On this 14-day Christmas Expedition cruise in West Africa roundtrip Dakar aboard MS Spitsbergen, travel through two island archipelagos filled with historic sites, contrasting cultures, and varied landscapes. Explore Cape Verde beaches and enjoy wildlife watching as you cruise to Santiago, Boa Vista, Santa Antão, and volcanic Fogo. Spot hundreds of different bird species, rare saltwater hippos, manatees, turtles, and more in the Bissagos UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Visit the Bijago people, with their fascinating animistic and matriarchal culture. Your final stop before returning to Dakar is Banjul in The Gambia, Africa's smallest capital city.
See landscapes of lava on Fogo, an island dominated by an active volcano.
Colorful, captivating Dakar is where your West African experience begins. Visit Medina’s maze of streets, bustling Marché Tilène, and the imposing Grand Mosque.
If you want to explore more before your expedition cruise, you can book an optional Pre-Excursion to Bandia Nature Reserve. Join an open vehicle safari through the African savanna for some wildlife spotting. Keep your camera handy for giraffes, buffalo, monkeys, gazelles, ostriches, rhinos and more.
MS Spitsbergen going to waiting for you. Take time to settle into your cabin and meet your Expedition Team before you set sail—and don't forget to pick up your complimentary expedition jacket.
After breakfast, you cross to Gorée Island, a UNESCO-listed memorial and education center on the transatlantic trade in enslaved peoples.
You can learn more on a visit to the museum and Maison des Esclaves, where captives used to be held before transportation. Their stories are movingly documented here. You can also tour the baobab-shaded streets, where local artisans sell crafts in the markets and town squares.
Back on the mainland, MS Spitsbergen is going to be wait for you. Pick up your complimentary expedition jacket, settle into your cabin and meet your Expedition Team before you set sail.
As your expedition cruise heads towards Cape Verde, you’ll have time to get to know your fellow adventurers, and your Expedition Team—chosen for their expertise on the destinations.
It's also a great time to get to know the ship. You’ll love the delicious dishes served up in the restaurants and the comfortable Explorer Bar. Try the on-deck hot tub or panoramic sauna, and watch the world glide by as you relax.
Your Expedition Team can tell you what's ahead in fascinating lectures in the Science Center. Discover more about the Citizen Science projects. Plus the professional photographer can give you tips on capturing your adventures on camera.
Seasonal celebrations are in the air as you reach Santiago in Cape Verde. As a largely Catholic country, Christmas is widely celebrated here, with Christmas Eve a public holiday. Listen for caroling from the churches or in the streets.
Santiago offers historical sites, bustling markets, lush valleys and craggy mountains. The capital Praia is a great base for exploring the historic buildings or strolling the sandy beaches to Maria Pia lighthouse. The UNESCO site Cidade Velha, the first European city established in the tropics, is a highlight.
In the evening, you can continue the festivities on board the ship, bringing everyone together in a relaxed, welcoming and joyful atmosphere.
Boa Vista, the easternmost island of Cape Verde, is an unforgettable place to spend Christmas Day. Whether you’re relaxing on the peaceful sands or exploring the palm-lined capital of Sal Rei, you’ll find a lot to enjoy.
Don’t be fooled by the island’s desert-like appearance—it offers many habitats for wildlife with reefs, dunes, oases and wetlands. Keep your eyes open for migratory birds, and if you're lucky, you might even spot humpback whales.
Expect more festivities and good cheer on board this evening, enjoying each other's company as you continue the tour of West Africa.
Santo Antão might be the most spectacular of the Cape Verde islands. With mountains, canyons and gorges, it offers some of the world's most breathtaking landscapes.
You land in Porto Novo, the island’s main town, with wonderful views across the channel to São Vicente. You'll have the option to join a driving tour of the ridges and narrow canyons, known as ribeiras.
Or you can join an optional nature walk along the island trails. You’ll pass mango and almond groves, and small villages filled with the aroma of coffee that the locals roast themselves.
Fogo means ‘fire’, and this active volcanic island lives up to its name. Centuries of eruptions—the last in 2014—have left an incredible landscape that you'll get to explore today.
The optional excursion takes you to the eerily beautiful lava fields of Chã das Caldeiras. It's a challenging hike but worth it for the views. If that's not for you, there's plenty to see in São Filipe’s cobbled streets, and the historic center of Meia Laranja.
With no natural harbors on the island, you can only land if you are able to launch the small boats (RIBs). If that's not possible, you take in the spectacular volcanic scenery on a cruise around the island.
You leave Cape Verde as the expedition cruise continues to Guinea-Bissau. As you sail, your Expedition Team can brief you on what lies ahead. You'll hear presentations about the extraordinary biodiversity of this tropical region.
You’ll learn about the culture too, like the matriarchal society of the Bijagos people, and the historical impact of Portuguese exploration and the slave trade.
You can take part in the Citizen Science projects and contribute data to important research. Now might be a good chance to brush up your photography skills with the onboard photographer in readiness for the sights to come.
Declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1996, the Bissagos Islands are a wildlife watcher’s dream. The islands support saltwater hippos, turtles, manatees, crocodiles and snakes, plus more than 500 types of bird.
Over the next four days, you'll explore this maze of islands and channels, renowned for their diverse ecosystems. You can go into mangroves, rainforest, savannah woodlands and coastal lagoons. The small boats (RIBs) can take you down the smaller channels. You’ll join shore landings with the Expedition Team, and may go out in sea kayaks.
Learn about, and maybe meet, the local Bijago people—a fiercely independent, matriarchal society organized in clans. Practicing a subsistence lifestyle, they hold the natural world sacred, beliefs that have helped protect this area from exploitation.
Local conditions can determine when and where you can land and explore, but whatever you do, you can be sure you’ll experience the rich diversity of the archipelago up close.
You'll also celebrate New Year's Eve while you're here—an incredible way to see in the New Year!
Today your West African expedition cruise reaches The Gambia and its tiny capital, Banjul. It may be bijou, but its location at the mouth of the River Gambia made it an important trading hub.
It also played a role in ending the slave trade, as its garrison was used by the British Navy to uphold Abolition Laws. Close by is the birthplace of Kunta Kinte, the protagonist of Alex Haley's famous book, Roots.
The city is easy to explore on foot. The National Museum houses Gambia’s best archaeological and ethnographical collections. Lively Albert Market is a great place to pick a souvenir, so treat yourself before you leave.
Day 14: Return to Dakar | Disembark
1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch
Say farewell to MS Spitsbergen today as you arrive back in Dakar. A Dakar City Tour has been arranged for you, which starts as soon as you leave the ship—a wonderful way to round off your trip.
Highlights include Independence Square, the African Renaissance Monument, the cathedral, and the west and east Corniche. Listen out for the many languages of Western Africa, such as Wolof, Pular and Serer.
With the tour complete, you’ll be taken to a hotel for lunch. You'll spend the rest of the day relaxing in comfort at the hotel, before your return journey home.
Our guide and driver were very good with their knowledge and were very helpful with our questions. It was a very pleasant visit that would have been impossible to do on our own. Hotels and restaurants were fantastic. The special places we got to go to, like the kitchens, were great. Enjoyed the entire trip!