Mauritania OverviewMauritania is a fascinating country in West Africa. It is bordered to the north by Western Sahara and to the south by Senegal and Mali. It also touches Algeria. It's a country that is influenced by both the ocean and the desert. It is often overlooked by travelers because of it's challenging infrastructure which makes it difficult to navigate. The most frequently visited areas include the desert areas in Adrar and Tagant, as well as the area around Atar, and the ocean in Banc d'Arguin. Banc d'Arquin is a natural reserve with impressive dunes that go up to the ocean. Mauritania is an Islamic Republic, and the people are quite reserved and conservative, but are also incredibly friendly and welcoming.
More and more travelers are making their way to Mauritania, and you can now get charter flights from France into Atar. Guides are common and relatively easy to find within the country.
The climate of the area is heavily influenced by the desert. There are extreme temperatures and limited rainfall. The harmattan is a period which is characterized by hot and dry weather. The winds can be strong and the air is filled with dust making visibility difficult at times. There is also a short rainy season which runs between July and September.
Traveling around Mauritania is notoriously challenging. There is one train line which runs between Nouadhibou, Choum and Zouerat and the train is thought to be the longest in the world, measuring over two kilometers long with about 150 different cars. Bush taxis are another option for traveling around the country, but be very prepared for poor roads and frequent breakdowns.
There are some decent restaurants in Nouakchott that offer pizza, hamburgers, and sandwiches, but outside of the city your options might be more limited. You can possibly find a place to get sandwiches, but quality is often poor and prices are high. Local food options include fish and rice dishes, meat and rice dishes, and couscous served with meat or vegetables. Some restaurants are better than others. You will also find tea throughout the country and bottled water is available in most places. Bread can be found in most markets and is a good alternative if your restaurant selection is limited.
At A Glance
- Finding a working ATM in Mauritania, even in Nouakchott, can be tricky. The country is not well connected with the international banking system and your Visa card won't work at the ATMs. You will find international ATMs at BNP and Societe Generale in both Nouakchott and Nouadhibou. Paying with a credit card is almost never an option. It is easy to exchange money in the capital city however.
- There are several international flights which connect to Nouakchott International Airport. You can find flights from Paris, Dakar, Abidjan and Nouadhibou. The options continue to grow and change so look into the airlines that make the trip before you start booking tickets. Charter flights are always an option as well. Expect a charter flight to cost you about 400 euros.
- Many people choose to drive from Morocco or Western Sahara into Mauritania. The road to the border with Mauritania is paved. From there it's about seven kilometers to the entry point in Mauritania. The road is twisty, but well marked. Once you cross over the paved road begins again. Do take caution not to venture off the marked route as there are still active land mines nearby.
- There are any number of souvenirs that you can pick up throughout the country. Fabric, pipes, bowls, teapots, and jewelry are all options. The quality is highly variable and you should negotiate for the price, wherever you are. Keep the negotiating friendly, but don't be surprised if the original asking price is three times what you should actual be paying.
- Although Mauritania is an Islamic country, you will still find alcohol, particularly in the capital city. Importing alcohol is illegal however. There are several bars and nightclubs near the French Embassy in Nouakchott, but beers will set you back about US$6. Drinking is generally not a cheap option in this country.
Top Tourist AttractionsOuadane: Ouadane is a town in the Sahara Desert that is also an UNESCO World Heritage Site. It's popular with travelers because of its historical significance and the area's interesting old town which, although in ruins, is still worth visiting. It's also the closest town to the Richat Structure, which is a massive circular landmark that is visible from space.
Parc National du Banc d'Arguin: This lovely national park is a great area for bird watching. It's positioned on the west coast of the country and is a popular habitat with migratory birds. It is also a nature reserve and a World Heritage Site, making it a popular destination for tourists to the area.
Chinguetti: This city is an oasis in the Sahara Desert that is the seventh holy city in Islam. It was once an important trading center in the area but today it is popular with visitors because of its impressive ancient buildings and fascinating setting.
Popular FoodsNouakchott has the best selection of restaurants. You'll find most of the western restaurants on a stretch of road between the Stade Olympique and the French Embassy. Outside of the capital city there are mainly local restaurants that serve fish and rice based dishes. You'll also find local venders where you can pick up bread, cakes, and some fruite.
Mechoui: This is a roasted lamb dish that is popular throughout the country. The entire animal is grilled or roasted over a fire until it is crispy. It's one of the more expensive meal options, but it is usually worth the added cost.
Zrig: This is the name of the popular camel milk drink which is found throughout the country. It's common to offer this drink to your guests on arrival.
Abragat: This is a porridge that is made from millet flour and watermelon. It's most common in the southwest regions of the country and is often a seasonal dish.