Tour to Senegal, Guinea Bissau: cultural discovery and nature from Dakar to Bissau

An amazing journey across an astonishing variety of landscapes and experiences, the result of many years of field research. We will travel in ten different means of transportation, each chosen to optimize the different geographical and cultural environments and have fun: comfortable air-conditioned minibus, 4WD vehicles, traditional calash, donkey chariot, local bush taxi, town Taxi, ferry boat, liner ship, local boat and modern speedboats. A comfortable expedition from north to south in a crescendo of changing landscapes: from the dunes of the southern edge of Sahara to the Ferlo Desert in Senegal, from the “Sacred Forest” in Casamance to the longest line of mangrove swamps in Africa and on to the unknown Bijagos Archipelago. Moving across these varied ecosystems, we encounter the main natural and cultural “milieu” of West Africa. For travellers who want to get acquainted with this intense region, like variety … and love Africa!

VACA BRUTO CERIMONIES

Departure dates:Mar 18th , Apr 22nd 2017 /  Mar. 17th – Apr. 21th  2018

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. The most spectacular Bijago mask is called VacaBruto (wild bull) and is a wooden helmet with eyes of frosted glass, real horns, leather ears and a rope through the nostril. During the VacaBruto Festival dancers embody the spirit of the mask with great realism: they bow and face the ground, just like a real untamed animal would do. The mask represents a man in full possession of his physical strength but with still an immature behavior since he has not yet undergone the final initiations. All the villagers attend this fascinating ceremony.

SALT WATER HIPPOS   & TURTLE NESTING 

Departure dates:Nov 25th , Dec  23rd  2017 / Nov. 3rd – Dec. 29th  2018

Orango Island in Bijagos Archipelago  is a National Park and among the many protected species there is a unique mammal: the spectacular “saltwater hippo”. These rare animals mainly live in the saltwater of the mangrove but sometimes even like to go for a swim in the ocean! As they move around the island in search of saltwater ponds.

Poilao in Bijagos Archipelago is uninhabited island and the main nesting site for Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia Midas) in West Africa. After dark, in silence on the beach, we await for the magic moment when a female emerges from the ocean to dig a deep hole in the sand and lay hundred or more eggs. With a bit of luck we will be able to witness the hatching! … Tiny turtles emerge from the sand to join the ocean and start a long journey that will bring them back to this same island 30 years after, when they will reach sexual maturity.

  • Duration: 15 days
  • Guide: English speaking
Price from 3335 € Send request
Day 1

Dakar, the capital

Arrival in Dakar (Senegal) and transfer to the hotel. Free time to relax.

Day 2

Dakar and the edge of the Sahara

Dakar became the center of political, artistic and intellectual “renouveau” from independence time. Visit of the “Plateau” district, the Governor Palace and some interesting markets. After lunch, by minibus we drive to the Lampoul Desert.

Day 3

Saint Louis

Drive to Saint Louis, a charming old town which was the first capital of West Africa French colonies. Having been the former base of the “Aeropostale” airmail pioneer operation between Europe, Africa and South America, Saint Exupéry himself – the famous writer and aviator, author of “The Little Prince” – had a base here as well! The best way to visit the narrow lanes of Saint Louis is by calash, just as locals do! Time to stroll in the tiny avenues and enjoy the unique atmosphere of this old town.

Day 4

Bird sanctuary & Nomadic tribes

Early in the morning departure northwards to discover Djoudj National Bird Sanctuary, a natural oasis formed by hundreds of miles of partially flooded lands which has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This “humid paradise” – the best habitat and nesting site for over a million of migratory and resident birds – lies on the southeastern bank of the Senegal River and offers a range of wetland habitats that are very popular with migrating birds, many of which get here after crossing the Sahara. Apart from birds there is also a wide range of wildlife which could be encountered.
In the afternoon continuation to the Ferlo Desert to discover the arid region where nomadic Fulani tribes herds large droves of zebu.

Day 5

Tuba Brotherhood

The rarely visited the holly town of Tuba (Touba) is the right place to appreciate the hospitality of an African brotherhood. During the annual festival the town is visited by four million pilgrims. Mouridi welcome any interest for their traditions yet since Tuba is a sacred town, all visitors should show respect for traditional rules, therefore we must apply a considerate dress code, not smoke, not drink alcohol and not listen to music during the visit. If you follow these simple rules, you will be very welcomed.Continuation to Lac Rose, a shallow saltwater lake surrounded by dunes, also known as Lac Retba. The water is ten times saltier than in the ocean and because of the high concentration of minerals the lake often shimmers into pink. For the more adventurous possibility to go for a “swim”, or rather a float, in the lake waters.

Day 6

Contemporary art

In the morning a spectacular excursion by a 4WD vehicle, driving for miles on the beach between waves and sand to discover the largest fisherman village in Senegal: more than 4500 wooden pirogues come to the shore with the catch of the day! We then leave our vehicles and take a donkey chariot for a less intrusive and fun approach to the fishermen selling their catch at the local market, to the artisans carving large pirogues and to the painters decorating the boats with bright colors and with the “local saint” to guarantee a final magical blessing.
We will later rent a fun and colorful local taxi to reach Dakar and upon arrival visit of the “Village des Arts” made up of fifty-two artist studios (ateliers). All disciplines of the visual arts are here represented (painting, sculpture, ceramics, photography, video, installation, etc.). The Village has a large gallery, which receives exhibitions year round. The Village is the best place to meet the finest artists and young talents of the Senegalese vibrant art scene.

Day 7

Goré Island: history and charm

Waking up in Goré before the crowd arrives and strolling in the tiny stone paved alleys of this historical settlement is pure pleasure.In Goré slaves used to be crammed and then shipped to the Americas. The historic center was totally restored to bear witness of those sad times however thanks to the nice breeze, the many restaurants and shops, Goré today has become a very pleasant and trendy location.
Ferry to Dakar and town taxi to the city centre. The best way to discover the centre is walking through its wide avenues, impressive colonial buildings and colourful markets animated by a lively crowd.
In the evening we reach the harbor in time to board the liner “Aline Sitoe Diatta

Day 8

Forest sailing

In the early morning light, our ship enters the estuary of the majestic Casamance River. From the edge of the river, we will discover the Casamance region: its large and luxuriant trees and its “sacred forests” where animistic cults are still practiced today.
We leave our ship at Carabane Island and we board a local boat which takes us to a small island where we take part in the “Essipati” dances of the women of the Diola ethnic group. Continuation through a labyrinth of water and mangroves.
Upon arrival on the mainland, a minibus will take us to Cap Skirring – “Cap” for the locals -, a trendy sea destination known for his excellent beaches. Relax at the wild beach of our cozy hotel

Day 9

Sacred kings

Today we visit an adobe-fortified buildings still inhabited by a large patriarchal Diola family, a very interesting example of traditional African “sculptural architecture”. These large clay and wooden fortified houses, where light comes from a central hole in the roof, are known as “impluvium houses” – an African variant of the ancient roman house – and had the function to protect its dwellers from outside attacks. In the afternoon we follow an isolated path to a tiny village and … masks leave the sacred forest (where only initiated are admitted) to dance for an enthusiastic local crowd.

Day 10

Cult for the ancestors

After crossing the border with Guinea Bissau we explore the region inhabited by the Manjaco. This ethnic group calls their traditions “Gendiman” and keeps them still alive and practiced. We visit tiny villages hidden in the forest to discover sculptured wooden poles called “Pecab” and representing the spirits of their ancestors, they are kept in a sanctuary known as “Cab Balugun”. With the permission of the villagers, we have the opportunity to admire sacred wooden sculptures dating back to many generations and of different styles, it is indeed a rare opportunity to enjoy tribal art in its original cultural context.

Day 11

The Bijagos Archipelago

In the morning departure by speedboat for a five-day journey across the Bijagos Archipelago to discover remote islands and isolated human settlements. The Bijagos Archipelago is located approximately 40 miles off-shore and, with its 88 islands (of which only 21 are permanently inhabited), is the largest archipelago in Africa. With its wild and pristine landscapes, its unique fauna and its genuine tribal culture, Bijagos is a “geographical jewel”. The colors of Orango Island will simply fascinate us: the green vegetation, the white sand beaches, the brown rocks and the blue ocean.

Day 12

The Queens island

After a 30-minute walk we reach the sacred village of Okinka Pampa, hosting the graves of the Queens – a really fascinating place since this population live in a semi-matriarchal society. In the afternoon an intense navigation through the islands will bring us to a spectacular virgin bay surrounded by wild beaches….

Day 13

Initiates

Our speedboat will reach a beach of Canhabaque Island where we will spend part of the day walking to villages hidden in the forest. Alternatively, we can visit fewer villages and relax on the beach.
Due to the remoteness of the island/destination, the lack of transportation and the deep attachment to the local traditions, the Bijagos inhabitants have been little influenced by the external world: women still wear the saiya – a traditional skirt made of straw – and the rhythm of village life is given by initiations and secret ceremonies, such as the seven-year long rite during which young men live in the “initiated house” without any contact with women.

Day 14

Islander life

Boat excursion to Bubaque, passing by Soga Bay with its large colony of pink flamingos. Visit of Bubaque, the largest village in the archipelago and the only one connected to the continent, by an old ferry once a week. In Bubaque we will find unpaved alleys, a tiny colorful market, local bars and traders. Quite interesting the small ethnographic museum dedicated to the Bijagos culture.

Day 15

from the ghost capital to Bissau

Early morning departure to Bolama Island, the former capital of Portuguese Guinea from 1871 to 1941, before they moved it to Bissau. The town is now falling apart and is partly invaded by tropical vegetation. With its large sunny lethargic avenues, its empty squares, its dry fountains, its bush-like gardens, Bolama is plunged in the fairy-tale atmosphere of a ghost town.
In the afternoon, we end our speedboat navigation by arriving in Bissau, the actual capital of the country. Here a vehicle will be waiting to take us on a brief tour of this tiny and intriguing capital.
Transfer to the airport for the return flight and assistance.

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