncertain and changes with the tides. 23% of Guinea Bissau territory is under the water during the high tide end emerges during the low tide… On the way to Bissau stop at Bula to meet a tradition king, called Regolo and learn about the culture of his tribe.
Day 11: FROM THE GHOST CAPITAL TO THE BIJAGOS ISLAND Guinea Bissau
Aboard a speedboat, we start our sailing to discover the Bijagos Archipelago with its remote islands and isolated human settlements. The Bijagos Archipelago is located approximately 40 miles off-shore and, with its 88 islands (of which only 21 are permanently inhabited), is the largest archipelago in Africa. With its wild and pristine landscapes, its genuine tribal culture, and its unique fauna, Bijagos is a “geographical jewel”. Due to the remoteness of the destination, the lack of transportation, and the deep attachment to the local traditions, the Bijagos inhabitants have been little influenced by the external world, during ceremonies women still wear the saiya, a traditional skirt made of straw, and the rhythm of life in villages is given by initiations and secret ceremonies, for example, young men have to go through a seven-year initiation rite during which they live in a “convent” without any contact with women. Our first stop will be Bolama Island, 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 which is now falling apart and is partly invaded by tropical vegetation. It was originally built following the plans of a “Castrum Romanum” (roman citadel) so today we can witness its large sunny lethargic avenues, its empty squares, its dry fountains, its bush-like gardens, and its charming administrative buildings in Neo-Palladian style. In the Governor’s Palace, we can still admire columns in the classic style, where now goats graze! Bolama, although inhabited, is plunged into the fairy-tale atmosphere of a ghost town. Arrival on Rubane Island where we will stay at the most beautiful lodge of the Bijagos Archipelago.
Day 12: SPECIAL EVENT – Guinea Bissau
- Vaca Bruto mask ceremony. If the date of the tour is concomitant to the Vaca Bruta mask, special event: morning relax or walk to visit the inland of Rubane Island and its small village.
After lunch we visit the largest village in the archipelago, Bubaque, the only one connected to the continent by a ferry once a week: unpaved alleys, a tiny colorful market, local bars and traders, and the tiny ethnographic museum dedicated to Bijagos culture. After the visit, we will reach an isolated village to experience the Vaca Bruta initiation mask ceremonies with large participation from the villagers.
- Turtle’s nesting. If the date of the tour is concomitant to the Turtle’s Nesting, a special event: visit of the largest village in the archipelago, Bubaque, the only one connected to the continent by a ferry once a week: unpaved alleys, a tiny colorful market, local bars, and traders and the tiny ethnographic museum dedicated to Bijagos culture, sail in the direction of the Southern Island, stop at Meio a pristine uninhabited island where our footprints on the sand will be the only human traces. Arrival at Poilao uninhabited island in the late evening, with high tide the turtles will emerge from the ocean, we must remain silent and don’t use a direct flashlight that can scare the turtles….Late-night return at our comfortable hotel.
Day 13: ISLANDER LIFE Guinea Bissau
Day of relaxation to enjoy the archipelago way of life, relax at the wild beach, or swimming pool, or walk to explore villages and luxuriant vegetation. Optional included, an excursion to Soga bay and Bubaque, the largest village in the archipelago and the only one connected to the continent, by an old ferry once a week. In Bubaque we will find unpaved alleys, a tiny colorful market, local bars, and traders. Quite interesting is the small ethnographic museum dedicated to the Bijagos culture. Return to our comfortable base at Rubane Island for lunch. Optional not included: game fishing. Optional not included, excursion to Orango island to watch hippos (seeing the hippos is not guaranteed ).
Day 14: BACK TO BISSAU Guinea Bissau
Arrival by speedboat in Bissau, the capital of the country. Here a vehicle will take us on a brief tour of this tiny and intriguing capital that mixes communist and the Portuguese time. We will stroll around Bissau-Vehlo: the lively old quarter with its sleepy streets and alleys. Here we will be amazed by the interesting Portuguese architecture which gives Bissau an atmosphere that reminds us of Portugal back in the day. Old wooden café where you drink Portuguese wine and watch Portuguese news. Or an open-air restaurant where to drink the best mojito in town. In the evening transfer to the airport for the flight out.
Due to the limited number of available rooms, please book in advance .
Senegal: not needed for many nationalities including US, Canada and EU countries. For other nationalities the visa is requested, please check. If the visa is needed, it must be a two-entries or a multi-entry visa
Gambia: Visa is not required for some nationalities, for some other nationalities it is required and obtainable at the border, for others invitation letter is required.
Guinea Bissau: single entry visa required; we can obtain the visa during the tour. Please inform us in advance.
VACCINATIONS: Yellow fever – compulsory; malaria prophylaxis – highly recommended.
MEALS: lunch – restaurants (tourist menus) or cold picnic; dinner – at the hotel restaurant (complete tourist menu).
LUGGAGE: due to the itinerary please contain the weight in 20 kg ( 45 Lbs), preferable use duffle bags
TRAVEL INSURANCE: Not included. Mandatory for medical assistance, repatriation, material and physical damages
Discover our insurance policy proposal: https://transafrica.biz/en/travel-insurance-en/
TRANSPORT: on roads and tracks by Minibus/ microbus or 4WD; speed boats on the ocean
ACCOMMODATIONS: hotels and lodges are always chosen with maximum care, however due to possible lack of availability in some hotels, the Tour Leader may have to replace some hotels during the tour itself with others of similar standard. In some hotels single rooms are not always granted. Hotels are usually 4* or 3*
All our trips are designed to be flexible so that we can adapt to external conditions, and take advantage of opportunities that arise once there.
Considering the special nature of the journey, some parts may be modified due to unpredictable factors and are based on unarguable decisions of our Tour Leader. Costs originating from such variations will be sole responsibility of the participants. Of course the Leader will do his/her utmost to adhere to the original program.
Prices could change in case of major changes in services costs, beyond the organizer’s will