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MS Spitsbergen - 156 Guests

Christmas Cruise To Cape Verde & The Bissagos Islands

Swap Christmas snow and slush for sunshine at sea as we explore the fascinating diversity of Cape Verde and the Bissagos Islands. These are two very different island archipelagos in the seas off West Africa.

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  • 21 Dec 2022 departure includes flights from amsterdam or Madrid!
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    Rates are listed per person
    Start DateEnd DateFrom EURFrom USD
    Dec 22, 2023Jan 03, 20245,790 6,297
    Rates are listed per person
    Start DateEnd DateFrom EURFrom USD
    Dec 22, 2023Jan 03, 20245,790 6,297


    DAY 1
    Welcome to Africa!
    Your adventure starts in Senegal’s colorful and animated capital, Dakar. Located at the tip of the Cape Verde Peninsula, it’s the westernmost city in Africa. Dakar is a low-rise, cosmopolitan city that is known today for its vibrant music and arts scenes. The city’s atmosphere is laid back. You’ll see suit-clad businessmen rubbing shoulders with barefoot market traders in this swirling kaleidoscope of modern Africa.

    The peninsula where Dakar lies projects westward into the ocean. It was formed when offshore volcanic islands were joined to the continent by a land bridge. The exposure to humid winds off the sea keeps the vegetation greener than the desert-like landscape of northern Senegal, hence its name, ‘Cape Verde’ (meaning ‘Green Cape’).

    You’ll find the beating heart of the Dakar in the district of Medina. Gaze in wonder at its maze of streets, the bustling market of Marché Tilène, and the imposing Grand Mosque. Independence Square is also worth checking out. It’s laid out with gardens and fountains and is home to numerous grand Colonial buildings that hint at the nation’s past.

    DAY 2
    The vibrant capital of Senegal
    After breakfast, you’ll be transferred to the harbor, where a privately chartered ferry will make the short trip to Gorée Island.

    Gorée Island is the most interesting (and tragic) site in Dakar. Colorful Colonial mansions sit alongside the infamous Maison des Esclaves, where slaves were kept before transportation across the Atlantic. Despite its sobering history, the island is filled with beautiful sights. Examine the ancient baobab trees and see artisans creating and selling their crafts.

    During your day visit, you’ll learn the sobering history of this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Your guide will take you to the Maison des Esclaves and its museum. Lunch will be served in a local restaurant. After this day packed with activities, the ferry will take you back to the Dakar port.

    Back on the mainland, our expedition ship MS Spitsbergen will be waiting near the ferry port. You’ll be greeted by the crew upon embarkation and given a complimentary wind and water-resistant expedition jacket. After you’ve settled into your comfortable cabin, you must attend a mandatory safety briefing. Then it’s time to set sail and begin the adventure.

    DAY 3
    AT SEA
    Bound for Cape Verde
    We begin this expedition cruise sailing almost due west in the direction of the Cape Verde Islands. This journey lasts around 360 nautical miles, giving you plenty of time to get to know our comfortable expedition ship MS Spitsbergen and to prepare for upcoming destinations.

    Get to know your fellow passengers and our Expedition Team members, a friendly and knowledgeable group hand-picked for their expertise on our destinations. Check out the Science Center, which is filled with a range of high-tech equipment and often where the Expedition Team members hang out. Ask about our Citizen Science projects, which contribute to important research that help protect the natural places we love to visit.

    Get acquainted with new friends in the Explorer Lounge & Bar, an informal place to meet and chat. Sample delicious dishes in our onboard restaurant, Aune. It was named after a family of Norwegian chandlers who equipped many ships back in the historic days of exploration. For relaxation, you’ll love the hot tubs on deck or the sauna with floor-to-ceiling windows.

    As we sail, the Expedition Team will give talks that range from a number of topics relevant to our travels. This important context will help you to get the very most out of this exciting journey.

    Next stop: the amazing Cape Verde Islands.

    DAY 4
    The African soul of Cape Verde
    Santiago is the largest island in the archipelago, where almost half of all Cape Verdeans live. There’s a little bit of everything here, making it the perfect introduction to Cape Verde. You have the vibrant capital of Praia, the UNESCO-protected Cidade Velha, sandy beaches, green valleys, and jagged mountains. This island is also renowned for its African culture, with music woven into the fabric of life.

    Settled in 1462 by the Portuguese, Santiago was the first Cape Verde island to be settled, with Ribeira Grande (now called Cidade Velha) being the first European city in the tropics. Humid enough to support profitable agriculture, the island became a hub for settlers, and around 150,000 people live here. The capital, Praia, is a modern and dynamic city that attracts immigrants from the rest of Cape Verde and the African continent.

    Praia is built on several hills around Santa Maria Bay, at the southeastern tip of Santiago. The historical center is located on a natural platform known as Plateau. Almost everything of historical interest can be found here. The focal point of is the main square, known as Praça Alexandre Arburquerque. Here, you’ll find the Old Palace of the Council, the Presidential Palace, and the 19th-century church of Nossa Senhora da Graça.

    Just north of the main square is the central market, one of the busiest places in town and the best spot to enjoy Praia’s African soul. Most museums are located around Plateau, including an ethnography museum and an archeological museum featuring artifacts recovered from shipwrecks around the islands.

    Enjoy fantastic views of the city from Farol de Dona Maria Pia, a lighthouse at the southern entrance of the bay. Take a walk there and discover the beaches of Gamboa and Prainha along the way, along with the popular Quebra Canela Beach.

    DAY 5
    Christmas Eve on a Saharan island
    Public holiday in Cape Verde
    Enjoy Christmas Eve on a desert island. Cape Verde is a strongly Roman Catholic country, due to its Portuguese colonial roots. That is reflected in the way the islanders celebrate Christmas. Cape Verdeans spend today with their families, feasting on traditional delicacies, exchanging gifts, attending mass, and going Christmas caroling—the same as Catholic Portuguese today.

    Boa Vista is the easternmost island of Cape Verde and one of the most sparsely populated. This flat, barren, and desert-like island is ringed by reefs and covered with dunes. It lies closer to the African mainland than any of its neighbors. The pristine beaches on this rugged coastline are perfect for soaking up sun, but for centuries, it was a deadly trap for ships searching for safe harbor, as the numerous wrecks along the coast testify.

    Nevertheless, the rugged beauty of this Sahara-like oasis, the miles of empty beaches, the eastern wetlands, and the productivity of the coastal waters have created a haven for biodiversity, with several endemic species. Boa Vista and its surrounding waters are a vital layover for many migratory birds. Between June and October, the beaches are filled with thousands of nesting loggerhead turtles, while humpback whales often come in winter to breed offshore.

    The parched environment of Boa Vista made life hard for the first permanent inhabitants. Most were African slaves. Even though they had no easy way to escape from the rugged coast, they had a bit more freedom here than elsewhere in the archipelago. Cattle farming came first, followed by salt production in the 17th century. Fishing and pottery became the mainstays of the island’s economy until the advent of tourism in recent years.

    The island capital of Sal Rei is built around the natural harbor between Boa Vista and the small island of Ilhéu de Sal Rei. It is dotted with low-rise buildings and palm tree–filled squares.

    After we set sail from Boa Vista and head for Santo Antão, we’ll hold our own traditional Norwegian celebration on board the ship.

    DAY 6
    Christmas Day in an island paradise
    Public holiday in Cape Verde
    Christmas Day is also a public holiday in Cape Verde. People travel to other islands to visit relatives and exchange gifts with their loved ones. On this particular Christmas, visiting the spectacular landscapes of Santo Antão will be a gift to yourself!

    Many say Santo Antão is the most spectacular of the Cape Verde isles. It’s difficult to forget the awe-inspiring mountains found here. Some even say the island’s rugged peaks, canyons, and gorges are among the world’s most dramatic landscapes. Today, you’ll have the opportunity to see for yourself.

    The highest point on the island is Tope de Coroa, which at 6,492 feet is the second-highest mountain in the archipelago. Santo Antão is big and rugged, and its inhabitants are concentrated in just a few scattered settlements. The topography doesn’t lend itself to agriculture, so most of the island is protected as a wilderness sanctuary. For hikers and nature lovers, Santo Antão is Cape Verde at its best.

    The main town, Porto Novo, is a pleasant place full of attractive new buildings, small beaches, neatly tended gardens, and promenades with beautiful views of the channel between Santo Antão and the island of São Vicente. Most visitors come here because it’s the main gateway to the island’s stunning interior.

    Some of the island’s most amazing natural features are its ribeiras—deep, narrow canyons with almost vertical walls. Join an optional culture and nature excursion and enjoy awe-inspiring views as we drive along the ridges and along the ribeira floors. If you feel like being more active, go on an optional nature walk to really make the most of Cape Verde’s best island for walking.

    Walk past groves of mangoes and almonds on island trails and pass through small towns clinging to the hillsides. You may catch a whiff of coffee as you pass through the villages here, as locals roast their own blend.

    DAY 7
    Adventure landing on an active volcano
    Get ready for an exciting day of exploration. Fogo is dominated by a huge, active volcano. At 9,281 feet, it’s the highest point in the Cape Verde Archipelago. It’s also one of the most challenging islands to land on. There are no natural harbors or sheltered bays, just an exposed coast rising from the ocean, climbing steeply from the sea up to the summit of the volcano.

    Conical in shape, the whole island is in fact a giant, active volcano. It last erupted in 2014, wiping out two villages in the Chã das Caldeiras crater. Fortunately, there were no causalities. Centuries of eruptions have left a landscape of dark lava flows, craters, ridges, ash fields, and collapsed calderas. Fogo literally means ‘fire,’ an apt description of the island, as its inhabitants can confirm!

    São Filipe is a pleasant town of cobbled streets only a short bus ride from the dock. Take a stroll around the charming historic center once known as “Meia Laranja”’ and today called “Largo Pedro Cardoso”, and look out for the pastel church of Nossa Senhora do Socorro, the lively Mercado Municipal, and the remains of Fort Carlota.

    But without doubt the main reason we’ll attempt to land at Fogo is to explore the stunning volcanic landscapes. Our optional excursion will take you to the spectacularly beautiful Chã das Caldeiras, where we’ll see the lava fields and great views of the Pico Novo vent formed during a 1680 eruption. Be warned: Walking around Mt. Fogo is an excursion that requires good stamina.

    Please note that Fogo has only one small artificial dock north of São Filipe—too small even for our ship, MS Spitsbergen. As this is an expedition cruise, we’ll do our best to land safely on this spectacular island. If this isn’t possible, however, we’ll seek out an alternative destination. A lot will depend on the weather. If the captain deems conditions unfavorable, we’ll cruise around the island and observe from the deck.

    DAY 8
    AT SEA
    Bound for the Bissagos Islands
    Today, we sail some 500 nautical miles to Guinea-Bissau and the Bissagos Archipelago. This diverse archipelago is noteworthy for its tropical wildlife and the fascinating traditional culture of the people who live in the islands.

    Prepare for your visit by listening to talks by the Expedition Team in the Explorer Lounge. The subjects will include the biodiversity of the islands, the history and culture of the Bijagós people and their matriarchal society, and perhaps the wider historical context of Portuguese exploration of West Africa and the impact of the slave trade on the region.

    There will be plenty of time to relax and enjoy the free sea air out on deck as our expedition ship sails south toward the coast of West Africa. Browse the photos you’ve taken so far, get up to date with that travel blog you’ve been meaning to write, or delve into your book or peruse the books in the onboard library.

    Don’t forget about the professional onboard photographer who is there to help you improve your picture-taking technique. With so many wildlife highlights and scenic landscapes, now is a great time to brush up on your skills.

    DAY 9-12
    Matriarchal societies in a biodiversity hotspot
    Exploring the isolated Bissagos Islands is a great African adventure. Located off the coast of Guinea-Bissau, the Bissagos Archipelago is a hotspot of biodiversity and the ancestral homeland of the Bijagós people. Nowhere in West Africa does such a combination of unspoiled nature and traditional communities live in such harmony as in these remote islands.

    The Bissagos Archipelago consists of twenty main inhabited islands and almost seventy smaller ones. Declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1996, these tropical islands are renowned for their diversity, with ecosystems including mangrove swamps, palm groves, rainforests, wooded savannah woodlands, sandy beaches, and coastal lagoons.

    With around 500 different kinds of birds, several species of sea turtles, crocodiles, amazing snakes (including black and green mambas), elusive manatees, and the unique saltwater hippos (which can best be spotted in November and the beginning of December), wildlife abounds in the Bissagos Islands.

    This pristine environment has long been populated by the Bijagós people, a matriarchal society organized in clans. With a population of around 33,000, Bijagós society is ruled by women and guided spiritually by female priests. The woman is the owner of the home she lives in, and the women manage the religious, political, and economic lives of their communities.

    The Bijagós practice subsistence living, taking from nature only what they consume each day. For them, their animistic belief system is fundamental, which holds the natural world to be sacred. This approach, in which the islands themselves are sacred and living, has helped protect the archipelago from overdevelopment and exploitation.

    The simplicity of the Bijagós’ lifestyle stands in sharp contrast to the complexity of their beliefs. They move in a heavily sacralized universe, wrapped in a mysterious and secret knowledge that surrounds their understanding of the cosmos. Not surprisingly, two of the most iconic animals of the Bissagos Islands—the saltwater hippos and the West African manatees—are also part of their rich spiritual world.

    Our goal for the next four days is to explore the maze of islands and narrow channels that make up the Bissagos Archipelago. Our small boats (RIBs) allow us to weave through many of the smaller channels and we may be able to do shore landings on remote beaches with the Expedition Team. In sheltered waters, we might be able to explore using our sea kayaks.

    Local conditions will determine exactly when and where we can land and explore. Rest assured that whatever we do, you’ll enjoy the rich ecology of the islands, observe amazing wildlife, and meet the local Bijagós people in their traditional communities.

    DAY 13
    The smallest capital in Africa
    Banjul is the island capital of The Gambia. Located in the mouth of the Gambia River and almost completely surrounded by mangroves, the city doesn’t have much room to expand. This limitation has actually been positive for tiny Banjul, keeping the city far more relaxed and easygoing than many of the bigger African capitals. Some areas might be a bit hectic, but most of the city has a truly relaxed atmosphere.

    In 1807, the British Abolition Act prohibited trading slaves within the British Empire. The Royal Navy and the Army then sought to enforce that prohibition within their colonies in Africa. Gambia had long been one of the most important hubs for the slave trade in West Africa, so a garrison was established at Banjul.

    The grid pattern of streets laid down in 1807 has survived to this day. Though the original settlement has grown in size, the island is easy to explore by foot. Start with the grid streets of the Old Town and see the Anglican Cathedral before visiting the small National Museum, which houses the best archeological and ethnographical collections in Gambia.

    DAY 14
    The end of the expedition
    The expedition comes to an end as we dock at Dakar. It is time to say farewell to MS Spitsbergen and all the crew and staff aboard the ship, and your new friends. The cruise may be at its end, but there is still time to explore Dakar and see some things you may have missed before you embarked.

    Immediately after disembarking, you can join our Dakar City Tour, which takes in the main sights of Senegal’s capital. This includes Independence Square, the African Renaissance Monument, the cathedral, and the neighborhoods of West and East Corniche.

    After the tour, we’ll take you to a hotel, where lunch will be waiting for you upon your arrival. You can relax here before your journey home. After lunch you can relax in your day-room or take advantage of the hotel’s amenities. Later that day, you’ll start your return journey back to your home country from the airport.

    You can also stay longer in Dakar; feel free to book additional nights at the hotel.

    MS Spitsbergen (Expedition, 156-guests)

    MS Spitsbergen joined the Hurtigruten fleet in 2016. The ship features high technical standards as well as comfortable, modern public areas and cabins. The vessel's fresh Scandinavian design reflects a colour palette derived from the sea. She is modern and environmentally progressive, and further improvements have been planned that will reduce emissions and fuel consumption even more. The new ship's maneuverability and optimal size make her quite suitable for exploring polar waters.

    (Click image to view Ship details)


    Included in Your Expedition

    Pre-Program in Dakar before the cruise
    • Overnight at a hotel in Dakar, including breakfast
    • Full-day tour to Gorée Island, including lunch
    • Transfer to the ship
    Post-Program in Dakar after the cruise
    • Dakar City Tour, day room at hotel in Dakar, including lunch
    • Expedition Cruise
    • Expedition cruise in the cabin of your choice
    • Breakfast, lunch, and dinner, including beverages (house beer and wine, sodas, and mineral water) in restaurant Aune
    • Complimentary tea and coffee
    • Complimentary Wi-Fi on board. Be aware that we sail in remote areas with limited connection. Streaming is not supported.
    • Complimentary reusable water bottle to fill at onboard water refill stations
    • English-speaking Expedition Team who organize and guide activities, both on board and ashore
    • Range of included activities
    Onboard activities
    • Experts from the Expedition Team present detailed lectures on a variety of topics
    • Use of the ship’s Science Center, which has an extensive library and advanced biological and geological microscopes
    • The Citizen Science program allows guests to contribute to current scientific research projects
    • The onboard professional photographer will give tips and tricks for taking the best landscape and wildlife photos
    • The ship has two hot tubs, a sun deck with lounge chairs, a sauna, and an indoor gym
    • Participate in informal gatherings with the crew, such as daily recaps and the next day’s preparations
    • Landing activities
    • Escorted landings with small boats (RIBs)
    • Complimentary wind- and water-resistant expedition jacket
    • Expedition photographers help configure your camera settings
    Not Included In Your Expedition
    • Air travel
    • Travel protection
    • Baggage handling
    • Optional shore excursions with our local partners
    • Optional small-group activities with our Expedition Team
    • All planned activities are subject to weather and sea conditions
    • Excursions and activities are subject to change
    • Please ensure you can meet all entry and boarding requirements
    • Please make sure you meet all vaccination requirements (global health insurance is recommended)
    • No gratuities are expected

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