Travel West Africa and follow the waters of ancient trade routes through the heart of this captivating region on International Expeditions’ poignant West Africa tour into the intriguing culture, elaborate architecture and wildlife of Mali, Senegal and The Gambia. Spend nights in comfortable hotels and aboard our West Africa cruise yacht Pegasus, while daily excursions may have you cruising among islands aboard local motorized pirogues searching for wildlife, exploring the captivating rituals and customs, or strolling through vibrant villages.
A West Africa Tour From Mosques to Masks in Mali
IE’s sweeping West Africa tour begins by delving into the architecture and culture of Mali. Explore Djenné, a town whose mud-brick mosque and elaborate architecture is world-renowned. Then spend a full day with the Dogon people, whose intriguing and complex belief system includes masked dances, ritual figures and carvings. .
Cruise Senegal & The Gambia in Style
Spend seven nights aboard the well-appointed yacht Pegasus, on a West Africa cruise along the great delta formed by Senegal’s Saloum and Sine Rivers, whose Byzantine waterways are home to unusual wildlife and villages. Our West Africa cruise then sails the forest-lined Gambia River.
Expert West Africa Travel Guides & Expedition Leaders
When it comes to traveling to the remote corners of the world, there’s no substitute for experience! That’s why IE has chosen long-time Expedition Leader Jorge Salas to accompany your small-group on this West Africa tour. With 20 years of guiding experience, Jorge ensures a smooth and worry-free West Africa travel experience.
Days 1 & 2
U.S. / Bamako, Mali
Fly independently to Bamako, where our West Africa tour overnights at the Azalai Salam Hotel. (Meals Aloft)
Bamako / Segou
Spend the first morning of your West Africa tour learning about West African art, textiles and Malian history at the National Museum. We then stroll through the market. Departing the city, we head toward Ségou. En route, visit Ségoukoro, a charming village on the banks of the Niger River. During the 18th century, Ségoukoro was the base of the Bambara kings, who ruled a kindom which stretched thousands of miles across West Africa. Continue to Ségou, Mali's second largest city and a former colonial capital perched on the banks of the Niger River. Spend tonight at Independence Hotel. (B,L,D)
Segou / Mopti
After a morning visit to the N'domo Textile Art Center, where we learn about traditional textiles and have an opportunity to paint famed bogolan mud cloth during a workshop with Professor Doumbia. Depart for Mopti, traveling through a wild landscape of giant baobabs. Mopti is a vital port and trading center at the confluence of the Niger and Bani Rivers. Spend four nights at Hotel Kanaga. (B,L,D)
MoptiExplore canal-laced Mopti, spotting mud-brick buildings and bustling markets, and shopping for jewelry, sculptures and blankets. This spectacular port, set against the backdrop of majestic red mud-brick Sudanese buildings, evokes the memory of the glorious 14th and 15th century Mandingo empires. Along the Niger, we find traditional pirogue boat builders and take time to shop at the Sougouni market. Our full day of touring also includes a visit to the architecture museum and Komoguel neighborhood, where we see traditional banco houses. Board a traditional pinasse — a covered boat with outboard motor — for a cruise on the Niger, seeing riverside Bozo fishing villages and livestock farms. Return to our hotel for a moving performance by a Fulani griot, the traditional West African poet, singer and storytellers who pass down their cultural knowledge. (B,L,D)
Dogon Country / Mopti
Delve into the rich Dogon culture during a walking excursion along the Bandiagara Escarpment. The Dogon people live in an extremely remote area, with houses perched in implausible fashion along the steep slopes of the Bandiagara Escarpment and on the adjacent plateau and plains. The traditional belief systems of the Dogon people are rich and elaborate, and are reflected in the design and layout of their villages and in their famous carved masks and doors. During our West Africa tour visit several traditional villages, where our stops include the granaries, fetish houses and the togu-na (elders’ house). Take in a mask performance and learn about the vivid artistry of their masks, ritual figures and carvings. Return to Mopti for the night. (B,L,D)
Djenne / Mopti
The Grand Mosque, the largest mud-brick building in the world, dominates Djenne. Many of Djenné’s houses are also fine examples of Sahelian architecture. We walk through the town, and also visit a workshop where some of the area’s famous, exquisite bogolan mud cloth is created. Return to Mopti this afternoon. (B,L,D)
Mopti / Timbuktu / Bamako
Board our private flights to the mystical city of Timbuktu. Founded in the 11th century, Timbuktu became a powerful city, capital of the vast Songhai Empire in the 1500s, and a center of learning and scholarship. European explorers were captivated by stories of Timbuktu’s enormous wealth, but by the time they arrived in the 1800s, they found a much less imposing place. Today Timbuktu is a pleasant town with many echoes of the past. Travel to the distinctive Djinguereber and Sankore mosques, dating from the 14th and 15th centuries, and ancient university. Drive to the edge of the Sahara to a camp, where we savor a traditional mishui lunch of Tuareg specialties and a dance performance by this tribe, known as the “Blue Men” of the Sahara. Late this afternoon we fly to Bamako, where we overnight. (B,L,D)
Days 9 & 10
Bamako / Dakar, Senegal
Spend the morning learning about West African art, textiles and Malian history at the National Museum. Fly to Dakar, where we spend a full day touring this former French colonial city, a maze of vibrant markets, along with a poignant visit to Goree Island. Spend two nights at the Terrou Bi Hotel. (Day 9: B; Day 10: B,L)
Dakar / Embark Pegasus
Spend the morning strolling through two of Dakar’s colorful local markets: Tilène, known for its medicinal herbs and traditional healers; and Kermel, selling European foods, flowers and crafts. Enjoy a lunch of local fare before boarding the Pegasus, the West Africa cruise yacht that will be our home for the next seven nights of our West Africa travel expedition. (B,L,D)
Saloum Delta / Djiffere / Joal-Fadiouth / Banjul
Senegal’s Saloum River Delta features scenic waterways, where you may spot birdlife, while crocodiles, West African manatees and marine turtles inhabit the mangrove swaps lining the waterways. Explore the primitive fishing villages of Djiffere and Joal-Fadiouth. Enter the Gambia River and continue to Tenada. (B,L,D)
Kiang West National Park / Bao Bolong Reserve
Kiang West National Park is one of Africa’s last undisturbed tracts of savannah and a sanctuary for 250 bird species Visit a section of Kiang West National Park, looking for birds, monkeys, baboons and warthogs. Meet residents of a local village and learn about life in this region. Aboard small local boats, navigate the waterways and maze of islands that comprise Bao Bolong. This wetland reserve features mangrove forest, salt marsh and savannah woodland. Look for both resident and migratory birdlife and other wildlife such as hippos and the rare sitatunga. (B,L,D)
As our West Africa cruise winds its way upriver toward Kuntaur, pass villagers as they fish, mend their nets and tend dug-out canoes. (B,L,D)
Kuntaur / River Gambia National Park / Janjanbureh
Board local motorized pirogues in the morning to see the five mid-river Baboon Islands that constitute the River Gambia National Park. The islands also house the Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Project, set up in 1969. We look for monkeys and other wildlife as our boat cruises by the lushly forested islands. Our day ends in the town of Janjanbureh, also known by its colonial name of Georgetown, once an important trading post for the British. Most of the buildings in the old town date from the 19th century. There is an opportunity to shop for local crafts. Janjanbureh’s woodlands and leafy riverfront house a large number of bird species, and you will have the opportunity to take a nature and bird watching walk. (B,L,D)
Spend another relaxing day on the river, as we cruise to Banjul. Founded by the British early in the 19th century near the entrance to the Gambia River to safeguard their commercial interests, Banjul is the capital and commercial center of The Gambia (B,L,D)
Banjul / Abuko Nature Reserve / Makasutu Culture Forest
Our West Africa tour journeys to the tiny Abuko Nature Reserve, one of the last surviving examples of tropical riverine forest in the country, which boasts 270 bird species, Nile crocodiles, green monkey, Maxwell’s duiker and more. Continue to Makasutu Culture Forest, a private nature habitat with beautiful woodland and waterways, where we explore on bush walks and aboard dug-out canoes. Get a firsthand look at Gambian life during encounters with an Islamic holy man and a palm tapper. Return to Banjul to visit the National Museum, whose exhibits illustrate the history and culture of the country. (B,L,D)
Days 18 & 19
Dakar / Disembark / U.S.
After bidding farewell to the crew, disembark the Pegasus and board connecting flights to the U.S. (B, Meals Aloft)
All prices are in US dollars and do not include international airfare, unless otherwise noted.
Prices displayed are based on the lowest season base price and assume double occupancy. Prices are shown in U.S. dollars and may or may not include administrative fees, taxes, meals, airfare (where applicable) and Single Supplements. Cancellation penalties, blackout dates and other restrictions may apply.
Options and Extras
What is included in the price of IE’s West Africa travel packages?
- Exploration of Timbuktu, Goree Island and more
- Visit to Dogon country with Dogon mask performance
- Village visits
- Tour of the Sougouni women’s market, the piroque-builders and craft markets
- Seven-night cruise aboard five-star Pegasus
- Services of experienced expedition leader
- 43 meals
- Transfers on group arrival and departure dates
Are visas required for West Africa travel?
Visas are required for U.S. citizens to enter Mali and The Gambia. Senegal does not require U.S. citizens to have a visa for stays up to three months. Mali and The Gambia visas must be acquired before departure.
What vaccinations are required for travel to West Africa?
All travelers on this journey, regardless of nationality, are required to show evidence of yellow fever vaccination. The CDC recommends that all travelers to West Africa be up-to-date on vaccinations for measles/mumps/rubella (MMR), diphtheria/pertussis/tetanus (DPT), poliovirus, hepatitis A, hepatitis B and typhoid; however, you should consult with your personal physician.
When is the best time to travel to West Africa?
The best time to visit West Africa is October through March, with December and January being the most crowded. Mali is primarily desert and the climate is semitropical in the south and arid in the north. Senegal has well-defined dry and humid seasons. Dakar’s annual rainfall of about 24 inches occurs between June and October, when maximum temperatures average 82° F. In January and February, when we will be there, low temperatures average about 63° F. Rainfall increases substantially farther south, exceeding 60 inches annually in some areas. The Gambia is generally recognized to have a most agreeable climate. The weather is subtropical, with distinct dry and rainy seasons. From mid-November to mid-May, coastal areas are dry, while the rainy season lasts from June to October. Inland the cool season is shorter and daytime temperatures are very high between March and June. Sunny periods occur on most days even during the rainy season.
How active are IE’s West Africa travel packages?
A trip to West Africa is an active vacation that calls for good health. All excursions involve a fair amount of standing and quite a bit of walking, sometimes over rough or wet ground and sometimes uphill. Mobility is essential for climbing in and out of small local boats used for disembarkation at several ports of call during the cruise. In addition, pirogues (local West African boats) are used for daily excursions from the Pegasus. The pirogues are of varying size and design but most have sides and numerous thwarts, crossing the width of the boat from gunwale to gunwale. You should be mobile to get in an out of these crafts.
How much luggage can you take to West Africa?
We suggest you travel as light as possible. There are strict baggage allowances for our flights in West Africa. Each guest is limited to one suitcase (maximum of 55 lbs.) and one carry-on. Laundry services are available throughout your expedition at an additional cost anywhere we spend at least two nights, including onboard the Pegasus. Fees for overweight luggage are your responsibility should they be incurred.