Sahara to the Heartlands of West Africa

Overland from the Sahara to the Heartlands of West Africa – a 55 day Small Group Tour from £13,945 per person.


Join this astonishing expedition across the Sahara and deep into West Africa. A truly authentic experience that takes in Morocco, Western Sahara, Mauritania, Senegal, Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Togo and Benin.

Experience local authentic cultures: the most isolated Berber villages in the high Sarhro Mountains, and cave-dwelling families. Meet the legendary Reguibat and Saharawi nomads of the still untamed Western Sahara, currently part of Morocco. The Moorish nomads and camel herders, to 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 practiced, witness fetish and shrines in remote villages, tribal kings, dancing masks and initiations in the sacred Archipelago.

We will meet “timeless” men and women and visit historical sites such as Marrakech, Dakhla the ancient capital of Rio de Oro, Saint Louis, first capital of the former French West African Colonies, Dakar, the most cosmopolitan West African metropolis, Goré the slave-trade island, Bolama a forgotten capital in the forest.

In Guinea-Bissau we sail to the Bijagos Islands, where local customs are at their  strongest and unusual wildlife dwells, then return to the mainland to travel through the lands of the Fulani, stopping in small villages and explore the stunning highlands of the Fouta Djalon range. In Guinea we see mask dances of ancient secret societies, the incredible ‘living bridges’ of the rainforest, and chimpanzees.

Moving on to Sierra Leone we stay on lush tropical islands and discover delightful fishing villages, gorgeous beaches and the troubling history of the slave trade. From here we head to the diamond belt of Sierra Leone, meeting those who seek their fortune and learning how diamonds have played such a fateful role in the country’s history. In Liberia we explore the heritage of this unusual country, founded by freed Afro-American slaves in the 19th century and quite different to others in the region.

Ivory Coast offers us the opportunity to witness the incredible ‘living bridges’ of the rainforest and see the amazing mask dances of the Dan and Guere people, as well as the rather bizarre ‘cathedral in the forest’ – the vast and opulent basilica at Yamoussoukro. As we return to the coast we travel through old colonial settlements dotted with European forts and charming colonial buildings, on our way to Accra. Our final two countries, Togo and Benin, are home to the followers of voodoo and we have excellent opportunities to learn about this much misunderstood religion, seeing traditional ceremonies and dances that are among the most fascinating spectacles in West Africa.

This is an exploratory tour that often travels through remote parts of West Africa, allowing you to see a number of different countries in a short space of time, and where the visit of a ‘foreigner’ is often an exceptional event. Perfect for those that are big on ambition but short on time, this trip delves into the magic and mystery of an ever-enchanting region. West Africa rarely fails to cast a spell on those who visit.

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)

Leaving the islands behind we return to the mainland. In Bissau we have time for a quick look around the city with its colonial Portuguese architecture. Overnight Hotel Azalai or similar. (BLD)

 

Morning drive to a small village in the Malinke region. The Malinke are descendants of the ancient empire of Mali and we visit a community of ‘griots’ – traditional musicians and story tellers who play an important part in conserving the traditions of West Africa. We learn about their history and customs, and witness a traditional griot performance. Overnight simple hotel in Gabu. (BLD)

A small track takes us to the border of Guinea, crossing the Fouta Djalon, an area inhabited by Malinke and Fulani tribes, and we stop in villages where the arrival of western visitors is a rare event. We visit isolated villages, composed of large clay houses decorated with bas relief, high conical roofs with several layers of straw. Overnight tourist class hotels (day 3 – Labe, day 4 – Coyah) (BLD)

Fouta Djalon

Fouta Djalon is the most important massif of mountains in West Africa. Its fresh and salubrious climate made this place, the preferred one by the French for their holidays during the colonial time. Wood of conifers is left as memory of that time. Fouta Djalon is the most famous and spectacular area of Guinea: mountains, plateau and savannah are alternated with deep humid valleys. In the hollow of the valleys rice farms are alternated with the forest. The rivers and the waterfalls enrich the landscape.

Explore the small town of Dalaba, with its interesting ‘casa a palabra’, a finely decorated building used for local chiefs. We also visit the villa of Guinea’s first president, Sekou Toure, and then continue to the market town of Mamou. Overnight Hotel Balys or similar. (BLD)

Drive to the border with Sierra Leone, where we stop at the village of Kamakwie to see traditional mask dances. From here continue to Freetown, Sierra Leone’s capital. Overnight White House Hotel (Day 34) and Swiss Hotel (Day 35) or similar. (BLD)

Explore Freetown visiting its lively markets and seeing examples of old colonial architecture, and heading out to its beaches. From here travel the archipelago of the Banana Islands, with its stunning beaches and fishing villages. Overnight Bafa Lodge or similar. (BLD)

Explore the Kenema region, meeting diamond panners and learn how this precious stone has played an important – and all too often tragic – role in the country’s history. We then continue to the town of Bo, in the west of the country. Overnight Dohas Hotel or similar. (BLD)

We spend the morning learning about the process of diamond mining, as we join some villagers who show us their craft. From here we continue to the border with Liberia, and from here drive to Monrovia. Overnight Cape Hotel or similar. (BLD)

Monrovia

Monrovia has a close association with both the slave trade and the return of emancipated slaves to Africa; it is named after James Monroe, the US president who was instrumental in the latter campaign. It was ravaged by war in the 1990s and is today a rather ramshackle capital, albeit rather atmospheric in the right light.

Spend the morning exploring Monrovia. We visit the National Museum and the impressive Masonic Temple of Liberia, that has played an important part in Liberian history over the years. From here drive to Gbarnga for the night. Overnight Passion Hotel or similar. (BLD)

Drive through northern Liberia and back into Guinea, to a lush region of thick forests and remote villages. We see mask dances while here, including one of the ‘bird men, dressed in feathers and with their faces painted white with kaolin. This is a secret society, and its members are believed to have powers that make them invisible. We also see the impressive bridges made of living vines, believed to be built by spirits during the course of just one night. Overnight Hotel Macenta (Day 41) and Hotel Bethanie (Day 42) or similar. (BLD)

Head to the small village of Bossou and explore the forest, home to a group of chimpanzees. Constantly monitored by researchers, they are relatively easy to approach. From here we cross into Ivory Coast and drive to the town of Man. Overnight Hotel Les Cascades or similar. (BLD)

Today is a full day discovering masks and magic traditions. We drive to remote villages in the forest to see the Guere ethnic group. We will see the powerful Dan Guere Mask dances, and, if we are lucky, the rare ‘jugglers’ performance. We return to our hotel. Overnight Hotel Les Cascades or similar (BLD)

Venture into the forest to reach some of the more isolated settlements of the Guere people. Here we will see their mask dances and if lucky, a dance of the ‘jongleurs’, a rare performance involving initiated women with white painted faces, and considerable acrobatic prowess! Continue to Daloa for the night. Overnight Hotel La Grace or similar. (BLD)

This morning we see a ceremony of the Zaouli dancing masks, a tradition of the Guro people. From here drive to Yamoussoukro, once just a village but now Cote d’Ivoire’s bizarre administrative capital. Yamoussoukro is dominated by the gigantic Basilica of Our Lady of Peace, reputedly the largest Christian place of worship on earth, and we spend time exploring this vast complex. Overnight Hotel Royal or similar. (BLD)

Yamoussoukro

The city of Yamoussoukro, rising out of the jungle, was little more than a village fifty years ago, but its status as the birthplace of Cote d’Ivoire’s first president has led to a dramatic transformation. Felix Houphouet-Boigny began his ambitious construction project in the 1960s, with the intention of creating a model city. Today Yamoussoukro is home to grandiose government buildings that seem rather out of place given the overall conditions of the country, and has become the administrative capital of the country. It is not however the hub of economic activity – Abidjan, the previous capital, retains this honour. Compared to most African cities Yamoussoukro can seem rather sterile and devoid of the chaos that makes African travel fun, but it is nevertheless a fascinating place to explore and muse on the dreams of the former president. The most impressive building is the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace, reputedly the largest church in the world and bigger than St Peter’s in Rome. A controversial project, the basilica cost $300 million to build and prompted questions as to whether the money would have been better spent improving the lot of the general population rather than on what many see as a vanity project – there is an image of Houphouet-Boigny next to Jesus in one of the stained-glass windows.

Head to Abidjan, the country’s capital and a modern and glitzy contrast to the trip so far. Spend the rest of the day exploring the city, with a boat trip through the lagoon, a visit to its lively market and the National Museum to gain an insight into the different ethnic groups that live here. Overnight Hotel Azalai or similar. (BLD)

Abidjan

Cote d’Ivoire’s largest city, Abidjan is a sizeable metropolis that some say is the third largest French speaking city in the world, after Paris and Kinshasa. A cultural hub of West Africa, it is a busy and vibrant city, with glitzy skyscrapers a testament to the fact that this is the economic capital of the country. It wasn’t always so – Abidjan was originally a small fishing village until it became the capital of the French colony in 1900. Since then it has grown enormously, and only Lagos is larger in the region. Like many African cities it is not especially endowed with traditional tourist sights, but is great for people watching and soaking up the atmosphere.

Drive to the city of Grand Bassam with its old colonial buildings and atmosphere of yesteryear, to explore and learn about the history of the coun

Grand Bassam

The historic town of Grand Bassam was a former French colonial capital, but not for long. Having attained this status in 1893 it was promptly evacuated three years later after an outbreak of Yellow Fever. The shipping industry on which the town depended gradually declined, and eventually the population diminished to such a level that virtually the only inhabitants were squatters, although now about five thousand people live here. Today the place has the aura of a ghost town, with grandiose abandoned buildings lining the streets, and in 2012 the town was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in light of its special historic value.

Cross into Ghana and drive to Axim. Here we stop at the 16th century Portuguese fort, one of many early European fortifications dotted along this coast. After exploring the fort, drive east to Anomabu. Overnighgt Anomabu Beach Resort or similar. (BLD)

We visit the fishing town of Elmina, best known for St George’s Castle, the oldest European building in Africa and once used as holding centre for slaves. In the town itself we explore the old quarter with its unique Posuban shrines, made by the traditional ‘asafo’ societies which were once responsible for local defence. Overnight Anomabu Beach Resort or similar. (BLD)

Elmina

The pretty town of Elmina is dominated by the whitewashed St George’s Castle, which dates back to the 15th century. The fort is a rather sombre place when you realise that this is where slaves were held awaiting transportation to the new world, and the cells which they were held in still remain. Elmina is also home to the smaller Fort St Jago, perched on a hill and overlooking the town, as well as a 19th century Dutch cemetery, and the fishing harbour is a delight to explore, with colourful boats and fishermen bringing in their daily catch.

Continue to Accra, visiting the National Museum and the old quarter of Jamestown, as well as the quarter where craftsmen design flamboyant coffins for the deceased – a uniquely Ghanaian experience. Overnight Accra City Hotel or similar. (BLD)

Accra

Ghana’s capital is one of Africa’s biggest cities, with the inevitable traffic, noise and mayhem. Despite being a fast growing, lively city, the people are friendly and welcoming and maintain many aspects of their tribal African roots. The National Museum houses one of West Africa’s best ethnographic, historical and art collections, which gives a good introduction to Ghana and surrounding areas. The old quarter of Jamestown is the heart of the old colonial town and is inhabited by the Ga people, who founded Accra in the 16th century. There are numerous bustling markets to explore where you can discover everything from food, clothing and household goods to traditional crafts. Most interesting is the area where coffins are made – here they make them with the most outlandish designs, in the shape of fish, aeroplanes, or just about anything else you can think of.

We cross the border into Togo and head to Lome, the only African city to have been colonised by the French, British and Germans. Explore the city including its central markets and the fascinating – if rather gruesome – fetish market, where animal parts are sold for use in traditional medicines. Travel to a remote and hidden village, where we witness a voodoo ceremony – unique to this part of the world, and sure to be one of the highlights of your trip. Overnight Hotel Onomo or similar. (BLD)

Lome

Togo’s capital is a vibrant city situated on the coast, sitting right on the international border with Ghana and with a population of just under a million. Slightly dishevelled, it is quite an atmospheric little city and is now recovering from the civil disturbances suffered by the country in the 1990s. Its origins date back to the 18th century, when it was settled by the Ewe people, one of Togo’s largest ethnic groups. Like many African cities it doesn’t have too much in the way of formal sightseeing but there are a few things worth exploring – the Grand Marche with its exuberant businesswomen known as ‘Nana Benz’ who monopolise the sale of cloth in Togo. Not be missed is the fetish market, where animal parts are sold for use in traditional medicines. This is not a great place for animal lovers, with heads and body parts of everything from sharks and crocodiles to gorillas on sale, but offers a fascinating insight into a belief system very different from our own. Lome has a number of buildings which date from the German occupation, most noticeable of which is a rather bizarre looking 19th century Gothic style cathedral which looks rather out of place in a West African city.

This morning travel to a remote and hidden village, where we witness a voodoo ceremony – unique to this part of the world, and sure to be one of the highlights of your trip. We then cross into Benin and head to the small town of Grand Popo, on the coast. Overnight Auberge de Grand Popo or similar. (BLD)

Voodoo

Voodoo, or Vodoun as it is known here, is one of the most important religions in this part of West Africa. Forget what you may have seen on TV about it being a form of black magic – here it has the same legitimacy as any other belief system and has been adopted as an official religion by Benin. Voodoo is a complex and intricate way of seeing of the world, with literally hundreds of different gods responsible for various areas of daily life – some are benevolent, some less so, and in order to communicate with them and ask for favours local people will seek the assistance of followers, or adepts. There are numerous voodoo temples scattered around the coastal regions of both Benin and Togo, each headed by a priest who for a suitable donation will intercede on your behalf.

Voodoo is not limited to the temples though and travelling around the region it is not likely that you will see some ceremony being carried out. Also worth looking out for are the Egunguns – earthly manifestations of the dead who roam the streets in outlandish costumes, striking fear into the heart of local people. Sacrifice and blood are important within voodoo rituals, and any ceremony worth its salt is likely to involve a chicken being killed, its blood spilled onto a shrine in order to seal the pact. You’re also likely to see fetishes dotted around villages – these are inanimate objects such as rocks or trees in which a spirit is believed to reside, often covered in candle wax, feathers and blood where sacrifices have been made. Gaining some understanding of voodoo allows you a glimpse into a magical world where nothing is quite as it seems, and is perhaps the most fascinating aspect of travelling here.

Meet with the ‘Celestial Church’, a uniquely Togolese phenomenon which blends aspects of voodoo and Christianity. We then cross into Benin and witness a dance of the Egun masks, a powerful secret society that are both revered and feared in Benin. From here we continue to the coastal town of Ouidah, a stronghold of voodoo and once an important slave port. Overnight Hotel Casa del Papa or similar. (BLD)

We visit the python temple, where snakes are venerated as representations of gods, the old Portuguese fort and finally head to the beach and the sombre ‘Gate of No Return’, the point from which slaves left Africa for the New World. In the afternoon we head out onto Lake Nokwe to visit Ganvie, the largest stilt village in Africa situated in the middle of the water. Continue to Cotonou where the tour ends – day use rooms are available to freshen up before your transfer to the airport to fly home. (BL)

Ganvie

On Lake Nokwe lies the stilt village of Ganvie, a settlement of 25,000 people isolated from the land and only accessible by boat. Legend has it that the Tofinou people fled here in the 18th century to escape the depredation of the more powerful Dahomeyans on the lookout for slaves, and that they were transported to their new home by crocodiles. Whatever the truth behind it, Ganvie is an interesting place to drift through in a boat, watching how people go about their daily lives on the water, stopping at local markets watching the fishermen casting their nets, and is far removed from the busy towns making this a real delight to explore. The market on the mainland is also worth a look, if only for the rather gruesome section dedicated to voodoo.

Dates & Price.

Sahara to the Heartlands of West Africa

Marrakech to Cotonou (55 days)

20 Nov 2021 to 13 Jan 2022 – £13945 / Single Supplement – £1449

19 Nov 2022 to 12 Jan 2023 – – £13945 / Single Supplement – £1449

Call us to book your place

Cotonou to Marrakech

This tour also operates in the reverse direction from Cotonou to Marrakech with departures on 26 February 2021 and 5 March 2022.

Please contact us for details and an itinerary


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

Dakar to Cotonou (35 days) – call for prices

Bissau to Cotonou (27 days) – call for prices

Bissau to Monrovia (12 days) – call for prices

Freetown to Cotonou (21 days) – call for prices


Tour Notes

Single Supplement from £1449 for the full 55 day tour.

Return flights from London to Marrakech and returning from Cotonou start at £800. 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.

Mapped itinerary.

Want to see details of your itinerary on a map?

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Download the full tour dossier for this trip here.

For expert advice get in touch now with our passionate,
well-travelled team.

+44 (0)191 296 2674 from THE UK
1-800-614-2967 from THE US & CANADA
1-300-956-415 from AUSTRALIA

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 55
  • 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