Marrakech to Bissau

This breath-taking journey offers travellers the chance to traverse the diverse natural and cultural landscapes of Africa. Starting in the exotic city of Marrakech, the end point of the old Saharan camel caravans, we journey through the lands of the Berbers and across the mighty High Atlas Mountains.

We reach the magical landscapes of the Draa Valley, encountering huge dunes and semi-nomadic people living in the desert. From here we begin our journey into the arid lands of the south. We travel through endless horizons, stopping at small desert towns along the way.

From Tarfaya we enter the disputed territory of the Western Sahara. This is the territory of Saharawi nomads, rolling dunes and camel trains. We explore a land that has almost been forgotten, where traditions are strong and the scenery awe-inspiring. Stopping at wells to meet local people, we spend a few days exploring before re-joining the coastal road south. We cross into the desert republic of Mauritania, where we visit the Banc d’Arguin National Park. We also visit the age-old city of Chinguetti and the striking Adrar region before moving on to Senegal.

As the Sahara starts to disappear into the Sahel we search for wildlife. We see the striking Lac Rose and visit the former colonial capital of St Louis. Travelling further south we make a brief stop in the Gambia before arriving in the Casamance region, where Islam and Christianity never quite managed to dominate. This is the Africa of old, where ancient beliefs and customs are still revered, a world away from the lands we have just crossed, and we take time to learn about the cultural traditions of its inhabitants.

Finally, we visit the former Portuguese colony of Guinea-Bissau. Here we visit traditional communities, explore old abandoned towns and spend two days sailing between the islands of the stunning Bijagos Archipelago.

This is a journey like no other, showing you the incredible variety that exists within just one small part of the continent; we hope that you’ll be as excited as we are!

Marrakech to Bissau itinerary tile

Highlights

  • The kasbah of Ait Ben Haddou
  • Remote deserts of the Western Sahara
  • Explore the holy city of Chinguetti
  • Explore atmospheric Saint Louis
  • Meet the Dioula people
  • Visit the holy town of Touba
  • Traditional communities of the Bijagos

Day 1 - Marrakech

Arrive in Marrakech and transfer to the hotel. The rest of the day is free to relax or explore Morocco’s most enigmatic city. Overnight tourist class hotel.

Marrakech

Charming, chaotic and charismatic, Marrakech has a truly unique atmosphere. Heaving with activity, Djemaa el Fna, the central square, has been a meeting point for centuries. Packed full of traders, Berber musicians, acrobats, snake charmers, wise men, acrobats and tooth pullers, the square’s hypnotic charm will soon rub off on you. There’s no better way to experience Djemaa el Fna than to sample the local specialities on offer at the night-time food stalls. With lights flickering and smoke rising, watching the hive of activity from a café is the ideal way to capture the mystical atmosphere.

Marrakech has lots more to offer with souqs bursting with Moroccan crafts, the immense Koutoubia Mosque, and countless museums, palaces, gardens and cultural sites. After a hectic day, the haven of the Marjorelle Gardens, full of cacti and vivid blue buildings, or a sunset drink in the gardens of La Mamounia Hotel, is the perfect way to unwind.

Day 2 - Ait Ben Haddou

Cross the High Atlas via the stunning Tizi n Tichka pass, with superb views of the mountains along the way. Driving through the Berber heartlands we continue to the stunning collection of kasbahs at Ait Ben Haddou, then drive to nearby Ouarzazate for the night. Overnight tourist class hotel. (BLD)


Day 3 - Draa Valley

Exploring this landscape of arid mountains, we meet isolated communities and some of the most traditional people in Morocco, some of whom still live in caves. Make our way towards the lush Draa Valley where we spend the night. Overnight tourist class hotel. (BLD)


Days 4-5 - Erg Chegaga – Iriqui

Enter the Sahara and drive to the dunes of Erg Chegaga, much less known than the famous Erg Chebbi but equally impressive, then continue to the dry salt lake of Iriqui. Overnight tented camp and tourist class hotel. (BLD)


Days 6-7 - Guelmime – Ksar Tafnidilt

Continue to Guelmime, the last major town of Morocco proper and a former trading centre for the Saharan camel caravans. From here we head off on rough tracks along the beach, sandwiched between the dunes. Explore the remote region surrounding the Draa estuary, with tiny settlements and abandoned military posts. Overnights at Ksar Tafnidilt, a traditional style kasbah close to Tan Tan. (BLD)


Day 8 - Tarfaya

Travel south, our route taking us between the desert and the Atlantic Ocean, passing small caves inhabited by fishermen as well as the impressive Naila lagoon, an inland sea separated from the ocean by rows of dunes. In the afternoon we arrive at the small town of Tarfaya. Overnight Hotel Casamar or similar. (BLD)


Days 9-11 - Laayoune – Western Sahara

Drive to Laayoune, the main town of Western Sahara. From here we meet our local Saharawi guide and embark on an expedition into this largely unknown area. We venture into an untamed landscape of dunes and desert, stopping at wells to meet the Reguibat nomads and their herds of camels that eke a living from this unforgiving habitat. We camp for two nights, then on Day 11 reach Dakhla and stay overnight in a tourist class hotel. (BLD)

Western Sahara

Western Sahara is a political oddity, distinct from the rest of Morocco. Colonised by Spain and forming part of the Spanish Sahara territory, it was relinquished in 1975 and promptly claimed by both Morocco and Mauritania; in the end Morocco won out, organising a mass march of Moroccans into the territory and forcing Mauritania to bow out. However, this is just part of the story; Western Sahara’s indigenous population is made up of Saharawi and Reguibat tribes who seek independence. A referendum on this was promised (but never held) and the independence movement Polisario was established in the 1970s, fighting against Moroccan forces to claim the land for themselves. The fighting is long over now, with Morocco a dominant presence in Western Sahara.

This is a largely unexplored land. Undeveloped by the Spanish there are few towns and almost all of the land consists of wild desert, traversed by nomadic tribes with their camels and livestock, following traditional lives much as their ancestors did, although inevitably modernity has crept in. Travelling here is an opportunity to get about as far off the beaten track as is possible, and tourism is almost unknown, the few visitors being those making the long journey along the coast to West Africa. We aim to explore as much as possible while here, and spend our nights camping under the stars far from any kind of ‘civilisation’.

Day 12 - Dakhla

Spend the day exploring Dakhla and surrounds, with its superb beaches and opportunities to fish in the Atlantic. Overnight in Buena Vista Hotel or similar. (BLD)


Day 13 - Nouadhibou

We head south to the border with Mauritania, following a remote road between the desert and the ocean. After completing border formalities, continue to Nouadhibou, Mauritania’s second city. Overnight Hotel Medina or similar. (BLD)


Days 14-16 - Desert crossing - Chinguetti

Head to Chinguetti, one of Islam’s holiest cities and a real gem of Mauritania. With its collection of historic buildings, this is one of the Sahara’s most interesting towns, with a sense of history that is almost tangible. Accompanied by an expert guide we drive through a remote part of the desert, where we hope to encounter local nomads and see the traces of prehistoric man such as ancient pottery. We arrive in Chinguetti on Day 16. Two nights camping, one night local guesthouse. (BLD)

Chinguetti

Founded in the 13th century as the centre of several trans-Saharan trade routes, Chinguetti’s well preserved historic buildings give it the sense of yesteryear and walking through its sandy streets, rubbing shoulders with blue-robed men and veiled women, it’s not hard to imagine that you’re in another time.

The indigenous Saharan architecture of older parts of the city includes houses constructed of reddish dry-stone and mud-brick techniques, with flat roofs timbered from palms. Many of the older houses feature doors cut from massive ancient acacia trees, which have long disappeared from the surrounding area. Many homes include courtyards or patios that crowd along narrow streets leading to the central mosque.

Some of the most impressive buildings in the town include the Friday Mosque, an ancient structure of dry-stone construction, featuring a square minaret capped with five ostrich egg finials; the former French Foreign Legion fortress; and a tall water tower. The old quarter of the Chinguetti has five important manuscript libraries of scientific and Koranic texts that date back centuries. with many dating from the later Middle Ages.

For centuries the city was a principal gathering place for pilgrims of the Maghreb to gather on the way to Mecca. It became known as a holy city in its own right, especially for pilgrims unable to make the long journey to Arabia. It also became a centre of Islamic religious and scientific scholarship in West Africa and in addition to religious training, the schools of Chinguetti taught students rhetoric, law, astronomy, mathematics, and medicine. For many centuries all of Mauritania was popularly known in the Arab world as Bilad Shinqit, “the land of Chinguetti.”

Day 17 - Chinguetti

Spend today exploring Chinguetti, visiting its historic quarter and seeing one of the collections of ancient manuscripts for which it is famous. Overnight local guesthouse. (BLD)


Day 18 - Ouadane

Drive to Ouadane. Founded in the 12th century, Ouadane is a fascinating collection of old houses and mosques and has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We have plenty of time to explore the historic quarter. Return to Chinguetti in the evening. Overnight La Gueila guesthouse or similar. (BLD)

Ouadane

Founded by Berbers in the 12th century, Ouadane grew prosperous due to its location on the Trans-Saharan caravan routes, bearing host to traders bringing dates, gold, salt and slaves to the markets further north. A Portuguese trading post was established in 1487 in an attempt to gain access to the trade, but does not appear to have lasted very long. With the discovery of the sea routes around West Africa, the Trans Saharan routes fell into a slow decline, and with them the towns that depended upon them for their livelihood – around the 16th century Ouadane began to fade.

Like Chinguetti, Ouadane was also a place of Islamic scholarship and the town is home to a number of ancient manuscripts. The buildings of the historic old town are clustered around a cliff and consist of old mosques and dwellings, their stone-built structures blending into their environment, and one of the highlights of a visit to Mauritania is strolling through its narrow and atmospheric streets.

Day 19 - Nouakchott

Today we arrive in the capital Nouakchott, the first major city we will have encountered for a few days. Overnight tourist class hotel. (BLD)

Nouakchott

Nouakchott’s name means ‘windy city’ in Hassaniya, not a bad description for a place that experiences sandstorms for more than half of the year. The largest city in the country and reputedly the largest in the Sahara, Nouakchott perches between the desert and the Atlantic, but it wasn’t always such a significant place, and in the 1950s was little more than a fishing village, of little importance to colonial French West Africa. Chosen as the capital of Mauritania at independence, it grew quickly into an economic and political hub, and benefits from a deep sea port which handles Mauritania’s massive amount of imported goods.

In common with most cities in the region, there’s little in the way of formal tourist sites but it is a great introduction to the country, with a feel of the Sahara crossed with Morocco crossed with Europe plus a little bit of West Africa proper. Noaukchott’s markets are fun to explore, with women clad in colourful robes bargaining furiously for goods, while nomads from the desert beyond give them an air of the exotic. The fish markets are the busiest in West Africa and well worth exploring, and a rewarding excursion, if you have the time, is to visit the beaches to see the fishermen bring in their catches.

Day 20 - Djoudj National Park – Saint Louis

We head south to Senegal, and then travel to Djoudj National Park with its incredible bird life. We take boats on the lagoon to discover vast flocks of pelicans, flamingos and more, then continue to the atmospheric town of St Louis, once the capital of French West Africa. Overnight Hotel de la Poste or similar. (BLD)

Saint Louis

One of West Africa’s nicest towns, Saint Louis was the first French settlement in the region and still retains much of its old colonial architecture, contributing to its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Divided between an island and a peninsula, most of the old European buildings are concentrated on the island with an old governor’s palace, museum, and numerous grand old houses.

Day 21 - Saint Louis – Lampoul

Spend the morning visiting Saint Louis, exploring its streets by traditional caleche (horse and carriage). Afterwards, we head Lampoul and our fixed camp amongst the dunes. (BLD)


Day 22 - Lac Rose – Dakar – Goree Island

Drive to Lac Rose, along the beach to visit the largest fishermen’s village in Senegal. Lac Rose is a shallow saltwater lake surrounded by dunes and known for its striking pink colour. From here head to the lively capital, Dakar, and visit nearby Goree Island, once a centre of the slave trade. Overnight Hotel Municipal or similar. (BLD)


Day 23 - Dakar - Kaolack

After seeing some of the sights of Goree, return to Dakar and explore this bustling modern city. From here, continue to Kaolack. Overnight Relais de Kaolack or similar. (BLD)

Dakar

Located on the Cap Vert peninsula and Africa’s westernmost city, Dakar is a thriving, colourful, lively city that provides the first real experience of urban West Africa on this trip. Brash and often uncompromising, it was one of the major cities of the French Empire and today is home to over a million people. With busy traffic and street vendors everywhere, Dakar is a world away from the rest of Senegal. Nearby is Goree Island, in contrast a peaceful sanctuary with well preserved colonial buildings giving it an almost Mediterranean feel. Goree is best known for its associations with the slave trade, although there is some controversy about how much of a role it actually played.

Day 24 - Banjul

From here we cross the border into Gambia and transfer to Banjul. We then visit the National Museum with its exhibits on local archaeology and history, as well as the city centre, before arriving at our hotel on the outskirts of Banjul. Overnight Senegambia Hotel or similar. (BLD)


Day 25 - Banjul – Casamance

Spend the morning in the company of an ornithological guide, looking for birds in the large park by the hotel – this is home to over 70% of the species that live in the country. We then cross into Casamance, the southern region of Senegal, head out into the surrounding villages to learn about the animistic customs that hold sway here, seeing a striking mask dance. Overnight tourist class hotel. (BLD)


Day 26 - Quinhamel

Drive to the border with Guinea-Bissau and continue to Cachungo. Today we visit the villages of the local Manjaco people, known for their ancestor worship and unique wooden sculptures. Overnight simple lodge. (BLD)


Days 27-28 - Bijagos Islands

Sail to the Bijagos Islands, a magical and unique world of authentic tribal traditions and unusual wildlife. We then spend two days exploring the archipelago, looking for rare saltwater hippos and learning about the customs of the local people. Two nights tourist class hotels. (BLD)

The Bijagos Islands

The Bijagos are the jewel in tiny Guinea-Bissau’s crown, an archipelago of more than forty islands that have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Covered in dense forest and mangroves, the islands are home to some of West Africa’s least adulterated cultural traditions, the islands serving to isolate the inhabitants from too much colonial influence. The Bijagos also contain enigmatic wildlife – the rare ‘saltwater’ hippo being the most famous, rather elusive but sometimes found swimming along the shorelines and between the islands. Facilities here are few but our stay here offers us an opportunity to explore some of the region’s most pristine natural environments.

Day 29 - Bolama - Bissau

Leaving the islands behind we return to the mainland. First visit the island of Bolama, once a colonial capital but now largely abandoned, its Portuguese buildings slowly being taken over by vegetation and goats. In Bissau we have time for a quick look around the city before having lunch and transferring to the airport for your onward flight. (BL)


We arrive in Bissau in the afternoon of the final day and you should not book any departure flight before the evening.

Please note: This long journey can be booked as shorter sections as follows:

– Marrakech to Dakar
– Dakhla to Bissau
– Dakhla to Dakar
– Marrakech to Dakhla
– Dakar to Bissau

Please contact us for details and prices of the shorter journeys.

This is a pioneering journey through often challenging regions – you should be prepared for flexibility throughout the trip and minor changes which may be required in order to adapt to local conditions.

The 4 April 2020 departure operates in the reverse direction, from Bissau to Marrakech – please contact us for an itinerary.

Please note that we sell this trip in conjunction with our local partner and therefore you should expect people of different nationalities and a maximum group size of 16 on this tour.

Marrakech to Bissau
Marrakech to Bissau
Marrakech to Bissau
Marrakech to Bissau
Marrakech to Bissau

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.

    Please note though that if you arrive earlier than Day 1 of the tour, and leave after the final day, we may need to make an additional charge for an airport transfer.

  • Accommodation

    Accommodation as listed in the dossier. The nature of the destinations that we operate may sometimes mean that we need to change hotels, but we’ll always endeavour to keep the same standards. Please be aware that as we operate in many countries where tourism is in its infancy, hotel standards may not be the same as you’re used to elsewhere.

    Please note that it is not always possible to secure twin rooms as many hotels in West Africa only have rooms with one large bed. If you would like a twin room you must check with us beforehand that this is possible.

  • Guides

    Accompanied by Alberto Nicheli. Alberto has a wealth of experience and understanding of this area. He has lead more than 60 Saharan expeditions, including ethnological research on the Tuareg and rock art. He has organised field researches and logistics for documentary films with Discovery Channel on the salt caravans of Niger and has coordinated photographic projects on West Africa with renowned photographers Angela Fisher and Carol Beckwith from National Geographic, as well as collaborating on different television programmes. Alberto has completed solo Sahara crossings, as well as some exploratory missions. Resident in West Africa in the last 32 years, his expertise ranges from African history to tribal art.

  • Meals

    As listed within the itinerary / dossier (B-Breakfast, L-Lunch, D-Dinner).

  • Entrance fees

    Entrance fees are listed for those sites that we mention within the itinerary. If there are any other sites that you’d like to see, these would be at your own expense.

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.

Visas

This trip travels through four different countries. Most travellers, including UK, US and EU citizens will not need a visa for Morocco or Senegal. Mauritania has recently started issuing visas at the border; these cost €60 and you will need to bring four passport photos with you. However this process may be withdrawn at any time, and prices may change so it is essential that you check this with us one month before travelling.

Visas for Guinea-Bissau can also be obtained at the border and cost 20,000 CFA. You will need to bring two passport photos with you and let us know beforehand if you intend to obtain your visa this way.

Your passport must be valid for six months after your date of entry into Guinea-Bissau.

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 www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk.

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

Insurance

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.

Arrival and departure taxes

There are no arrival or departure taxes applicable for these countries.

Money

The local currency here differs from country to country, but you won’t be able to obtain them outside of the region. In Morocco it is the dirham, in Mauritania the ougiya, and in Senegal and Guinea-Bissau the West African CFA. It is best to bring Euros for exchange purposes.

You will be able to change money into dirhams on arrival in Marrakech, and then at or shortly after the borders of the following countries. Your guide will be able to advise on this.

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.

In addition, roads throughout the parts of Africa that we visit are often poorly maintained (if at all!) and distances between key sites of interest can be long. Travelling in Africa can be tiring, hot and dusty at times, and inevitably it can be frustrating. While there are some issues that we are able to solve, others are intrinsic to the countries that we travel through, and you should be aware that many of the countries that we operate in cannot be compared to others on the continent that have better infrastructure – for example the popular tourist destinations of east and southern Africa. Although travelling in these countries can at times be an ‘unpolished’ experience, this is all part of the adventure. We aim to resolve any issues as quickly as possible, and putting up with a pothole (or ten) is undeniably worth it for the amazing sights and cultural experiences you will encounter along the way.

This is particularly relevant to this trip – it travels through some remote regions, some of which are largely isolated from the outside world and have very little experience of tourism whatsoever. We will be camping for much of the time, with no real facilities, and it is essential that you bear this in mind before joining this trip.

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 Mauritania.

We work very closely with our local team and are fully confident that we can operate tours safely in Mauritania. 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.

Please note that the information contained above is highly susceptible to change, and while we endeavour to keep up to date we recommend that you use this as a guide only. Should you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Updated May 2019

Marrakech to Bissau
Marrakech to Bissau
Marrakech to Bissau
Marrakech to Bissau
Marrakech to Bissau
Date(s)
Price (PP) Exc. Flights
Single Supplement
Trip Status
Date -
04 April 2020
Price (PP) -
£7,299
Single Supplement -
£825
Trip Status -
Available
Date -
13 November 2020
Price (PP) -
£7,299
Single Supplement -
£825
Trip Status -
Available