Trans-Sahara & West Africa, The Grand Expedition

57 Days: Morocco and his Western Sahara Provence, Mauritania, Senegal, Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Togo, Benin and Nigeria Extension
Leaded by Alberto Nicheli

Trans-Sahara & West Africa,
The Grand Expedition

57 Days: Morocco and his Western Sahara Provence,
Mauritania, Senegal, Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia,
Ivory Coast, Ghana, Togo, Benin and Nigeria Extension

Leaded by Alberto Nicheli

Unique Departures:

2021: Start in Cotonou February 26th, 2021. End in Marrakech April 23rd 2021. REVERSE ITINERARY
2021: Start in Marrakech November 20th, 2021. End in Cotonou Jannuary 15th 2022.
2022: Start in Cotonou March 5th, 2022. End in Marrakech April 30th, 2022. REVERSE ITINERARY
2022: Start in Marrakech November 19th, 2022. End in Cotonou Jannuary 154h 2023.

Prices from 17,985 Euro (group of 4 to 5 participants)

Trans-Sahara & West Africa, The Grand Expedition - Map

Introduction

Experience a “Grand Raid” crossing the Sahara from north to south continuing through Sahel, Savannah and Forests, ending on Islands and Coasts of West Africa. A progressive and continuous changing of landscapes and ecosystems. We will discover the main natural, cultural and religious environments of the African continent.

Starting in Marrakech, the ancient caravan terminal, crossing the remote Djebel Sarhro mountains, to the unveiled Western Sahara (now Moroccan Sahara Provinces) facing the high dunes and remote oasis of Mauritania to the first Savannah of Senegal. From Cap d’Almadine, the western point of the continent our direction will gradually change to East. With Casamance dancing mask the local culture will change from Islam to animism as the landscape will changes from Savanna to forest.

Trans-Sahara & West Africa, The Grand Expedition - SaharaTrans-Sahara & West Africa, The Grand Expedition - West Africa

Three days navigating to explore the remote Bijagos Archipelago. In the les known part of Guinea Bissau to enjoy a “tribal concert” of the Griot: descendent of musician and story tellers lineages dating back from 12th century. Following the coast and inland of Guinea Gulf, between pristine shores and islands. Experience remotes forests and mountains where the arrival of foreigners is a rare event : cross rivers on barges and walk liana bridges to isolated villages, house of Bird Men initiates, sacred masks, animistic rituals and… diamonds diggers.

Enjoy pristine beaches and the highest concentration of ancient slave trade castles. Discover the African origins of Voodoo: trance rituals are still practiced in the largest stilt village of the continent.

Experience also the “new face of Africa” the contemporary vibe: stroll in the intense city life of Dakar, Freetown, Monrovia, Abidjan and Accra, feel the exciting mix of urban culture, live music and fusion cuisine.

Alberto NicheliEXPEDITION LEADER: Alberto Nicheli, TransAfrica founder, has been travelling in West Africa since 1975. He has led more than a hundred expeditions in West Africa and sixty-four Sahara expeditions, including solo crossing of the desert, ethnological research on Tuareg and rock art. He has organized the logistics of a documentary film for Discovery Channel on the Caravans of the Niger and has assisted in numerous research projects on West Africa with Angela Fisher and Carol Beckwith from National Geographic, as well as in different television programs on West Africa. He has an expertise in Tribal Art and security in West Africa.



Day 1 - 12 Morocco and its less travelled paths
Day 13 - 19 Mauritania, pure Sahara exploration combined with the visit of historic jewels
Day 20 - 25 Senegal, from northern savannah to southern sacred forests
Day 26 Senegal - Gambia
Day 27 Gambia – Casamance ( Senegal)
Day 28 - 32 Guinea Bissau
Day 33 - 35 Guinea Conakry
Day 36 - 40 Sierra Leone
Day 41 - 42 Liberia
Day 43 - 44 Guinea Conakry
Day 45 - 50 Ivory Coast
Day 51 - 53 Ghana
Day 54 Togo
Day 55 - 57 Benin

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Marrakech (Morocco)

Individual arrival.

Meeting at 8PM and Overnight at Novotel **** international standard, in the heart of Marrakech.

Day 2: High Atlas (Morocco)

High AtlasWe will live the main road to discover the les frequented Berber villages in the High Atlas Range and joint the local gems diggers in quest of Amethyst, Tourmaline…. With their help we will be able to find our own gems… Our itinerary cross Tizi-n- Tichka pass at 7460 ft. In the southern side of the Atlas we will stop at Ait Benhaddou a beautiful adobe Ksar (fortified village) still partially inhabited and one of the great examples of Adobe Architecture in Morocco. Ait Benhaddou is on the ancient caravan route linking Marrakech with the Sahara. In the modern time in this Ksar has been shot many famous movies including Lawrence of Arabia, Sodom and Gomorrah, Oedipus Rex, The Sheltering Sky, The Jewels of the Nile, Jesus of Nazareth, Alexander, Gladiator, and more…

Evening arrival at Ouarzazate, large Oasis at the edge of the desert. Dinner and overnight in an international hotel.

Day 3: Remote Valleys, Cavern Dewelers and Rock Art (Morocco)

Early morning departure. Following a steep track from valley to valley will bring us to remote shepherd families still living permanently in caves. A highland itinerary (often at more than 6000 Ft. ) to explore the les visited region of the Djebel (mountains) Sarhro. Following a tiny track that climbs rocky valleys through a breathtakingly landscape of mountains and desert our itinerary cross an arid spectacular mountain landscape: picks, tabular rocks, rare nomad tends and tiny Berber villages. Visit of an ancient rock art site. Hundreds of fine graffiti dating thousands of years ago, silent witnes of peoples living in these regions before the desertification.

Arrival in the evening at Zagora Oasis, dinner and overnight in hotel, comfortable rooms.

Day 4 & 5: Dunes (Morocco)

We will live Zagora to visit the oasis in the Dra riverbed, a large continuous strep of luxuriant vegetation surrounded by the ochre and yellow colours of the desert. In the shade of 2.200.000 palm trees, small gardens are a green miracle in the desert. In Mhamid the Sahara adventure starts; our 4x4 will enter a region of high dunes, the Erg Chegaga. Dinner and overnight in a comfortable fix camp, with beds, restaurant and facilities.

We will start the day driving out of any track finding our way, crossing ranges of dunes to reach Iriki dry Salt Lake. Late afternoon arrival at Icht, a comfortable fixed-tended camp in the desert; Air-conditioned bungalows and tents with beds, private facilities, restaurant, swimming pool.

Day 6: Caravan Route & Ancien Fort (Morocco)

Ancien FortThe road will bring us to Guelmim, an ancient caravan terminal. Here we will search for the remains of the ancient Trans-Sahara trade…

From this point onward, we will often travel along one of the fishiest coasts on earth. We will follow the “migration route” of the paleo-artic birds that migrate to winter in Africa every year during this season.

Visit to a spectacular ghost military fort, which still “guards” the former borders between the French protectorate of Morocco and the Spanish Sahara. Feeling like we are on the set of an old French Foreign Legion movie. Afternoon arrival at the charming and comfortable Ksar Tafnidilt hotel, built using local material in a beautiful Saharan architecture. 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 challenging off-road competition reserved for female teams. Ksar Tafnidilt is a meeting point for passionate Sahara travelers; the hotel will be our base for two nights.

Day 7: Estuaries and Desert (Morocco)

Leave Tafnidilt crossing a steep range of dunes. The Dra estuary region is visited only by brave travelers. Between the cliffs and the Atlantic Ocean there are only tracks vanishing in the sand. We will discover tiny temporary settlements of fishermen, ghost colonial military posts, dunes, and camels in a virgin landscape, and if lucky with the drive for miles on a wild beach like a strep between dunes and ocean. Live the coastline finding our way along a dry riverbed (Ouadi) in a large canyon the only possible path between desert, cliffs and the ocean. Evening return to our comfortable base: Ksar Tafnidilt hotel. (Low Tide 11:40)

Day 8: Dunes and Lagoons (Morocco)

From Tan-Tan, the road follows an exciting itinerary through a crag on the edge between Sahara and Ocean... The Naila salt lagoon, separated from the ocean by rows of dunes, with an estuary on the sea, is the largest Salt Lake in Morocco (100 square Km). Protected area of great natural beauty is an important resting point on the bird’s migratory way, can host up to 20.000 individuals as flamingos, cormorants, gulls, herons…

We will board a local fisherman boat to explore this emerald water enclosed in a wide frame of yellow dunes and brown escarpments.

Late afternoon arrival at the tiny town of Tarfaya on the Juby Cape, less than 100 km away from the Canary Islands. Tarfaya is a former “Aeropostale” base, pioneered airmail from Europe to Africa and Latin America. Interesting museum and the remains of colonial Spanish architetture. In Tarfaya, Saint Exupéry the famous aviator and writer, author of “The little prince” was familiar.

Hotel Casamar, rooms with private facilities.

Sahara desert

Day 9 & 10: Western Sahara: The Forbidden Track (Morocco)

In Laayoune we will meet our local guide, a nomad from a Sahrawi tribe who will lead us through three days of a total of-road desert expedition crossing from north to south 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. Presently, it is part of Morocco.

Since the second half of the seventies, due to this long “sand war,” this region has been off-limits to travelers. Until today no peace treaty has been signed, but a cease-fire is respected. We are proud to be the “first” to bring intrepid travelers to the vast, sandy regions of Saguia El Hamra, Tiris Zemmour and Rio de Oro. In this real Saharan expedition, we will cross large dunes to discover wells frequented by long lines of camels belonging to the legendary Reguibat nomads. Days 9 and 10 camping under the stars of the desert.

Day 11: From the Desert to the Ocean (Morocco)

Morning continuation of our Trans-Saharan expedition. In the afternoon, a road will bring us to the ocean. Arrival at an hotel in Dakhla that will be our “base” for two nights. Hotel Doumss, air-conditioned rooms.

Day 12: Rio de Oro (Morocco)

The exceptional beauty of this landscape makes the Dakhla peninsula a special place. The Rio de Oro is a 25-mile long sea loch situated between cliffs and dunes. Different pastel colours paint the scenery: the blue ocean, yellow sand, green seaweed fields and dark rocks. Experience a unique scenery: during the high tide the ocean will flood the desert and a white dune will become a temporary island. The small town of Dakhla was founded by Spanish navigators in 1502 and was called “Villa Cisneros.”

Visit of the colourful fishing harbour, lunch in an oyster farm, drive along the shore where the waves lap the sand dunes. Return to our hotel in Dakhla, dinner in a typical restaurant. Hotel Doumss, air –conditioned rooms. (Hight tide 9:31 (10) coef. 52).

Trans-Sahara & West Africa, The Grand Expedition - Sahara

Day 13 : Border: a Line in the Sand. (Morocco - Mauritania)

Our route continues following the cliff between the desert and the ocean. We follow the only open road going south.

A signboard indicate that we are passing the “Tropic of Cancer”, at Guerguerat military post we will cross the southern border of Morocco, the only open frontier between Maghreb and Black Africa. After the formalities, we cross a few miles of “no-man land” where different traffickers have made their base in new and old cars and trucks apparently abandoned. The no-man land is the unmarked border, a theoretical line in the desert that “divides nothing from nothing”. On the other side, the military post of Mauritania. Evening arrival to Nouadhibou. Comfortable El Medina Hotel **** hotel. Or similar.

Day 14 & 15: Sahara Exploration (Mauritania)

Early morning departure for two days of pure exploration. Thanks to the experience of our staff we will make or own itinerary tracing an unmarked path in the sand ocean of Inchiri region, one of the les known part of Mauritanian desert. To cross long ranges of dunes we will reduce the tire pressure. Gps, maps, compass will assist our land-navigation in an untouched geological universe. Our direction will follow in parallel the dunes lines. The real desert gives the feeling to be on earth before the down of time. “Sahara experience”: what makes unique the desert are the endless empty spaces, the untamed sand. Discover traces of ancient human presence: stone tools, remains of potteries, silent witness of people that lived there long time ago, before the desertification. We will find the nomadic isolated settlements when the landscape will become less dramatic and some rare graze will appear. These human encounters after the immense silence of the Sahara are intense, the nomads living in the Inchiri are not used to tourist.

Two nights of mobile camp.

Sahara Exploration

Day 16: Adrar: Dunes And Mountains (Mauritania)

The even more scenic landscape of Mauritania: valleys, high mountains, yellow sand dunes with peaks of dark and red rock, lost adobe villages. Amatlich Erg (large dune basin) is one of the most beautiful dune ranges in the region. We will visit remotes oasis and hidden adobe villages.

Evening arrival to Chinguetti where we will spend three nights. Dinner and overnight in a cosy guest house built in traditional Mauritanian style, (or private comfortable residence).

Adrar

Day 17: Chinguetti, the Oasis (Mauritania)

Chinguetti is an ancient caravan terminal and important trading point between north and Black Africa.

The actual citadel dated from 13th century and is a cross-point of different trans-Saharan routes. The atmosphere of the old stone town, the architecture, the visit of some ancient manuscript collections dating from the middle-age and the oasis with is green miracles of palm trees and gardens surrounded by the immensity of the Sahara are the special highlights of Chinguetti. Large chains of yellow dunes are the western boundary of the town that “fight” to don’t be submerged by the send.

Interesting buildings the main Mosque, an ancient stone building. And the old French foreign legion fort.

We will spend the whole day in the magical atmosphere of this village, which is considered the jewel of Mauritanian oasis, discovering two ancient manuscript collection, including Ould Habott, the largest in Mauritania. Return to our cozy guest house.

Chinguetti

Day 18: Ouadane, the Remotest (Mauritania)

We will drive to Ouadane in an absolute “out of any track” itinerary that follows the Ouadi (dry creek) discovering remote tiny oasis hidden in the high dunes. Entire day dedicated to discovering Ouadane and his region, the remotest oasis in Mauritania, an outpost in the emptiest of the desert. Ouadane was founded in 1147. Mainly in ruin, some of his stone houses perched on a rocky hill surrounded by the immensity of Sahara are still inhabited. In the ancient days this town was an important caravan trading point between Maghreb and black Africa.

Trading was so flourishing that in 1487 Portuguese built a fortified trading counter in the region.

Return to our comfortable base in Chinguetti. Dinner and overnight at “La Gueila” (or private residence).

Day 19: Noukchott (Mauritania)

Day driving on a panoramic road in the Sahara. Evening arrival to Nouakchott the capital of Mauritania, a newer town surrounded by the desert. Dinner and overnight in the comfortable Halima hotel.

Day 20: Djoudj National Park. (Mauritania - Senegal)

Early morning departure for the small border post with Senegal. The natural border between Mauritania and Senegal is the Senegal River; we will cross the river on a mobile bridge, and we will move into a wet area isolated between Sahara and Ferlo desert.

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 of over a million migratory and sedentary birds.

The protected wetland habitats attract migratory birds, more than 400 species live temporarily in this unique bird sanctuary. We will enjoy a boat excursion to visit an island with an astonishing concentration of pelicans.

Arrival in the evening to Saint Louis. Dinner and overnight at “Hotel de la Poste”, a historical hotel built in 1850 used as the base of the “Aeropostale” (airmail pioneer operation) pilots. Totally restored, it has conserved the best “hold colonial atmosphere” in town.

Djoudj National Bird Sanctuary

Day 21: Saint Louis, African and Colonial Citadels (Senegal)

Morning visit of Saint Louis first capital of all French colonies in West Africa, a charming old town, situated on two islands between Senegal River and the ocean. The best way to get around the narrow streets of Saint Louis will be on board of the calash, like the locals do! A walk will complete the discovery of the fisherman quarters. We will live to reach Lampoul dunes. Dinner and overnight in fancy fix camp, en-suite tents. Dinner at the restaurant on the high part of the dunes. (Low tide 17:24)

Day 22: From Fisherman Village to Contemporary Artists (Senegal)

Spectacular drive to discover the largest fisherman village in Senegal, more than 4500 wooden pirogues came to the shore with the catch of the day… We will live our vehicles for a less intrusive, but fun, donkey chariot to approach the fisherman selling to the local market women, to meet the artisans craving the large pirogues, the painters decorating them with bright colours and the “local saint” for final magical blessing before sailing…. Lac Rose, also known as Lac Retba, is a shallow saltwater lake surrounded by dunes. 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.

Arrival to Dakar, ferry to Gorée Island: The right times to enjoy Gorée is at sunset when all tourists are gone or in the morning before the crowd arrival. In Gorée island slaves were crammed, waiting to be shipped to the Americas. Totally restored remain to bear witness of those times. Today its breezy climate, history and ancient architecture, together with nice restaurants and boutiques, make Gorée an interesting and trendy destination for local and foreign visitors.

Dinner in a typical restaurant and overnight at “Maison Municipal” or similar. A comfortable Guest house in an ancient, restored building.

boats on a beach in Senegal

Day 23: Live Music & Fusion Cuisine (Senegal)

Morning end of Gorée visit that includes the interesting museum with historical and pre-historical artefact and a “gallery” of a local artist. Ferry to Dakar lunch at Le Bedeew an open-space restaurant in a tropical garden hidden in the core of the city, known for his Word Cuisine is a trendy meeting point in Dakar. Drive to the hotel, late afternoon free to relax or stroll in town. Evening we will join a

Live Music club to vibe at contemporary rhythms…

Overnight at the Le Djoloff Boutique hotel a balanced mix of furniture in traditional African style and modern comfort. Or similar.

Day 24: African Metropolis (Senegal)

Dakar became an important centre of political, artistic and intellectual “renouveau” during the independence time, still the liveliest metropolis in French speaking West Africa. Visit of the “Musée des Civilisations Noires” including great collections of Tribal Art, textiles, and contemporary local artists. The “Plateau” district, the Presidential Palace, a typical market and lunch return to our special fishing club restaurant. In the afternoon a typical market, the totally restored Dakar-Bamako railway station a great example of colonial architecture, galleries and handicraft markets…. Return to Le Djoloff hotel. Or similar.

Day 25: River Harbour (Senegal)

Drive in direction of Kaolak town, in a region of salt pounds. Lunch in a restaurant. Kaolak an important port for exporting peanuts and salt from Senegal and nearest countries.

Dinner and Overnight at the comfortable air-conditioned bungalows of Relais de Kaolak or Kabacoto Safari Lodge, facing a lake and lagoons ***, or similar.

Day 26: Gambia, Betwin Archeology and Contemporaneity. (Senegal - Gambia)

Early departure, the region between the north bank of Gambia River and Senegal have hosted one of the largest megalithic civilisations on earth . Sine Ngayene is the richest Megalithic site with 1102 erected stones. Border of Gambia and a “very local” ferry crossing of the large Gambia River estuary to reach Banjul, the capital. Visit of the town centre, and the interesting national museum. Optional: music in town.

Dinner and overnight at Atlantic Hotel or Kairaba Beach hotel ****, swimming pool.

Day 27: Dancing Mask. (Gambia - Casamance, Senegal)

Morning, brief but intense guided bird watching experience.

Departure for the border with Casamance, the southern region of Senegal.

Late afternoon we will join the ritual dances of Diola sacred mask. The masks belong to a secret society and the identity of the dancers is not revealed, it is said that the mask is animated by the spirits. Drums, dances and a colourful crowd will enliven the tiny village in the shade of larges kapok trees.

Dinner and overnight at the comfortable Kadiandoumange hotel ***, located on the bank of Casamance large river, swimming pool. An interesting example of local managed charming hotel. Or similar.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zp6x2rlnNXA

Day 28: Ancestors Cult. (Senegal - Guinea Bissau)

Crossing of Guinea Bissau border. The Manjaco ethnic group calls the traditions “Gendiman”. 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”. After asking permission to 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. Arrival at Bissau .Dinner and overnight at Azalai Hotel ****. Or similar

Day 29: Bijagos Sacred Archipelago: The Ghost Capital (Guinea Bissau)

We will start a three days spectacular navigation on a speedboat to discover the Bijagos Archipelago, his fascinating nature and isolated tribes. The Archipelago, composed by 88 islands and islets, is located at an average of 40 miles from the coastline. Bijagos is a “geographical jewel”.

Bolama was the former capital of the Portuguese Guinea from 1871. In 1941 the capital was moved to Bissau. When the Portuguese left, native people came to live in this town which is now falling apart, partly invaded with tropical vegetation. Built following the plans of a «Castrum Romane» (roman citadel) the town is made of straight large avenues, sunny and lethargic empty squares, dry fountains, bush-like gardens, imposing administrative buildings in neo Palladian style. In the shade of the columns at the former governor palace goats graze peacefully. Although inhabited, this capital town is plunged in the fairy-tale atmosphere of a ghost town.

Dinner and overnight at Ponta Anchaca Resort **** in comfortable air-conditioned wooden bungalows, hidden in the vegetation and facing the ocean. Restaurant on stilts with refined French and tropical cuisine. This lodge will be our base for two days.

Day 30: Vaca Bruto Dancing Ceremony (Guinea Bissau)

Short navigation to Bubaque island, the “capital” of Bijagos Archipelago, his market and the tiny museum.

Afternoon: due to the remoteness, the lack of transports and the deep attachment of the locals to their traditions, the Bijagos tribes have been little influenced by the external world. Life in the villages is characterized by initiations rites and secret ceremonies. In some villages, the young men must go through a seven-year initiation rite living in a “convent” with no contact with women. In Bijagos Archipelago life is still ruled by the “cycle of seasons”. During the long dry season, when harvest is over, the main ceremonies take place. Vaca Bruto (wild bull) is the most spectacular mask in the islands, the dancers convey the mask a realistic presence by bowing and facing the ground. With eyes of frosted glass, real horns, leather ears and a rope through the nostril. All convey the idea of a real untamed animal, representing a man in full possession of his physical strength but still with an immature behaviour as he has not yet undergone the final initiations. All the villagers attend this fascinating ceremony.

Retour to our comfortable Ponta Anchaca Resort **** in comfortable air-conditioned wooden bungalows, hidden in the vegetation and facing the ocean. Restaurant on stilts with refined French and tropical cuisine.

Vaca Bruto Dancing Ceremony

Day 31: Islander Life (Guinea Bissau)

Morning relax at Ponta Anchaca wild beaches, and swimming pool, or walking excursion in the island.

Afternoon navigation to Bissau.

On request (not included) Early morning departure for an excursion to Orango Island in search of a residual fauna of Hippos that has acclimatised with the life on islands. Mainly living is fresh-water swamps, some time they could swim in the ocean. Local guide will lead the visitors, hippos are not granted.

A vehicle will be waiting us for a brief city tour. Bissau is a tiny but intriguing capital town with old Portuguese architecture and a huge fort, a reminder of the slave trade era.

Overnight hotel Azalai, international standard ****

Day 32: Griot: The African Trobadors (Guinea Bissau)

Early morning departure. After lunch we leave the main road for a small village in the Malinké region. The Malinké are the descendants of the ancient Mali Empire and are spread on the current territory of Mali, Guinea Conakry Ivory Coast, Senegal and Guinea Bissau. Griots are a cast of musician-story tellers dating from the 13th centoury Mali Empire. The village we visit is known for the Griot families that have maintained these traditions from the time of the Empire. Well-known also for their skill in producing musical instruments, they will perform a concert for us., Arrival at Gabu. Dinner and overnight at the new hotel Karsa ***, air-conditioned self-contained rooms.

Day 33: The Largest Mountain Massif (Guinea Bissau - Guinea Conakry)

An old manually pulled barge will allow us to cross Rio Corubal, the natural border between the two Guineas and bring us to the small border posts of Guinea Conakry in a region inhabited by the Malinké and the Fulla (Peul) tribes; stopover in villages where the arrival of foreigners is a very rare event.

Joint the main road we will start to penetrate Fouta Djalon massif. Thanks to the fresh and salubrious climate was the preferred place by the French for their holidays during the colonial era. Wood of conifers is left as memory of that time. Considered the most spectacular area of Guinea: mountains, plateau and savannah are alternated with deep humid valleys. This large mountain massif is the “water reservoir”, from Guinea starts 3 rivers that give name to four nation: Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Gambia. On this territory live the Fulani, famous for their beauty and considered the greatest stockbreeders of cow of the West Africa. We will visit isolated villages, composed of large clay houses decorated with bas relief, high conical roofs with several layers of straw.

Evening arrival to Labe and overnight at the basic but comfortable and clean Hotel Tata, self-contain bungalows with A/C.

Day 34: Fouta Djalon (Guinea Conakry)

Full day dedicated to discovering Fouta Djalon where the mountains meet the savannah, deep valley, highest waterfalls framed by the forest make the landscape of a pristine beauty. Peul ethnic group, (called also Fula’s) come from this area; Peul are known for their beauty and for being the best zebu breeders of West Africa. In the XVII century the Fula’s (Peul) Jihad started from these mountains and they led the Peul to conquer the majority of savannah till Cameroun and are the largest group in sub-Saharan savannas. A very large clay round hut with a decorated grass roof is where the main council sits and where were nominate the traditional chiefs of all Fouta Djalon, thanks to our connections we will ask to be received by chiefs and dignitaries siting in council….

Arrival at Dalaba at 1200 m. ( 3900 Ft.) altitude. Dinner and overnight at a new and comfortable hotel, Safitel ***. Air-conditioned self-contain rooms.

Waterfalls in Fouta Djalon

Day 35 : African Bas-Relief (Guinea Conakry)

Visit to Dalaba small and quiet town. Of an interest is the “casa a palabra” (the house of words) with fine bas-relief in a pure Peul architectonical style. Here the chiefs used to gather to meet the colonial administration.

Visit to the villa built by the colonial governor and later used by the first president of independent Guinea. The leader of the independence was Sekou Touré, one of the most radical anti-colonials; he refuse any cooperation with French and linked Soviet Union bloc and tide friendly relationship with Ceausescu. Under Sekou Touré, the country became more and more isolated and the government turned into a dictatorship. Some villas used by the ministers and by the guests of Sekou Touré are reminiscences of that time. In a today ruined villa Miriam Makeba met and married Stokley Carmichael, an exile from the US who was among the inspirators of the armed wing of Black Panter.

We will live Dalaba following the southern slope of the massif to reach Mamou an interesting trading town and his market.

Hotel Balys , or similar. Basic comfort Air-conditioned Self-contain rooms.

Day 36 & 37: Masks In The Forest (Guinea Conakry - Sierra Leone)

A tiny small track will bring us to a small border with a remote area of Sierra Leone, crossing rivers in the forest, using old manually pulled barges. Arrival at the village of Kamakwie, in this region, where foreigner are rare, if lucky we will assist to traditional dances and the exit of sacred masks, called here “devils”.

Next day drive in the direction of Freetown peninsula.

Day 36 Dinner and overnight at the White House hotel or similar, (built by a local that live in the USA in the shape inspired to the White House) Basic comfort, self-contain rooms.

Day 37 Dinner and Overnight in Freetown at the comfortable Swiss Hotel ****, international standard.

Day 38: Freetown Peninsula (Sierra Leone)

Freetown origins: in 1786 the first 308 freed slaves came to Sierra Leone from America where they have fought in the independence war on the side of the British, after having lost the war the British sent them to Sierra Leone. Few months after their arrival, the newcomers were starving, got new and unknown diseases and fight with the locals, who hardly stand them. Few years after during a Napoleonic war, Freetown has been attacked by seven vessels of the French navy and destroyed. Few survivors escape on the pirogues sent by… the slaves’ traders… From 1807, due to the abolition of the slave trade by the British Empire, the ships of the slave’s traders caught by the British navy freed the slaves in Sierra Leone.

In 1808 Freetown became the capital45 of the first British colony in tropical Africa. At that time Krio, or ex slaves, were more than 50.000 creating an elite who put pressure on the colonial administration for a better education. In 1845 was built Fourah Bay the first University in west Africa. During Colonial time Freetown was known as the “Athens of West Africa”. Drive along the coast at the slopes of the Freetown peninsula mountains… only the yellow of the beaches divide the green of the lush vegetation from the blue of the ocean. The country has been named after these mountains, the mountains of lion. A local boat will bring us to Banana island.

Dinner and Overnight at the cozy Bafa Lodge that will be our base for two nights: fix tents hidden in the forest facing the sea. Fine cuisine based on the catch of the day (other meals available, ask in advance).

Day 39: Banana Island (Sierra Leone)

Full day dedicated to circumnavigate, explore, walk and discover this pristine island with mountains in large primary forests, villages and remote beaches. For the more adventurous a half day walk to explore the forest or continue the circumnavigation of the island. Lunch picnic, dinner and overnight at our unique Bafa Lodge fix camp.

Day 40: Bundo: Female Masks (Sierra Leone)

Brief navigation, to joint our vehicles and departure in direction north east.

In most parts of Africa, the masks are male’s prerogative, however among the Mende people and neighbours populations the masks Bundo are a female’s domain and they have crucial role in the initiation rites. We reach a tiny village to assist at the exit of these masks, an event that calls for the participation of a colourful crowd.

Dinner and overnight at comfortable hotel Dohas, rooms with A/C and en-suite, or similar.

Female mask, Sierra Leone

Day 41: Diamonds (Sierra Leone - Liberia)

Diamond seeking is addictive as gambling, the possibility of finding a “fortune” become true, just for few most lucky. Diamonds have played an important role in the recent civil war. The quantity and quality of “stones” still to find is important. We will take a track to reach a village with huts made by clay and straw. After asking permission to the chief some villagers will take us to the site where we can meet the diamonds’ seekers. A local will explain us the technics of artisanal mining and “sand washing”. A spectacular road in the forest will bring us to the Mano River and to the border with Liberia. After the formalities we will continue to reach Monrovia in the evening. Diner and overnight at the comfortable Cape Hotel **** international standard, at Mamba Point, in the best area of Monrovia. Or similar.

Diamond searching

Day 42: Liberia: The Land of Freemen (Liberia)

Liberia is the only African country which has never been either a colony or a protectorate; Liberia was founded by Krio, the freed slaves who came back to Africa from America, for this reason was named “Liberia”. Krio are 5% of the population and they are the main actors of the economy and politics, they are considered the creator of the Nation and of the modern economy . 80% of the population speaks the Krio language, a sort of American-English “Pidgin”.

Our ocean-view hotel is the right starting point to have a interesting walking-visit of town. Freemasonry had a great impact on the history of Liberia and Krio culture, visit of the Grand Masonic Temple imposing building, and if will be luck meeting with the Grand Master. A symbol of Monrovia is what left of the Ducor Palace Hotel, inaugurated in 1960 was one of the first five stars in Africa. Located on a rocky hill in the highest point of Monrovia, dominate the whole town and the gulf. The hotel hosted social events and parties of the African elites at the time just after independence. In the large swimming pool facing the ocean Idi Amin used to swim caring his gun at the belt while his friend Miriam Makeba was singing. After the civil war the building was looted several times, the hotel is now abandoned and closed, but seeking the right permission, we may be able to visit it.

In 2008 the government made a deal with Ghaddafi to rebuild this hotel, however the project, as many other Libyan development projects in Africa, never came to conclusion thanks to the war that Europe and America made to overthrow Ghaddafi.

The building of the National Museum his himself a display of Krio traditional architecture, within we discover a large collection of ancient masks and ritual objects. The visit includes a photographic show about the civil war which took place between 1989 and 2003. Old colonial buildings, stone Krio churches will be also part of this intriguing town visit.

Lunch and departure for Gbarnga. Dinner and overnight at Passion 2 Hotel ***, or similar.

Day 43: African Wild Forests (Liberia - Guinea Conakry)

Early morning departure for a day of driving to the northern part of Liberia and to the greatest forest region of Guinea Conakry. Crossed the border we will continue through larges rubber plantation (hevea) to reach Nzerekore and Macenta in a hilly and luxuriant landscape. After dinner we live the hotel to join a village and participate to a spectacular event: the masks will live the forest and dance at the light of a large fire….

Dinner and overnight at the comfortable and new Hotel Macenta *** fully air-conditioned, self -contain rooms, swimming pool. Or similar.

Dance in Liberia

Day 44: Bird Men, Toma Masks & Liana Bridge Guinea Conakry

A small track in the lush vegetation will bring us to a remote village to assist at one of the more spectacular, and les known, sacred dances of West African forests. The Bird Men with the face painted in Kaolin and totally dressed in feathers belong to a special initiation, that has passed secretly from father to son during centuries. Believed to have magical powers that can make him invisible, the bird men are during tribal wars, the best messengers, able to cross the enemy lines. Tom-tom drummers and all the village will participate to the event. Toma localy called Loma have also different masks living in the sacred forest…

This region hides many secrets. The liana bridges are masterpiece of an authentic "tribal technology" and can measure 70-meter length. They are built exclusively with vegetal materials, as wood and lianas without the use of nails or rope nor other materials foreign to the forest. Only the initiated can harvest the liana and wood and leave it in the forest, is believed that a powerful spirit will build the bridge in one night. During the preparation of a new bridge needier women nor not initiated are allowed in the forest, to guarantee the secrecy of this "magic technology". Arrival to Nzerekore after an intense day. Dinner and Overnight at hotel Bethanie, self-contain air-conditioned rooms.

Liana Bridge

Day 45: Primates (Guinea Conakry - Ivory Coast)

Early morning departure from Nzerekore, the main settlement of the Forest Region. We reach Bossou village in time for a walk to discover a forest, where a group of chimpanzees (Pan Troglodytes) lives. The inhabitants consider them the reincarnation of their ancestors and therefore hunting them is taboo. The chimpanzee are constantly monitored by the researchers and therefore they are easy to approach.

The track will bring us to a remote Ivory Coast border. When mount Tonkpi with its pic comes into view we will be close to our destination. The small town of Man, surrounded by 18 green mountains is the capital of the We, Dan and Guéré ethnic groups known for the mask considered between the masterpiece of African Art. We will spend two nights at our hotel in Man. Dinner and overnight at hotel Les Cascades, air-conditioned self-contain rooms ***, swimming pool. Or Similar.

Day 46: Dan Masks (Ivory Coast)

Full day dedicated to Man region. In a nearby tiny village, masks will emerge from the forest towards us. In the cosmogony of the Dan people, there is a creator god that communicates with humans only through its intermediaries, the masks: during the mask dance the distance between the human and the spirit worlds disappears, the cosmic and the social orders are restored, and gratitude is expressed to the gods and the ancestors. Dan Masks are one of the finest tribal mask thanks to the delicate balance of shapes that symbolize beauty.

Man, market is an important market with villagers coming from the region and from the neighbours countries. It will be possible to find a wild choice of handicraft and, with some luck, authentic tribal masks and ritual objects. Dinner and overnight, return to hotel Les Cascades, air-conditioned self-contain rooms ***, swimming-pool. Or similar.

Dan Mask

Day 47: Magic Traditions (Ivory Coast)

Full day dedicated to discovering masks and magic traditions.

Only 4x4 vehicles drive at remote villages in the forest to encounter the Guere ethnic group, where the arrival of foreigners is a rare event.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4-_vPJqtxyA

We will discover the powerful Guéré Mask dances, and (if we are lucky) the rare “Jugglers” performances. Girls initiatory Juggling is an ancient tradition now vanishing and we have been able to discover one of the last villages where is still practiced.

If Dan’s masks are considered among the more refined example of beauty and aesthetic, Guéré masks are known for the powerful and rough aspect. Return to the main road to reach the town of Daloa in the evening. Diner and overnight at the recent Hotel La Grace, self-contain airconditioned rooms ***, or similar.

Jugglers performance

Day 48: Cathedral In The Savannah (Ivory Coast)

Day of drive in south-east direction. We continue our journey across coffee and cocoa plantation, dotted only by small villages. Ivory Coast is the world’s main cocoa producer, the second is Ghana and together, they represent more than half of the world production.

In a village we attend the Zaouli dancing masks. Zaouli is a traditional dance of the Guro tribe. The Zaouli mask, was created in the 1950s, probably inspired by a girl named "Djela Lou Zaouli". However, stories on the origins are varied, and each mask can have its own symbolic history. The uniqueness of Zaouli dance is the fine and sophisticated movement of the legs and the fits.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dDYN2D4MvOM&list=PL3fWcyxhXJem5SB-CrAPiBevgyzVhSKWV&index=44

Afternoon arrival to Yamoussoukro, the country’s formal capital since 1983, is the native village of Houphouët-Boigny, the first President of the Ivory Coast. Here the Ivorian dream of the 1970s and 1980s has come true, the dream of a country that, despite its shortage of major natural resources, has create the largest economy in French west Africa.

We visit the Basilica of the Virgin of Peace, inspired of St Peter’s in Rome, is the largest building of Christianity on earth, unique the high colourful glass windows. We see wide boulevards where the few cars try to avoid the big potholes, Zebus and chickens. The huge government buildings, the lofty hotels up to 14 floors high, and even an artificial lake inhabited by crocodiles have a feeling of abandoned.

Dinner and overnight at the comfortable Royal Hotel, swimming pool, *** air-conditioned self-contain rooms, or similar.

Day 49: Abidjan, Skyscrapers and Lagoons (Ivory Coast)

Motorway departure for Abidjan that we will reach late morning. Beyond the lagoon, the “plateau” (the City District) is growing very fast, not horizontally as in most African towns but vertically, with its large modern buildings and skyscrapers. Not much land is available and the little available must be continually recovered from the waters of the Ebrié Lagoon. The modern City District is defined to the west by the harbour and its endless queues of people waiting for a public boat, and to the east by the silhouette of Saints Peter & Paul Cathedral. Chaotic traffic is the negative result of the fast-economic development of this country that after the civil war has some time reached the 6% of the GDP. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XpvcvYRQbhA

31st December, great gala dinner and dances at the hotel, celebrating new year in the typical Abidjan’s way! Overnight at the comfortable and new Azalai **** hotel, international standard, or similar.

Day 50: Grand Bassam (Ivory Coast)

Drive to Grand Bassam: old Town built on a sand bank between the lagoon and the ocean. It was the former capital of the French Ivory Coast colony and now a maritime leisure resort for the Abidjanese. Thanks to its calm avenues shaded by tall trees, large bougainvillea and well-preserved colonial buildings, Grand Bassam has a magic atmosphere. The old post office is a jewel of colonial architecture. The Costume Museum, in the former governor’s palace, with its large outer staircase is a true architectural gem and its unique collection of tribal costumes, masks, ornaments and ethnographic photographs gives an interesting perception of the country history and culture. Continuation in direction East to the small town of Aboisso.

Dinner and overnight at Hotel le Rochè***, Self-contain airconditioned rooms, or similar.

Day 51: Gold Coast (Ivory Coast - Ghana)

Early departure, drive to the Ghana border. In Axim visit fort St Antonio built by the Portuguese in 1515 at the estuary of Ankobra River in a region rich in Gold. The coast of Ghana is unique in whole Africa for the concentration of ancient castles and forts. More than 80 fortifications where built by Europeans during three centuries, to trade in gold, ivory and slaves. The name of this region, from the first Portuguese navigator that discover it navigators in 15th century to the independence in 1957 was named Gold Coast from the abundance of the gold traded. Evening arrival at Anomabu Beach resort where we will spend two nights. Air-Conditioned self -bungalows near the ocean. 31decemberv Gala dinner, in the African joyful stile.

Day 52: Elmina Unique Atmosphere (Ghana)

Full day dedicated to discovering ancient slave trade castles and syncretic animistic shrines.

After a stop at Cape Coast we will visit Elmina Castle, the oldest European building in Africa. Sao Jorge da Mina was erected by the Portuguese in 1482. At different times the castle has been used as a warehouse to trade gold, ivory, and eventually slaves. The castle we visit today is the result of successive extension works and is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Facing the castle, the fishing harbour with hundreds of colourful and large fishing wooden canoes. In the old town and neighbours, we will discover the Posuban, shrines of the “Asafo companies” where the Asafo “warriors” still pour libations. The alleys in the old town have a unique atmosphere, bringing us back long time before the colonial era when Elmina was the first place of fix exchanges between Europeans and Sub Sahara Africa.

Dinner and overnight: return to our bungalows at Anomabu Beach Resort, or similar.

Elmina Castle

Day 53: Accra “The Capital” (Ghana)

The capital of Ghana has maintained its special identity despite the fast-paced development currently underway in this intriguing African metropolis. We explore the old of James Town area, inhabited by the local population known as the Ga. Our tour ends with the visit of a workshop where they specialize in building fantasy coffins. These special handcrafted coffins can take on any shape: fruit, animals, fish, cars, airplanes…. the only limit being imagination! Dinner and overnight in the town central district at Villa Boutique *** self-contain air-conditioned rooms, or similar. Optional, Accra vibe: evening at one of the more typical music club in town.

Day 54: Lome: Cosmopolitan And Stylish Capital (Ghana - Togo)

Morning drive to Togo border.

Lome, the vibrant capital of Togo, is the only African city which has been ruled a ruled by Germans, British and French and has attract traders from different African countries. It is also one of the rare capitals in the world bordering another nation. These elements have developed a unique lifestyle of its inhabitants, of is multi facet cuisine and is the architecture. Lome is a meeting point for people, trade and cultures, a cosmopolitan, in human size, capital. We will visit: the central market with its famous “Nana Benz”, women who control the market of the expensive “pagne” (colourful cloths) sold all over West Africa, the colonial buildings and the largest “fetish market” in whole Africa, where we can find an eclectic assortment of all the necessary ingredients for love potions and magical concoctions and Voodoo incantation.

Overnight at the recent Onomo Hotel***, or similar.

Day 55: Voodoo (Togo -Benin)

Voodoo is the main religion in the coastal area of Togo and Benin and authentic ceremonies are common: the frenetic rhythm of drums and the chants of the adepts “call” the Voodoo spirits who will choose some participant to possess They falls into a deep trance: eyes rolling back, grimaces, convulsions, insensitivity to fire or pain. Sakpata, Heviosso, Mami Water are just some of the voodoo divinities who can manifest... Surrounded by the magic atmosphere of the ceremony, we will understand what people mean when they say: “In your Churches you pray God; in our Voodoo shrine we become Gods!”.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YuZlf-iyqM8 Border with Benin and arrival to the small town of Grand Popo. Dinner and overnight at the charming Auberge de Gran Popo, ocean front ancient colonial building totally restored. Air-conditioned self-contain rooms. Or similar.

Voodoo Festival in Togo

Day 56: Ouidah, Afro-Brasilian Culture (Benin)

Between lagoons and ocean, we will discover Zangbeto cult. Zangbeto Mask Is very tall and covered with coloured straw. It represents wild, non-human spirits (the forces of nature and of the night that inhabited the Earth before human). The mask wearers belong to a secret society and keep their identity hidden as the non-initiated cannot know who they are. When Zangbeto dances is an event for the village. Its performance guarantees protection against bad spirits and witchcraft. The spinning movement of the mask symbolizes the spiritual cleaning of the village and Zangbeto also performs « miracles » to prove it powers.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LUKuOSTTXlY

Drive to Ouidah, this small town was conquered by the Dahomey African Kingdom during the 18th century to become is main slave shipping port. We start the visit following the “slave road” to the beach, the door of “no return” where slaves were shipped to the “new world”. Ouidah enjoys a rare Afro-Brazilian architecture, where the python temple faces the Catholic Cathedral. The laid-back attitude of the locals blends with the thunder of the distant waves and the rhythm of the drums - a timeless atmosphere well described by Bruce Chatwin in his novel "The Vice-Roy of Ouidah". On foot we visit the Python Temple and the Portuguese Fort, now a small but interesting museum on the history of Ouidah, the transatlantic slave trade and the links that the trade has created between Guinea Gulf countries and the Caribbean Voodoo culture.

Dinner and Overnight at Hotel Casa del Papa **** or similar, ocean front bungalows, wild beaches, swimming pool. (Air-conditioned bungalows en suite).

Day 57: The Stilts Village (Benin)

Drive for miles on the fisherman track between endless yellow beaches, tall palm trees straw huts and colourful pirogues. We will leave our vehicles and cross Lake Nokwe on a motorized boat to reach Ganvié, the largest and most beautiful African village on stilts. The approximately 25,000 inhabitants are part of the Tofinou ethnic group and build their wooden houses on teak stilts. Breeding fish with an ancient tribal technology is their main activity. Ganvié has managed to preserve its traditions and environment despite the long-lasting human presence in a closed setting; and the lake is not over-fished. Daily life unfolds in the dugout canoes that adults and children row with ease using brightly coloured paddles. From these canoes men fishing, women expose goods at the “floating market”, children go to school and play, in Ganvie children are said to learn to swim first than to walk.

Day room available in Cotonou and transfer to the airport.

Download Detailed Itinerary

EURO Rates per person in sharing double

Full Trans-Sahara & West Africa Expedition from Morocco to Benin or reverse itinerary:

2021. MARRAKECH - DAKAR - COTONOU
- 2021: Start Cotonou February 26th, 2021. End in Marrakech April 23rd, 2021. REVERSE ITINERARY
- 2021: Start in Marrakech November 20th, 2021. End in Cotonou Jannuary 15th 2022.
- 2022: Start in Cotonou March 5th, 2021. End in Marrakech April 30th, 2021. REVERSE ITINERARY
- 2022: Start in Marrakech November 19th, 2022. End in Cotonou Jannuary 15th 2023.
Group of 6 or more participants: € 13,780
Group of 4 to 5 participants: € 17,600
Single room supplement: € 1,984

Or join for part of the expedition:

Download Full Trans-Sahara & West Africa Expedition / Legs of the Expedition - Dates & Rates [pdf]

Prices include:

  • Transfer airport/ hotel and hotel/ airport at arrival and departure, EXCEPT the first day from the airport to the hotel In Marrakech. The fixed price for a Taxi from the airport to any hotel in Marrakech is 200 Dirhams or 25 Euro.
  • Full board during the expedition. Lunch the last day.
  • Drinks at meals during the nights in the mobile camp. No alcohol in Mauritania
  • All transfers in 4WD
  • Tour Leader (languages spoken English, French and Italian)
  • Tours and visits as per the program
  • Participation cost to events, as scheduled
  • Accommodation as per the program
  • First aid box
  • All services included in the program

Prices do not include:

  • International flights
  • Transfer from Marrakech airport to the hotel in Marrakech on day 1.
  • Transfer from the airport in Marrakech / hotel
  • Visas
  • Dinner on the arrival and departure day
  • Drinks and mineral water at meals, except for those at the nights in the mobile camps
  • Portage
  • Fees for personal photos and videos
  • Personal insurance (compulsory)
  • Tips for drivers, guides and hotel staff
  • Any item of personal nature such as phone calls, laundry, etc.
  • Whatever is not mentioned as included