WESTERN SAHARA PROVENCE, RIO DE ORO, MAURITANIA
A great expedition crossing the Sahara from north to south. Starting in Tan-Tan and ending with Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania. 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.
– On the water ride on fishing boats in a calm sea loch between the dunes.
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. Crossing these different ecosystems, we will meet the natural, cultural environments of all Sahara.
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 to Nouakchott the modern capital of Mauritania
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.
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.
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 south Sahara to the green miracle of the oasis. 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 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 itinerary is based on a long experience in the area and is led by the best experts. The expedition 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.
DAY 1– CARAVAN ROUTE & ANCIEN FORTS
Arrival to Tan Tan and transfer to 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; the hotel will be our base for two nights.
DAY 2 – ESTUARIES AND DESERT
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 3 – DUNES AND LAGOONS
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 4 & 5 WESTERN SAHARA: THE FORBIDDEN TRACK
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 6 – FROM THE DESERT TO THE OCEAN
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.
Day 7 – RIO DE ORO
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. Return to our hotel in Dakhla, dinner in a typical restaurant.
DAY 8 – BORDER: A LINE IN THE SAND
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. Evening arrival to Nouadhibou.
DAYS 9 & 10 – SAHARA EXPLORATION
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.
Two nights of mobile camp.
DAY 11 – ADRAR: DUNES AND MOUNTAINS
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 12 – CHINGUETTI, THE OASIS
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 13 – OUADANE, THE REMOTEST
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.
DAY 14 – NOUKCHOTT
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 rooms and evening transfer to the airport.
- Transfer on the arrival day and on the last day.
- Full board during the expedition. Lunch the last day.
- Drinks at meals during the nights in the mobile camp. No alcohol in Mauritania
- All transfers in 4WD
- Tour Leader (languages spoken English, French and Italian)
- Tours and visits as per the program
- Participation cost to events, as scheduled
- Accommodation as per the program
- First aid box
- All services included in the program
Prices do not include:
- International flights
- Dinner on the arrival and departure day
- Drinks and mineral water at meals, except for those at the nights in the mobile camps
- Fees for personal photos and videos
- Personal insurance (compulsory)
- Tips for drivers, guides and hotel staff
- Any item of personal nature such as phone calls, laundry, etc.
- Whatever is not mentioned as included
UNIQUE DEPARTURES: This itinerary is part of West Africa Grand Expedition from Marrakech to Dakar.
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.
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: No vaccination request.
VISAS: Morocco, visa not required for most nationalities. Please check.
Mauritania, visa required. We will obtain visas at the border (cost 55 Euro).
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 by the organizer. We are not responsible for any delay and cancellation due to external conditions.