West Africa Overland
From the Ocean to the Sahara

West Africa Overland – From the Ocean to the Sahara Tour – a 29 day Small Group Tour from £8175 per person.


Sometimes the journey is as important as the destination. This overland tour through West Africa allows time to appreciate the gradual changes in landscape, people and culture lost to travellers since the advent of the jet age.

Guinea Bissau, Senegal, Gambia, Mauritania, Western Sahara and Morocco – it’s quite a list. An immersion in the energy and colour of West Africa precedes an epic Sahara crossing that’s a genuine desert adventure. There will be long days, but the rewards of this journey are transcendent.

This is a sea, sun and sand holiday with a difference.

Join Undiscovered Destinations on this great expedition across the Sahara. We journey across Guinea Bissau, Senegal, the Gambia, Mauritania, Western Sahara and Morocco.

This is a peaceful ‘raid’ from south to north in an ever changing natural environment. From the Atlantic coast of the largest desert on earth, through the interior of Western Sahara, to Marrakech, this is amongst our most exciting and ground-breaking tours.

On this expedition, we will discover the main natural, cultural and religious environments of this part of the African continent and this itinerary is the result of many years of research and experience by our team out in the field.

Local cultures are still authentic: Berbers in the Atlas Mountains, legendary Reguibat and Sharawi nomads of Western Sahara, the Moorish fishermen who are located at the edge of the desert and ocean and the largest African brotherhood practicing Islam.

In the forest we discover the animistic religions, tribal kings, dancing masks and shrines of remote village and for nature lovers we hope to encounter the African manatee, the rare saltwater hippo, and the nesting site of green turtles. Join us on this amazing adventure.

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.

Arrive in Bissau, capital of Guinea Bissau, and transfer to hotel accommodation. Overnight at Hotel Azalai or similar. No meals.

The expedition commences by boat, heading for the Bijagos Archipelago, located around 60km off the mainland shore, and the largest archipelago in Africa, consisting of 88 islands and islets. Our first visit is the island of Bolama, where the main town of the same name was capital of Portuguese Guinea from 1871 to 1941, before Bissau took on the mantle. When the Portuguese left, local people informally occupied governmental buildings. The town is now in a state of decay, falling apart and invaded by tropical vegetation. Empty avenues, deserted squares and dry fountains join bush-like gardens and crumbling administrative buildings in neo Palladian style. In the former governor’s palace, beyond gracious columns goats graze peacefully. Later we sail to nearby Rubane island, where the rest of the afternoon is free to relax, stroll on the beach, or explore the island. Overnight Ponta Anchaca or similar. (BLD)

After a free morning we experience something exceptional. During the dry season all manner of cultural ceremonies take place. However, preeminent among them is Vaca Bruto. Attended by all villagers, dancers embody the spirit of the Vaca Bruto (wild bull) with great realism. Fascinating and exhausting. Overnight Ponta Anchaca or similar. (BLD)

Leaving the Bijagos Archipelago, we sail to Bissau and then drive to a region inhabited by the Manjaco ethnic group. Here, we discover carved wooden poles called ‘pecab’ arrayed in a sanctuary known as ‘Cab Balugun’. The poles represent spirits of the ancestors in a tradition which is still very much alive. Upon gaining permission we may be able to view several different generations and styles of sacred wooden sculptures. The Manjaco carvings are one of the world’s few remaining examples where tribal art may be experienced in its original cultural context. Overnight in simple bungalows. (BLD)

This morning we cross the border into Senegal’s Casamance, the country’s most animistic region. In a remote village we visit fortified adobe buildings, interesting examples of traditional African sculptural architecture. These large clay and wood buildings, where internal light comes from a central hole in the roof, protect inhabitants from external attacks. The buildings are known as ‘impluvium houses’, an African variant on ancient roman villas. In the afternoon we follow an isolated path to a tiny village to witness mask dancing. Masks are a part of the animistic Djiola culture. People both fear and respect masks and consider them as spirits who play an important role in solving conflicts between villagers. In the evening we arrive in Ziguinchor. Overnight Kadiandoumange Hotel or similar. (BLD)

This morning we cross the border into Gambia and head for its capital Banjul. After a brief birdwatching walk we visit the town centre. At the National Museum displays focus on archaeology, recent history, art, music and photography. We drive to the Senegambia area and check-in to our hotel. Overnight in a comfortable hotel. (BLD)

Crossing the Gambia river by ferry, we head back into Senegal. The region is phenomenally rich in prehistoric stone megaliths and has the world’s largest concentration of such structures. We visit the most important site at Sine Ngayene, comprising more than 52 stone circles with 1102 erected stones. Nearby we also explore an ancient quarry where, thousands of years ago, megaliths were cut from laterite bedrock. Overnight at Kabatoco Safari Lodge or similar. (BLD)

This morning we travel to Dakar and visit the city’s downtown and traditional market. Later we board a ferry to Ile de Gorée, just off Dakar. Gorée has a dark history and was the deep-water slave port where unfortunate Africans were held before being loaded into vessels and shipped to the plantations of the Americas. Several restored buildings bear witness to this trade in human misery. However, today Goree’s breezy climate and ancient architecture, combine with good restaurants and boutiques in an attractive destination for Senegalese and foreign visitors. Overnight at Maison Muncipal or similar, a comfortable guesthouse in an ancient, restored building. (BLD)

Today we return to Dakar and visit the ‘Village des Arts’ where more than fifty workshops are occupied by contemporary artists. Work ranges from painting, sculpture and pottery to photography and film. Later we head to Lac Rose and in the afternoon cross the dunes to reach our comfortable, permanent camp in the Lompoul Desert. Overnight Eco Lodge de Lompoul or similar (tents with beds and private facilities). (BLD)

Leaving the desert behind we head French colonial Africa’s former regional capital, Saint-Louis. We explore the city’s narrow streets before taking lunch in a typical local restaurant. Overnight at Hotel de la Poste (an historic hotel built in 1850) or similar. (BLD)

Today we leave early, bound for Djoudj National Park, a natural oasis comprising hundreds of miles of partially flooded land. The park is a habitat for over a million migratory and resident birds. We take a boat excursion through some of the park’s islands and witness the extraordinary birdlife, including an astonishing concentration of pelicans. Later we depart for the Mauritanian border, the landscape soon changing from wetlands to desert and dunes. After negotiating the border, we expect to arrive in the Mauritanian capital, Nouakchott, by early evening. Overnight at Hotel Azalai or similar. (BLD)

Another early start this morning. We head north, crossing the Adrar Mountains’ remarkable landscapes to the oasis of desert trading centre, holy city, and UNESCO World Heritage Site, Chinguetti. There’s a wealth of interest in and around the town, and we plan on spending the next three nights here. Overnight La Gueila Guest House or similar. (BLD)

Today we discover Ouadane, a remote settlement founded in 1147. Ouadane is now mostly in ruins although some stone houses are still inhabited. In ancient times it was an important trading centre for caravan traffic between the Maghreb and sub-Saharan Africa. Later, we return to Chinguetti via a remote oasis hidden in the dunes. Overnight at La Gueila Guest House or similar. (BLD)

Today is dedicated to exploring Chinguetti itself. An ancient Berber town founded in the 13th century, Chinguetti became wealthy as a major waypoint on the trans-Saharan caravan route, and important as a religious centre. The stone mosque dates from the foundation of the town and is considered the world’s second oldest mosque still in use. Chinguetti is also a repository for a great collection of ancient manuscripts, many describing astronomical observations and mathematical techniques. Just ask at the library if you’d like to have a look. The town’s Ksar (trading centre), constructed from white stone and possessing five towers, remains a remarkable example of the Arab-Berber architecture. Later, we spend time at the nearby oasis, considered the best preserved in Mauritania. Overnight La Gueila Guesthouse or similar. (BLD)

Mauritania is characterised by desert. Over the next few days we’ll traverse the Sahara, calling in at remote oases, Moorish tented settlements, and lost adobe villages, taking in the vast expanses of red sand, mountain plateaux and dune seas. We navigate an ocean of sand in the Inchiri region, one of the lesser-known areas of the Mauritanian desert, finally arriving in Nouadhibou on day 17, inshallah… Overnights on Days 15 and 16 are spent camping on the sands, Day 17 at the comfortable El Medina Hotel or similar. (BLD)

Continuing north, at the Guerguarat military post we cross the southern border of Western Sahara, an area occupied by Morocco. The region is part of the former Spanish Sahara territory and the site of a long, grumbling conflict between the Polisario Front and the Moroccan army. Morocco is doing its best to assimilate Western Sahara by virtue of its occupation, despite UN resolutions demanding a democratic vote on the issue of independence. After border formalities, we will cross a few miles of no-man’s land characterised by hundreds of wrecked cars and trucks. This is Mad Max territory. There used to be a minefield here, and though it’s apparently been cleared, it’s still best to stick to existing tracks in the sand. This hinterland is an unmarked border, a theoretical line in the desert that ‘divides nothing from nothing’. Our route continues north, following steep cliffs separating the desert from the ocean. Having crossed the Tropic of Cancer we continue to Dakhla. Overnight Hotel Dums or similar. (BLD)

Dakhla itself is an engaging town. Crossroads is an overused term, but it does really feel as though it’s a meeting place of cultures. The exceptional beauty of the surrounding landscape is striking. In a surreal intrusion, kite surfers have made the town’s lagoon their own, many driving down from Europe to camp by the Atlantic and take advantage of ideal water and wind conditions. We take a good look around and explore the coastline, discovering pristine beaches, and having lunch at an oyster farm. Later, we return to the hotel and in the evening visit Dakhla’s animated night market. Overnight Hotel Dums or similar. (BLD)

In Dakhla we meet our local guide, a nomad from a Sahrawi tribe, who will lead us through the next three days of a true desert crossing in Western Sahara. Our route traverses the vast desert regions of Tiris and Zemmour. Sand will get everywhere. Guaranteed. Overnights camping in the Sahara. (BLD)

Emerging from the desert, we cross an automated conveyor belt, the longest in the world, that transports phosphate to the Atlantic coast. We pass through Laayoune, a frontier town and the main base for Moroccan economic development in the Sahara. By late afternoon we’ll be in Tarfaya on the Juby Cape, less than 100 km across the Atlantic from the Canary Islands, but a world away. Tarfaya is a former Aeropostale base, important in the transport of airmail from Europe to Africa and Latin America. We visit the local museum which has interesting displays on Aeropostale and aviator and author of ‘The Little Prince’, Antoine de Saint Exupéry. Overnight Hotel Casamar or similar. (BLD)

From Tarfaya the road shadows steep, rocky cliffs plunging down to the Atlantic. At the Naila lagoon we visit a unique inland sea, separated from the ocean only by rows of dunes. A boat excursion allows us to explore these remote wild shores. Later we visit an abandoned fort which still ‘guards’ the former border between the French protectorate of Morocco and Spanish Sahara. There’s a cinematic feel to the place and an expectation that a Foreign Legion detachment all singing La Marseillaise will arrive at any moment. Overnight Ksar Tifnidit Hotel or similar. (BLD)

Today we will leave Tifnidit and cross a steep range of dunes into the Dra estuary region, visited only by the most intrepid travellers. Between the cliffs and the Atlantic Ocean there are no paved roads. We’ll encounter tiny temporary settlements erected by fishermen, abandoned military outposts, a sea of dunes… and camels. Taking to the ‘plage blanche’, we drive for many miles on the beach, between the dunes and the ocean (Note: this can only be done during low tide). When the tide turns, we leave the beach and follow the wadi (dry riverbed), the only way out between the high dunes and the ocean. Overnight Ksar Tifnidit or similar. (BLD)

Guelmim has always been an important, ancient caravan terminal, a gateway to the desert. Here we find the remains of the ancient trans-Sahara trade. Among an astonishing landscape we’ll find a luxuriant oasis of thousands of palm trees and shady gardens. Near the oasis, there are fortified adobe villages called kasbah, still partially inhabited. This scene has a timeless feel, as though we are still inhabiting the Middle Ages. Overnight in a comfortable hotel in Tata – Les Relais des Sables Hotel or similar. (BLD)

Leaving the main road, we cross Iriki saltwater lake through the flat, dry, salty plain and enter a region of large dunes, the Erg Chegaga. Here, we rely on our driver’s expertise to navigate the sand labyrinth, some of the wildest desert on the planet. Overnight in a fixed camp with beds in the tents. (BLD)

This morning we head to the Dra Valley and visit an ancient rock art site where hundreds of fine petroglyphs date dating back thousands of years depict the lives of people living in the region. Later, away from the main road, we explore the lesser-visited regions of the Jebel Sahro mountain range. Following a remote track that climbs through rocky valleys, we arrive at a collection of large caverns still inhabited by shepherd families. Nearby, we visit a tiny verdant village hidden in a narrow depression and invisible from surroundings highlands. This green miracle is an oasis with a stream and waterfalls. The Berber inhabitants are always delighted to have us as visitors. Overnight Day 27 at a hotel in Zagora, and Day 28 at the Ibis hotel in Ouarzazate. (BLD)

This morning we depart, once more heading north across the spectacular High Atlas, following a panoramic route that crosses the Tin Tichka pass (2,260 m). It’s expected that we’ll arrive in Marrakech in the early evening. After an astonishing journey there’ll be day rooms available at a hotel allowing us to freshen up before airport transfers for onward flights. (BL)

Mapped itinerary.

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Download the full tour dossier for this trip here.

West Africa Overland - From the Ocean to the Sahara

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well-travelled team.

+44(0) 191 296 2674 from THE UK
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Dates & Price.

From the Ocean to the Sahara

3 Apr 2021 to 1 May 2021

£8175 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:

Bissau to Dahkla (19 Days) – Contact us for prices

Bissau to Nouakchott (11 Days) – Contact us for prices

Dakar to Marrakech (23 Days) – Contact us for prices

Nouakchott to Marrakech (19 Days) – Contact us for prices

Nouakchott to Laayoune (12 Days) – Contact us for prices

Dakhla to Marrakech (12 Days) – Contact us for prices


Tour Notes

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

Return flights from London to Bissau and returning from Marrakech 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 airport transfers – 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
  • Drinks at meals during the nights in the mobile camp.
  • All transfers in 4WD
  • 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