West Africa Overland
From the Sahara to the Ocean

West Africa Overland – From the Ocean to the Sahara Tour – a 29 day Small Group Tour from £7645 per person.


This is a true expedition across the Sahara as we journey through Morocco, Western Sahara, Mauritania, Senegal, Gambia and Guinea Bissau. From Marrakech to the Atlantic coast of the largest desert on earth, to the interior of Western Sahara, this is an itinerary that we are proud to present.

Experience local authentic cultures including the most isolated Berber villages in the high Sarhro Mountains and cave-dwelling families.

Our North to South itinerary runs along the “uncertain border” between land and water: dunes and ocean, forest and lagoons, estuaries and islands.

Meet the legendary Reguibat and Saharawi nomads of the still untamed Western Sahara and Moorish nomads and camel herders, as well as fishermen living at the edge of the desert on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. In the south visit sacred forests where animistic traditional religions are still practised, witness fetish and shrines in remote villages, tribal kings, dancing masks and initiations in the sacred Archipelago.

We follow the route of migratory birds, a constant and discreet presence along the whole journey. This departure date has been carefully chosen to correspond with the migratory period: in autumn, when millions of birds leave Europe and Russia to winter in Africa.

We will discover the richest ornithological sanctuaries on earth and hopefully encounter the rare Salt water Hippos. The itinerary will reveal an astonishing range of different botanical species: from the strenuous flora of the desert to the luxuriant and gigantic plants of the forest.

Tour ratings.

  • Fitness
  • Off the beaten track 
  • Culture
  • History
  • Wildlife

Tour Pace

Busy

Tour style

Pioneer

Relaxed Pace

Relaxed tours are easy paced with plenty of leisure time built in. The tour will in all probability still be off the beaten track, with the occasional early start and there may still be occasional long drives. In general on a relaxed pace tour you can enjoy easy-going activities and experiences with opportunities to absorb the sights and immerse yourself in the local surroundings.

Moderate Pace

Moderate pace tours are ideal if you want a tour experience that combines activities and experiences with some time to relax. Typically you will be active and busy for part of the day but then also have time to rest and recharge your batteries. In general on a moderate paced tour there may be some long journeys involved but the tour is not an expedition or a road trip. On a moderate paced tour it will be necessary to have some early starts.

Busy Pace

A busy paced tour means that you can expect to be doing, seeing or experiencing something new almost every day, and moving on from place to place to pack in as much as possible. There may be early starts, long journeys and tiring days along the way, but you’ll return home feeling you’ve really experienced as much as you possibly could.

Pioneer Class Tours

On our Pioneer tours, you will be amongst an elite group of intrepid travellers and some of the first to explore a country that few have been privileged enough to discover. Of course, exploring such areas of the world will come with its challenges; it may mean several nights camping, long journeys by 4WD and the need to maintain a degree of flexibility for when carefully laid plans change. These are challenging tours in countries and areas that may have poor infrastructure, high levels of poverty and illiteracy. This can translate in to low standards in hotels, bad roads and poor driving standards among other issues. We try and smooth out as much of these issues as we can but you should be prepared to experience the bad with the good.

Traveller Class Tours

Our Traveller itineraries are at the core of our programme. These journeys are designed for travellers who still want to discover a land away from the tourist crowds but expect minimum standards. Accommodation will be primarily hotel based, although you could still find yourself camping, or the guest of a local family. Depending on the destination and itinerary, you’ll likely be travelling in a private vehicle, with occasional use of public transport. This is adventure travel with some of the rough edges smoothed out.

Itinerary.

Upon arrival in Marrakech transfer to hotel accommodation in the heart of the city. Overnight in a comfortable hotel.

Leaving Marrakech, we drive towards the High Atlas mountain range, gaining spectacular views towards the 2,093m Tizi n Test pass. We stop at Aït Benhaddou, a beautiful adobe ksar (fortified village) which is still partially inhabited and sits on the ancient caravan route linking Marrakech with the Sahara. The surrounding area has been the setting for many famous movies, including David Lean’s 1962 masterpiece, Lawrence of Arabia. In the evening we arrive at Ouarzazate, a large oasis town known as ‘the gate to the desert’, and another place with cinematic connections through its use as a location in HBO blockbuster, Game of Thrones. Overnight in a comfortable hotel. (BLD)

Today we explore little-visited regions of Jebel Sahro, following a remote track that climbs rocky valleys through a breathtaking landscape of mountains and desert. The goal is to reach a tiny village in a ‘secret valley’, hidden in a narrow depression and invisible to the surrounding highlands. This remarkable green miracle has an oasis, a stream and waterfalls. We arrive at Zagora Oasis in the evening. Overnight in a comfortable hotel. (BLD)

From Mhamid, where the Sahara begins, our 4WD enters a region of large dunes called Erg Chegaga. Crossing the dune sea, we reach the spectacular landscape of Iriqui saltwater lake, known for its fossil deposits, and continue towards Icht. Day 4 Overnight in a comfortable fixed camp with beds, restaurant and facilities, Day 5 Overnight in a comfortable hotel.  (BLD)

Travelling in a landscape of mountains, valleys and large palm-fringed oases, the road leads to Guelmim. Here we discover the vestiges of the ancient trans-Sahara camel caravan trade. Our route, in common with migratory birds, primarily follows the coast. We visit a ghostly military fort which still ‘guards’ the former border between the French protectorate of Morocco and Spanish Sahara. The surroundings feel like the set of a desert classic, a detachment of the French Foreign Legion just about to march into the frame. Later, in the afternoon we arrive at the comfortable Ksar Tafnidilt hotel, built using local materials in a beautiful Saharan style. The hotel is managed by our friends, Guy and Magali, a French couple. Magali is a desert expert, she won the 2,500km ‘Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles’ a gruelling off-piste vehicle rally reserved for female teams. Ksar Tifnidit is a meeting point for passionate Sahara travellers. Overnight at Ksar Tifnidit (BLD)

This morning we leave Ksar Tifnidit, crossing a steep range of dunes into the region of the Dra estuary, an area visited only by the most intrepid travellers. Between the cliffs and the Atlantic Ocean there are no paved roads. Along the way we find tiny temporary settlements of fishermen, abandoned colonial military posts, dunes… and camels. Leaving the coastline, we navigate our way along a dry riverbed at the base of a large canyon, the only possible path between high dunes, cliffs and the ocean. Later, we return to our hotel. Overnight at Ksar Tifnidit. (BLD)

Heading south, from the town of Tan-Tan the road again shadows steep cliffs plunging from the desert to the Atlantic Ocean. We visit the Naila lagoon, separated from the ocean by rows of dunes. It is the largest salt lake in Morocco and a protected area of great natural beauty with prolific migratory birdlife. In late afternoon we expect to arrive in the small town of Tarfaya on the Juby Cape, as the crow flies, less than 100 km from the Canary Islands. Tarfaya is a former ‘Aeropostale’ base, a system that pioneered airmail transport from Europe to Africa and Latin America. Overnight in Hotel Casamar or similar. (BLD)

Crossing into Western Sahara, at Laayoune we meet our guide, a Sahrawi nomad who will lead us on three days of a real desert expedition. Former Spanish Sahara has witnessed a long war between the Polisario Front and the Moroccan army. Morocco currently occupies a large western slice of Western Sahara, effectively annexing the territory, while areas to the east are controlled by the Polisario Front. Since the second half of the seventies, due to this long ‘sand war’, the region has been off-limits. No peace treaty has been signed, but a cease-fire in effect since 1991 is respected. We are among the first to bring intrepid travellers to the vast, sandy regions of Saguia El Hamra and Tiris Gharbia. In this true Saharan expedition, we cross large dunes and get off-the-beaten-track to discover wells frequented by camel caravans of the legendary Reguibat nomads.  Overnights on Days 9 and 10 will be wild camping. (BLD)

Our off-piste trans-Saharan expedition traverses a region of dunes, wells and the camps of nomadic camel herders. Later in the afternoon, we join a road that takes us closer to the ocean, in the evening arriving at a comfortable oceanfront hotel in Dakhla, our base for two nights. Overnight Hotel Doumss or similar. (BLD)

The exceptional beauty of the Dakhla peninsula make it a truly special place. Lately it’s become a hotspot for kite surfers, ideal water and wind conditions drawing a regular migration of enthusiasts from Europe and beyond.  Outside the town at Rio de Oro a 40km sea loch lies between cliffs and dunes. Here the landscape is spectacular, characterised by the intense blue of the ocean, banks of yellow sand, and green seaweed fields, while the brown rocks and white dunes form an island during high tide. The town of Dakhla itself was founded by Spanish navigators in 1502, then known as Villa Cisneros, and remains an intriguing crossroads of cultures. We visit the fishing harbour and have lunch at an oyster farm before driving along the shore. Later we return to our oceanfront hotel in Dakhla. (BLD)

Our journey continues, and a much-photographed sign soon indicates we’re crossing the Tropic of Cancer. Following the cliffs, only a very few vehicles populate this remote ‘highway’ heading south to Mauritania, the only open border from the Maghreb into West Africa. Arriving at the border, an isolated military post in the desert, we complete formalities and cross a few miles of no man’s land. This hinterland is strewn with hundreds of abandoned vehicles, their carcasses littering the desert. There used to be a minefield here, which has apparently been cleared. However, it’s best to follow recent tracks in the sand. Mad Max territory for sure. Beyond the wasteland lies a Mauritanian military post, and more bureaucracy. By the evening we’ll have arrived in Nouadhibou, terminus for the immense iron ore trains arriving from Choum. Overnight Hotel El Medina or similar. (BLD)

The next two days will be spent exploring the desert. Thanks to the experience of our staff and local guide, we’ll blaze our own trail, tracing an unmarked path in the sand known only to the people of the Inchiri region. This is one of the lesser-known parts of the Mauritanian desert – which is saying something. Here we’re unlikely to encounter people, but we will discover traces of ancient human presence, stone tools and pottery remains thousands of years old. Overnight mobile camp. (BLD)

The landscapes of Mauritania’s deserts and mountains are remarkable; valleys, high mountains, yellow dunes with peaks of red rock, and lost adobe villages at night lit only by the moon. We explore Amatlich Erg surely one of the most beautiful dune ranges in the region. Crossing the Adrar Mountains, we follow the Amorag track through a landscape of gorges and highlands. In the evening we arrive in the ancient caravan trading centre and holy site of Chinguetti where we’ll spend two nights. Overnight at La Gueila Guesthouse or similar. (BLD)

Chinguetti was once the capital of the Moorish Empire, and parts of the old stone town are still inhabited. Among the sandy back streets, a ramshackle library contains fascinating ancient manuscripts detailing astronomical observations and mathematical calculations. Just ask if you want to have a look. The town’s Ksar, made of white stone with five towers, is a remarkable example of Arabo-Berber architecture and well worth a visit. We spend the day amid the atmospheric old town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, considered the best preserved of Mauritania’s oasis settlements. Overnight at La Gueila Guesthouse or similar. (BLD)

Today we discover Ouadane, the most remote oasis settlement in Mauritania. Founded in 1147 and now mostly in ruins, some of the stone houses are still inhabited. This was an important caravan trading point between Maghreb and sub-Saharan. Afterwards we return to Chinguetti taking a route that follows the wadi. Overnight at La Gueila Guesthouse or similar. (BLD)

Early in the morning we continue through the desert to Nouakchott ‘the place of winds’, capital of Mauritania. Overnight Halima Hotel or similar. (BLD)

Today we depart for Senegal, heading for the border post at the natural frontier with Mauritania, the Senegal River. We cross over on a mobile bridge, almost immediately moving into a more humid climate between desert and dry savannah. The Djoudj National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a natural oasis formed by hundreds of miles of partially flooded lands. It’s an important habitat for over a million migratory and resident birds. A boat excursion allows us to experience the rich birdlife, in particular an island with an astonishing concentration of pelicans. Later, we arrive at the historic city of Saint-Louis. Dinner and overnight accommodation are at the at Hotel de la Poste, an historical hotel built in 1850 to accommodate ‘Aeropostale’ pilots. Sympathetically restored, it has the best old colonial atmosphere in town. (BLD)

Today we take a morning tour of Saint-Louis, a charming colonial old town and the first capital of all the French colonies in West Africa. The best way to navigate the narrow streets is to follow the local example and hop aboard an open, horse-drawn calash. In the late morning we leave the city and head south, driving over 100km along the beach, crossing dune ranges, to reach the desert of Lompoul and our overnight stop. Overnight in a fixed camp. (BLD)

Today head further south to Lac Rose, also known as Lac Retba, a shallow saltwater lake surrounded by dunes. The water is ten times saltier than the ocean and often shimmers under the sun in shades of pink. Here, more than 600 people still collect salt the traditional way. Later we visit the largest fishing village in Senegal, where more than 4,500 pirogues land their catch each day. Arriving into Dakar, our first stop is the ‘village des arts’, composed of more than fifty workshops occupied by contemporary artists. We will meet some of the artists and see their works, ranging from painting, sculpture and pottery to photography and film.  Afterwards we leave our vehicles at the port and board a ferry to Ile de Gorée. Gorée has a dark history. Along with other deep-water ports, it was a transhipment point where slaves loaded into ships and transported to the plantations of the Americas, never to see Africa again. Some restored buildings remain to bear witness to this trade in human misery. However, today Ile de Gorée’s breezy climate and ancient architecture, together with good restaurants and boutiques, attract visitors from Dakar and beyond. Overnight at Maison Municipal or similar. (BLD)

Today we return to Dakar and visit the city. We explore the central Plateau district, the Presidential Palace and a typical city market. After lunch we drive to Kaolack. Overnight Hotel Le Relais or similar. (BLD)

This morning we break for the border with Gambia, crossing the Gambia River on a very rustic ferry. We have lunch in Banjul and visit the town centre and its surprisingly interesting National Museum. Overnight at the comfortable Senegambia Hotel, located in a large park containing 70% of Gambia’s bird species. (BLD)

This morning we take brief guided birdwatching walk before departing for the border with Casamance, the southern region of Senegal. In the afternoon we have the chance to observe the sacred mask dances of the Diola people, rarely seen by foreigners. The mask belongs to a secret society and the identity of dancers is not revealed. The dances are colourful and an authentic West African experience. It’s said the mask is animated by the spirits. Overnight at Kadianoumange Hotel or similar. (BLD)

Crossing the border into Guinea-Bissau, we enter a region inhabited by the Manjaco ethnic group. We visit tiny villages hidden in the forest to witness carved wooden poles called ‘pecab’, representing spirits of the ancestors, in a sanctuary known as the ‘Cab Balugun’. After gaining permission from the villagers, we see other different generations and styles of sacred wooden sculptures. This encounter is one of the last chances to appreciate tribal art in its original cultural context. Overnight Hotel Mar Azul or similar. (BLD)

Today we start a three-day sailing adventure among the 88 island and islets in the Bijagos Archipelago, some 65km from mainland Africa. Among highlights on Orango, largest of the islands, is the spectacular mask dance known as Vaca Bruto (wild bull). All the villagers attend this fascinating ceremony where masks with eyes of frosted glass, real horns, leather ears and a rope through the nostrils are animated by bucking dancers. Exhausting just to watch. Overnight at Orango in a comfortable hotel. (BLD)

Orango, part of the Parque Natural do Grupo das Ilhas de Orango, is covered by savannah and is known for its unique saltwater hippos. From October to early February it is possible to follow their tracks. However, as they roam the island searching for saltwater ponds even local guides find that they’re difficult to track down. Later today we arrive at Rubane island. Overnight in a comfortable hotel. (BLD)

This morning our first stop today is Bolama and the town of the same name. Bolama was the former capital of Portuguese Guinea from 1871 to 1941 before it was moved to Bissau. When the Portuguese left, local people occupied the town’s administrative buildings. It’s now semi-ghost town, wide avenues inhabited by wandering herds of goats, grand colonial architecture crumbling under the weight of tropical vegetation. Later, we set sail for Bissau and on arrival take a tour of the new capital. This is the end of our remarkable journey. In the evening day rooms are available at a hotel in Baiana square, allowing you to freshen up before late evening transfers to the airport for onward flights. (BL)

Mapped itinerary.

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West Africa Overland - From the Sahara to the Ocean Tour Map

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Dates & Price.

From the Sahara to the Ocean

13 Nov 2020 to 11 Dec 2020

£7645 per person / Single Supplement £875

Call us to book your place


Can’t make the whole thing? Then shorter options of this incredible tour are available:

Marrakech to Dakar (22 Days) – call for prices

Marrakech to Nouakchott (19 Days) – call for prices

Marrakech to Dakhla (12 Days) – call for prices

Laayoune to Nouakchott (12 Days) – call for prices

Dakhla to Bissau (19 Days) – call for prices

Nouakchott to Bissau (11 Days) – call for prices


Tour Notes

Single Supplement from £875 for the full 29 day tour.

Return flights from London to Marrakech and returning from Bissau start at £650. Contact us for a quotation

We include airport transfers in the price of your tour if you are arriving on the first day and leaving on the last day of the advertised itinerary. These will be provided by our local representative or on occasions by the hotel used for the first and last nights of the tour. When the transfer is provided by the hotel this will often be via a shared shuttle bus operated by the hotel. If you are planning to arrive before the start date, and/or leave after the end date of the tour, Undiscovered Destinations can arrange private transfers at an additional cost. Please check with us at the time of booking.

Please note that if you have arranged extra pre and/or post tour accommodation, either through Undiscovered Destinations or directly with the hotel or an agent, airport transfers are not included in the price of your tour. Please contact us if you would like Undiscovered Destinations to arrange private airport transfers at an additional cost.

Tour inclusions.

  • Arrival and departure transfers provided on a shared or private basis depending on location. On occasions the transfer will be operated by a hotel shuttle bus (*please see notes below)
  • All accommodation
  • Services of English speaking guide / tour leader
  • Full board from Breakfast on Day 2 to Lunch on Day 29
  • Entrance fees for sites listed as part of the itinerary

Tour exclusions.

  • International flights
  • Any airport taxes
  • Travel Insurance
  • Visas
  • Additional drinks

A very enjoyable time. Our guide Francesca was excellent, she was on top of all the arrangements. I was really impressed. The itinerary was great and really saw unusual and interesting things every day. Particularly loved the Bijagos Islands, at the full moon saw green turtles nesting, laying eggs and babies hatching and running to the sea.

Pamela Stubing, USA