In addition to its natural wonders, Mauritania is renowned for its lively markets and homespun crafts. The country’s most noted offerings include carpets (locally woven in Nouakchott), brass-fitted wooden chests, and even camel saddles. Though these may be unfeasible purchases for most backpackers, a wide selection of jewelry (silver and ebony), tobacco pipes and pouches, sandals and printed fabrics abound.
In the Adrar and Tagant regions, in Mauritania’s northeast expanse where Neolithic stone tools litter the dessert, locals vend arrowheads and other objects that they’ve uncovered in the sand. Medieval glass trading beads are also available, though they are becoming increasingly rare.
Capital city Nouakchott offers Mauritania’s widest variety of markets—each boasting its own specialty. The Silver Market just outside the city teems with silver-inlaid ebony chests, Tuareg earrings and bracelets, and woodcarvings and masks. The Marché Capitale is the best place to buy boubous, malahfa and other styles of flowing desert wear. At the back of the Marché Capitale is a women’s cooperative specializing in embroidery.
At the Marché Cinquième, buckets of homemade peanut butter as well as tubs of dried and fresh fish are displayed among sandy lanes. Medicine and gris-gris (African voodoo amulet) sellers offer their wares amidst monkey and bird feet and lizard and turtle heads. Near the airport, Madam Suhuc’s Boutique offers batiks, wall hangings and purses made by local prisoners as part of a rehabilitation program. At Matis, a womens income development initiative, finely woven camelhair rugs and carpets are available in striking geometrical designs.
Geoff Weiss and Andrea Papitto first traveled to West Africa together in 2005. Geoff is a freelance journalist based in Lyon, France. Andrea is Vice President of Thinking Forward Media, a boutique communications agency specializing in marketing and media production for international tourism & development clients. She is currently producing Essakane Film, a documentary on the Festival in the Desert in Mali.