The Gerewol Festival & Ennedi Mountains

This is an epic trip through one of our favourite destinations, combining the colourful tribal life of Chad with the awe-inspiring splendour of the Sahara desert.

Each year the semi-nomadic Wodaabe people gather for a week of incredible celebrations known as the Gerewol. This vibrant festival is one of Africa’s most spectacular. Few westerners are privileged to see this, but with our exceptional local contacts, we travel to a remote part of the Sahel to stay with these intensely traditional people, joining them as they congregate for feasting, racing, dancing and finding lovers.

The Gerewol is renowned for the way in which young Wodaabe men decorate themselves, donning makeup and jewellery and ‘displaying’ to young women in search of a partner. We immerse ourselves in a culture that lives very much outside of mainstream society. With traditions that stretch back centuries, this is a unique opportunity to meet the Wodaabe for a celebration of their culture that will simply take your breath away. Africa is known for its festivals, but few – if any – can rival the Gerewol.

The second and third weeks of this trip have a different flavour as we venture into the Sahara. Departing from N’Djamena we quickly leave the tarmac roads behind and start travelling through the Sahel. We pass through small settlements where our presence is a complete surprise to local people. We stop to pick up supplies and draw water at wells, often meeting Keraida nomad families with their camels.

After stocking up in the market of Kalait we drive into the Ennedi, a vast collection of sandstone mountains sculpted by the wind and sand over millennia into stunning rock formations. Here we enter the land of the Tubu, one of Africa’s most traditional and least known people. Our excellent local connections give us good opportunities to meet these rather shy and secretive people.

We look for rock art dating back thousands of years and walk into the Guelta d’Archei where the Tubu bring huge herds of camels to drink at the only waterhole for miles around. We may be lucky enough to spot one of the last populations of Saharan crocodiles.

Moving on we cross the dunes of the Mourdi depression on our way to the village of Demi, an important point for the trade in salt. We then head to the Ounianga Lakes, where the desert opens up to reveal a series of multi-hued lakes. This is an almost unbelievable sight after our journey through the sands.

After spending time exploring here and meeting local people, we turn to travel south, once more crossing dunes and often passing camel caravans on their way to the settled villages of the Ouaddai. On the way back from Kalait we travel through the Bahr el Ghazal region. There are surprising opportunities here to spot wildlife with gazelle, fennec fox and bustard often seen.

This is travel at its most exciting – raw, untamed, surprising and exhilarating. Join us to see why we are so in love with this spellbinding land.

The Gerewol Festival & Ennedi Mountains


  • Witness the spectacular Gerewol Festival
  • Incredible desert scenery
  • See the Ounianga Lakes
  • Stunning overnight campsites
  • Ancient rock art

Day 1 - N’Djamena

Arrive in N’Djamena and transfer to the hotel. Depending on when you arrive there may be time to explore, or you can simply relax at the hotel and prepare for your adventure. Overnight Hotel Ibis or similar.


Formerly known as Fort Lamy, Chad’s capital sits on the banks of the Chari River facing Cameroon and is the largest city in the country. Founded by the French at the turn of the 20th century, it has grown from a town with a population of around ten thousand in the 1930s to something approaching a million now.

Over the years it has seen its fair share of conflict, largely destroyed during the civil war of the 80s and stormed by rebel forces in 2008. Its wide boulevards were once flanked with trees, but these were cut down to deprive attackers of covers, and only in recent years did its dusty streets become paved. Rather devoid of traditional sights, N’Djamena is home to a large and sprawling central market which is interesting to explore, and also contains the National Museum with a collection of prehistoric artefacts from the surrounding area. It is also the most ethnically diverse place in Chad, with people from both the southern and northern ethnic groups as well as Lebanese, European and more recently Chinese populations.

Day 2 - Durbali

We drive to the region of Durbali, through the Sahel, to join the Wodaabe people in their celebration of the Gerewol festival. Overnight camping. (BLD)

Wodaabe People

The Wodaabe form part of the largest group of semi-nomadic people in Africa, stretching from Senegal to Sudan and following a migratory lifestyle in search of grazing for their cattle. The Wodaabe belong to the Fulani ethnic group (a distinction typically being made between the Wodaabe and the Peul, who tend to live more sedentary lives). In Chad, you can often hear them being referred to as the Mbororo but this a slightly derogatory term given to them by outsiders, meaning something like ‘dirty shepherds’.

The Wodaabe can be distinguished from the Peul not only by their migratory habits but by the fact that they are still largely animist, while the Peul have become mostly Islamised. The origins of the Wodaabe are shrouded in mystery but it is thought that they first arrived in the region from the north, moving south as the Sahara became drier and offered less grazing for their cattle; ancient rock paintings in parts of the Sahara depict some of their characteristics.

Groups of several dozen relatives, typically several brothers with their wives, children and elders, travel on foot, donkey or camel, and stay at each grazing spot for a couple of days. The Wodaabe are very traditional. Women plait their hair and often wear silver coins or discs into their hair, and often have tattooed faces. The code of behaviour of the Wodaabe is called ‘pulaku’ and emphasizes reserve and modesty (semteende), patience and fortitude (munyal), care and forethought (hakkilo), and loyalty (amana) to their chiefs, as well as the right to dismiss the authority of those who are thought to be undeserving.

They also place great emphasis on beauty and charm. Parents are not allowed to talk directly to their two first-born children, who will often be cared for by their grandparents. During daylight, husband and wife cannot hold hands or speak in a personal manner with each other.

The Wodaabe are split into several different clans – perhaps eight or nine exist in Chad and two of the most significant are the Sudosukai and the Njapto. Normally we spend time with the Sudosukai during our time here but often the Njapto are close by and if there is an opportunity we are able to meet both. Of the two, the Njapto are slightly more traditional – their faces and bodies are more heavily tattooed and women are often bare-breasted, whereas the Sudosukai women cover themselves. Both have different styles of dress that are particularly pronounced among the dancers of the Gerewol.

Days 3-7 - Gerewol Festival

These days are spent staying amongst a Wodaabe community and witnessing the rituals and ceremonies of their annual Gerewol festival. Due to our excellent relations with the local Wodaabe sultan, we are welcomed as guests amongst these incredibly friendly people, and have the opportunity to see one of Africa’s most fascinating cultural encounters, unchanged for centuries and with very few traces of modernity.

We can expect to see traditional singing and dancing, and perhaps some horse racing. Young Wodaabe men daub themselves with extravagant and colourful makeup, feathers and traditional jewellery to ‘display’ to young women – the Gerewol is an elaborate mass courtship ritual and truly one of the most fascinating ceremonies you can see in all of Africa. Dances generally take place during the morning and evenings, and can last well into the night, with people coming from far and wide to take part and watch.

Unlike the festival in Niger, this has maintained its traditions largely intact, and makes no concessions to the outside world. We have plenty of time to visit the various camps dotted around the landscape and learn about Wodaabe culture – the Wodaabe are an open and curious people and we are made to feel very much at home in a completely authentic community. You should be prepared for the fact that this is not a ‘non-stop’ festival and during the middle of the day, the Wodaabe are generally resting in preparation for the evening’s festivities, which gives us a great opportunity to meet the various families camped here. On the afternoon of Day 7 we reluctantly leave the Wodaabe and start to make our way back towards N’Djamena. Overnight camping. (BLD)

The Gerewol Festival

The Gerewol festival takes place at the end of each rainy season, and the specific place is chosen according to where local elders deem there to be the best grazing for their cattle. The Gerewol takes place at the same time as the ‘cure salee’, when cattle are brought to grazing grounds that are rich in salt and minerals; the minerals help to strengthen the cattle and rid them of parasites. The Gerewol itself is an opportunity for scattered groups of Wodaabe to meet once a year, exchanging news and embarking on a series of dances. The purpose of these is for the young Wodaabe men to show off their beauty, with the intention of finding partners – the mean usually range from about 17 to 25 in age, although ‘noble’ men, those who have the potential to become chiefs or sultans, do not take part.

The Wodaabe place an emphasis on male beauty and the dancers will spend hours applying makeup, which differs greatly from clan to clan – the Sudosukai typically paint their faces red and orange while the Njapto decorate themselves with white dots and patterns.

The morning dances are generally a sort of rehearsal, with the main event taking place in the evening and often going on quite late. At some point in the festival young girls – typically 14-16 years old – will approach one of the dancers and signify their choice by humbly walking up to him and touching him, before returning to the crowd. This can signify either a desire for marriage or for something more brief. The Wodaabe are polygamous and only the very first marriage is fixed by the family according to tradition, while during the Gerewol festivals men and women can embark upon casual affairs – to which no stigma is attached – or develop stable relationships.

The dances themselves involve the men standing in a line, singing traditional rhythmic songs and chants while doing their best to show the whites of their eyes and baring their teeth, two symbols of male beauty. Every so often a dancer will step forward, almost as if in a trance, with jerky movements that imitate the courtship dances of local birds. These songs and dances can last for a long time, seemingly without stop, during which time some of the dancers seem to almost enter into a different consciousness, trembling as they continue with their rituals.

The clothing of the dancers is highly decorative – the Sudosukai wear beautiful tall hats and turbans while the Njapto decorate their turbans with ostrich feathers. The Gerewol is an astounding celebration and something that few people will ever witness up close, and we have plenty of time to absorb the different facets of the celebration.

Day 8 - N’Djamena

We return back to N’Djamena and prepare for the next part of the journey. Overnight Hotel Ibis or similar. (BL)

Day 9 - N’Djamena

Today we visit N’Djamena’s National Museum and take a short excursion to the nearby village of Gaoui, known for its traditional painted houses. Overnight Hotel Ibis or similar. (B)

Days 10-13 - Abeche - Kalait

Head east from N’Djamena, towards the city of Abeche. Travel through a Sahelian landscape of small villages through the region of Guera, with its interesting markets and isolated granite peaks, stopping en route where possible. From Abeche we continue north, and the landscape starts to become more arid as we approach Kalait, one of the main settlements on the approach to the Ennedi Mountains. Overnight camping. (BLD)


Abeche is the capital of Ouaddai province, the seat of an ancient sultanate that once played an important part in Saharan trade, linking tropical Africa to the slave markets of Tripoli. Captured by the French in 1909, it is today the fourth largest city in Chad and has been a base for international aid efforts to assist the refugees from neighbouring Darfur. Despite its history there is very little to see in Abeche but the markets make for an interesting walk.

Days 14-15 - The Ennedi Mountains

We stop first in the village of Kalait to shop in its busy market, then drive into the majestic Ennedi Mountains. We spend our time exploring their numerous rock formations – made of sandstone, the wind and sand have eroded them into weird and wonderful shapes.

We also visit a number of rock art sites, hidden over overhanging rocks and depicting cows, camels and warriors, and may see ancient burial sites about which almost nothing is known. This is the domain of the Tubu, and we expect to meet nomads on their way to pasture with the camels or drawing water at wells, and pass their small groups of tents.

The highlight of these few days in undoubtedly the Guelta d’Archei, the only permanent waterhole in the region situated amidst a dramatic and towering gorge, where one can often see hundreds of camels drinking, their bellowing echoing around the rock walls. The guelta is also home to one of the last populations of Saharan crocodiles, and with a bit of luck, we should be able to see them. The landscape in this region is truly spectacular and we pick our campsites in the prettiest areas. Overnight camping. (BLD)

The Tubu

The Tubu people make up the bulk of the population in Chad’s northern desert regions, and are something of a Saharan legend. Reputedly the toughest desert dwellers of all, there are numerous stories of their prowess in eking a living out of such an unforgiving place, including one that involves a warrior making his way over 500 miles of desert with little more than a handful of dates and a goatskin of water.

The Tubu are split into two main clans – the Teda, based in the Tibesti, and the Daza who are based in the Ennedi and the plains. Their spiritual leader is the Dardai, the leader of the Teda, but in practice, the Tubu are highly individualistic and their principal allegiance is to the sub-clan or family group. Ties between clans are strengthened by the practice of marrying from a different clan, as well as trading camels.

The Tubu are also something of an ethnic conundrum, with dark skin but almost European features, and while researchers have yet to come to any sort of definitive conclusion the current best guess is that they are descended from both Berbers to the north and Bantu Africans to the south. Spread between Niger, Libya and Chad they total around 200,000 in number and were the last group to be ‘pacified’ by the French colonial authorities – even after independence the French were asked to stay on and maintain order in the Tubu regions, as they were thought to be almost ungovernable.

During the war with Libya Tubu forces fought on both sides, both with and against Gadaffi. Traditionally the Tubu have been nomadic, moving to find pasture for their livestock – although most still follow traditional ways, some have settled in towns like Fada and Faya. Based in some of the farthest regions of the Sahara, traditionally they have had very little contact with outsiders and as a consequence can be quite wary of visitors – in particular, they are averse to photography and so we ask that you respect this and follow your tour leader’s guidelines to avoid any problems.

The Ennedi Mountains

In the north east of Chad lie the stunning Ennedi Mountains, a red sandstone massif that has been sculpted into a multitude of fascinating rock formations by the wind and sand over the millennia. This is one of Chad’s most beautiful areas, with natural arches, deep gorges and isolated waterholes that makes it a real joy to explore.

The Ennedi is also rich in rock art with numerous examples being found in caves and under overhanging rocks. Perhaps surprisingly it is also rich in wildlife – species to be found here include gazelles, baboons and patas monkeys, as well as porcupines and honey badgers, and in remote parts leopard and cheetah make their homes. The last lion was shot here in the 1940s – supposedly this was the last lion in the whole of the Sahara – but local legend has it that an unknown species, the ‘Ennedi tiger’ still survives, although no conclusive evidence has been found.

The Guelta d’Archei is home to one of the last surviving populations of Saharan crocodiles, which live in a small waterhole – the only permanent source of water in the massif. Reduced to around 8 or 10 now no young crocodiles have been seen for many years, leading to speculation that the population is entirely male or female and thus doomed to extinction in the near future.

This is a truly stunning part of the Ennedi and used by the Tubu nomads to water their camels – the sight of five or six hundred camels drinking and bellowing at this isolated patch of water is one you are unlikely to forget.

Days 16-17 - Fada – Mourdi

We drive down from the plateau to Fada, the only real town in the Ennedi, where we need to complete formalities and stock up on supplies before heading northwards. From here we head back into the wilderness, climbing onto a plateau of red rocks before descending to the last rocks of the Ennedi. From here we enter the Mourdi Depression, an area of vast sand dunes that can be difficult to traverse but are incredibly beautiful. We follow the ancient caravan route that is still used by camel caravans taking salt from Demi and Teguedei to Fada and beyond. Overnight camping. (BLD)


Fada is a dusty little town that serves as the main centre of the Ennedi region. Centred around a main square, Fada contains an old colonial fort now used by the military and a small and modest market with a limited selection of wares, reflecting the remoteness of the town – small onions, dried chillies and a few tomatoes and peppers are about as much fresh food is usually on offer, as well as rather tough dates. There is little here to see but the explorer Wilfred Thesiger stayed here on his travels through the region, staying in the fort as guests of the French – sadly it is not permitted to take pictures of the fort though.

Days 18-19 - Demi – Teguedei – Ounianga Lakes

We visit the small village of Demi, located at the foot of a mountain and on the edge of a salt pan, where men and women dig the red earth for salt to be transported across the desert to market, exchanged for goods like millet, sorghum and other foods – this is an incredibly isolated settlement and completely reliant on the trade.

Nearby is the salt lake of Teguedei, situated amidst lush palm groves and seasonally inhabited for the date harvest – one can also see piles of salt drying on the shores of the lake. From here we head to the lakes of the Ounianga oasis. Emerging from the desert this is a spectacular sight – lakes surrounded by dunes and palms with multi-hued mountains behind them. The lakes themselves are different colours, a result of the minerals in the ground as well as algae.

We explore the lakes, visit the village of Ounianga Serir, and take the opportunity of a bath in Boukou, the only freshwater lake in the oasis. We also stop in the town of Ounianga Kebir for supplies and formalities, before leaving the lakes behind and heading south. Until recently this was a critical hub on the trade route with Libya, but that country’s troubles have reduced traffic to a trickle. Overnight camping. (BLD)

The Ounianga Lakes

Recently declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Ounianga Lakes have to rank amongst some of the Sahara’s finest scenery. All are fed by freshwater springs, but in all but one the salty soil that the water filters through means that they are saline. In the one freshwater lake, Boukou, a number of different fish species can be found including some that are found nowhere else. There are a number of lakes spread between the small settlement of Ounianga Serir and the larger ‘town’ of Ounianga Kebir, including twin lakes adjacent to each other with different colours.

Day 20 - Kora

We then head south, crossing dunes and entering an area that saw fighting during the war with Libya – in some places the remnants of tanks and other military hardware can be found, slowly being reclaimed by the desert. The dune crossing can be tough in parts and we can expect to get out and push. Time permitting we may be able to stop at small oases en route, and we camp tonight on the outskirts of the Ennedi. Overnight camping. (BLD)

Days 21-22 - Kalait – Salal - Moussoro

Reluctantly we leave the Ennedi, stopping first at Kalait to again pick up supplies. The people that live in this region are from a number of different groups – Fulani, Keraida and Kanembou among others. Wildlife around this region is good, and you can expect to see dorcas gazelles as well as jackals, bustards and perhaps the pretty fennec fox. For much of the route, we follow the dried up riverbed of the Bah el Ghazal where remains of the oldest known hominid have been found. We set up camp each night in the middle of the wilderness, with no-one else for miles. Overnight camping. (BLD)

Day 23 - N’Djamena

Continue westwards. We should arrive at N’Djamena in the afternoon, where day use rooms are available for a welcome shower, before heading out for a final dinner and transferring to the airport for your flight home. (BL)

Please note that due to the nature of the terrain that we travel through, this itinerary may be flexible and overnight stops will very much depend on how much distance has been covered each day.

Important: Please note that the exact date of this festival is usually determined around June each year, when the Wodaabe elders have decided upon the best time to hold it. The Gerewol festival is held around the end of September (at the end of the rainy season) and so the precise date of this trip may move by a couple of days either side. You should not book flights until this date has been confirmed by us.

We arrive back in N’Djamena in the afternoon of the final day and you should not book any departure flight before the evening.

Wodaabe girls in the Sahel - Chad tours and holidays
Wodaabe men at the Gerewol Festival - Chad tours
Sand dunes in the Mourdi Depression - Chad holidays
Traditional festival in Kalait - Chad tours and holidays

What's included?

  • Airport transfers

    We include arrival and departure transfers regardless of whether you book flights yourself, or we book them for you. If you’re booking them yourself, then please let us know the details so that we can arrange the transfers. However, if you are arriving apart from the main group (on Air France flights) there may be an additional transfer charge.

  • Accommodation

    You stay in a good quality tourist class hotel in N’Djamena, and camp while at the festival.

  • Guides

    You will be accompanied by an expert English speaking guide who has good contacts with Wodaabe, and excellent knowledge of the desert.

  • Meals

    All meals are included outside of N’Djamena.

  • Entrance fees

    Not applicable.

What's not included?

  • Visas

    We don’t arrange visas for our travellers, but if an invitation letter is necessary then we will arrange this for you. If you need any advice with visas then just give us a call, or alternatively, a visa agency such as Travcour can assist.

  • International flights

    Many of our travellers arrive from different destinations and so we don’t include international flights in the cost of our tours. If however, you would like us to book flights for you, then just give us a call and we’ll be happy to discuss your options.

  • Travel Insurance

    If you need any assistance with this, then let us know – although we can’t arrange it ourselves we can point you in the direction of a reputable provider that can assist.


All travellers will require a visa to enter Chad, which must be obtained before travel. Most travellers will also need an invitation letter, which we will provide if requested. Visa regulations can change however and so we recommend that you contact your nearest embassy for the most up to date information.

Health and vaccinations

We are not medically qualified and so we recommend that you speak to your doctor or nearest health professional for advice concerning recommended vaccinations. For more advice on vaccinations, you can also visit

Please note that Yellow Fever is a compulsory vaccination for entering Chad and you must bring your vaccination certificate with you, otherwise you may not be allowed to enter.


It is a condition of joining our tours that you have suitable travel insurance in place, and we cannot accept travellers without insurance. All policies differ in terms of what they will cover, but as a minimum you need medical and health cover, which will cover you for the whole time that you are away. Most policies will also include cancellation cover, which will cover you if an unforeseen circumstance obliges you to cancel your trip. We recommend that you obtain your insurance as soon as you book your trip.

Please note that government travel warnings often affect the validity of your travel insurance, and you should check this with your insurance company.


The local currency in Chad is the Central African CFA, a currency that is shared with many other countries in the region. It is not, however, the same as the West African CFA, and the two are not interchangeable. It is best to bring Euros for exchange purposes as the CFA is not obtainable outside of the region.

You will not be able to change money outside of N’Djamena and so we recommend that you change money at the hotel upon arrival.

Local conditions

When travelling to some of the destinations we offer you need to bear in mind that things won’t always work here as we’re used to them working at home. Travelling in underdeveloped and untouristed destinations requires both patience and a sense of humour. There may be problems with infrastructure, attitudes may be different, and maintenance may not be as high a standard as we would always like, but this is very much part and parcel of travelling in such a place. We aim to resolve any issues as quickly as possible, and thank you for your patience.

Chad is one of our most pioneering destinations. Not only is there very little tourism here but the nature of the destination means that you should be prepared for challenging conditions. Outside of the capital very few hotels or accommodation options exist – in the desert these are non-existent. There are few opportunities to buy supplies en route and so we carry the majority of these with us, stocking up on fresh vegetables and fruit in the small towns that we travel through, where possible.

There are no formal bathroom facilities on our trips in Chad, although on many nights you will be provided with water for washing, depending on how far we are from any wells and how much water we have used that day. Priority is given to drinking water, which is drawn from wells and treated with a sterilizing agent to make it safe to drink.

Our trips in Chad travel to some of the most remote parts of the Sahara, and it is essential that you appreciate what this entails before booking a trip. We cannot promise home comforts or luxuries and if you expect these, then Chad probably isn’t the right destination for you. However, if you are prepared for sometimes challenging conditions, then Chad offers an adventure that is difficult to match through some of the most untouched, traditional and isolated corners of Africa.

Travel advice

We keep a very close eye on the travel advice issued by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office so that we can keep you up to date with any warnings. At the time of writing the FCO advises against travel to all parts of Chad.

We work very closely with our local team and are fully confident that we can operate tours safely in Chad. Should you have any concerns over safety please do not hesitate to contact us and we can address your concerns.

This relates to advice from the British government – other nationalities need to check the stance of their own governments.

Updated July 2023

Wodaabe girls in the Sahel - Chad tours and holidays
Wodaabe men at the Gerewol Festival - Chad tours
Sand dunes in the Mourdi Depression - Chad holidays
Traditional festival in Kalait - Chad tours and holidays
Price (PP) Exc. Flights
Single Supplement
Trip Status
Date -
06 October 2024
Price (PP) -
Single Supplement -
Trip Status -
Date -
05 October 2025
Price (PP) -
Single Supplement -
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