Travel & Tourism
One of the largest countries in North Africa, Mauritania is a mix of desert and ocean—but mostly desert. The bulk of Mauritania’s large area is made up of the world famous Sahara Desert, while the country’s west coast hugs the Atlantic Ocean. The large contrast between these diverse environments means that there is plenty for travelers to see and do. The beaches on the west coast are a worthy break from the humming interior city of Nouakchott, while various medieval sites, including Chinguetti, offer amazing views of ancient buildings, some of which are considered to be national symbols. The country’s many desert mosques are some of the finest examples of Islamic architecture in all of North Africa.
What to Do in Mauritania
1. Nouakchott: There’s plenty to do in Mauritania’s capital city, including dropping by the many souks or markets, like Marche Capital or Marche Sixieme. The Saharan sand dunes on the edge of Nouakchott are worth checking out, especially at sunrise or sundown.
2. Beaches: While not as popular as other beaches on the Atlantic, Mauritania’s coast is still worth seeing. The most popular beach is the Plage de Nouakchott. Plan to drive in a four-by-four to travel to and around this site, and be aware of any warnings of strong currents if you plan to swim. There aren’t many hotels along Mauritania’s coast, but traveling to the beach is still a worthwhile daytime trip.
3. Banc d’Arguin National Park: Located between Nouakchott and the city of Nouadhibou, this nature reserve is a fantastic site to see migratory birds, including flamingos and pelicans. The coastal sides of the park are known for their seaside flora, and close to the park are fishing villages that are worth a visit, too. The park is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
4. Chinguetti: An amazing medieval town in the interior of Mauritania, this city is home to plenty of incredible ancient sites, including the Friday Mosque, a sandstone-colored building that is considered by many to be the national symbol of the country.
5. Richat Structure: In the midst of the vast, vacant Sahara desert, just outside of Ouadane, Mauritania, lies a 30-mile wide geological oddity known the Richat Structure, sometimes called the “Eye of Africa.” From space, this natural curiosity forms a distinct and unmistakable bull’s-eye that once served as a geographical landmark for early astronauts as they passed over the Sahara.
6. Arguin Island: The island is off the coast of Mauritania; it lies about 50 miles (80 km) southeast of Cape Blanc, in a sheltered Atlantic inlet (Arguin Bay). The island (4 by 2.5 miles [6 by 4 km]) was incorporated into the newly independent Mauritania in 1960. Aridity and poor anchorage have prevented the establishment of permanent settlements on it, but the coastal reefs, known as the Arguin Banks, are major fishing grounds. The island is also an important site for turtle fishing and produces gum Arabic.
7. Banc d’Arguin National Park: Fringing the Atlantic coast, the park comprises sand-dunes, coastal swamps, small islands and shallow coastal waters. The contrast between the harsh desert environment and the biodiversity of the marine zone has resulted in a land- and seascape of outstanding natural significance. A wide variety of migrating birds spend the winter there. Several species of sea turtle and dolphin, used by the fishermen to attract shoals of fish, can also be found.
8. Terjit: Terjit is an oasis, 45km by road south of Atar and popular with Mauritania’s few tourists. It nestles in a gorge on the western edge of the Adrar plateau with the palm grove stretching a few hundred metres alongside a stream which emerges from a spring.
9. Adrar Plateau: Traditional region of central Mauritania in western Africa. It consists of a low central massif with noticeable cliffs that rise to about 800 feet (240 m). The terrain is arid and almost totally unsuitable for cropping. There is, however, sufficient water at the base of the uplands to support date-palm groves, and during the wetter part of the year there is cultivation of millet, sorghum, melons, and vegetables in gorges.
10. Aouelloul Crater: A large crater located 28 mi (45 km) southwest of Chinguetti, Mauritania, and thought to be of meteoritic origin. Discovered by air in 1951, it is 833 ft (250 m) in diameter and 33 ft in depth. A large amount of fused silica glass has been found in the area, but only one small meteorite fragment has been recovered from the crater.
When to Go
Mauritania’s rainy season lasts from July to September; average rainfall during the year is about 20 to 23 inches (51 to 58.5 centimeters.) The country is also a recipient of the harmattan, a trade wind that blows from the Sahara, bringing with it sand and limited visibility. The best times to visit Mauritania are between March through June, when the weather is generally calmer.
Getting In and Around
Visas: All travelers except West African nationals need a visa to get into Mauritania. Arrange your visa in advance.
Transportation: The most common way to get into Mauritania is to take a charter flight from a European country like France. Most travelers fly into Nouakchott International Airport. If you are traveling elsewhere in West or North Africa, you can drive into Mauritania by car, bus, or bush taxi. Take note: traveling near the border of Western Sahara is not advisable, due to the presence of land mines.
Within the country, the most common form of transportation is by car or bush taxi. Hiring a private driver and car is relatively inexpensive, and having one makes travel between the cities and the beaches that much easier.
Mobile Phones: Most GSM phones work in Mauritania. If you don’t have a GSM-enabled phone, buy one cheaply in the country you live in, or buy one in Mauritania. Purchase a SIM card in Mauritania and enjoy inexpensive calls and text messages.
Safety and Security
Concerned about your safety as you plan travel to Mauritania? We at Africa.com, together with our friends, family and colleagues, travel extensively throughout the continent. Here are the resources we consult when thinking of our safety in Mauritania:
• UK Government Mauritania Travel Advice Guidance
Africa.com comment: Very timely and frequently updated. Perspective assumes that you ARE going to travel to Mauritania, and seeks to give you good guidance so that you understand the risks and are well informed.
• Mo Ibrahim Personal Safety & Rule of Law Score for Mauritania
Africa.com comment: An annual ranking of the 54 African countries based on their relative personal security as determined by a highly qualified staff of an African foundation, funded by a successful African philanthropist. See where Mauritania ranks relative to the other 54 nations in Africa.
• U.S. State Department Travel Advisory on Mauritania
Africa.com comment: Can sometimes be considered overly conservative and discourage travel altogether to destinations that many reasonable people find acceptably secure. On the other hand, they have the resources of the CIA to inform them, so they know things that the rest of us don’t know. See what they have to say about Mauritania.
1. Mauritania is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the west, and by Western Sahara, Algeria, Mali, and Senegal along its borders.
2. Mauritania’s official name, reflecting the majority religion in the country, is the Islamic Republic of Mauritania. We advise keeping aware of local customs: women especially should take care to dress either modestly or conservatively. As well, if women are either traveling alone or with a group, take care—individual women should never follow a man alone, whether it’s a police officer or a potential travel guide. Use common sense and remain in public with strangers when you can.
3. Arabic and French are the predominant languages of Mauritania. Learn a few French phrases if you plan to spend the majority of your time in the cities or on the more populated beaches. Wherever you’re traveling, greeting people with the common Arabic phrase salaam aleikum will put you in good graces with anyone you’re communicating with.
4. Mauritania’s currency is called the ouguiya and is abbreviated as MRO. ATM machines are very few and far between, and credit cards are almost universally not accepted. Plan to change money and carry cash with you when arriving in the country. Nouakchott has a number of change bureaus.