Day 1: MARRAKECH Morocco
Individual arrival. A Taxi from the airport to the hotel costs 20 Euro or 25 USD.
Meeting at 8 PM.
Day 2: HIGH ATLAS Morocco
We will leave the main road to discover the least frequented Berber villages in the High Atlas Range and join the gem diggers in quest of Amethyst, Tourmaline. With their help we will be able to find our own gems. Our itinerary crosses Tizi n’Tichka pass at 7460 ft on the southern side of the Atlas.
Arrival in Ouarzazate, a large oasis at the edge of the desert.
Day 3: ROCK ART OF OUADI DRAA Morocco
Our way will follow the first part of the Ouadi (river) Draa. This important river and its floods have created a long strip of vegetation with a continuous of palm grove hiding vegetable gardens that go south following the river for hundred miles in the desert, a long unique oasis with millions of date palm trees.
Visit of a site with hundreds of graffiti depicting hunters, warriors, horse raiders and wildlife; silent witness of peoples living in these regions thousands of years ago, before the desertification. Lunch in a restaurant at the charming oasis of Zagora, our itinerary will continue along the Draa valley to Mhamid. South east of Mhamid the water of the river will vanish in the desert. Mhamid is the last permanent outpost before the total desert.
Day 4: DUNES, FOSSILES AND ANTELOPES Morocco
From Mhamid, the Sahara adventure starts; our 4×4 driving out of any tracks will cross a region of high dunes -the Erg Chegaga- that we will be able to cross in the middle.
Here with a bit of luck we may encounter some rare and endangered white addax antelope… The addax is a critically endangered desert antelope that lives in some isolated regions of the Sahara
After we reach Iriki dry Salt Lake and a site where each of us will be able to find their own fossils.
Day 5 THE OASIS TRAIL Morocco
On the road again, to cross a region of spectacular scenery, rocks, mountains and large oasis.
Walk in the oasis to discover this green miracle surrounded by an arid environment. Lunch in a local restaurant, evening arrival at the best hotel in the region.
Day 6: CARAVAN TERMINALS & ANCIENT FORTS Morocco
In the rarely visited region of Assa we will discover the same ancient Arabo-Berber stone architecture that we will see again thousands of miles south on the other side of the Sahara in Chinguetti and Ouadane oasis of Mauritania, that in the ancient time were linked with Assa by a caravan route that we will partially try to retrace.
The small town of Guelmim, is an ancient caravan terminal. Here we will search for the remains of the ancient Trans-Sahara trade…
From this point onward, the itinerary will follow the “fling route” of the paleo-artic birds that migrate from Northern Europe and Russia to Africa every year during their winter season. The migratory birds travelling like us from north to south will be a reference for our itinerary as far as to the Bijagos archipelago in Guinea Bissau.
A spectacular ghost military fort still “guards” the former borders between the French protectorate of Morocco and the Spanish Sahara, the scouting of the fort will make us feel like we were on the set of an old French Foreign Legion movie. Evening 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 to female teams.
Day 7: 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.
Evening return to our comfortable base.
Day 8: 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, heron 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 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 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.
Days 9 and 10 we will camp under the stars in the immensity of the Sahara.
Day 11: 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 12: RIO DE ORO, Morocco
The astonishing beauty of Dakhla peninsula landscape makes it a unique place. The Rio de Oro is a 25-mile 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.
Day 13: BORDER: LINES IN THE SAND 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 14 & 15: 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 16: 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 17: 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 18: 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 19: 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 we will see 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 20: 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 archeology, 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 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”, 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.
Day 21: DJOUDJ NATIONAL PARK Mauritania – Senegal
Early morning departure in direction south to Senegal. The natural border between Mauritania and Senegal is the Senegal River a natural boundary between desert and savannah. We will cross the river on a mobile bridge and move into a unique wet land between Sahara and Sahel.
The Djoudj National Park, declared a World Heritage Site, is a green 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.
Totally surrounded by an arid landscape the protected wetland habitat attracts 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.
Day 22: SAINT LOUIS: COLONIAL AND AFRICAN CITADELS Senegal
In the morning, visit of Saint Louis, the first capital of the French colonies in West Africa AOF (Afrique Occidental Francais), a charming old town, situated on two twin islands: the colonial and the local, the two located between Senegal River and the ocean. The best way to roam the narrow streets of Saint Louis is on board of a calash, like the locals do! A walk will complete the discovery of the fisherman quarters. We will leave Saint Louis to reach Lampoul dunes. Dinner and overnight stay at Ecolodge Lampoul, in fancy fix camp, comfortable en-suite tents with beds.
Day 23: FROM “THE” FISHERMAN VILLAGE TO GORÈE ISLAND Senegal
Spectacular drive to discover the largest fisherman village in Senegal, more than 4,500 wooden pirogues came to the shore with the catch of the day. We will leave our vehicles for a less intrusive and fun local transport, a donkey chariot, ideal way to approach the fisherman selling their catch to the women, the queens of the market. We will familiarize with the artisans carving the large pirogues, the painters decorating them with bright colors. We will end the visit with an interesting encounter: a “Marabut” (local holy man) will receive us in his large mansion. Specializing in blessings intended to protect dugouts and fishermen, the Marabut will know how to introduce us to ancient techniques of geomancy and divination.
Lac Rose, locally 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 collect salt from the water in an artisanal way. Arrival to Dakar, ferry to Gorée Island. The right time to enjoy Gorée atmosphere is at sunset when all tourists are gone and, in the morning, before the crowd arrives. In Gorée island, slaves were crammed, waiting to be shipped to the Americas, entirely restored, the island still bears witness of those times. Nowadays, 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.
Day 24: DAKAR METROPOLIS Senegal
Before the crowds arrive, we will leave the island on the ferry to Dakar. Dakar became an important centre of the political, artistic and intellectual “renouveau” during the independence time and it is still the liveliest metropolis in the French-speaking West Africa. In the “Musée des Civilisations Noires”, we can admire great collections of Tribal Art, textiles, and contemporary local art. Discover “Plateau” district, the Presidential Palace, a typical market. Lunch at the “fishing club restaurant” known for the best catch of the day (vegetarian and other meals available). The totally restored Dakar-Bamako railway station, a great case of Art-Déco architecture dating from French colonial times, meeting with young artist specialized in the Graffiti (street art) that has made Dakar a centre of contemporary metropolitan culture. Visit to galleries and handicraft markets.
Days 25: THE SALT PANS OF KAOLAK Senegal
We head to Kaolack town, in a region of salt pans. Lunch in a restaurant. Kaolack, situated on Saloum River is an important port for exporting peanuts and salt from Senegal and nearest countries and a large traditional market.
Day 26: GAMBIA, BETWEEN ARCHEOLOGY AND CONTEMPORANEITY Senegal – Gambia
Early departure heading to the region between the north bank of Gambia River and Senegal, which has hosted one of the largest megalithic civilisations on earth. Sine Ngayene is the richest megalithic site with 1,102 erected stones. We cross the border with The Gambia, a tiny country surrounded by Senegal and experience a “very local” ferry crossing of the large Gambia River estuary to reach Banjul, the capital of the country. Visit to the centre and to the national museum. Optional: evening live music in town.
Day 27: DANCING MASK Gambia – Casamance ( Senegal)
Arrival at Casamance border, the southern region of Senegal. The natural environment will gradually change from savannah to forest.
In the late afternoon, we will attend the ritual dances of Diola sacred masks. The masks belong to a secret society and the identity of the dancers is not revealed; it is said that the mask is animated by the spirits. Drums, dances and a colorful crowd will enliven the tiny village in the shade of large kapok trees.
Day 28: ANCESTORS CULT Senegal – Guinea Bissau
Crossing the Guinea Bissau border we pass from French speaking country to a Portuguese (Lusitano) speaking Africa and enter the region of the Manjaco ethnic group. In tiny villages hidden in the forest we discover sculptured wooden poles called “Pecab” representing the spirits of their ancestors, the “Pecab” are kept in sanctuaries known as “Cab Balugun”. After asking for the permission to the elders, we will have the opportunity to see different generations and styles of sacred wooden sculptures, one of the last chances to enjoy tribal art in its original cultural context, the village. Arrival at Bissau.
Day 29: BIJAGOS SACRED ARCHIPELAGO: THE GHOST CAPITAL Guinea Bissau
Experience a three day spectacular navigation on a speedboat to discover the Bijagos Archipelago, its fascinating nature and isolated tribes. The Archipelago, composed by 88 islands and islets, is located at an average of 40 miles from the coastline. Bijagos is a “geographical jewel” for natural and cultural richness.
Bolama was the former capital of Portuguese Guinea from 1871 to 1941, when it was moved to Bissau. When the Portuguese left, native people came to squat this town. The town is now falling apart, partly invaded by tropical vegetation. Bolama, has been built according to the model of a «Castrum Romanum» (roman citadel), is now a mix of straight large avenues, sunny and lethargic empty squares, dry fountains, bush-like gardens and falling apart Neo-Palladian administrative buildings. In the shade of the columns of the former governor palace, goats graze peacefully; although inhabited, this town enjoys a fairy-tale atmosphere of a ghost town. From Bolama island we will sail to Rubane island.
Day 30: VACA BRUTO DANCING CEREMONY Guinea Bissau
Short navigation to discover Bubaque island, the “capital” of Bijagos Archipelago and its market.
Afternoon: due to the remoteness and the deep rootedness of the locals to their traditions, the Bijagos people have been little influenced by the external world. Life in the villages is characterized by initiations rites and secret ceremonies. In some villages, the young men must go through a seven-year initiation rite living in a “convent” with no contact with women. In Bijagos Archipelago life is still ruled by the “cycle of seasons”. During the long dry season the major ceremonies take place. Vaca Bruto (wild bull) is the most spectacular mask of the islands, the dancers convey a realistic presence by bowing and facing the ground. The mask’s eyes made out of frosted glass, real horns, leather ears and a rope through the nostril provide the mask with a real aspect of an untamed animal which represents a man in full possession of his physical strength but still with an immature behaviour, as he has not yet undergone the final initiations. All the villagers attend this fascinating ceremony.
Day 31: ISLANDER LIFE Guinea Bissau.
Morning relax at Ponta Anchaca wild beaches and swimming pool, or walking excursion in the island.
Afternoon navigation to Bissau.
On request (not included) Early morning departure for an excursion to Orango Island in search of a residual fauna of Hippos that has acclimatised with the life on islands. Mainly living in fresh-water swamps, sometimes they swim in the ocean. Local guide will lead the visitors, the encounter with the hippos is not always granted.
Arrive in Bissau a vehicle will be waiting for us for a brief city tour. Bissau is a tiny but intriguing capital, interesting old Portuguese architecture and a huge fort, a reminder of the slave trade era. Evening transfer to the airport.
UNIQUE DEPARTURES: This departure is part of the Trans-Sahara and West Africa Grand Expedition from Marrakech to Dakar and Cotonou.
EXPEDITION LEADERS: with long experience of West Africa, and knowledge of the regions and local cultures, assisted by local guides.
EXPLORATORY ITINERARY: This itinerary 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: a great variety of landscapes, cultures and nature go hand in hand with the choice of the different transports, each one being the best to discover and enjoy each different environment.
On land: for most of the itinerary on roads, tracks and virgin dunes, we will drive in 4WD air-conditioned vehicles, on some asphalt roads we will travel in air-conditioned minibus. For brief but funny rides we will experience colorful local bush Taxi, traditional calash and donkey chariot.
On water: ferry to Gorèe Island, speedboats for the three days of navigation at Bijagos Archipelago, fishermen’s boat in Naila lagune.
Yellow fever: mandatory for those participating at the part of the expedition from Senegal to Cotonou (from day 20 of the program).
Cholera: not required at the time of editing the program, please check before departure.
Malaria prophylaxis: absolutely recommended for those participating at the part of the expedition from Nouakchott (from day 20 of the program).
Morocco: Not required for most nationalities. Please check.
Mauritania: Required. We will obtain visas at the border (cost 55 Euro).
Senegal: Visa not needed for most nationalities including US, Canada and European union citizens. Please contact us for the complete list. If visa needed please obtain two entry visa.
The Gambia: Some nationalities do not need a visa, some others can obtain it at the border, a few others must obtain an invitation letter, please contact us in advance.
Guinea Bissau: Single-entry visa is required; we can obtain the visa during the expedition. Please inform us in advance.
Lunches: cold meals (picnics) or restaurants.
Dinners: in the hotels we will enjoy a great variety of fish 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, 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. Four star hotels in the capitals and more. Best available hotels inland, always with air-conditioned rooms.
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:
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.