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Expedition Travel Guide to West Africa & Cape Verde

This guide is your key to planning and navigating your expedition as you uncover the rich tapestry of this less-traveled region, unveiling the hidden gems and unique experiences awaiting intrepid explorers.


West Africa & Cape Verde

Embarking on an expedition cruise to West Africa, encompassing the captivating wonders of Cape Verde and the Bissagos Islands, promises a voyage through a mosaic of cultures, biodiversity, and unexplored beauty. From the vibrant streets of Cape Verde's Mindelo to the pristine beaches of the Bissagos Archipelago, each port of call is an opportunity to dive into the diverse landscapes and cultures that define this corner of Africa.

This guide takes you through the most frequently asked questions about travelling to West Africa and Cape Verde! Discover the optimal time to embark on this journey, balancing weather considerations and the seasonal change of wildlife. Get tips to make sure you are packing the essentials, which are tailored to tropical climates and the varied activities these destinations offer, from vibrant city exploration to remote island adventures.

Whether you seek historical insights, wildlife encounters, or simply the joy of discovery, this guide will help kickstart your planning on an expedition cruise that transcends the ordinary, unlocking the extraordinary treasures of West Africa.

Know Before You Go

How safe is West Africa & Cape Verde?

Your safety is of the utmost importance and the Expedition Team will be on hand to help answer any questions you may have, as well as joining you on all excursions.

As well as listening to any advice from our team, we strongly encourage guests to follow 'big city precautions', adhere to cultural etiquette, and always be respectful towards local populations.

For more information please see the Health & Safety section of the website, here.

When is the best time to visit West Africa & Cape Verde?

The best time to visit this vibrant corner of Africa is during the dry season (November - April) when temperatures can reach highs of up to 32-34ºC in Bissagos and Gambia, whilst in Cape Verde can reach 25-30ºC.

It is also during this time when there are higher chances for spotting some of the unique birdlife, especially in the Bissagos Islands.

What do I need to pack for West Africa & Cape Verde?

We explore West Africa & Cape Verde during the drier months, meaning hot temperatures for sightseeing, hikes, and other activities. To ensure you are well prepared for the weather we recommend packing light breathable clothing, sunscreen, and a hat.

It's also useful to have a pair of sturdy breathable walking shoes for the hikes as trails vary in difficulty, and terrain.

How will I explore West Africa & Cape Verde? And what is a typical day like?

On an Expedition Cruise, there is no 'typical day', flexibility is crucial whilst travelling around West Africa & Cape Verde, as sea conditions can be unpredictable, but exploring this corner of Africa is a thrilling adventure, offering a rich tapestry of culture, diverse landscapes, and vibrant history.

Being onboard MS Spitsbergen, one of the smallest expedition ships in our fleet we can get off the beaten track however, there are spots where even these ships can't reach. With the help of our small expedition boats, we bring guests ashore on beaches and terrain that would otherwise be off-limits due to a lack of infrastructure and facilities.

Once ashore we have a range of opportunities to become a true explorer from hikes around the volcanic islands and across different ecosystems, to becoming immersed in the culture and history of towns and villages we sail through.

Led by local guides and the Expedition team, we look to provide a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity through visits to local communities and meet the local Bijagos people and experience their traditional way of life. Or for the more active amongst us, where the conditions allow, you can take to the water in sea kayaks for a more intimate experience amongst the wildlife and rugged coastline.

Actual activities & excursions are subject to availability.

Don't just take our word for it! Check out the HX Insiders Facebook Group - where previous guests share their thoughts, tips, and highlights about their time onboard an expedition.

How do I find the right voyage?

Best Short Trip

Archipelago Expedition: Cape Verde & Bissagos Islands from Dakar | 13 Days

Limited on time? This is the perfect itinerary covering some of the must-see sights of West Africa and these archipelagos. From the bustling streets of Dakar to the rich history and contrasting cultures of Cape Verde and the Bissagos Islands - we pack a lot into these 13 days.

For those lucky ones, you might even be able to spot some of the region's wildlife including Saltwater Hippos and Manatees.

Best for Culture

Grand Expedition Cruise from Lisbon to Dakar | 21 Days

Sailing from Lisbon to Dakar, via the islands of Madeira, Canaries, and Bissagos - experience the contrast in cultures, customs, landscapes, and history across each island we visit. 

This itinerary has something for everyone, so whether you choose to relax on picturesque beaches or hike to the summit of Fogo Volcano, each island offers something different to indulge your passion.

Salt water Hippos in Bissagos (Bijagós) Islands, Guinea Bissau. Credit: Diana Jarvis photography

Set sail for West Africa, Cape Verde and the Bissagos Islands

With a range of 13 to 21 days expeditions, we have the ideal voyage for you to experience the vibrant culture and wildlife this corner of Africa has to offer..

Se alla kryssningar till Kap Verde och Bijagosoarna

When is the best time to visit West Africa, Cape Verde and the Bissagos Islands?

Situated just north of the equator, West Africa, Cape Verde, and the Bissagos Islands enjoy tropical climates and distinct wet (July - October) and dry (November - June) seasons.

It is during the dry season, which is the prime period to explore the captivating archipelagos of Cape Verde and Bijagós off the coast of West Africa. During this time, guests can relish in minimal rainfall - but temperatures reaching highs of 32-34ºC in Bissagos and Gambia, whilst in Cape Verde reaching 25-30ºC.

Wildlife in this corner of Africa has varied behaviours throughout the year so it is key to do some research on the best time to travel. However, for avid wildlife enthusiasts, you may find the dry season to be more favorable for wildlife viewing due to better conditions for exploring off the beaten track. The area is a haven for bird lovers with a plethora of species migrating to these islands for the warmer winter months.

To capitalise on the favourable conditions and numerous opportunities to experience the vibrant culture, customs, and wildlife of the region - all our voyages depart throughout November, December, and January. Whatever expedition you choose to join, time of year you choose to explore these impressive islands - you will be sure of an unforgettable adventure into a world of wonder.

How do you get to West Africa & Cape Verde?

The capital and largest city in Senegal, the majority of our expeditions around West Africa, Cape Verde, and the Bissagos Islands either start or finish in Dakar.

Several airlines fly between Europe, the US, and Australia into Blaise Diagne International (DSS) the closest airport to the cruise port. Included within the majority of expeditions is a transfer between Blaise Diagne International Airport and the ship on the day of embarkation.

Please Note: Please refer to the 'What's Included' section of the voyage for the exact inclusions for your expedition.

What to pack for an expedition to West Africa & Cape Verde?

West Africa, Cape Verde, and the Bissagos Islands provide plenty of opportunities to get off the beaten track. Bringing together a variety of activities, excursions, and unique opportunities aimed at embracing the vibrant culture and unique wildlife in this corner of Africa. Naturally, packing for such an adventure can be confusing - so to help we have pulled together this useful packing list to get you started.

  • Fast-drying clothes that can be layered

  • For the Bissagos, enclosed shoes for wet landings (such as wetsuit booties or running shoes) that go above the ankle, have a sole and cover your entire foot.

  • Wide-brimmed sun hat

  • Swimwear, and closed shoes for swimming

  • Polarised sunglasses and sunscreen

  • Insect repellent and anti-itch cream for insect bites

  • Short and long-sleeved T-shirts with UV filter

  • Lightweight long trousers or shorts for exploring ashore.

  • Sturdy, breathable walking shoes

  • Light fleece (if planning on hiking up Fogo Volcano)

Don't forget you’ll receive a reusable aluminium water bottle

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