West Africa Explorer

This remarkable Senegal and Guinea-Bissau journey takes you through lands where few western travellers have visited. You travel through an incredible corner of Africa from the Sahel to the tropics.

Starting in Dakar we have time to explore this most lively of West African cities before heading out for an overnight stay in the desert. You’ll experience a complete contrast from the urban hustle and bustle. In Djoudj National Park we see one of Africa’s largest gatherings of birdlife. We then head to the charming old colonial town of St Louis with its French style architecture, exploring by traditional horse and carriage.

We spend time with the semi-nomadic Fulani before travelling to the holy city of Touba, centre of Senegal’s marabout movement and a fascinating place to learn about the spiritual traditions that dominate here.

Travelling further south we take a ferry to 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. We meet a Dioula monarch and get to grips with the complex belief systems here. We visit a sacred forest and may see traditional rituals taking place before crossing into the tiny country of Guinea-Bissau.

Here we explore the villages of the Felupe and Baiotes people, experiencing an Africa that few are lucky enough to see. Finally we sail to the stunning Bijagos Islands, home to turtles, saltwater hippos and some of the most traditional cultures in West Africa.

This Guinea-Bissau and Senegal tour is a fantastic journey for the Africa enthusiast, going well off the beaten track to show you the hidden delights of an often forgotten region.

West Africa Explorer

Highlights

  • Traditional communities of the Bijagos
  • Stone circles of Sine Ngayene
  • Explore atmospheric Saint Louis
  • Meet the Dioula people
  • Visit the holy town of Touba

Day 1 - Dakar

Arrive in Dakar and transfer to the hotel. Overnight Hotel Djoloff or similar.

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 once 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 2 - Dakar – Goree Island

Spend the morning exploring Dakar and experiencing urban West Africa, before boarding a ferry to visit nearby Goree Island, once a centre of the slave trade. Explore the historic sights of Goree with its colonial architecture and colourful markets. Overnight Hotel Municipal or similar. (BLD)


Day 3 - Goree Island - Lac Rose – Lampoul Desert

Leave the island and continue to Lac Rose. A shallow salt lake surrounded by dunes, the high concentration of minerals gives it a pink hue. Explore the surrounding area then out into the desert later in the afternoon, where we spend the night at a tented camp. (BLD)


Day 4 - Saint Louis

Continue to the atmospheric town of St Louis, once the capital of French West Africa. Spend the day exploring its streets by traditional caleche (horse and carriage). Overnight Hotel 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 5 - Djoudj National Park – Fulani Villages

Travel to Djoudj National Park with its incredible bird life. We discover vast flocks of pelicans, flamingos and more. Afterwards we head out into the Ferlo desert, home to the semi-nomadic Fulani people. We have the opportunity to meet them and learn about their unique culture, centred around livestock and grazing. Overnight in simple huts. (BLD)


Day 6 - Touba

Drive to Touba, a stronghold of the Mourid Islamic brotherhood and considered to be a sacred town in Senegal. Spend the rest of the day exploring the town and learning about the spiritual traditions of Islam in Senegal. Overnight Relais de Kaolack or similar. (BLD)

Touba

Touba is the centre of the Mourids, a strict Islamic sect that started in the 19th century with Sufi associations, and the town is an important centre of pilgrimage within the region. With that in mind, it’s forbidden to bring either alcohol or cigarettes into the town and there are no hotels here, for they are seen somewhat as dens of iniquity. Each year the town plays host to an annual pilgrimage called the Grand Magal, when up to three quarters of a million people descend, raising comparisons with a West African Mecca. The main sight here is Touba’s enormous mosque – construction began in the 1930s but was not completed until the 1960s, and it is one of the largest on the continent.

Day 7 - Sine Ngayene – Banjul

Drive to Sine Ngayene, an astonishing megalithic site of over a thousand carved stones arranged into fifty two circles, recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. From here we cross the border into the Gambia and take a ferry across the river, to transfer to our hotel on the outskirts of Banjul. Overnight Atlantic Hotel or similar. (BLD)


Day 8 - 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 visit the National Museum with its exhibits on local archaeology and history, before crossing back into Senegal and the lush Casamance region. Overnight Hotel Kadiandoumange or similar. (BLD)


Day 9 - Ziguinchor

Spend the day exploring the culture of the Dioula people, meeting the king of the oldest Dioula kingdom. With his permission we learn about the animistic customs that hold sway here and venture into a sacred forest where we may be lucky enough to see traditional rituals taking place. Return to Ziguinchor for the night. Overnight Hotel Kadiandoumange or similar. (BLD)


Day 10 - Bissau

Cross into Guinea-Bissau. We visit the villages of the local Manjaco people, and see their sacred wooden sculptures, then continue to Bissau for the night. Overnight Hotel Azalai or similar. (BLD)


Days 11-13 - Bijagos Islands

Sail to the Bijagos Islands, a magical and unique world of authentic tribal traditions and unusual wildlife. 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. From here continue to Rubane, our base for three nights. We spend our time exploring this area and learning about the customs of the local people, some of the most traditional in this part of West Africa. Overnight Ponta Anchaca Lodge. (BLD)

Please note that the exact itinerary for these days will depend on the departure date; some dates may not include all visits. Hippos are only possible to see between November to January. The 27 March 2020 and 6 May 2020 departure is scheduled to coincide with the traditional ‘Vaca Bruto’ mask dances. The 13 November and 23 December 2020 departures coincide with an opportunity to view turtles nesting. 

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 14 - Bissau

Return to the capital Bissau, where we have time for a quick look around the lively old quarter, with its traditional Portuguese architecture, before having dinner and transferring to the airport for your onward flight. (BL)

Please note: We will not return to Bissau until the afternoon and so you should not book any flight before the evening.


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.

Our 2 February 2021 and 16 February 2022 tours coincide with the Bissau carnival and will follow a slightly different itinerary.

Please note that the exact itinerary for these days will depend on the departure date; some dates may not include all visits. Hippos are only possible to see between November to January. The 26 March 2021, 30 April 2021 and 8 April 2022 departures are scheduled to coincide with the traditional ‘Vaca Bruto’ mask dances. The 5 November 2021, 27 December 2021, 18 November 2022 and 27 December 2022 departures coincide with an opportunity to view turtles nesting.

Bissau carnival participant
Traditional tribal ceremony - Guinea-Bissau holidays
Fulani woman and baby - Senegal holiday

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

    In most cases you will be accompanied by one guide from start to finish. However there may be occasions when this is not practical, for example if your trip covers a number of different countries. In these cases it often makes more sense to include different guides for each place, to take advantage of their specific knowledge of the destination.

  • 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

As from 1 May 2015, visas are no longer required to visit Senegal.

Visas for Guinea-Bissau can 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 would intend to obtain your visa this way.

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

In Senegal and Guinea-Bissau the West African CFA is the currency, which is impossible to obtain outside of the region. It is best to bring Euros for exchange purposes.

Credit cards won’t be much use on this trip, and ATM machines are few and far between. Therefore it’s sensible to bring enough cash to last you throughout the tour.

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.

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 does not advise against travel to any places that we visit on this tour.

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

Bissau carnival participant
Traditional tribal ceremony - Guinea-Bissau holidays
Fulani woman and baby - Senegal holiday
Date(s)
Price (PP) Exc. Flights
Single Supplement
Trip Status
Date -
05 November 2021
Price (PP) -
£3,499
Single Supplement -
£385
Trip Status -
Available
Date -
27 December 2021
Price (PP) -
£3,499
Single Supplement -
£385
Trip Status -
Available
Date -
16 February 2022
Price (PP) -
£3,649
Single Supplement -
£385
Trip Status -
Available
Date -
08 April 2022
Price (PP) -
£3,649
Single Supplement -
£385
Trip Status -
Available
Date -
18 November 2022
Price (PP) -
£3,649
Single Supplement -
£385
Trip Status -
Available
Date -
27 December 2022
Price (PP) -
£3,649
Single Supplement -
£385
Trip Status -
Available