Senegal, Gambia and Guinea Bissau
Senegal, Gambia and Guinea Bissau Explorer Tour – a 14 day Small Group Tour.
Three very different West African countries with contrasting indigenous and colonial histories, and linguistic legacies, are combined in a fascinating two-week tour. Say you’re heading to The Gambia and people won’t raise an eyebrow, mention Senegal and they’ll be intrigued, tell them Guinea-Bissau and you’ll have their full attention.
There are longer in-depth tours of West Africa, but this concentrated combination of states bearing quite distinct public faces is an excellent opportunity to gain an overview of the region.
Join Undiscovered Destinations on this intriguing journey touching the edge of the Western Sahara and down to the Bijagos Archipelago.
We begin by travelling north through Senegal, reaching the border with Mauritania and the Djoudj National Park, a natural oasis composed of hundreds of miles of partially flooded land.
We cross the Gambian estuary by ferry to Banjul and continue to our hotel, where the grounds are home to over 100 species of birds, and monkeys roam free. We continue our exploration of Senegal with visits to nomadic tribes and sacred towns before crossing into Guinea-Bissau. This is one of the smallest, and least visited, countries in Africa.
Few western travellers make it to this former Portuguese colony, but those that do return full of incredible experiences and memories of a stunning part of the continent. Depending on the date of your tour, in Guinea-Bissau you will either experience turtle nesting, tribal carnivals or the wild bull mask dancing.
Day 1- Arrival in Dakar
Arrive in Dakar and transfer to hotel accommodation. Overnight at Hotel Djoloff or similar.
Day 2 – Dakar – Île de Gorée
Dakar was the political, economic and cultural centre of French West Africa. This morning’s city tour visits Place de l’Indépendance, Palais Présidentiel, L’Hotel de Ville and some interesting markets. This afternoon we visit the Village des Arts which provides studios for over fifty local artists. Later we board a ferry to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Île de Gorée. Overnight at Hotel Municipal or similar (BLD)
Day 3 – Île de Gorée – Lac Rose
(Approximate driving time: four hours)
Waking up in Gorée and taking an early stroll through its car-free narrow stone alleys is a real pleasure. The island has dark origins, one of several West African deep-water island ports involved in the transatlantic slave trade from the mid-16th century. For Europeans, slavery today is a subject of historic interest. For West Africans, it’s still a raw injustice. Fortresses and other restored buildings remain to bear witness to island’s former purpose. Today, Gorée’s restaurants and boutiques make an interesting and attractive excursion for local and foreign visitors. In the afternoon we take the ferry back to the mainland and drive to Lac Rose, a shallow salt lake surrounded by dunes. The lake is ten times saltier than seawater, salt-loving bacteria on occasion lending it a striking pink colour. Afterwards, we continue to the Lompoul desert where 4WD vehicles are waiting on the edge of the dunes to transport us to our camp. Overnight in a fixed camp at Lompoul, with spacious tents, including beds and private bathrooms. (BLD)
Day 4 – Saint Louis and the Nomadic Tribes
(Approximate driving time: two hours)
This morning we drive to Saint Louis, near the mouth of the Senegal River, where the former French colonial capital’s architecture attracted World Heritage status in 2000. Saint Louis was also one-time home of aviator and author, Antoine Saint-Exupéry famous for The Little Prince. Here, we explore narrow lanes by calash, in keeping with local preference. Overnight at Hotel de la Poste or similar. (BLD)
Day 5 – Djoudj National Park
(Approximate driving time: five hours)
This morning we travel north to Parc National des Oiseaux du Djoudj, a natural oasis composed of hundreds of kilometres of partially flooded land. The park provides a habitat for over a million migratory and resident birds including vast numbers of pelicans and flamingos. Later, we continue to the Ferlo desert to explore the dry savannah where Fulani nomads herd their characteristic zebu cattle. The Fulani (Peul) form the largest tribe in West Africa, ranging over a vast savannah from Senegal to Chad. In the evening we visit nearby villages and when the cattle return, we may be invited to witness milking of the herd. Accommodation tonight is a basic compound of grass huts managed by the local community, each hut having mosquito nets and private bathroom. (BLD)
Day 6 - Touba Brotherhood
(Approximate driving time: four hours)
Rarely visited, the inhabitants of the sacred town of Touba are followers of Mouridism, a branch of Sufi Islam founded by poet and mystic, Amadou Bamba. Touba is a sacred town where it’s forbidden to smoke, drink alcohol or listen to music, and visitors must wear conservative clothing. That said, Mouridi appreciate interest in their traditions and visitors will be made very welcome. A member of the Baye Fall sect, sometime referred to as ‘the Mouridi Rastas’, a colourful branch of Mouridism, will accompany us during the visit. Overnight at Le Relais de Kaolak or similar. (BLD)
Day 7 – To Banjul and Sine Ngayene Stone Circles
(Approximate driving time: five hours)
An early start this morning sees us leaving Touba and following the main road to the megalithic site of Sine Ngayene. Composed of 52 erect circles, including a double circle, totalling 1,102 carved laterite stones, the site was recognised by UNESCO in 2006. Crossing the border into Gambia, we drive to the northern banks of the Gambia River estuary where we board the ferry to Banjul. Accommodation tonight is the Senegambia Hotel, Gambia’s first hotel to open the countryside to tourism, located in a large park rich in birdlife and populated by monkeys. Overnight at Senegambia Beach Hotel or similar. (BLD)
Day 8 – Gambian Birds – Casamance
(Approximate driving time: four hours)
The Senegambia’s parkland is a real African experience, and on a good day it’s possible to see 70% of Gambia’s bird species. Accompanied by an ornithological guide we spend time discovering the remarkably rich avifauna. Later, we visit the National Museum of The Gambia in Banjul, which over three floors, focuses on archaeology, history, art, music and photography. After lunch we drive to Gambia’s southern border and cross into Senegal’s Casamance region. In the evening we reach accommodation in the town of Ziguinchor, capital of the region, lying at the mouth of the Casamance River. Overnight at Hotel Kadiandoumange or similar. (BLD)
Day 9 – Sacred Kings
(Approximate driving time: three-hours)
Today we explore the fortified adobe buildings of the Jola (Diola) people, interesting examples of this style of African architecture. We’re then received by the monarch of one of the oldest Diola Kingdoms and, with his permission, may be invited into the sacred forest to assist in traditional rituals. Jola is a Mandinka word meaning ‘payback’, reflecting a reputation for treating others as they themselves have been treated, so be nice. We return to Ziguinchor in the evening. Overnight at Kadiandoumange Hotel or similar. (BLD)
Day 10- Ancestor Cults
(Approximate driving time: seven hours)
There’s no avoiding the fact that this is a long day of travel, but the journey is hugely rewarding. Leaving early, we cross into Guinea-Bissau, first visiting the diminutive forest villages of a region inhabited by the Manjacu ethnic group. The villages are noted for their carved wooden poles, known as ‘pecab’, representing spirits of the ancestors. With the permission of village elders, we see many of sacred wooden sculptures, varying in age and style. This is a rare opportunity to appreciate tribal art in its original cultural context. Overnight at Hotel Cupedo, Reino de Tor or similar. (BLD)
Day 11- Bijagos Archipelago
(Approximate journey time: four hours)
This morning we embark on a four-day odyssey across the Bijagos Archipelago, discovering its remote islands and isolated human settlements. The Bijagos is Africa’s largest archipelago, 88 islands and islets located 64km miles offshore, of which only 21 are permanently inhabited. Wild and beautiful landscapes, unique fauna and tribal culture, the Bijagos Archipelago is a geographical treasure declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1996. During this exploration we’ll attend the most spectacular Bijago mask festival, the Vaca Bruto. Overnight at Orango Parque Hotel. (BLD)
Please Note: The itinerary during these four days may be slightly modified to accommodate the Vaca Bruto mask dances or the viewing of saltwater hippos.
Day 12- Queens Island
(Approximate journey time: two-and-a-half-hours)
This morning we take a half-hour walk to the sacred village of Angagume, where Okinka Pampa Kanyimpa was the last priestess queen of Orango. Bijagan society is semi-matriarchal, as such the site of her grave is of great significance. Later, we meet with the local king who will relate the history of the island. Afterwards we leave Orango and travel to Rubane Island, our base for the next two nights. Overnight at Hotel Ponta Anchaca or similar. (BLD)
Day 13- Island life
(Approximate journey time: two hours)
Today we take a boat excursion to Bubaque island, passing Soga Bay with its large colony of pink flamingos en route. Bubaque village is the largest in the archipelago, with unpaved alleys, a colourful market and a small museum dedicated to the culture of the Bijagos. In the afternoon we return to Rubane Island where the rest of the day is free to relax. Overnight at Hotel Ponta Anchaca or similar (BLD)
Day 14- Bolama Island - Bissau
(Approximate journey time: five hours)
Leaving early today, we embark by boat for Bolama island, and the town of the same name. A former administrative capital of Portuguese Guinea from 1871 to 1941, Bolama fell into a steady decline when it was replaced by Bissau, a process that accelerated upon independence in 1974. When the Portuguese left, the Governor’s Palace and town were abandoned, empty streets now leading to crumbling buildings invaded by tropical vegetation. Local people have occupied some buildings, and recent investment has seen renovation work on more notable structures. However, today wide sunny avenues, empty squares, dry fountains and unkempt gardens are populated by peaceful herds of wandering goats. In the afternoon we return to Bissau, in time for a short city tour. Day use hotel rooms will be available until 6pm, prior to airport transfers in time for onward flights. (BL)
Dates & Price.
Single Supplement from £375.
Flights in to Dakar and out of Bissau start from £620 return.
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.
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Download the full tour dossier for this trip here.
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+44(0) 191 296 2674 from THE UK
1-800-614-2967 from THE US & CANADA
1-300-956-415 from AUSTRALIA
- 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
- Transport as described
- Services of English speaking guide / tour leader (there may be more than one guide with the group and the explanations may be in additional languages)
- Meals as listed (B – Breakfast, L – Lunch, D – Dinner)
- Entrance fees for sites listed as part of the itinerary
- International flights in to Dakar and back from Bissau
- Any airport taxes
- Travel Insurance
- Tips (discretionary)
- Items of a personal nature