Even for a lifetime adventurer, the Bijagós Archipelago is one of the most obscure places in the world. Few people outside anthropological or conservationist circles have ever heard of this tropical 88-island chain off the coast of Guinea-Bissau, in West Africa. A couple of years ago, a reporter for the New York Times found himself there and wrote that to spend time in “these verdant tropical specks…is to enter another world and another century, though it would be difficult to pinpoint exactly which ones.”
The inhabitants of the islands practice an animist religion. Nature is holy to them, and many places are considered sacred, much as they had been in prehistoric times when the Bijagós people settled the islands (believed to be around 9000 B.C.) Such beliefs have helped to preserve the rich biodiversity and abundant wildlife of the islands, which have been declared a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. We will spend three days in this “undiscovered” archipelago, viewing the wildlife, including the rare saltwater hippos found only on Orango Island, and meet with the friendly Bijagós people and learn about their ancient culture and traditions.
Our three days in the Bijagós Archipelago are only one of the highlights of this unique voyage. Also sail up Senegal’s Saloum River and visit the fishing village of Joal-Fadiout, entirely constructed from crushed seashells. Take in the exuberant musical traditions of
Dakar, weave through riverine forests in The Gambia where colobus monkeys gambol, and venture to the gorgeous, isolated Soumba Waterfalls of Guinea. Witness the marvelous songs and dances of Guinea and feel the pulse of life in the region’s cities.
This is the West Africa that few travelers have experienced. Tourism, on a large scale, would destroy these authentic cultures. We must have a small footprint. And that’s only possible aboard a ship like the 34-guest yacht Callisto.
Please join us to discover the “hidden” Africa.
West Africa's Cultures and Nature Reserves itinerary:
Day 1: DAKAR, Senegal | EMBARK
Arrive in Dakar, the dynamic capital of Senegal, and transfer to the port to board Callisto. Once a small settlement on the Cap Vert peninsula, Africa’s westernmost point, Dakar has grown into a great metropolis that now occupies the entire peninsula and beyond. Spend the night aboard docked in Dakar. In the evening, enjoy a show of music and dance, for which Senegal is justly famous.
Day Day 2: DAKAR | GORÉE ISLAND | DAKAR
Spend the day exploring Dakar, starting with a short ferry ride to historic Gorée Island, which played a significant role in the Atlantic slave trade. First settled by Europeans in the 15th century, the island, with its narrow alleyways and colonial buildings, is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Return to Dakar to visit the IFAN Museum of African Arts, one of West Africa’s best, then explore the Marche Soumbedioune, a craft market with the best variety of artisan workmanship, and enjoy a specially arranged visit to a contemporary artist’s studio. Sail in the evening.
Day 3: SALOUM RIVER | JOAL-FADIOUT
After sailing along Senegal’s coast, Callisto will enter the Saloum River and anchor near the village of Djifere. Landing ashore on local motorized pirogues, drive to the fascinating fishing village of Fadiout, where the houses are built of crushed shells. After exploring Fadiout, cross the wooden bridge spanning an estuary to Joal, the birthplace of the great Senegalese statesman, Sédhar Senghor, to watch the hauling-in of the colorful fishing boats.
Day 4: BANJUL, The Gambia
Founded by the British early in the 19th century, Banjul is the capital and commercial center of The Gambia. Disembark in the morning and drive to the Abuko Nature Reserve, one of the last surviving examples of tropical riverine forests in the country. Within its confines are about 300 species of birds, as well as red colobus and callithrix monkeys. Continue to the Makasutu Culture Forest, a private nature habitat with beautiful woodland and waterways. Enjoy lunch at the reserve. Return to Banjul to visit the National Museum, whose exhibits illustrate the history and culture of the country.
Day 5: BISSAU, Guinea-Bissau
Part of the Mali Empire from the 13th to 15th centuries, and a colony of Portugal from the beginning of the 16th century to 1974, when it gained independence, Guinea-Bissau is one of the smallest and least visited countries in West Africa. Explore Bissau, the country’s friendly and peaceful capital, focusing on Bissau Velho (Old Bissau), whose streets are lined with houses dating from the colonial period. Also visit the Bandim Market, known for its good selection of strip-woven cloth, and the Centro Artistico Juvenil, where local artists specialize in wood carvings.
Day 6-8: BIJAGÓS ARCHIPELAGO
Spend three days exploring the Bijagós Archipelago, a cluster of 88 pristine and seldom visited islands, of which only 23 are inhabited. The islands have been settled since prehistoric times by the Bijagós people, a matriarchal society in which women choose their husbands, and the community is guided by female priests. Before the arrival of Europeans in the 15th century, the islands were vital in the trade routes along West Africa’s coast and were known for their oceangoing canoes that could carry up to 70 people. Fiercely independent, the Bijagós navy defeated the Portuguese when they attempted to conquer the islands in 1535. In fact, the Portuguese were unable to take control of the archipelago until 1936. The 25,000 Bijagós who live on the islands today still practice their ancient traditions and speak their ethnic language, in addition to Portuguese. The islands contain an impressive biodiversity and abundant flora and fauna, in recognition of which they have been declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. The pristine nature of the islands has been preserved partly due to the Bijagós’ animistic faith, which prohibits economic activities in the many sacred areas, including bans on permanent construction.
Our itinerary in the archipelago will be governed by the tides, which in some places can be up to 20 feet. We expect to visit several of the most important islands, including Orango, which is home to a rare species of saltwater-dwelling hippos; heavily-forested Canogo; and João Vieira, a breeding ground for marine turtles. In addition to discovering the natural riches of the islands, we will also have the opportunity to visit villages, meet the friendly Bijagós people, and learn about their traditions, which have remained unchanged through the centuries. There will be opportunities to swim in the crystalline waters and enjoy the pristine
Day 9: CONAKRY, Guinea | DUBRÉKA | CONAKRY
Playing a major role during the period of West Africa’s powerful empires (13th to 18th centuries), and fought over by the Portuguese, British, and French, Guinea gained independence from France in 1958. A country of great diversity, Guinea is also rich in artistic traditions, especially music and dance. From Conakry, the country’s capital, drive to Dubréka, a pretty town surrounded by mangrove swamps, which we will explore, including the beautiful Soumba Waterfalls. In the town, visit the Institut Supérieur des Arts, the country’s national art school, as well as Tafory, an art center created by the painter Nabisco.
Day 10: FREETOWN, Sierra Leone
With its rich forests, nature reserves, and white-sand beaches, Sierra Leone is one of West Africa’s most attractive destinations. In Freetown, explore the Sierra Leone Museum, housing a wonderful collection of masks, drums, and other artifacts; St. George’s Cathedral, completed in 1828; and the city’s colorful markets. Also visit the Regent Village, with its early 19th-century Krio-style houses, as well as the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary, home to abandoned and rescued chimps, set in beautiful surroundings. Overnight aboard docked in Freetown.
Day 11: FREETOWN | DISEMBARK | BUNCE ISLAND | FREETOWN | FLY TO USA
Disembark Callisto in the morning and take a local motorboat to travel up the mangrove-lined Sierra Leone River to Bunce Island, a small islet covered in jungle and dominated by a massive ruined fort, built by the British in 1670 as a slave trading post. Return to Freetown for lunch and time at leisure before transferring to the airport for the evening return flight to the U.S. Day rooms will be provided at the Hotel Kimbima.
The MS Callisto has a guest list which is limited to 34, a party large enough to bring together an interesting mix, but small enough to foster a true spirit of community. Beautifully appointed and filled with amenities one would expect to find in a fine country house, the 17 cabins feature large windows (portholes on the Daphne Deck) that look out to sea. Cabins also feature:
• Satellite TV, DVD/CD player
• Marble-appointed bathroom with fine toiletries
• Plush terry robes and slippers
• Decorated with rich fabrics, handsome wood, polished brass, the yacht’s public spaces are warm and inviting. These include:
• Library with Internet access
• Lounge with audiovisual facilities
• Dining room
• Two sun decks
• Swimming platform
MS Callisto’s steward and kitchen staff seek fresh provisions from many ports of call. Guests savour just caught fish and perfectly ripened produce from local markets, resulting in menus of classic regional specialties as well as creative Continental fare. Select regional wines are complimentary with lunch and dinner (wine is not permitted to be served in Libyan waters). Meals are served at a single, unassigned seating in the elegantly-styled dining room, surrounded by large picture windows. Weather permitting, guests may also dine al fresco on the broad sun decks.
An Uncommon Advantage
MS Callisto’s compact size allows visits to unspoiled islets, pristine beaches and intimate coves inaccessible to larger cruise-liners. She is both large enough to offer every possible comfort and small enough to navigate tiny inlets and berth in exclusive harbours, taking travellers where few have gone before.