“A two week exploration of some of West Africa’s most remote and remarkable places, starting in Senegal and winding round to Guinea-Bissau. Travelling in a small group with expert local guide. ”
Dakar | Lampoul Desert camping | Djoudj National Park| St Louis | Fulani people | Touba | Lac Rose | Goree Island | Dioula community | Cap Skirring | Felupe and Baiote peoples | Cacheu | Bijagos Islands | Turtle watching | Canhabaque Island
Description of West Africa Explorer, Guinea-Bissau & Senegal
This West Africa overland holiday is a two week adventure through an eclectic array of West African landscapes that are still virtually undiscovered by tourists, in both Senegal and Guinea-Bissau. Our journey through both of these countries allows us to not only experience the biodiverse beauties of this Sahel region of the African continent, the name given to the region between Sahara and the Savannah, but also the remote communities and indigenous people who still live traditional lifestyles there and welcome us into their communities.
Starting in the busiest hub of the region, the capital of Senegal, Dakar, it isn’t too far for us to experience wilderness straight away, spending our second night camping in the Lampoul Desert. From here, we journey on to Djoudj National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site so recognised for the 1.5 million migratory birds that favour this as habitat, including some of the largest flocks of flamingos in Africa. The nearby town of St. Louis is very different to the capital, with a laid back post colonial feel in a stunning location on a narrow island in the middle of the Senegal River. You can get around by horse and carriage or stroll out to the shores and watch the fishermen bring in their catch. In contrast, we spend one night in the desert again after St. Louis, enjoying precious time with the semi-nomadic Fulani people.
Another contrasting town awaits in Touba, home to Senegal’s Marabout Muslim Brotherhood where a deep seated spiritual heritage still thrives. Another contrast awaits in the Casamance region where the religious culture is still an ancient one, and where we have the honour of meeting a traditional Dioula monarch, possibly witnessing a religious ritual as well as being guided through their sacred, forested lands. This really is another side to Senegal altogether and a fascinating one too.
Our journey into Guinea-Bissau, south of Senegal, focuses on its magnificent coastline, made up of islands and lagoons, wildlife filled wetlands and mangrove forests boasting highlights such as the West African manatee, salt water hippos and sea turtles that inhabit the waters of the Bijagos Islands. Islands that are still home to very traditional communities, such as the matriarchal and ritual rich communities of Canhabaque Island where, yet again, with inimitable West African generosity, we are welcomed whole heartedly, bringing this wonderful adventure into these remote West African countries to a fine finale.
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2016: 22 Dec 2017: 15 Feb, 18 Mar, 22 Apr, 25 Nov, 23 Dec
Responsible tourism: West Africa Explorer, Guinea-Bissau & Senegal
While on this tour we visit Djoudj National Park, an important wetland sanctuary that is home to around 1.5 million birds, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Our visit here provides income to local communities, who are thus incentivised to continue preserving the area and are able to see the value of it as an environment rather than a resource. The entrance fees paid also help to fund continued conservation efforts.
We also spend time looking for the very rare West African manatee - again, the involvement of local people and the income that this generates for them helps to persuade them that the manatee is worth protecting rather than as a food source.
On the Bijagos Islands we look for saltwater hippos and turtles, again involving local communities. We take special care to ensure that our presence does not disturb these animals, in particular the turtles when they are nesting.
This tour travels through some very remote regions, some of which have barely been touched by the presence of humans, and we strongly believe in maintaining their pristine nature. We strive to ensure that we leave these areas as we find them and our team have been trained in strict no litter policies, meaning that we take all refuse to either be recycled or properly disposed of in nearby towns.
Similarly, in conjunction with our local team we work with hotels and guesthouses to implement best practices when it comes to environmental matters – again in some places this is far behind what we might be used to in other parts of the world. This includes basic things like not replacing towels each day, as well as saving electricity and turning lights off.
Our travellers are specifically briefed on not to buy souvenirs made from endangered species – people in remote parts of West Africa do not always have the same respect towards wildlife as most travellers will have, and can sometimes offer such things for sale. This also extends to bushmeat – it is quite common to find antelope, porcupine or even monkey served in restaurants, and we specifically advise our travellers against contributing to the depletion of local populations.
As with many of the trips that we offer, this tour has a strong focus on local culture and different ethnic groups. Where possible we try to ensure that local people benefit from our presence.
We spend time with some traditional ethnic groups on this trip, from those in the Bijagos Islands and the Felupe and Baiote people in Senegal. Tourism rarely reaches here and we recognise that we have a special responsibility to ensure that the encounters that we have are carried out in a responsible manner. We consult extensively with local tribal elders to ensure that our presence here is very much welcomed – we feel that it is very important to be seen as guests here rather than outsiders come to merely look. We are able to spend time with the communities learning about their traditions and customs.
We are careful not to disrupt the traditional way of life of the people that we meet. As a way to say thank you for allowing us to visit, we bring traditional gifts, such as sugar, tea and so on – we do not bring modern accoutrements that may change their way of life as we feel that it is important for all tribal groups that any move towards a more ‘modern’ lifestyle is made on their own terms and not imposed upon them. We give gifts to the elders of the villages who will then ensure that they are distributed appropriately, rather than just giving them to individuals, which can cause problems, jealousy and fights within small communities.
Where small local shops exist within the villages, we encourage our travellers to but something, be it a cold drink or a snack, so that we have some economic benefit, however small. We employ local guides from the villages to show us around – not only does this give our travellers a greater insight into traditions but again it helps to put money into the local economy.
These are very traditional areas with certain codes of behaviour, and the people here are not that accustomed to outsiders. We ensure that our travellers are appropriately briefed in order so as not to offend local sensibilities. This includes photography – while we recognise that many people are incredibly photogenic it is important for us to respect their wishes should they not want to have their photo taken, and our travellers are carefully briefed upon this.