MOROCCO, WESTERN SAHARA PROVENCE, MAURITANIA, SENEGAL
A great expedition crossing the Sahara from north to south. Starting in Marrakech and ending with Dakar in Black Africa. The itinerary is the outcome of many years of field research.
A unique variety of different transports, always using the best adapted to fully experience the natural and human environment, be comfortable and have fun.
– On virgin sands, tracks and roads, the itinerary will be in airconditioned 4WD vehicles. We will enjoy a short but hilarious ride on a local colourful “bush-taxi”. As the locals do, we will experience a calash-ride in the old town of Saint Louis and to discover a fishing village in Senegal in a non-intrusive, amusing way, we will use a donkey cart.
– On the water ride on fishing boats in a calm sea loch between the dunes and a ferry to reach Gore Island.
Experience a “peaceful raid” from north to south in a continuous changing landscape. From Marrakech, crossing the remote Djebel Sarhro mountains, to the undiscovered Western Sahara (now Moroccan Sahara Provinces) and the high dunes of Mauritania. From the Sahara to the Sahelian savannah of northern Senegal to Dakar, modern African metropolis. Crossing these different ecosystems, we will meet the main natural, cultural and religious environments of the African continent.
TIME TRAVEL: FROM PREHISTORY TO CONTEPORANEITY. Marrakech, trendy city and traditional “caravans terminal” to Black Africa, will be the right starting point for our “modern caravan”. Prehistorical Roc Art in the Sahara, Historical sites such Ouadane and Chinguetti oasis from the XIII century, Dakhla the former headquarters of Spanish Rio De Oro, Saint Louis the first capital of the former French West African colonies and Gore, the slave-trade island will bring us from Prehistory to History and modernity. Dakar, African metropolis and centre of contemporary art and culture will be the right ending point of the expedition.
TRIBAL CULTURES. The last cave-dwelling families live in the most isolated Berber mountains. The Saharan sands are inhabited by Moorish nomads and camel herders, fishermen lives on the edge between the desert and the ocean. Encounter the legendary Reguibat and Sahrawi nomads of the untamed Western Sahara, currently annexed to Morocco , in the remotes oasis of Mauritania families has collected manuscripts from centuries and the Fulla herders with long lines of Zebu still cross the Savannah in search of grassing.
NATURE. Travelling along the “uncertain border” between land and water, dunes and Ocean. Following the “flyway” in the time of bird migration, a constant and discreet presence along the whole itinerary, when millions of birds leave Europe and Russia heading to Africa to winter, we will also visit one of the richest migratory bird sanctuaries on earth.
Traveling North to South, or vice versa, is a continuous change of latitude that leads to a continuous change climate, fauna and flora: from absent to rare vegetation of the Sahara to the high grass and Baobabs of the Savannah. We will discover some unexpected micro-climates created by the moist winds from the ocean on the dry desert environment: a multitude of “spontaneous gardens” with flowers, succulents and lichens.
COMFORT the best available comfort is a must to fully enjoy a travel experience out of the beaten tracks. Modern and comfortable air-conditioned 4×4 vehicles will be the main transportation. Overnights: mostly in hotels and fixed camps with large tents, beds, facilities and restaurants. The accommodations have been chosen according to the criteria of comfort, typical architectural style, restaurant quality, friendly service and scenic locations. Four nights will be spent at a mobile camp in the more remote areas of the desert. Our modern tents are provided with mattresses and are totally equipped with mosquito nets at the windows. Tents are placed on a large mat that further isolates them from the soil. The staff will install the camp with the cooperation of the participants. Warm dinner will be prepared by the cooks and served at tables. Camping under the stars is a must of the “Sahara experience”.
SAFETY is our main concern. The expedition is based on a long experience in the area and is led by the best experts. The itinerary is safe and constantly monitored from our local connections with direct information from the field.
CLIMATE. Autumn and spring are the best seasons in the Sahara; climate is mild and pleasant; nights are cool but not cold and days are warm but not hot. In black Africa south of Sahara, the climate is warm.
Day 1 – MARRAKECH Morocco
Day 2 – HIGH ATLAS Morocco
We will live the main road to discover the les frequented Berber villages in the High Atlas Range and joint the local gems diggers in quest of Amethyst, Tourmaline…. With their help we will be able to find our own gems… Our itinerary cross Tizi-n- Tichka pass at 7460 ft. In the southern side of the Atlas we will stop at Ait Benhaddou a beautiful adobe Ksar (fortified village) still partially inhabited and one of the great examples of Adobe Architecture in Morocco. Ait Benhaddou is on the ancient caravan route linking Marrakech with the Sahara. In the modern time in this Ksar has been shot many famous movies including Lawrence of Arabia, Sodom and Gomorrah, Oedipus Rex, The Sheltering Sky, The Jewels of the Nile, Jesus of Nazareth, Alexander, Gladiator, and more…
Evening arrival at Ouarzazate, large Oasis at the edge of the desert.
Day 3 – REMOTE VALLEYS, CAVERN DEWELERS AND ROCK ART Morocco
Early morning departure. Following a steep track from valley to valley will bring us to remote shepherd families still living permanently in caves. A highland itinerary (often at more than 6000 Ft. ) to explore the les visited region of the Djebel (mountains) Sarhro. Following a tiny track that climbs rocky valleys through a breathtakingly landscape of mountains and desert our itinerary cross an arid spectacular mountain landscape: picks, tabular rocks, rare nomad tends and tiny Berber villages. Visit of an ancient rock art site. Hundreds of fine graffiti dating thousands of years ago, silent witnes of peoples living in these regions before the desertification.
Arrival in the evening at Zagora Oasis.
Day 4 & 5 – DUNES Morocco
We will live Zagora to visit the oasis in the Dra riverbed, a large continuous strep of luxuriant vegetation surrounded by the ochre and yellow colours of the desert. In the shade of 2.200.000 palm trees, small gardens are a green miracle in the desert. In Mhamid the Sahara adventure starts; our 4×4 will enter a region of high dunes, the Erg Chegaga. Dinner and overnight in a comfortable fix camp, with beds, restaurant and facilities.
We will start the day driving out of any track finding our way, crossing ranges of dunes to reach Iriki dry Salt Lake. Late afternoon arrival at Icht, a comfortable fixed-tended camp in the desert;
Day 6 – CARAVAN ROUTE & ANCIEN FORT Morocco
The road will bring us to Guelmim, an ancient caravan terminal. Here we will search for the remains of the ancient Trans-Sahara trade…
From this point onward, we will often travel along one of the fishiest coasts on earth. We will follow the “migration route” of the paleo-artic birds that migrate to winter in Africa every year during this season. Visit to a spectacular ghost military fort, which still “guards” the former borders between the French protectorate of Morocco and the Spanish Sahara. Feeling like we are on the set of an old French Foreign Legion movie. Afternoon arrival at the charming and comfortable Ksar Tafnidilt hotel, built using local material in a beautiful Saharan architecture. 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 challenging off-road competition reserved for female teams. Ksar Tafnidilt is a meeting point for passionate Sahara travelers;
Day 7 – ESTUARIES AND DESERT Morocco
We will leave Tafnidilt crossing a steep range of dunes. The Dra estuary region is visited only by brave travelers. Between the cliffs and the Atlantic Ocean there are only tracks vanishing in the sand. We will discover tiny temporary settlements of fishermen, ghost colonial military posts, dunes, and camels in a virgin landscape, and if lucky with the drive for miles on a wild beach like a strep between dunes and ocean … We live the coastline finding our way along a dry riverbed (Ouadi) in a large canyon the only possible path between desert, cliffs and the ocean.
Day 8 – DUNES AND LAGOONS Morocco
From Tan-Tan, the road follows an exciting itinerary through a crag on the edge between Sahara and Ocean… The Naila salt lagoon, separated from the ocean by rows of dunes, with an estuary on the sea, is the largest Salt Lake in Morocco (100 square Km). Protected area of great natural beauty is an important resting point on the bird’s migratory way, can host up to 20.000 individuals as flamingos, cormorants, gulls, herons…
We will board a local fisherman boat to explore this emerald water enclosed in a wide frame of yellow dunes and brown escarpments.
Late afternoon arrival at the tiny town of Tarfaya on the Juby Cape, less than 100 km away from the Canary Islands. Tarfaya is a former “Aeropostale” base, pioneered airmail from Europe to Africa and Latin America. Interesting museum and the remains of colonial Spanish architetture. In Tarfaya, Saint Exupéry the famous aviator and writer, author of “The little prince” was familiar.
Days 9 & 10 -WESTERN SAHARA: THE FORBIDDEN TRACK Morocco
In Laayoune we will meet our local guide, a nomad from a Sahrawi tribe who will lead us through three days of a total of-road desert expedition crossing from north to south 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. Presently, it is part of Morocco.
Since the second half of the seventies, due to this long “sand war,” this region has been off-limits to travelers. Until today no peace treaty has been signed, but a cease-fire is respected. We are proud to be the “first” to bring intrepid travelers to the vast, sandy regions of Saguia El Hamra, Tiris Zemmour and Rio de Oro. In this real Saharan expedition, we will cross large dunes to discover wells frequented by long lines of camels belonging to the legendary Reguibat nomads. Days 9 and 10 camping under the stars of the desert.
Day 11 – FROM THE DESERT TO THE OCEAN Morocco
Morning continuation of our Trans-Saharan expedition. In the afternoon, a road will bring us to the ocean. Evening arrival at an hotel in Dakhla that will be our “base” for two nights. Hotel Doumss, air-conditioned rooms.
Day 12 – RIO DE ORO Morocco
The exceptional beauty of this landscape makes the Dakhla peninsula a special place. The Rio de Oro is a 25-mile long sea loch situated between cliffs and dunes. Different pastel colours paint the scenery: the blue ocean, yellow sand, green seaweed fields and dark rocks. Experience a unique scenery: during the high tide the ocean will flood the desert and a white dune will become a temporary island.
The small town of Dakhla was founded by Spanish navigators in 1502 and was called “Villa Cisneros.”
Visit of the colourful fishing harbour, lunch in an oyster farm, drive along the shore where the waves lap the sand dunes.
Day 13 – BORDER: A LINE IN THE SAND Morocco / Mauritania
Our route continues following the cliff between the desert and the ocean. We follow the only open road going south.
A signboard indicate that we are passing the “Tropic of Cancer”, at Guerguerat military post we will cross the southern border of Morocco, the only open frontier between Maghreb and Black Africa. After the formalities, we cross a few miles of “no-man land” where different traffickers have made their base in new and old cars and trucks apparently abandoned. The no-man land is the unmarked border, a theoretical line in the desert that “divides nothing from nothing”. On the other side, the military post of Mauritania.
Days 14 & 15 – SAHARA EXPLORATION Mauritania
Early morning departure for two days of pure exploration. Thanks to the experience of our staff we will make or own itinerary tracing an unmarked path in the sand ocean of Inchiri region, one of the les known part of Mauritanian desert. To cross long ranges of dunes we will reduce the tire pressure. Gps, maps, compass will assist our land-navigation in an untouched geological universe. Our direction will follow in parallel the dunes lines. The real desert gives the feeling to be on earth before the down of time. “Sahara experience”: what makes unique the desert are the endless empty spaces, the untamed sand. Discover traces of ancient human presence: stone tools, remains of potteries, silent witness of people that lived there long time ago, before the desertification. We will find the nomadic isolated settlements when the landscape will become less dramatic and some rare graze will appear. These human encounters after the immense silence of the Sahara are intense, the nomads living in the Inchiri are not used to tourist.
Day 16 – ADRAR: DUNES AND MOUNTAINS Mauritania
The even more scenic landscape of Mauritania: valleys, high mountains, yellow sand dunes with peaks of dark and red rock, lost adobe villages. Amatlich Erg (large dune basin) is one of the most beautiful dune ranges in the region. We will visit remotes oasis and hidden adobe villages.
Evening arrival to Chinguetti where we will spend three nights.
Day 17 – CHINGUETTI, THE OASIS Mauritania
Chinguetti is an ancient caravan terminal and important trading point between north and Black Africa.
The actual citadel dated from 13th century and is a cross-point of different trans-Saharan routes. The atmosphere of the old stone town, the architecture, the visit of some ancient manuscript collections dating from the middle-age and the oasis with is green miracles of palm trees and gardens surrounded by the immensity of the Sahara are the special highlights of Chinguetti. Large chains of yellow dunes are the western boundary of the town that “fight” to don’t be submerged by the send.
Interesting buildings the main Mosque, an ancient stone building. And the old French foreign legion fort.
We will spend the whole day in the magical atmosphere of this village, which is considered the jewel of Mauritanian oasis, discovering two ancient manuscript collection, including Ould Habott, the largest in Mauritania. Return to our cozy guest house.
DAY 18 – OUADANE, THE REMOTEST Mauritania
We will drive to Ouadane in an absolute “out of any track” itinerary that follows the Ouadi (dry creek) discovering remote tiny oasis hidden in the high dunes. Entire day dedicated to discovering Ouadane and his region, the remotest oasis in Mauritania, an outpost in the emptiest of the desert. Ouadane was founded in 1147. Mainly in ruin, some of his stone houses perched on a rocky hill surrounded by the immensity of Sahara are still inhabited. In the ancient days this town was an important caravan trading point between Maghreb and black Africa.
Trading was so flourishing that in 1487 Portuguese built a fortified trading counter in the region.
Return to our comfortable base in Chinguetti.
Day 19 – NOUKCHOTT Mauritania
Day driving on a panoramic road in the Sahara. Evening arrival to Nouakchott the capital of Mauritania, a newer town surrounded by the desert.
Day 20 – DJOUDJ NATIONAL PARK Mauritania / Senegal
Early morning departure for the small border post with Senegal. The natural border between Mauritania and Senegal is the Senegal River; we will cross the river on a mobile bridge, and we will move into a wet area isolated between Sahara and Ferlo desert.
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 of over a million migratory and sedentary birds.
The protected wetland habitats attract migratory birds, more than 400 species live temporarily in this unique bird sanctuary. We will enjoy a boat excursion to visit an island with an astonishing concentration of pelicans.
Arrival in the evening to Saint Louis. Dinner and overnight at “Hotel de la Poste”, a historical hotel built in 1850 used as the base of the “Aeropostale” (airmail pioneer operation) pilots. Totally restored, it has conserved the best “hold colonial atmosphere” in town.
Day 21 – SAINT LOUIS, AFRICAN AND COLONIAL CITADELS Senegal
Morning visit of Saint Louis first capital of all French colonies in West Africa, a charming old town, situated on two islands between Senegal River and the ocean. The best way to get around the narrow streets of Saint Louis will be on board of the calash, like the locals do! A walk will complete the discovery of the fisherman quarters. We will live to reach Lampoul dunes.
Day 22 – FROM FISHERMAN VILLAGE TO CONTEMPORARY ARTISTS Senegal
Spectacular drive to discover the largest fisherman village in Senegal, more than 4500 wooden pirogues came to the shore with the catch of the day… We will live our vehicles for a less intrusive, but fun, donkey chariot to approach the fisherman selling to the local market women, to meet the artisans craving the large pirogues, the painters decorating them with bright colours and the “local saint” for final magical blessing before sailing…. Lac Rose, also 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 work collecting salt from the lake, in the traditional way.
Arrival to Dakar, “Village des Arts” is composed by more of fifty workshops of contemporary artists. The Senegalese artistic scene has attracted artist from al the continent. We will meet the artist in their production site and discover their works that range from painting and sculpture and pottery to photography and filming. Ferry to Gorée Island: The right times to enjoy Gorée is at sunset when all tourists are gone or in the morning before the crowd arrival.
Day 23 – DAKAR, AFRICAN METROPOLIS Senegal
In Gorée island slaves were crammed, waiting to be shipped to the Americas. Totally restored remain to bear witness of those times. Today 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. Ferry to Dakar and visit of the town.
Dakar became an important centre of political, artistic and intellectual “renouveau” during the independence, and is still a lively African metropolis. Visit of the “Plateau” district, the Presidential Palace and a typical market. Day Rooms and transfer to the airport.
UNIQUE DEPARTURES: This itinerary is part of Sahara & West Africa Grand Expedition from Marrakech to Dakar and Cotonou.
EXPEDITION LEADER: Alberto Nicheli, TransAfrica founder, has been travelling in West Africa since 1975. He has led more than a hundred expeditions in West Africa and sixty-four Sahara expeditions, including solo crossing of the desert, ethnological research on Tuareg and rock art. He has organized the logistics of a documentary film for Discovery Channel on the Caravans of the Niger and has assisted in numerous research projects on West Africa with Angela Fisher and Carol Beckwith from National Geographic, as well as in different television programs on West Africa. He has an expertise in Tribal Art and security in West Africa.
EXPLORATORY ITINERARY: This itinerary 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”.
TRANSPORTS: a great variety of landscapes, cultures, and nature is reflected in the choice of the different transports, each one the best to discover and enjoy each specific environment.
On land: for most of the itinerary on roads, tracks and virgin sand dunes our main choice will be four-wheel-drive air-conditioned vehicles, as well as brief but funny rides on: colourful local bush Taxi, traditional calash and donkey chariot.
On water: in the Ocean we will sail on ferry. To explore lagoon will charter local fishing boats.
VACCINATIONS: Yellow fever: Mandatory for those completing the part of the expedition in Senegal and Guinea Bissau (from day 20th of the program). With the new legal provision from the World Health Organization the yellow fever vaccination is for life and don’t need to be renewed.
Cholera: Not required at the time of editing the program, please check before departure.
Malaria prophylaxis: Absolutely recommended for those completing the part of the itinerary from Chinguetti (from day 17th of the program).
Morocco, visa not required for most nationalities. Please check.
Mauritania, visa required. We will obtain visas at the border (cost 55 Euro).
Senegal, visa not required for most nationalities, please check.
MEALS: Lunches: Cold meals (picnics) or restaurants.
Diners: In the hotels, enjoy a great variety of fish specialties among other possibilities, vegetarian or different meals available on request, please mention on booking.
Mobile Camps: Simple dinners made of local fresh products; bottled water included. Wine included, except in Mauritania.
HOTELS are 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.
CAMPS: four nights camping, in the remotest part of Western Sahara and Mauritania. Camping in immensity of Sahara is an unforgettable experience. Igloo tents fitted for tropical climate, camping mattress included. Please bring your own light sleeping-bag or sleeping-sheet.
LUGGAGE: due to the natured of the itinerary including boat rides and camps, please limit your personal luggage in 45lb (20 kg), soft sacs are recommended, water-proof sac, or plastic bag over the luggage is recommended in the Bijagos islands navigation.
INSURANCE: mandatory for medical assistance (health care), repatriation, physical and material damages.
TransAfrica will not be held responsible for any material and physical damage during or in consequence of the tour.
NOTICE: The itinerary is designed to experience fascinating places where the visit of a foreigner remains an exceptional event. We need to be tolerant and flexible to fully enjoy and truly appreciate the unique nature and wild life, the spontaneous hospitality of the local populations, 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, improvements and adaptation due to : tides time, recent experiences and news from the fields, force majeure. The changes are decided