From the Sahara to the Ocean


From the Sahara to the Ocean

Style: PioneerGroundbreaking tours to unique destinations
Duration: 28 days
Type: GroupSmall group tours with a maximum of 12 travellers

Itinerary

Day 1 – October 25th - Marrakech

Arrival in Marrakech. Transfer to a comfortable hotel in the heart of Marrakech. 

Day 2 - The High Atlas

Leaving Marrakech, we climb the High Atlas range with spectacular views up to the Tizi n Test pass, 2000m altitude. We stop at Ait 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 area has also been the setting for many famous movies including Lawrence of Arabia. We will arrive in the evening at Ouarzazate, a large oasis at the edge of the desert. Overnight in a comfortable hotel. (BLD)

Day 3 – The Secret Valley

We will leave the main track to explore the less frequently visited regions of the Djebel (mountains) Sarhro. We will follow a small, remote track that climbs rocky valleys through a breathtaking landscape of mountains and desert. The goal will be to reach a tiny village in a “secret paradise valley” that we have recently discovered. Hidden in a narrow depression and invisible to the surrounding highlands, this green miracle is an oasis with a tiny creek and waterfalls. We arrive in the evening at the Zagora Oasis. Overnight in a comfortable hotel. (BLD) 

Day 4 - Dunes

From Mhamid, where the Sahara begins, our 4x4 will enter a region of large dunes called Erg Chegaga. We will cross the dunes to reach the spectacular landscape of Iriqui saltwater lake where we may see fossils. We will join the road at Foum Zguid. Overnight in a comfortable hotel (BLD) 

Days 5 & 6 – Estuaries and Desert 

Travel in a landscape of mountains, valleys and large oases of palms. The road will bring us to Guelmim, an ancient caravan terminal. Here we will discover the remains of the ancient Trans-Sahara trade. From this point we primarily travel along the coast following the migration routes of paleo-arctic birds that migrate to Africa every year during the season. We visit a ghostly military fort which still ‘guards’ the former borders between the French protectorate of Morocco and the Spanish Sahara. Here we feel like we are on the set of an old French foreign legion movie. An evening arrival at the comfortable Ksar Tafnidilt hotel, built using local material 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 “Rally des Gazelle,” the most gruelling off-track competition reserved for female teams. Ksar Tifnidit is a meeting point for passionate Sahara travellers, and it will be our base for the next 2 nights. On Day 6 we will explore the area of the Dra estuary visited only by the most intrepid travellers. Between the cliffs and the Atlantic Ocean there are no paved roads. We will discover tiny temporary settlements of fishermen, ghost colonial military posts, dunes, and camels. We return to Ksar Tifnidit for the overnight (BLD)

Day 7 – Desert Lagoons

From Tan-Tan, the road follows an exciting route through a crag that separates the desert and the 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. We are scheduled for a late afternoon arrival at the small town of Tarfaya on the Juby Cape, less than 100 km away from the Canary Islands. Tarfaya is a former “Aeropostale” base, which pioneered airmail transport from Europe to Africa and Latin America. Overnight in Hotel Casamar or similar (BLD)

Days 8 & 9 – Western Sahara – The Forbidden Track

In Laayoune we will meet our local guide, a nomad from a Sharawi tribe who will lead us through three days of a true desert expedition in the Western Sahara. The former Spanish Sahara colony has been the site of a long war between the Polisario Armed Front and the Moroccan army and is presently part of Morocco.

Since the second half of the seventies and 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 and Tiris Gharbia. In this true Saharan expedition, we will cross large dunes and get off the tracks to discover wells frequented by long caravans belonging to the legendary Reguibat nomads.  We will be camping wild on Days 8 and 9. (BLD)

Day 10 – From the Desert to the Ocean

Our off-track Trans-Saharan expedition will take us across a region of dunes, wells and nomadic camps of camel herders. This afternoon we take a road that will take us closer to the ocean.  This evening we arrive at a comfortable ocean front hotel (Hotel Doumss or similar) in Dakhla that will be our base for two nights. (BLD)

Day 11 – Rio De Oro

The exceptional beauty of this landscape makes the Dakhla peninsula a truly special place. The Rio de Oro (Golden River) is a 25-mile long sea loch situated between cliffs and dunes. Different colours paint the scenery: the intense blue of the ocean, banks of yellow sand, and green seaweed fields. The brown rocks and white dunes form an island during high tide. The small town of Dakhla was founded by Spanish navigators in 1502 and was called “Villa Cisneros". We visit the traditional fishing harbour and have lunch at an oyster farm then drive along the shore where we will see ocean waves lapping the sand dunes. Later we return to our oceanfront hotel in Dakhla. (BLD)

Day 12 – Enter Mauritania

We continue our epic journey and a signboard will indicate that we are crossing the ‘Tropic of Cancer’ region. The expedition continues following the cliff between the desert and the ocean. Only a few vehicles drive this remote ‘highway’ going south to Mauritania, the only open border from Maghreb to West Africa. We will arrive at the border this morning, an isolated military post in the desert. After the formalities, we will cross a few miles of no-man’s land. On the other side is the military post of Mauritania. This evening arrive at Banc D’Arguin where we stay in a fixed camp (with beds) for the next 2 nights (BLD)  

Day 13 – Banc d’Arguin National Park

This morning we depart early and board a felucca sailing from sandbank to sandbank to discover the National Park from the perspective of the ocean. Banc d’Arguin National Park is a major breeding site for migratory birds, including flamingos, broad-billed sandpipers, pelicans and terns. Much of the breeding is on sand banks including the islands of Tidra, Niroumi, Nair, Kijji and Arguim. The surrounding waters are some of the richest fishing waters in western Africa and serve as nesting grounds for the entire western region. The Banc d'Arguin National Park was established to protect both the natural resources and the valuable fisheries, which make a significant contribution to the national economy as well as being scientifically and aesthetically valuable geological sites. The park's vast expanses of mudflats provide a home for over two million migrant shorebirds from northern Europe, Siberia and Greenland. The region's mild climate and absence of human disturbance makes the park one of the most important sites in the world for these species. The nesting bird population is also noted for its great number and diversity. Some 25,000 and 40,000 pairs belonging to 15 species are found here, making it the largest colonies of water birds in West Africa. This evening we return to the fixed camp (BLD)

Day 14 – Mauritania Desert

Today we will be travelling through a landscape of dunes and salt swamps where the only sign of life will be herding camels. Overnight in a small hotel (BLD)

Day 15 – Prehistoric Rock Art

We will cross the majestic Adrar Mountains and be rewarded with breathtaking views. We will leave the main road for a track to discover the prehistoric rock art site of Amogjar pas with a large collection of paintings. Many of the images represent animals that used to be prevalent in the region but now no longer exist. Continue to Chinguetti. Overnight in a traditional guesthouse (BLD)

Days 16 – Chinguetti

Crossing the Adrar Mountains, we will follow the Amorag track. This scenic landscape of gorges and highlands will lead us to the Chinguetti oasis, an ancient Berber village. Chinguetti was the capital of the Moorish Empire. Part of the old stone town is still inhabited. Chinguetti also boasts great collections of ancient manuscripts. The Ksar, made of white stone with 5 towers, is a remarkable example of Arabo-Berber architecture. We will spend the afternoon discovering the magical atmosphere of this oasis, which is considered the best preserved of the Mauritanian oasis. Return to the guesthouse (BLD)

Days 17 – Adrar: Dunes and Mountains

We will now explore even more of the scenic landscape of Mauritania: valleys, high mountains, yellow sand dunes with peaks of dark and red rock and lost adobe villages lit only by the moon in the night. Amatlich Erg (dune range) is one of the most beautiful dune ranges in the region. We will visit remote oasis and camp in the dunes this evening (BLD)

Day 18 – Nouakchott

Continue through the desert to Nouakchott, capital of Mauritania. Overnight Halima Hotel or similar (BLD)

Day 19 – Djoudj National Park

We depart for the small border post with Senegal. The natural border with Mauritania is the Senegal River and we will cross the river on a mobile bridge, moving into a humid area isolated between desert and dry savannah. 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 for over a million migratory and sedentary birds. We will enjoy a boat excursion to visit an island with an astonishing concentration of pelicans. Arrive this evening at Saint Louis. Dinner and overnight at Hotel de la Poste, a historical hotel built in 1850 and which used to be the base of the “Aeropostale” (airmail pioneer operation) pilots. Totally restored, it has conserved the best old colonial atmosphere in town. (BLD)

Day 20 – Saint Louis, African and Colonial Citadels – Lac Rose

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 get around the narrow streets of Saint Louis will be on board a calash, like the locals do. Later in the morning we head south and visit the largest fishing village in Senegal where more than 4500 pirogues come to shore each day with their catch. Later we arrive at Lac Rose, also known as Lac Retba, a shallow saltwater lake surrounded by dunes. The water is ten times saltier than the ocean and 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 work collecting salt from the lake, in the traditional way. Overnight Hotel Trarza or similar (BLD)

Day 21 – Dakar and Night Sailing

Today we arrive in Dakar and explore the town. We will leave our vehicles at the port and board a ferry to Goré Island. Goré was where the slaves were crammed into while waiting to be shipped to the Americas. Some restored buildings remain to bear witness of those times. Today its breezy climate, history and ancient architecture, together with nice restaurants and boutiques, make Goré an interesting and attractive destination for local and foreign visitors. We will return to Dakar port to board the “Aline Sitoe Diatta”, our ship that will sail this evening. We will spend the night on board in simple cabins with private shower and WC. Dinner will be served on board. (BLD)

Day 22 – Casamance

In the early morning light, our ship will enter the estuary of the large Casamance River. Fishermen in pirogues will be collecting the nets, while it may be possible to spot dolphins that follow the vessel. The theme of continuous change in the landscapes is once again apparent as we discover the Casamance region, a landscape of large and luxuriant trees and “sacred forests”, where animistic cults of traditional African religions are still practiced. Our sailing experience will end on a small island on the estuary of the Rio Casamance, we then continue in a private small boat to cross an intricate labyrinth of rivers, mangrove lagoons, remote islands and villages. We attend traditional dances by Diola women, and lunch will be at a local restaurant. Take the local transport, a ‘bush taxi’ to our hotel for the night. Overnight at Hotel La Paillote or similar (BLD)

Day 23 – The Sacred King

In a remote village, we will visit the adobe fortified buildings, an interesting example of traditional African sculptural architecture. These large clay and wood buildings, where the internal light comes from a central hole in the large roof, protect the inhabitants from outside attacks. These buildings are known as “impluvium houses”, an African variant of the ancient roman houses. We will be received by the Monarch in one of the oldest Diola Kingdoms. As happens in African traditions, the King is also the High Priest, holding both political and mystical powers. We visit a rare two-storey building in adobe. This evening, return to our hotel in Ziguinchor. Overnight Kadiandoumange Hotel or similar (BLD)

Day 24 – Dancing Masks and enter Guinea Bissau

Today we join the ritual dances of the Kumpo sacred mask, rarely seen by foreigners. This mask belongs to a secret society and the identity of the dancers is not revealed, it is said that the mask is animated by the spirits. The dances are colourful and a real authentic West African experience. We then travel into Guinea Bissau. Overnight at a simple eco lodge in the savannah (BLD)

Day 25 – Ancestor Cult

We drive to the region inhabited by the Manjaco ethnical group. We will visit tiny villages hidden in the forest to discover the sculptured wooden poles called “Pecab” that represent the spirits of their ancestors, in a sanctuary known as “Cab Balugun”, a tradition still alive. After asking permission of 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. Overnight Hotel Mar Azul or similar (BLD).

Day 26 – Vaca Bruto Mask Dance - Bijagos Archipelago

Today we start a three day sailing adventure that will take us to discover the Bijagos Archipelago, its fascinating nature and isolated ethnic peoples. The Bijagos Archipelago is composed of 88 small and large islands located at an average of 40 miles away from the mainland. We hope to experience a mask dance, the most spectacular of which is a helmet wooden mask called Vaca Bruto (wild bull). With eyes of frosted glass, real horns, leather ears and a rope through the nostril, the masks are animated by the bucking of the dancers. All the villagers attend this fascinating ceremony. Overnight at Orango Island in a comfortable hotel (BLD).

Day 27 – Saltwater Hippos

Orango Island, which is part of the Parque Natural do Grupo das Ilhas de Orango, is covered by a savannah and is known for the presence of unique saltwater hippos. From October to the first part of February it is possible to follow their tracks; however, as they move around the island searching for saltwater ponds, the local guides can lose their tracks for days. We arrive in the afternoon at Rubane Island. Overnight in a comfortable hotel (BLD)

Day 28 November 21st - Ghost Capital

Our first stop today will be the island of Bolama. Bolama was the former capital of Portuguese Guinea from 1871 to 1941 before it was moved to Bissau. When the Portuguese left, native people came to live in the town and it is now falling apart, partly invaded with tropical vegetation. We continue sailing to Bissau where our vehicle will be waiting for a tour of the town. This evening we have day-rooms in a hotel in Baiana square for a last shower before a late evening transfer to the airport and the end of a quite remarkable and unique expedition. (BL)


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