Those on the group flights arrive this evening and will be transferred to our start hotel in the centre of Dakar.
This morning we have an optional city tour of Dakar visiting Monument de la Renaisssance, the Presidential Palace, the largest Cathedral in Dakar and the IFAN Museum (please note that entrance fees to the Renaissance Monument and IFAN Museum are not included). Around noon we take the ferry (20 minutes) to Ile de Goree, also known as the Slave Island. The infamous island, which played a pivotal role in the transatlantic slave trade, is today a Unesco World Heritage site and commemorates a very dark chapter in human history. The peaceful island, with its quiet foot paths (there are no cars on the island) and colonial buildings adorned with bougainvillea flowers, seems an unlikely setting for the tumultuous events that the island witnessed in the past. After lunch in a local restaurant, we visit the Maison des Esclaves (House of Slaves), with its famous Door of No Return, and walk to the fortress which guarded the sea around Dakar from attack by the allies during WWII. Please note that we may have to swap over the visits of Goree Island and Lac Rose at short notice but you will still visit both sites.
This morning we drive to Lac Rose (Pink Lake), named after the waters which used to appear a striking shade of pink because of the high concentration of cyanobacteria. The lake is known for its high concentration of salt (10 times higher than the Atlantic Ocean), and local people mine the salt for sale in Dakar and neighbouring countries. The sand dunes which surround the lake were once the finishing point of the Paris-Dakar rally, and there is an optional excursion in a 4WD truck to further explore the lake, the dunes and a nearby Fulani village. We later continue on to St Louis, a colourful colonial city, full of derelict charm and the first French settlement in Africa. Its buildings have preserved their character and are testament to the important role played by the city in the past when it was the capital of Senegal.
In the morning we drive to Djoudj National Park (80 km, approximately 1 hour drive), one of the largest bird sanctuary in the world and one of the highlights of our trip. This Unesco Heritage Site, is home to 3,000,000 migratory birds from November to April and is a paradise for bird-lovers with its colony of pelicans, flamingos and an incredible variety of other birds such as cormorants, herons, harriers, and egrets amongst others. We explore the park by motorised boat, and then drive to a viewpoint for a panoramic view over the beautiful colony of flamingos that have settled here. Mid to late afternoon we return to St. Louis and have a walking tour of the town to see the mosque, cathedral and former presidential palace which is still used as the residence and offices of the current governor of St. Louis. We walk through the town's cobbled streets, soaking in the French colonial architectural style from a bygone age and cross onto the adjacent Langue de Barbarie to see the hustle and bustle of the lively fishing district.
We head south today driving first to Touba, approximately 2.5hrs. The holy city of Touba with its great Mosque is the centre of the Mouride Sufi brotherhood and as such plays an extremely important part in the religious life of Senegal. We continue on our journey to Toubakouta, about 3hrs further on.
Today we visit the Sine Saloum Delta, an area of mangroves and swamps attracting a large variety and number of birds, up to 600 species, in fact. We head out on the delta twice, first in the morning and then in the late afternoon. Amongst the species we can hope to see are Pelicans Black-headed heron, Blue-spotted Wood dove, Pygmy Sunbird, Pearl-spotted owls as well as egrets and various birds of prey. There will be time to relax between our bird-watching excursions.
Today we head to Gambia. Our journey to Kanteur will take about 5hrs depending on border crossing facilities. Once in there we will take a guided walk through traditional villages, rice fields and baobab forests filled with more birds, monkeys and pigs. There is the option of doing the visit by donkey cart.
We head out on the Gambia river which traverses the whole country from East to West. The birdlife along the river is especially rich and varied, and we should see fish eagles, weaver bird colonies, and rollers as well as egrets and herons. Along the way we pass Baboon Island Park where we normally see monkeys and even, sometimes if really lucky, chimpanzees. We disembark to visit Wassu Stone Circles - although their exact purpose is not known, these megalithic monuments were probably used to mark burial grounds. Despite the fact that stone circles can be found in Europe and the Middle East, the concentration of these fascinating monuments is particularly high in Senegambia, showing the existence of a highly organised society and a complex culture. The stones were skilfully shaped into cylindrical or polygonal shapes and their height varies from 1 to 2.5 metres, and some weigh as much as 10 tons.
We head back to the coast and Gambia's capital, Banjul. We will cross by ferry to the South side of the Gambia River. Our first stop is at Makusutu Cultural Forest for a nature walk, some palm-wine tasting and short trip in the mangroves. We then continue onto Lamin fish-farm and water gardens before finally arriving in Banjul. There should be time for an optional city tour or you can relax at a hotel where we have day use rooms. Those no the group flights will be taken to the airport in time for their flight back to London this evening.