Day 1: MARRAKECH Morocco
Individual arrival. Morocco
Overnight at the comfortable hotel, in the heart of Marrakech.
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 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 along the ancient caravan route linking Marrakech with the Sahara. Over the years, in this Ksar have been shot many famous movies, such as 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 in Ouarzazate, large oasis at the edge of the desert. Dinner and overnight in an international hotel.
Day 3: REMOTE VALLEYS, CAVERN DEWELERS AND ROCK ART Morocco
Early morning departure. Following a steep track from valley to valley we will meet shepherd families still living in caves. A highland itinerary (often at more than 6000 Ft. ) to explore the least 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 crosses an arid spectacular mountain landscape: picks, tabular rocks, rare nomad tends and tiny Berber villages. Visit of a rock painting site, silent witness of peoples living in these regions before the desertification.
Arrival in the evening at Zagora Oasis, dinner and overnight in hotel, comfortable rooms
Day 4 & 5: DUNES Morocco
We will leave 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 fixed camp.
We will start the day driving out of any tracks, crossing ranges of dunes to reach Iriki dry Salt Lake. Arrival in the late afternoon at Icht, a comfortable fixed-tended camp in the desert; Air-conditioned bungalows and tents with beds, private facilities, restaurant, swimming pool.
Day 6: CARAVAN ROUTE & ANCIEN FORTS 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 being 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 to female teams. Ksar Tafnidilt is a meeting point for passionate Sahara travellers; the hotel will be our base for two nights.
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 dares 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 drive for miles on a wild beach between dunes and ocean. Left the coastline, we find ourselves in a dry riverbed (Ouadi) within a large canyon: the only possible path between desert, cliffs and the 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 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 birds’ migratory way, it 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 architecture. In Tarfaya, Saint Exupéry the famous aviator and writer, author of “The little prince” was familiar.
Hotel Casamar, rooms with private facilities.
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 off-road desert 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 a cease-fire is respected. We are proud to be the “first” to bring intrepid travellers 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. Arrival at Hotel Doumss, air-conditioned rooms, our base for two nights.
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 to 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 13: BORDER: A LINE IN THE SAND Morocco / Mauritania
Our route goes on following the cliff between the desert and the ocean. We follow the only open road going south. A signboard indicates that we are crossing 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 drive for a few miles along a “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 14 & 15: SAHARA EXPLORATION Mauritania
Early morning departure for a two days-pure exploration. Thanks to the experience of our staff, we will make or own way tracing an unmarked path in the sand ocean of Inchiri region, one of the least known parts of Mauritanian desert. To cross long ranges of dunes, we will decrease the tire pressure, gps, maps, compass will assist our land-navigation in an untouched geological universe. The real desert makes people feel like the first men on Earth. In the Sahara you can discover traces of ancient human presence: stone tools, pieces of potteries. 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 and the nomads living in the Inchiri are not used to tourists.
Two nights of mobile camp.
Day 16 ADRAR: DUNES AND MOUNTAINS Mauritania
Mauritania gives you even more scenic landscape: 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. In Mauritania we will visit remotes oasis and hidden adobe villages.
Evening arrival to Chinguetti where we will spend three nights. Dinner and overnight in a cosy guest house built in traditional Mauritanian style, (or private comfortable residence).
Day 17: CHINGUETTI, THE OASIS Mauritania
Chinguetti is an ancient caravan terminal and important trading point between north and Black Africa.
The actual citadel dates back to the XIII century and is a cross-point of different trans-Saharan routes. 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” to not be vanished into the sand.
Interesting buildings are 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 cosy guest house.
Day 18: OUADANE, THE REMOTEST Mauritania
We will drive to Ouadane in an absolute “out of any tracks” itinerary that follows the Ouadi (dry creek), discovering remote tiny oasis hidden in the high dunes. Entire day discovering Ouadane and its region, the remotest oasis in Mauritania, an outpost in the emptiness of the desert. Ouadane was founded in 1147, while most of it felt 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 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. Dinner and overnight at “La Gueila” (or private residence).
Day 19: NOUKCHOTT Mauritania
Entire day driving on a panoramic road in the Sahara. Evening arrival to Nouakchott the capital of Mauritania, a recent town surrounded by the desert. Dinner and overnight in the comfortable Halima hotel.
Day 20: DJOUDJ NATIONAL PARK Mauritania / Senegal
Early morning departure for the border 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 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
In the morning, visit of Saint Louis, the 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 is on board of the 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 in fancy fix camp, en-suite tents. Dinner at the restaurant on the high part of the dunes.
Day 22: FROM FISHERMAN VILLAGE TO DAKAR METROPOLIS 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 leave our vehicles for a less intrusive, but fun, donkey chariot to approach the fisherman selling the fish to the women, the queen of the market, 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 collect salt from the lake in the traditional way.
Arrival to Dakar, ferry to Gorée Island, the right time to enjoy Gorée is at sunset when all tourists are gone or 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 its nice restaurants and boutiques, make Gorée an interesting and trendy destination for local and foreign visitors.
Dinner in a typical restaurant and overnight at “Maison Municipal” or similar. A comfortable Guest house in an ancient, restored building.
Day 23: LIVE MUSIC & FUSION CUISINE Senegal
In the morning, we end the Gorée visit that includes the interesting museum with historical and pre-historical artefact and a “gallery” of a local artist. Ferry to Dakar, lunch at Le Bedeew an open-space restaurant in a tropical garden, known for its Word Cuisine, it is a trendy meeting point in Dakar. Drive to the hotel, late afternoon free time to relax or stroll in town. In the evening, we will go to a club to enjoy some live music and lively vibes. Overnight at the Le Djoloff Boutique hotel, good example of a balanced mix traditional African style and modern comfort. Or similar.
Day 24: AFRICAN METROPOLIS Senegal
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. Visit to the “Musée des Civilisations Noires”, where we can admire great collections of Tribal Art, textiles, and contemporary local art, the “Plateau” district, the Presidential Palace, a typical market. Lunch back to our special fishing club restaurant. In the afternoon, visit to a typical market, the totally restored Dakar-Bamako railway station, a great example of colonial architecture, galleries and handicraft marketsl. Return to Le Djoloff hotel. Or similar.
Days 25: RIVER HARBOUR Senegal
We head to Kaolak town, in a region of salt pounds. Lunch in a restaurant. Kaolak is an important port for exporting peanuts and salt from Senegal and nearest countries.
Dinner and Overnight at the comfortable air-conditioned bungalows of Relais de Kaolak or Kabacoto Safari Lodge, facing a lake and lagoons ***, or similar.
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 1102 erected stones. We cross the border with Gambia and take a “very local” ferry crossing the large Gambia River estuary to reach Banjul, the capital. Visit to the centre and to the national museum. Optional: music in town.
Dinner and overnight at Atlantic Hotel or Kairaba Beach hotel ****, swimming pool.
Day 27: DANCING MASK Gambia – Casamance ( Senegal)
Morning, brief but intense guided bird watching experience.
Departure for the border with Casamance, the southern region of Senegal.
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 colourful crowd will enliven the tiny village in the shade of larges kapok trees.
Dinner and overnight at the comfortable Kadiandoumange hotel ***, located on the bank of Casamance large river, swimming pool.
Day 28: ANCESTORS CULT Senegal – Guinea Bissau
Crossing of Guinea Bissau border., we enter the region of the Manjaco ethnic group, here we will visit tiny villages hidden in the forest to discover the sculptured wooden poles called “Pecab” representing the spirits of their ancestors, the “Pecab” are located in a sanctuary known as “Cab Balugun”. After asking for the permission to the villagers, 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. Arrival at Bissau .Dinner and overnight at Azalai Hotel ****. Or similar
Day 29: BIJAGOS SACRED ARCHIPELAGO: THE GHOST CAPITAL Guinea Bissau
We will start a three days 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”.
Bolama was the former capital of the Portuguese Guinea from 1871. In 1941 the capital was moved to Bissau and when the Portuguese left, native people came to live in this town which is now falling apart, partly invaded by tropical vegetation. Bolama, which has been built according to the style of a «Castrum Romane» (roman citadel), is now a good mix of straight large avenues, sunny and lethargic empty squares, dry fountains, bush-like gardens and 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.
Dinner and overnight at Ponta Anchaca Resort **** in comfortable air-conditioned wooden bungalows, hidden in the vegetation and facing the ocean. Restaurant on stilts with refined French and tropical cuisine. This lodge will be our base for two days.
Day 30: VACA BRUTO DANCING CEREMONY Guinea Bissau
Short navigation to Bubaque island, the “capital” of Bijagos Archipelago, its market and the tiny museum.
Afternoon: due to the remoteness, the lack of transports and the deep attachment of the locals to their traditions, the Bijagos tribes 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, when the harvest is over, the main 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.
Retour to our comfortable Ponta Anchaca Resort **** in comfortable air-conditioned wooden bungalows, hidden in the vegetation and facing the ocean. Restaurant on stilts with refined French and tropical cuisine.
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 is fresh-water swamps, some time they could swim in the ocean. Local guide will lead the visitors, you might not see the hippos.
A vehicle will be waiting for us for a brief city tour. Bissau is a tiny but intriguing capita, with old Portuguese architecture and a huge fort, a reminder of the slave trade era.
Day 32: GRIOT: THE AFRICAN TROBADORS Guinea Bissau
Early morning departure. After lunch, we leave the main road for a small village in the Malinké region.
The Malinké are the descendants of the ancient Mali Empire and are spread on the current territory of Mali, Guinea Conakry Ivory Coast, Senegal and Guinea Bissau. Griots are musicians and story tellers dating back to the XIII century. The village we visit is known for the Griot families that have maintained these traditions from the time of the Empire. Well-known also for their skills in producing musical instruments, they will perform a concert for us., Arrival at Gabu. Dinner and overnight at the new hotel Karsa ***, air-conditioned self-contained rooms.
Day 33: THE LARGEST MOUNTAIN MASSIF Guinea Bissau – Guinea Conakry
An old and manually pulled barge will allow us to cross Rio Corubal, the natural border between the two Guineas and bring us to the small border posts of Guinea Conakry in a region inhabited by the Malinké and the Fulla (Peul) tribes; stopover in some villages where the arrival of foreigners is a very rare event.
After having joint the main road, we will start our exploration of the Fouta Djalon massif; its fresh and salubrious climate made it the preferred holiday-place by the French during the colonial era. Considered the most spectacular area of Guinea, thanks to the mountains, plateau and savannah and deep valleys, the Fouta Djalon is considered a “water reservoir”, as a matter of fact, 3 rivers that give name to four nations: Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Gambia, have their offspring in Guinea. This territory is inhabited by the Fulani, famous for their beauty and their skills as stockbreeders of cow of the West Africa. We will visit isolated villages, with large clay houses decorated with bas relief, high conical roofs with several layers of straw.
Evening arrival to Labe and overnight at the basic but comfortable and clean Hotel Tata, self-contain bungalows with A/C.
Day 34: FOUTA DJALON Guinea Conakry
Full day dedicated to discover the Fouta Djalon, where the mountains meet the savannah, deep valley and the highest waterfalls are framed by the forest, all in all a pristine landscape. After having asked for the permission to the Peul, we will be received by the chiefs and dignitaries siting in council in a very large clay round hut with a decorated grass roof. Arrival at Dalaba at 1200 m. ( 3900 Ft.) altitude. Dinner and overnight at a new and comfortable hotel, Safitel ***. Air-conditioned self-contain rooms.
Day 35: AFRICAN BAS-RELIEF Guinea Conakry
Visit to Dalaba, to the small and quiet town. Of an interest is the “casa a palabra” (the house of words) with fine bas-relief in a pure Peul architectonical style. Here the chiefs used to gather to meet the colonial administration. Visit to the villa built by the colonial governor and later used by the first president of independent Guinea. The leader of the independence was Sekou Touré, one of the most radical anti-colonials; he refused any cooperation with the French and he made connections with the Sovietic Union and Ceausescu. Some villas used by the ministers and by the guests of Sekou Touré are reminiscences of that time. In a today ruined villa, Miriam Makeba met and married Stokley Carmichael, an exile from the US who was among the inspirators of the armed wing of Black Panthers. We will live Dalaba following the southern slope of the massif to reach Mamou, an interesting trading town, visit to the market.
Days 36 and 37: MASKS IN THE FOREST Guinea – Sierra Leone
A tiny small track will bring us to a small border with a remote area of Sierra Leone, crossing rivers in the forest, using old manually pulled barges. Arrival at the village of Kamakwie, in this region, where foreigners are rare, if lucky, we will assist to traditional dances and the coming out of sacred masks, called “devils”.
Next day drive heading to Freetown peninsula.
DAY 38: FREETOWN PENINSULA Sierra Leone
Freetown origins: in 1786 the first 308 freed slaves came to Sierra Leone from America where they have fought in the independence war on the side of the British, after having lost the war the British sent them to Sierra Leone. Few months after their arrival, the newcomers were starving, got new and unknown diseases and fight with the locals, who hardly stand them. Few years after during a Napoleonic war, Freetown has been attacked by seven vessels of the French navy and destroyed. Few survivors escape on the pirogues sent by… the slaves’ traders… From 1807, due to the abolition of the slave trade by the British Empire, the ships of the slave’s traders caught by the British navy freed the slaves in Sierra Leone.
In 1808 Freetown became the capital45 of the first British colony in tropical Africa. At that time Krio, or ex slaves, were more than 50.000 creating an elite who put pressure on the colonial administration for a better education. In 1845 was built Fourah Bay the first University in west Africa. During Colonial time Freetown was known as the “Athens of West Africa”. Drive along the coast at the slopes of the Freetown peninsula mountains… only the yellow of the beaches divide the green of the lush vegetation from the blue of the ocean. The country has been named after these mountains, the mountains of lion. A local boat will bring us to Banana island. Dinner and Overnight at the cozy Bafa Lodge that will be our base for two nights: fix tents hidden in the forest facing the sea. Fine cuisine based on the catch of the day (other meals available, ask in advance).
Day 39: BANANA ISLAND Sierra Leone
Full day dedicated to circumnavigate, explore, walk and discover this pristine island with mountains in large primary forests, villages and remote beaches. For the more adventurous a half day walk to explore the forest or continue the circumnavigation of the island. Lunch picnic, dinner and overnight at our unique Bafa Lodge fix camp.
Day 40: BUNDO: FEMALE MASKS Sierra Leone
Brief navigation, to join our vehicles and departure in direction north east.
In most parts of Africa, the masks are male’s prerogative, however among the Mende people and neighbours population,s the masks Bundo are a female’s domain and they have crucial role in the initiation rites. We reach a tiny village to assist at the exit of these masks, an event that calls for the participation of a colourful crowd.
Dinner and overnight at comfortable hotel Dohas, rooms with A/C and en-suite, or similar.
Day 41: DIAMONDS Sierra Leone – Liberia
Diamond seeking is addictive as gambling and the possibility of finding a “fortune” become true just for the few most lucky. Diamonds have played an important role in the recent civil war. The quantity and quality of “stones” still to find is important. We will take a track to reach a village with huts made by clay and straw. After asking for the permission to the chief, some villagers will take us to the site where we can meet the diamonds’ seekers. A local will explain us the technics of artisanal mining and “sand washing”. A spectacular road in the forest will bring us to the Mano River and to the border with Liberia. After the formalities, we will continue to reach Monrovia in the evening.
Day 42: “LIBERIA”: THE LAND OF FREEMEN Liberia
Liberia is the only African country which has never been either a colony or a protectorate; Liberia was founded by Krio, the freed slaves who came back to Africa from America, for this reason was named “Liberia”. Krio are 5% of the population and they are the main actors of the economy and politics, they are considered the creator of the Nation and of the modern economy . 80% of the population speaks the Krio language, a sort of American-English “Pidgin”.
Our ocean-view hotel is the right starting point to have a interesting walking-visit of town. Freemasonry had a great impact on the history of Liberia and Krio culture, visit of the Grand Masonic Temple imposing building, and if will be luck meeting with the Grand Master. A symbol of Monrovia is what left of the Ducor Palace Hotel, inaugurated in 1960 was one of the first five stars in Africa. Located on a rocky hill in the highest point of Monrovia, dominate the whole town and the gulf. The hotel hosted social events and parties of the African elites at the time just after independence. In the large swimming pool facing the ocean Idi Amin used to swim caring his gun at the belt while his friend Miriam Makeba was singing. After the civil war the building was looted several times, the hotel is now abandoned and closed, but seeking the right permission, we may be able to visit it.
In 2008 the government made a deal with Ghaddafi to rebuild this hotel, however the project, as many other Libyan development projects in Africa, never came to conclusion thanks to the war that Europe and America made to overthrow Ghaddafi.
The building of the National Museum his himself a display of Krio traditional architecture, within we discover a large collection of ancient masks and ritual objects. The visit includes a photographic show about the civil war which took place between 1989 and 2003. Old colonial buildings, stone Krio churches will be also part of this intriguing town visit.
Lunch and departure for Gbarnga.
Day 43: AFRICAN WILD FORESTS Liberia – Guinea Conakry
Early morning departure for a day of driving to the northern part of Liberia and to the greatest forest region of Guinea Conakry. Crossed the border, we will continue through larges rubber plantation (hevea) to reach Nzerekore and Macenta in a hilly and luxuriant landscape. After dinner we leave the hotel to join a village and participate to a spectacular event: the masks will leave the forest and dance at the light of a large fire….
Day 44: BIRD MEN, TOMA MASKS & LIANA BRIDGE Guinea Conakry
A small track in the lush vegetation will bring us to a remote village to assist to one of the most spectacular and less known sacred dances of West African forests: the dance of the Bird Men. The Bird Men have their face painted in Kaolin and are totally dressed in feathers, they belong to a special initiation community, that has secretly passed from father to son over the centuries. The Bird Men are believed to hold magical powers that can make them invisible and they are the best messengers during tribal wars, able to cross the enemy lines. Tom-tom drummers and all the village will participate to the event.
This region hides many secrets. The liana bridges are masterpieces of an authentic “tribal technology” and can measure up to 70 m. They are built exclusively with vegetal materials, as wood and lianas without the use of nails or rope nor other materials external to the forest. Only the initiated can harvest the lianas and woods and they leave them in the forest, it is believed that a powerful spirit will build the bridge overnight. To guarantee the secrecy of this “magical technology”, during the preparation of a new bridge, neither women nor not-initiated are allowed in the forest technology”. Arrival to Nzerekore after an intense day. Dinner and Overnight at hotel Bethanie, self-contain air-conditioned rooms.
Day 45: PRIMATES Guinea Conakry – Ivory Coast
Early morning heading to Bossou village in time for a walk to discover a forest, where a group of chimpanzees (Pan Troglodytes) lives. The inhabitants consider them the reincarnation of their ancestors and therefore hunting them is a taboo. The chimpanzee are constantly monitored by the researchers and therefore they are easy to approach.
The track will bring us to a remote border with Ivory Coast. When mountain Tonkpi, with its pic, comes into view, we will be close to our destination. The small town of Man, surrounded by 18 green mountains is the capital of the We, Dan and Guéré ethnic groups, known for their masks, considered among the masterpieces of Africa. We will spend two nights at our hotel in Man.
Day 46: DAN MASKS Ivory Coast
Full day dedicated to discover the Man region. In a nearby tiny village, masks will emerge from the forest. According to the cosmogony of Dan people, there is a supreme god that creates the world and communicates with humans only through its intermediaries: the masks. During the masks’ dance, the distance between the humans and the spirits disappears, the cosmic and the social orders are restored, and gratitude is expressed to the gods and the ancestors. Dan Masks are one of the finest tribal masks. Man’s market is an important market with villagers coming from the region and from the neighbours countries. It will be possible to find a wild choice of handicraft and, with some luck, authentic tribal masks and ritual objects.
Day 47: MAGIC TRADITIONS Ivory Coast
Full day dedicated to discover the masks and the magic traditions.
Only 4×4 vehicles are good to drive to remote villages in the forest to encounter the Guere ethnic group, where the arrival of foreigners is a rare event. We will discover the powerful Guéré Mask dances, and (if we are lucky) the rare “Jugglers” performances. Girls initiatory juggling is an ancient tradition, now vanishing, and we have been able to discover one of the last villages where it is still practiced.
If Dan’s masks are considered among the more refined examples of beauty and aesthetic, Guéré masks are known for the powerful and rough aspect. Return to the main road to reach the town of Daloa in the evening. Diner and overnight at Hotel La Grace, self-contain airconditioned rooms ***, or similar.
Day 48: CATHEDRAL IN THE SAVANNAH Ivory Coast
Day of driving southbound . We continue our journey across coffee and cocoa plantations, dotted only by small villages. Ivory Coast is the world’s main cocoa producer, the second is Ghana and together they represent more than half of the world production of cocoa.
In a village, we attend the Zaouli dancing masks which is a traditional dance of the Guro tribe. The Zaouli mask, was created in the 1950s, probably inspired by a girl named “Djela Lou Zaouli”.,however, the stories on the origins of the mask are varied and each mask can have its own symbolic history. The uniqueness of Zaouli dance is the fine and sophisticated movement of the legs and the fits.
In the afternoon, arrival to Yamoussoukro, the country’s formal capital since 1983 and the native village of Houphouët-Boigny, the first President of the Ivory Coast. Here the Ivorian dream of the 1970s and 1980s has come true, the dream of a country that, despite its shortage of major natural resources, has built up the most flourishing economy of French West Africa.
We visit the Basilica of the Virgin of Peace, inspired by St Peter’s in Rome and the largest Christian building on earth, the high colourful glass windows are unique. In the city, we see wide boulevards where the few cars try to avoid the big potholes, Zebus and chickens, he huge government buildings, the lofty hotels up to 14 floors high and even an artificial lake inhabited by crocodiles, everything has an abandoned look.
Day 49: ABIDJAN, SKYSCRAPERS AND LAGOONS Ivory Coast
We take the motorway to reach Abidjan, arrival in the late morning. Beyond the lagoon, the “plateau” (the City District) is growing very fast, while most of the African cities grow vertically, Abidjan grows horizontally.. Not much land is available and the little available must be continually recovered from the waters of the Ebrié Lagoon. The modern City District is defined to the west by the harbour and its endless queues of people waiting for a public boat, and to the east by the silhouette of Saints Peter & Paul Cathedral. The chaotic traffic is the negative result of the fast-economic development of this country, that after the civil war has, some time, reached the 6% of the GDP.
Day 50: GRAND BASSAM Ivory Coast
Drive to Grand Bassam: old town built on a sand bank between the lagoon and the ocean. It was the former capital of the French Ivory Coast colony and now a maritime leisure resort for the Abidjanese. Thanks to its calm avenues shaded by tall trees, large bougainvillea and well-preserved colonial buildings, Grand Bassam has a magic atmosphere. The old post office is a jewel of colonial architecture. The Costume Museum, in the former governor’s palace, with its large outer staircase is a true architectural gem and its unique collection of tribal costumes, masks, ornaments and ethnographic photographs gives an interesting perception of the country’s history and culture. Continuation to the East, to the small town of Aboisso.
Day 51: GOLD COAST Ivory Coast – Ghana
Early departure, drive to the border with Ghana border. Once in Axim, we will visit St Antonio fort, built by the Portuguese in 1515 along the estuary of Ankobra River, in a region rich in Gold. The coast of Ghana is unique in whole Africa for the concentration of ancient castles and forts. Over three centuries, more than 80 fortifications were built by the Europeans, to trade gold, ivory and slaves.. The abundance of gold led the first Portuguese navigators, who discovered this region in the XV century, to name it The Gold Coast, and this has been the name till the independence of Ghana in 1957. Evening arrival to Anomabu Beach resort, where we will spend two nights. Air-Conditioned self -bungalows near the ocean.
Day 52: ELMINA’S UNIQUE ATMOSPHERE Ghana
Full day dedicated to discover the ancient slave trade castles and syncretic animistic shrines.
After a stop at Cape Coast, we will visit Elmina Castle, the oldest European building in Africa, erected by the Portuguese in the 1482. Over the times, the castle has been used as a warehouse to trade gold, ivory and eventually slaves. Nowadays,the castle is the result of multiple extension works and it is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Facing the castle, we can find the fishing harbour with hundreds of colourful and large fishing wooden canoes. In the old town and neighbours, we will discover the Posuban, shrines of the “Asafo companies” where the Asafo “warriors” still pour libations. The alleys in the old town have a unique atmosphere, bringing us back long time before the colonial era, when Elmina was the first place of fixed exchanges between Europe and Sub Sahara Africa. Dinner and overnight: return to our bungalows at Anomabu Beach Resort, or similar.
Day 53: ACCRA “THE CAPITAL” Ghana
The capital of Ghana has maintained its special identity despite the fast-paced development currently underway in this intriguing African metropolis. We explore the old of James Town area, inhabited by the local population known as the Ga. Our tour ends with the visit to a workshop where they are specialized in building fantasy coffins. These special handcrafted coffins can take on any shape: fruits, animals, fishes, cars, airplanes…. the only limit being the imagination! Dinner and overnight in the town central district at Villa Boutique *** self-contain air-conditioned rooms, or similar. Optional, Accra vibes: evening at one of the more typical music club in town.
Day 54: LOME: COSMOPOLITAN AND STYLISH CAPITAL Ghana – Togo
Morning departure to the Togo border.
Lome, the vibrant capital of Togo, is the only African city which has been ruled by the Germans, the British and the French and has attract traders from different African countries. It is also one of the rare capitals in the world bordering another nation. These elements have developed a unique lifestyle of its inhabitants, of is multi facet cuisine and is the architecture. Lome is a meeting point for people, trade and cultures, a cosmopolitan, in human size, capital. We will visit: the central market with its famous “Nana Benz”, women who control the market of the expensive “pagne” (colourful cloths) sold all over West Africa, the colonial buildings and the largest “fetish market” in whole Africa, where we can find an eclectic assortment of all the necessary ingredients for love potions and magical concoctions and Voodoo incantation.
Day 55: VOODOO Togo -Benin
Voodoo is the main religion in the coastal area of Togo and Benin and authentic ceremonies are common: the frenetic rhythm of drums and the chants of the adepts “call” the Voodoo spirits who will picks some participants to possess, when this happens, the person falls into a deep trance: the eyes roll back, grimaces, convulsions, insensitivity to fire or pain. Sakpata, Heviosso, Mami Water are just some of the voodoo divinities who can manifest… Surrounded by the magic atmosphere of the ceremony, we will understand what people mean when they say: “In your Churches you pray God; in our Voodoo shrine we become Gods!”.
Border with Benin and arrival to the small town of Grand Popo. Dinner and overnight at the charming Auberge de Gran Popo, ocean-front ancient colonial building totally restored.
Day 56: OUIDAH, AFRO-BRASILIAN CULTURE Benin
Between lagoons and ocean, we will discover Zangbeto cult. Zangbeto Mask is very tall and covered in coloured straw. It represents wild, non-human spirits (the forces of nature and of the night that inhabited the Earth before human). The mask wearers belong to a secret society and keep their identity hidden as the non-initiated cannot know who they are. When Zangbeto dances is an event for the village. Its performance guarantees protection against bad spirits and witchcraft. The spinning movement of the mask symbolizes the spiritual cleaning of the village and Zangbeto also performs « miracles » to prove it powers.
Drive to Ouidah, this small town was conquered by the Dahomey African Kingdom during the 18th century to become is main slave shipping port. We start the visit following the “slave road” to the beach, the door of “no return” where slaves were shipped to the “new world”. Ouidah enjoys a rare Afro-Brazilian architecture, where the python temple faces the Catholic Cathedral. The laid-back attitude of the locals blends with the thunder of the distant waves and the rhythm of the drums – a timeless atmosphere well described by Bruce Chatwin in his novel “The Vice-Roy of Ouidah”. On foot we visit the Python Temple and the Portuguese Fort, now a small but interesting museum on the history of Ouidah, the transatlantic slave trade and the links that the trade has created between Guinea Gulf countries and the Caribbean Voodoo culture .
Dinner and Overnight at Hotel Casa del Papa **** or similar, ocean front bungalows, wild beaches, swimming pool. (Air-conditioned bungalows en suite).
Day 57: THE STILTS VILLAGE Benin
Drive for miles on the fisherman track between endless yellow beaches, tall palm trees straw huts and colourful pirogues. We will leave our vehicles and cross Lake Nokwe on a motorized boat to reach Ganvié, the largest and most beautiful African village on stilts. The approximately 25,000 inhabitants are part of the Tofinou ethnic group and build their wooden houses on teak stilts. Breeding fish with an ancient tribal technology is their main activity. Ganvié has managed to preserve its traditions and environment despite the long-lasting human presence in a closed setting; and the lake is not over-fished. Daily life unfolds in the dugout canoes that adults and children row with ease using brightly coloured paddles. From these canoes men fishing, women expose goods at the “floating market”, children go to school and play, in Ganvie children are said to learn to swim first than to walk.
Day room available in Cotonou and transfer to the airport.