A new expedition through Mauritania, an itinerary which is the outcome of many years of research in this part of Sahara. The itinerary starts in Nouakchott, the capital, and continues to Banc d’Arguin, one of the major migratory bird sanctuaries on earth; sail on a wooden local Felucca to the bird sites in a calm and sheltered by large sand banks Atlantic Ocean.
From the ocean to the mountains, we find our way through spectacular dune chains. In the Adrar massif, surrounded by yellow sand, we will visit a nomadic camp. In an absolute arid universe, we will discover lush oases hidden in canyons with gardens shaded by palm trees and typical adobe villages with huts with conical grass roofs.
Chinguetti has a magical atmosphere, one of the most well conserved oasis in the whole Sahara. The ancient stone village dates back to the thirteenth century, when Chinguetti was the seventh holiest city of Islam and the main caravan centre in the western regions of Sahara. In the town’s ancient quarter, the Ksar, stands a white stone mosque considered the second ancient, still operating in the world, a remarkable example of Arab-Berber architecture. We will pay a visit to two ancient manuscript collections kept in traditional stone buildings.
Ouadane was founded “just” in 1147 of our era. It is the remotest oasis in Mauritania and the western outpost before the total emptiness… Where we will continue.
Guelb er Richat is called by the geologist the “Eye of Africa”: a geological mystery, a series of three concentric rock circles, the largest one having a diameter of 40 kilometres (25 mi).
The rarely visited El Ghallaouiya canyon hosts more than six hundred graffiti figures, depiction of warriors, chariots, hunters, wild animals, and more, a unique “open sky gallery” taking us back thousands of years, at a time before the desertification when the desert was a green savannah. From the abandoned colonial time fort in El Ghallaouiya the real exploration starts: beyond the horizon, hundreds of kilometres of virgin sand and ranges of dunes. We will “navigate” along the immensity of Erg Ouarane. The only human traces that we will find the next days, will be prehistoric stone tools. We will partially try to retrace the oldest caravan route that linked North Africa with the Ghana Empire back in the sixth century.
Aoukar, a range of escarpments that create a spectacular landscape of dark mountains. The range divide the large dunes of Ouarane in the North, from the Aoukar depression in the South. We will join a caravan route that dates back to the eleventh century linking Oualata with the western part of Mauritania to discover Makhrouga, one of the most spectacular rock erosions: nature has sculptured a rock massif in the shape of elephants. Some graffiti depicting an archaic Berber alphabet are witness of an ancient human presence.
Following the caravan route, we arrive to Oualata, Word Heritage Site and unique for the traditional frescoes that decorate the facades of the adobe houses. The colorful arabesques and geometric patterns exclusively made by the women, as in the rest of West Africa, make of Oualata a unique oasis.
A remote track will take us to the Aoudaghost archaeological site with miles of ruins hidden by the mountains. Aoudaghost was the northern town of the Ghana Empire, the oldest known Empire in Black Africa, dating back to the sixth century. It was a rich trading centre, where merchants coming from North Africa acquired gold dust. The Arab chroniclers described it in the manuscripts as beautiful as Mecca. We will explore paved alleys and remains of stone buildings. Only a few sites of Aoudaghost have been studied by French archaeologists in the early sixties, but today all trace of the excavations has been covered by sand and disappeared, and we will have the impression to be the first on the site. We leave Aoudaghost to discover Dogba, a large and mysterious stone town that has not been studied or excavated yet.
Out of any track, we will arrive at deep caves hiding granaries, graffiti, and rock paints.
On the way to Nouakchott, we reach Kiffa, renowned for the traditional glass beads produced by Moorish women.
OR JOIN US FOR A LEG OF THE EXPEDITION:
18 days THE EXPLORATION. Price from: 4684 €
The remotest and more intense part of the expedition: from Chinguetti to the ultimate Sahara exploration of Erg Ouarane, hundreds of miles of virgin sand, rock art, remote nomadic encampments, Aoukar range of escarpments, Oualata African frescoes, Aoudaghost, the northern town of the oldest known black African empire.
10 days MAURITANIA CLASSIC . Price from: 2439 €
The musts of the country: Banc d’Arguin ornithologic sailing, Adrar mountains, dunes, and nomadic camps, Chinguetti and Ouadane
From day 1 to day 8 of the total itinerary, private return to Nouakchott by Tergit the lushest oasis of Mauritania: hotels and permanent camp.
Day 1 – ARRIVAL IN MAURITANIA
Arrival in Nouakchott. Transfer and overnight at hotel Azalai, four stars, international standards.
Day 2 – HEAD NORTH
Drive north through a spectacular road between dunes.
We will leave the road to find the tracks leading to the Banc d’Arguin.
Dinner and overnight in a Mauritanian-style permanent camp, large tents with beds that will be our base for two nights. Located in a scenic environment facing the ocean.
Day 3 – SAILING AND BIRDING
Visit Banc d’Arguin National Park, a World Heritage Site. Two million migratory birds make Banc d’Arguin one of the worldwide most important migratory bird breeding sites where pelicans, flamingos, and broad-billed sandpipers are common. Thanks to the mild climate, a scarce human presence, and the rich fishing ocean, migratory birds winter here from Greenland, Siberia, Ireland, and Scotland, making this site the largest water bird colony in this part of the African continent. After discovering this bird paradise sailing on a local wooden felucca between sand banks on the shallow ocean water, we return to our fixed camp.
Day 4 – SAHARA EXPERIENCE
Early morning departure. Thanks to the experience of our drivers, we will make our own itinerary tracing an unmarked path in the sand of the Inchiri region, a less-known part of the Mauritanian desert. To cross long ranges of dunes, we will reduce the tire pressure, and GPS, maps, and compass will assist us in our land navigation through this untouched geological universe. First, we will drive northeast and then, east to be able to run through the corridors between the lines of dunes. Evening arrival and overnight in Akjoujt, at a new and comfortable Sahara hotel, with air-conditioned and en-suite rooms.
Day 5 – ADRAR: DUNES AND MOUNTAINS
Early departure for an intense day visiting the even more scenic landscape of Mauritania: valleys, high mountains, yellow sand with peaks of dark brown and red rock, and lost adobe villages.
Amatlich Erg is one of the most beautiful dunes ranges in the region. We will visit remote nomadic encampments, oases, and hidden adobe villages finding here and their prehistoric stone arrow points, and an earthenware shard: the silent witness of peoples living on these sites a long time ago, before the desertification).
These human encounters after the immense silence of the Sahara are intense.
Evening arrival to Chinguetti will be our base for two nights. Dinner and overnight in a cozy guest house built in traditional Mauritanian style, air-conditioned rooms (or private residences).
Day 6 – CHINGUETTI, THE OASIS
Chinguetti is an ancient caravan terminal and an important trading point between North and Black Africa.
The stone village, at a cross point of different caravan routes, dates back to the thirteenth century and is reckoned nowadays as the jewel of the Mauritanian oases. We will spend the whole day in the magical atmosphere of this citadel, discovering among others, palm groves that shade vegetable gardens, a green miracle. In the old stone quarters, we will be invited to visit two ancient manuscript collections, including Ould Habott, the largest one in Mauritania. The white stone mosque is considered the second ancient, still operating in the world. As remains of the colonial: the former French Foreign Legion fort and the tribunal building in Neo-Sudanese style. The day will end up on the high dunes to enjoy the sunset over Chinguetti.
Return to our cozy base. Dinner and overnight at La Gueila Guest House.
Day 7 – OUADANE, THE REMOTEST OASIS
Drive to Ouadane.
Ouadane, founded in 1147 on a rocky hill, is the remotest oasis in Mauritania, an outpost facing the immensity of the desert. Mainly in ruins, some of his stone houses are still inhabited. In the ancient days, Ouadane was a caravan trading point between the Maghreb and Black Africa.
Commerce was so flourishing that in 1487 the Portuguese built a fortified trading counter in the region.
Dinner and overnight at Agoueidir comfortable guest house, air-conditioned, and all rooms ensuite or similar.
Day 8 – THE EYE OF AFRICA
Guelb er Richat, a geological mystery called by the geologists the “Eye of Africa” is a landmark for the astronauts. Three concentric rock rings around an interior hill, the largest ring having a diameter of 40 kilometers (25 ml). Geologists have formulated different hypotheses on the origins: the first is that the phenomena have been caused by an enormous meteorite that fell on earth. The more recent theory believes that it is the result of erosion on a large volcanic dome. Camp in the desert.
Day 9 – ROCK ART: AN OPEN SKY GALLERY
Off-road itinerary between spectacular rock chains with an astonishing view of the desert and possible encounters with remote groups of nomads.
The canyon of Trig Chauail is an impressive spectacle: some flat surfaces of rock covered with petroglyphs. The region hides more than 220 panels with 600 different motives, a real “open sky” retrospective exhibition on the last 6000 years of Rock Art in the Sahara. From the time before the desertification, displaying warriors, horses pulling chariots, cattle, and wildlife as elephants and antelopes, to more recent times displaying camels (dromedaries) that arrived in the Sahara with the final desertification, approximately 2000 years ago. Camp at the abandoned fort of El Ghallaouiya, built by the French colonial “camel battalions”, has the typical atmosphere of the foreign legion.
Days 10, 11, and 12 – IMMENSITY
Departure for the total emptiness. We will find our way out of any track through the immensity of Erg Ouarane: large more than 800 Kilometres of continuous dunes and virgin sand over the horizon, a pure Sahara experience.
GPS, compass, local guide, and years of experience will help us to navigate through one of the less-known parts of the Sahara, the largest desert on Earth, in its more perfect form, as only imagination can represent. Camps between the dunes.
Days 13 and 14 – AOUKAR, DENSLY POPULATED, IN THE NEOLITHIC
The arrival to the Aoukar rocky chains is memorable. Aoukar mountain chains are as difficult as spectacular. It was the shore of a large lake, now vanished in the desert, and remains of numerous prehistorical villages are hidden between rocks and sand. In that humid period, the region was intensely inhabited. Some experts estimate that in the Neolithic the Aoukar was hosting a population of 400.000 inhabitants, being, at that time, one of the largest inhabited places.
Arrival to Oualata. Overnight in a guest house that will be our base for two nights.
Day 15 – OUALATA
Full day dedicated to Oualata, World Heritage Site and a unique and spectacular oasis dating back from the eleventh century. Hidden by rocky hills, it was an important southern Saharan caravan terminal.
Oualata traditions are still alive. What makes special adobe architecture are the frescoes decorating the entrances (and the interior) of the houses. These frescoes are painted exclusively by women that from centuries have passed this technique from mother to daughter.
Women of different ethnic groups of the savannah in West Africa create complex frescoes often hiding symbolic meanings. Frescoes link the local Berber population with Black African female traditions.
We will visit the small museum that exhibits a collection of manuscripts.
Days 16, 17, and 18 – ON THE WAY TO AOUDAGHOST
We leave Oualata following a track to join the road from Nema to Ayoun el Atrous. Then, we leave this road and follow a track toward the northwest.
One of the main highlights of the itinerary is the archaeological site of Aoudaghost with its miles of ruins hidden in the mountains. Aoudaghost is believed to have been the northern trading town of the Ghana Empire, the oldest known empire of southern Sahara dating back to the sixth century.
Aoudaghost was a rich caravan town being its more famous trade, gold dust. In ancient Islamic manuscripts, it was described as great as Mecca. Only a few areas of Aoudaghost have been studied by archeologists in the early ’60 but nowadays, the sand has covered any trace of the few excavations, and there, we will have the impression to be the first on the sites after one thousand years. Thanks to the remoteness of the place, these sites are rarely visited. We will discover in the area the mysterious remains of another stone town, Togba, totally unknown. A large detour to explore deep caves, a unique experience: thanks to our torchlight, we will discover prehistoric millstones, decorated granaries, and more.
Day 19 – KIFFA
Arrived to Kiffa, renowned for its traditional glass beads produced by Moorish women, and for the market with traders specialized in artisanal and ancient beads.
Overnight at the Hotel Emel or similar, air-conditioned and en-suite rooms; basic but clean.
Days 20 and 21 – THE ROAD OF HOPE
This asphalt road, known as “la route de d’espoir” (the road of hope), links southwestern Mauritania with the coast and the capital. Visit villages and camel markets.
Day 20 – Overnight at a camp.
Day 21 – Overnight at Aleg in Hotel Oasis or similar, air-conditioned and en-suite rooms; basic but clean.
Day 22 – BACK TO NOUAKCHOTT
Expected arrival in Nouakchott in the afternoon. Day rooms available at Azalai Hotel, 4 stars. Transfer to the airport. End of our services.
EXPEDITION LEADER: Alberto Nicheli, TransAfrica founder, has been travelling in North and West Africa since 1972. He has led more than a hundred expeditions in West Africa and sixty-five Sahara missions, including solo crossing of the desert, ethnological research on Tuareg and rock art, exploratory expedition retracing ancient caravan routes between Taoudenni salt mines in Mali and Oualata in Mauritania. He has organized the logistics of a documentary film on the caravans in the Sahara for Discovery Channel, assisted National Geographic photographers Angela Fisher and Carol Beckwith and organized the logistic of numerous research projects and television programs on West Africa. Alberto has an expertise in tribal art, and ancient to contemporary West African history.
EXPLORATORY ITINERARY: This travel program is an exploratory expedition. The itinerary is designed to experience fascinating places where foreigners don’t or hardly arrive. Scheduled itinerary, visits, are given as an indication and could be changed at the solo decision of the expedition leader. Wind, visibility, ground conditions, local authorities’ decisions, events of “force majeure”, technical, mechanical or other unexpected events may delay or change our schedule. TransAfrica can’t be considered liable for any changes and delays.
Participants must be flexible to full experience unique encounters, discoveries, and astonishing landscapes as much as some unexpected situations that are part of the “African experience”.
TRANSPORTS: 4WD, air-conditioned vehicles and logistic pickup. Local sailing boat at Banc d’Arguin.
MEDICAL and VACCINATIONS: Malaria prophylaxis: recommended for the first and last part of the itinerary (From Nouakchott to Chinguetty and from Nema to Nouakchott).
VISA: required. Available at Nouakchott airport, on arrival (55 €).
MEALS: Lunches: cold meals, mainly picnics or in local restaurants.
Dinners: in the hotels: touristic menu.
At our mobile camps: simple but tasty hot dinners composed by fresh local products integrated by preserved food. Bottled mineral water included.
Please mention any diet prescription at the time of booking.
CAMPS: Camp in the immensity of Sahara is an unforgettable experience. Igloo tents fitted for tropical climate; camping mattress included. Please, bring your own sleeping-bag. Nights in the Sahara can be cold and windy.
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/