WESTERN SAHARAN PROVENCES AND MAURITANIA
IN THE CORE OF THE SAHARA. In the Western Sahara other travellers don’t dare and nomadic tribes of camel herders are still authentic. Drive on the endless beaches of Rio de Oro to discover an astonishing landscape where the ocean floods in the desert: rocky hills and dunes, during the hight tide, becomes temporary islands. Experience the Sahara, the largest desert on earth, with a north-south crossing, off the beaten path, over virgin sand dune belts, continuing into the savannah. In Mauritania drive through virgin dunes to discover remote oasis and stone citadels dating back to the 13th century as Chinguetti with his its ancient collection of manuscripts and Ouadane the remotest of the oasis and further still to explore the geological mystery Guelb Es Richat.
TIME TRAVEL: FROM PREHISTORY TO RECENT TIME Thousand years old fossils, prehistorical Rock Art, historical sites as Dakhla the former headquarters of Spanish Rio de Oro colony, 11th Century oasis as Ouadane and the recent town of Nouakchott built in the seventies are part of a travel experience in space and time.
TRIBAL CULTURES. Western Sahara sands are the best place to encounter the legendary Reguibat nomads. Fishermen lives on the edge, between the desert and the ocean. In Mauritania remote settlements of Moorish camel herders families living in tents.
NATURE. Experience travelling along the “uncertain border” between land and water, dunes and Ocean. Following a “flyway” in the time of bird migration, will be a constant reference along the whole itinerary, in the time when millions of birds leave Northern Europe and Russia to Africa during their winter season. Travelling North to South, or vice versa, is a continuous change of latitude, climate, flora and fauna: from the green side of the Atlas Mountains to the rare or absent vegetation of the Sahara to the green miracle of the oasis. Some unexpected micro-climates are created by the moist winds from the ocean on the dry desert environment: a multitude of “spontaneous gardens” with flowers, succulents and lichens formations
Day 1: TAN TAN Morocco
Arrival to Tan Tan or Guelmime airport and transfer to the hotel.
Day 2: ESTUARIES AND DESERT Morocco
Once left Tafnidilt, we cross a steep range of dunes to reach the Dra estuary region, visited only by brave travellers who dare to find their way on the sandy tracks between the cliffs and the Atlantic Ocean. Here, we will discover tiny temporary settlements of fishermen, ghost colonial military posts, dunes and camels in a virgin landscape, and if lucky, we will drive for miles on a wild beach where the high dunes meet the ocean.
We will leave the coastline, following a riverbed (Ouadi) in a large canyon: the only possible path between the high dunes, cliffs and ocean.
Day 3: DUNES AND LAGOONS Morocco
From Tan-Tan, the road follows an exciting itinerary through a crag on the edge between the Sahara and the 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). A protected area of great natural beauty is an important resting point on the birds’ migratory journey, it can host up to 20,000 individual species such as flamingos, cormorants, gulls, herons and more.
We will board local fishing boats to explore the 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 architecture. In Tarfaya, Saint Exupéry the famous aviator and writer, author of “Le petit prince” was familiar.
Days 4 & 5: 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 a three-day off-road expedition crossing the Western Sahara from north to south. The former Spanish Sahara colony has been the site of a long war between the Polisario Armed Front and the Moroccan army. Nowadays, 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 travellers. Until today no peace treaty has been signed, but it’s been decades since any fighting has occurred in the region which we cross. We are proud to be the “first” to bring intrepid travellers to the vast, sandy regions of Saguia El Hamra, Tiris Zemmour and to the spectacular Rio de Oro sea-look. In this Saharan expedition, we will cross large dunes to discover wells frequented by long lines of camels belonging to the legendary Reguibat nomads.
Day 6: FROM THE DESERT TO THE OCEAN Morocco
Morning continuation of our Trans-Saharan expedition, through a region of dunes, wells and nomadic camps.
In the afternoon, a road will bring us to the ocean.
Day 7: RIO DE ORO, Morocco
The astonishing beauty of Dakhla peninsula landscape makes it a unique place. The Rio de Oro is a 25mile long sea loch between cliffs and dunes. Pastel colors paint the scenery: the blue ocean, yellow sand, emerald seaweed fields and dark rocks. Experience a unique event: during the high tide the ocean will flood the desert: a white dune and rook hills will become temporary islands.
The small town of Dakhla was founded by Spanish navigators in 1502 as “Villa Cisneros.” Visit to the colorful fishing harbour, lunch in an oyster farm. Driving along the shore to discover where the waves lap the sand dunes. Dinner in a typical restaurant.
Day 8: BORDERS: LINES IN THE SANDS Morocco – Mauritania
Our way run on the spectacular cliff between the desert and the ocean. We follow the only open road going south. A signboard indicates that we are “on” the Tropic of Cancer. At Guerguerat military post we will cross the southern border post of Morocco, the only open route between Maghreb and Black Africa a sensible site. We will travel a few miles into no-man’s land, in a very sensitive area. The boundary is a theoretical line in the desert that “divides the sand from the sand”, on the other side, the military post of Mauritania.
Evening arrival to Nouadhibou.
Days 9 & 10: SAHARA EXPLORATION Mauritania
Visit on Nouadhibou on the spectacular “Golf du Levrier”. Market and time to buy Ouguiya the local currency.
In the afternoon we will drive south and stay overnight at Cap Tafarit hotel facing the Ocean. Next morning, thanks to the experience of our staff, we will make our own way tracing an unmarked path in the sand ocean of Inchiri region, one of the least known parts of Mauritanian desert.
Day 11: ADRAR: DUNES AND MOUNTAINS Mauritania
An absolute “out of any track” itinerary will find the way through high dunes.
To cross long ranges of dunes, we will decrease the tire pressure, GPS, maps and, compass will assist our land-navigation in an untouched geological universe. Erg Amatlich is one of the most beautiful dune ranges in Mauritania, the Sahara can make a traveller feel like the first person on a planet. We will be able to discover traces of thousand years old human presence such as stone tools and shards of potteries. When some rare graze will appear, we will discover some nomadic settlements. These human encounters, after the deep silence of the Sahara, are intense. We will enter in the scenic landscape the Adrar massif: valleys, high mountains, yellow sand dunes, peaks of dark and red rock. We will visit remote oasis and tiny adobe villages.
Evening arrival in Chinguetti.
Day 12: CHINGUETTI, THE OASIS Mauritania
Chinguetti stone citadel dates back to the 13th century and is a cross-point of different trans-Saharan routes linking the Mediterranean coasts to Black Africa. The atmosphere of the old stone town, the architecture, some ancient manuscript collections from the Middle-ages and the oasis with their “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 “fights” not to be covered by the sand.
The main Mosque and the stone minaret: Chinguetti mosque is the second oldest still operating in the entire Muslim world.
We will spend the whole day in the magical atmosphere of this desert citadel, which is considered the jewel of Mauritanian oasis, discovering two ancient manuscript collection, including Ould Habott, the largest in Mauritania.
Day 13: OUADANE, THE REMOTEST Mauritania
We will drive to Ouadane in an absolute “out of any tracks” itinerary that follows a Ouadi (dry creek), discovering tiny oasis hidden in the high dunes. Entire day experience Ouadane the remotest oasis in Mauritania, an outpost in the emptiness of the desert. Ouadane was founded in 1147, while most of it fell into ruin, some of its stone houses, perched on a rocky hill, surrounded by the immensity of Sahara, are still inhabited. Back in time, this town was an important caravan trading point. Trading was so flourishing that, in 1487, Portuguese built a fortified counter in the region.
Return to our comfortable base in Chinguetti.
Day 14: GREEN OASIS Mauritania
The landscape will never cease to amaze us. Leaving the main track, we will reach a region of spectacular mountains, gorges and canyons. Infinite space dominated by the ochre of the earth and the blue sky. At the horizon the ruins of Fort Saganne, built to set the namesake film: Fort Saganne, starring Gérard Depardieu and Catherine Deneuve (1984).
The Agrour site, located at the top of the Amogjar pass, hide prehistoric cave paintings featuring bovids, hunters and herders.
After a short visit of Atar market we join Azougui, the ruins of what has been the capital of an Almoravid kingdom in the 11th century. The Almoravid, called in the Arab word “Al-Murabitun” where a Muslim warriors puritan and radical brotherhood originated from nomadic tribes from the north of actual Mauritania. Between the 11th and 12th century Almoravid looted the Ghana Empire, founded Marrakech, conquered Morocco, part of Algeria and the southern part of Spain.
Terjit, is one of the most particular and lush oasis of Mauritania. After walking through a dense palm grove protected by a gorge and following a tiny stream, we discover a vast rock shelter where spring water flows. An unexpected atmosphere disconnected from time and from the harshness of the desert.
Day 15: NOUAKCHOTT Mauritania
From the desert to the ocean, from Sahara to black Africa.
As resume of Mauritanian history and culture, visit of the interesting National Museum which displays archaeology, artifacts, costumes and textiles from prehistory to the present days. Unique pictures taken during excavations of Aoudaghost, the northern trading town and better conserved site of the legendary Ghana Empire. Ghana was the oldest Empire and Kingdom known in Black Africa. Dated from the 6th century, the empire was in the actual southern east of Mauritania. At that time from Aoudaghost, starts the caravan carrying gold to North Africa and passing by Ouadane and Assa that we had discovered during our Sahara crossing. Lunch in a trendy restaurant, known for the “catch of the day”, other meals other than fish are available. Hundreds of colorful pirogues lined the beach on Nouakchott fishing harbour will leave us amazed. Our eyes, accustomed to sand and dunes, will be reflected in tumultuous waters, in which wind, waves, brightly painted pirogues and sub-Saharan (mainly Senegalese) fishermen selling the abundant catches to the market. Mauritania processes more than 1,800,000 tons of fish each year.
Transfer to the airport.
UNIQUE DEPARTURES: This departure is part of the Trans-Sahara and West Africa Grand Expedition.
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”.
TRANSPORTS: 4WD air-conditioned vehicles.
To discover Naila lagune fishermen’s boats.
VACCINATIONS: Not requested.
Morocco: Not required for most nationalities. Please check.
Mauritania: Required. We will obtain visas at the border (cost 55 Euro).
Lunches: cold meals (picnics) or restaurants.
Dinners: in the hotels we will enjoy a great variety of specialties. Vegetarian or specific meals are available on request, please contact us in advance.
Mobile camps: simple dinners made of local fresh products integrated with conserved food; bottled water included. Wine or beer included, except in Mauritania. Mention your choice at the departure (soft drinks or wine or beer).
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.
MOBILE CAMPS: Two nights camping, in the remotest part of the Western Sahara. Camping in the immensity of the Sahara is an unforgettable experience. Modern tents, installed over mats, mosquito nets, portable beds, mattresses and chairs. A large restaurant tent will be set for dinner. A tent will be dedicated to “facilities”. Please bring your own light sleeping-bag or sleeping-sheet or let the guide know at the beginning of the tour.
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.