{{ message }}

Mauritania

{{ message }}

Hotel Halima
Hotel Halima - dream vacation

ZRA 668, P.O. Box 5144, Nouakchott

Hotel Residence IMAN
Hotel Residence IMAN - dream vacation

Ex Rue De L\'Ambassade du Senegal, En face Clinique IBN SINA, Nouakchott

Hotel Monotel Dar El Barka
Hotel Monotel Dar El Barka - dream vacation

Route des Ambassades, Zones des Ambassades, Nouakchott

Royal Suites Hotel
Royal Suites Hotel - dream vacation

Centre ville pres de l\'hopital national, Nouakchott

Mauritania is the least developed and poorest country in northwest Africa. Geographically part of the Maghreb, Mauritania borders Algeria, Senegal and Mali, along with the disputed territory of Western Sahara.

The Mauritanian Adrar is probably exactly how you've always imagined the Sahara: endless ergs (dunes) and regs (rocky desert) with tabular small mountains, but most tourists stay along the west coast of Mauritania. There are a few beautiful sights far into the interior (rock formations in Aioun, for example). If you decide to travel off the beaten path, leave plenty of time to get around, though.

Regions

Cities

  • Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania.
  • Atar
  • Chinguetti
  • Nouadhibou, large fishing centre and industrial harbour.
  • Tichit

Other destinations

  • Banc d'Arguin National Park — a breeding site for many different species of migratory birds, this coastal national park is a world heritage site.

Understand

Mauritania is a land about desert and ocean. It is of course no wonder that the main attractions for most tourists are the desert in Adrar and Tagant areas (around Atar), and the ocean in Banc d'Arguin (a natural reserve with dunes ending in the sea, full of millions of birds and protected by UNESCO).

Mauritania is an Islamic Republic. Don't be irrationally afraid of this political status - most Mauritanians are not extremists, even if the majority of the people in the North are very conservative and quite reserved. However, for people from outside the Maghreb the risk of kidnapping and subsequent execution is very real.

The southern part of the country is filled with friendly people, and they are very welcoming, if a little unused to tourists.

Travelling to Mauritania is becoming easier, with charter flights from France to Atar through the winter. Guides and tourist agencies are quite easy to find. However, Mauritania is not connected to the international banking system, so Visa cards will not work in the local ATM. There are now international ATMs at BNP and Societe Generale in Nouakchott and Nouadhibou, but otherwise, credit cards are accepted almost nowhere. It is easy to change euros, dollars and CFA francs in Nouakchott.

Climate

The climate is characterized by extremes in temperature and by meagre and irregular rainfall. Annual temperature variations are small, although diurnal variations can be extreme. The harmattan, a hot, dry and often dust-laden wind, blows from the Sahara throughout the long dry season and is the prevailing wind, except along the narrow coastal strip, which is influenced by oceanic trade winds. Most rain falls during the short rainy season (hivernage), Jul-Sep, and average annual precipitation varies from 500 to 600 millimetres in the far south to less than 100mm in the northern two-thirds of the country.

People

Haratin, sometimes referred to as Black Moors, are the largest single ethnic group in Mauritania, constituting 40% of the population, and are descendants of former slaves. About 30% of the population are Bidhan, also called Moors. The rest of the population mostly consists of members of peoples who also live in neighboring Sahelian countries such as Senegal and Mali, including the Fula, Soninke, Bambara and Wolof.

Get in

Citizens of all Western nations need a visa to enter. Holders of West African passports do not require a visa.

As of August 2015, 0-30 day visas for Mauritania are available at on arrival for €120. From 5th of January 2017, visa for EU citizens is €55 at PK55 (border with Western Sahara). Overland travellers can also arrange them in Rabat, where a single entry visa fee is 1000 dirhams. A double entry visa is also available for 1100 dirhams. Two passport-size photos are required, as well as a copy of the information pages of your passport. Visas are available on the the same day in the afternoon if applied for in the morning for people of most nationalities.

For most people there are no vaccinations required in Mauritania. Only ones coming from yellow fever endemic zones are required to present a vaccination certificate.

By plane

Nouakchott International Airport (IATA: NKC) is the base for Mauritanian Airlines, which flies to Bamako, Dakar, Abidjan and Nouadhibou. It also receives flights from Algiers on Air Algérie and from Paris on Air France . Tunisair has flights to Tunis, Senegul airlines has flights to Dakar, Turkish airlines has flights to Istanbul, Royal air Maroc has flights to Casablanca, CanaryFly have flights to Gran Canaria.

By train

No trains run between Mauritania and its neighbours.

By car

Mauritania has open road borders with Western Sahara, Mali and Senegal. These borders are open to crossing by private motor vehicle or bicycle but the first two are extremely dangerous.

The road from the Western Sahara/Morocco enters the country near Nouadhibou. The road is paved all the way to the Moroccan border post in Fort Guerguarat, where one has to traverse about 7km of twisting, stony, but straightforward pistes to reach the Mauritanian border, where the tarred road begins again. Although the driving is simple, care should be taken not to leave the well worn pistes between the two border posts, because the area is a mine field. This danger is still present once you reach the tar on the Mauritanian side, and the area is not considered mine-free until you pass the railway line.

The crossing formalities are straightforward. Transit visas - valid for 3 days - can no longer be bought at the border, although this may change again. There is a bureau de change at the border, and a vehicle insurance office and numerous hopeful guides for making the old desert crossing down to the capital.

There are numerous pistes running across the Mauritanian border from Mali. These used to be the de facto route between the two countries, however there now exists a new tar road connecting Nara in Mali to Ayoun al Atrous in Mauritania. The border formalities in Mali are completed at various buildings around Nara town (local children will lead you to the police or customs for a small present). The Mauritanian formalities are conducted at a string of road-blocks along the border road.

An alternative land route which goes direct from Mauritania to Timbuktu, Mali is to travel the road Southeast from Néma, which is at the end of a good tarred road from Nouakchott. This dirt road continues to Bassekounou before crossing the border near Léré, Mali where it improves to a good dirt road to Niafunké and on to Timbuktu.

By bus/bush taxi

  • From Morocco: Supratours runs a bus to the border at Guerguerat. It departs from the Dakhla waterfront at 8:00 and arrives at the frontier at 13:00 for 160 dirhams, 15:00 from the frontier to Dakhla at 20:30. Access is available by hitching with overlanders from Dakhla (most can be picked up from Camping Moussafir just north of Dakhla) or from the Mauritanian embassy in Rabat, or by paying for passage with Mauritanian traders. These can be found opposite the first police checkpoint north of Dakhla, the going rate is currently 250-380 dirhams (negotiable) the ride should be started rather early and takes most of the day and border crossing is closed overnight. Cars with experienced drivers can be organized from Hotel Sahara (the budget one). This costs around 250 dirhams per person.
  • To Morocco: Cars with drivers can be arranged to cross the minefield from Mauritania to Western Sahara from Hotels in Nouadhibou.
  • From Senegal: Bush taxis can be taken from Dakar (6,000 CFA francs) and St Louis (2,000 CFA francs) (amongst others) to Rosso, where a ferry makes the trip across the Senegal river, and further bush taxis can be taken to Nouakchott (about UM 2,000). Be careful of bush taxis offering deals that seem too good to be true. They may be illegal taxis and could prove to be a dangerous means of transport. There will most likely be a number of drivers waiting. Ask around and find out the going rate. Other crossing points from Senegal include the Diama dam just north of St Louis, public transport also operates on this route.
  • From Mali: Pickup trucks leave Kayes for Selibaby daily. It is also possible to enter at Nema, and across the southern border at several points.

By Boat

Get around

By train

There is only one train line in Mauritania, linking Nouadhibou, Choum and Zouerat, but it's a tourist attraction itself. Although many claim it is the longest train in the world, having over 150 cars and being over 2km long - it is most certainly not. It's used to carry iron ore from the Zouerat mine to Nouadhibou harbour.

The train departs daily from Nouadhibou at around 15:00 and arrives in Choum (for Atar) at around 02:00 the next morning. Check departure times on arrival.

In Mauritania there is only one passenger car, but travel in iron ore hopper is also possible (and advisable, as the passenger car is usually overcrowded and tickets are required). There is also first-class accommodation - first-class seats are limited, but they allow access to a smaller room with bunk beds. It does not necessarily ensure more comfort, though. Ticket price is UM 1,500 for second class in the passenger car and travel in the hopper is free of charge. Remember to have a scarf to cover your face, as there is a lot of dust.

From Choum it's possible to get to Atar with a bush taxi. The journey could take up to eight hours if the vehicle has a breakdown.

Talk

Arabic is the official language. Hassaniya Arabic is the language of the Moor majority, while other languages are spoken by black Africans in the south including Pulaar, Wolof, and Soninke (especially in the Guidimakha region around Selibaby). French is still spoken by many. This is especially true near towns. In the countryside, individuals may often speak several languages but not French.

It is considered polite to say Salaam aleikum when entering a taxi, office or when greeting someone. It is the first greeting for most of the dialects spoken in the region.

See

The Adrar massif in the north is full of stunning desert scenery. Take a 4x4 off-piste across rocky terrain and through narrow canyons to explore the lush, hidden oases which have provided water and refuge to traders crossing the Sahara for centuries. The Adrar contains two of the countries magnificent historical cities. Chinguetti was once a trading centre and centre of Islamic scholarship whose architecture remains unchanged in nearly a millennium. Along with Ouadane and a few other small towns, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And don't forget to miss the world's longest train either just for a glimpse or to hop into an iron ore car filled with Mauritanians for the 12-hour journey from the Adrar to the coast. The remains of the Almoravid capital Azoughui as well as rock paintings are also draws of the Adrar.

Much of the central coastline is part of Parc National du Banc d'Arguin—home to millions of migrating birds each year. At Nouamgar, you can watch the unique spectacle of local tribesmen communicating with dolphins to round up teams of fish into shallow waters for them to be netted.

In the southeast, the oasis city of Oualata was the southern end of most trans-Sahara trading routes in the 13th & 14th centuries. The city has colourful buildings, many of which feature intricate geometric designs. The city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and also boasts a manuscript museum with examples of ancient scrolls in fine calligraphy.

Do

Buy

Money

The country's currency is the Mauritanian ouguiya, denoted by the symbol "UM" or "أوقية‎‎" (ISO code: MRO).

Shopping

Souvenirs can be bought at Marche Capital or Marche Sixieme in Nouakchott, or at tourist shops in the Adrar. Fabric will be sold in boutiques all over the country, but Kaedi is famous for its tie-dying.

In general, the quality of most Mauritanian souvenirs is not as good as one might expect. That said, you can find leather products, pipes, wooden bowls, tea pots and silver jewellery among other things (be careful with the quality of jewellery). Fabric, however, is tie-dyed by hand and can be quite beautiful. Fabric will be sold as a mulafa (veil)--usually gauzy and one piece--or as material for a boubou, with two separate pieces for a skirt and top. Fabric is sold anywhere for anything from UM 1,500-8,000, depending on the fabric quality and work involved.

When buying anything in Mauritania, be sure to bargain. Sometimes the starting price will be three times the actual price. Stay friendly, but don't worry about insulting anyone by asking for a lower price.

Eat

There is a decent variety of restaurants in Nouakchott with dishes costing from 1,000 to 2,500 ouguiya. Most restaurants in the capital offer much the same menu - simple pizzas, hamburgers, sandwiches and salads. There is a string of restaurants on the road from the Stade Olympique to the French Embassy. Good ones include Pizza Lina, Café Liban and Le Petit Café. The Sahara Café, on the other side of the stadium, is also a good place for pizza, sandwiches or Lebanese dishes, and has some of the best reasonably-priced food in town. Near Marche Capitale, there is a street of sandwich shops that offer near-identical menus, the best of which is the Prince (which taxi drivers know by name).

Outside of Nouakchott, it is possible to find a hamburger in Atar. Otherwise, the choice is local dishes: fish and rice (chebujin) in the south and rice and meat or couscous in the north. Hole-in-the-wall restaurants can be found everywhere and serve meals from UM 200-500. Mechui, or grilled sheep, is also delicious if a little more expensive. Look for carcasses hanging by the side of the road. Some fruit can be found in most regional capitals. Note that most restaurants outside of Nouakchott do not have very high standards of cleanliness. Since most small restaurants go under within a few years of opening, your best bet in trying to find one in a regional capital is to just ask locals for directions to whatever is nearby. Another alternative, in the absence of a restaurant, is paying a family to prepare food for you, which should be relatively inexpensive (no more than UM 1,500), even if it takes a while (up to a couple hours to buy the food and prepare it).

Bottled water can be bought for UM 200 and is a good idea for anyone not accustomed to Africa.

If none of this sounds good, keep in mind that boutiques everywhere sell bread, cakes, biscuits and drinks if nothing else.

Tea is usually served after a meal, but it is not included with the meal at restaurants. If you are offered tea in someone's home, it is impolite to leave until at least the second (of three) glasses. The whole process takes about an hour.

Drink

Despite being an Islamic country there are a few fun bars in the capital. Drinking can be expensive, with a beer costing up to US$6. There is a nightclub inside the French Embassy compound. For the non-French, try the Salamander or the trashy (but open late) Club VIP. Next door to VIP is the Casablanca, a more low-key bar with live music on the weekends. Note that it is illegal to import alcohol!

Sleep

All ranges of accommodation are available, with the highest class hotels available only in Nouakchott and Atar. "Auberges" and Campsites can rent beds/mattresses for as little as UM 1500 in the Adrar and Nouadhibou.

There is usually at least one hotel in the regional capitals in the rest of the country, although they can be expensive for what you are getting. If possible, make friends with a local and try to get invited to stay with their family. As long as you don't mind sleeping on the ground on a foam mat, sleeping/eating near animals or using a latrine, you will probably end up having a pleasant and memorable stay.

Learn

  • The University of Nouakchott has very few short term courses of interest to most travellers.

Stay safe

The area near the Western Sahara is heavily mined and travel through this area is highly inadvisable. Border areas lining Algeria and Mali are notorious for banditry. The single paved road coming from Morocco is especially dangerous, being the site of recent Al Qaida kidnappings. If you must travel on this path, it is best to do so in a tight caravan. In other areas, one should avoid flaunting wealth or expensive wares. Daunting though it may seem, a bit of research and common sense will ensure a pleasant trip in Mauritania.

Check your embassy or consulate travel advisories carefully. Due to increasing numbers of attacks on Westerners in the past several years, most Western nations advise great caution. Resident expatriates travel between cities by day, in groups and on major routes.

Stay healthy

For the majority of Westerners, the local water in any part of the country (including Nouakchott) is not safe to drink. Visitors should drink only bottled water if they don't have access to some type of water purifying or filtration system. The Sahara is a very dry climate. You may become dehydrated quite easily, and not be aware of it. The best rule of thumb is to be sure that you have urinated three times each day, at reasonable intervals. In the hottest part of the year, this might mean drinking several litres of water each day.

Malaria is endemic in the southern part of the country, and visitors should always use a mosquito net there. Mosquitoes are less common in the dry desert in the north of the country, but exist year-round in the south, if a bit less prevalent during the dry season (December-May).

Respect

Learn Salaam alaykum and use it when greeting people. If you are a man, don't try to shake hands with a woman, and vice versa (note that some African women will not have a problem with shaking a man's hand, but it is best to not try to initiate contact, just follow their lead). You can, however, say hello and touch your hand over your heart.

Be careful to eat with your right hand, especially outside of Nouakchott where you may not be offered silverware. Like other places in the Arab world, the left hand is reserved for the bathroom. If you're left-handed... try hard.

Covering your head isn't required, but it is polite. It may cut down on the Madame, ou bien Mademoiselle? (Mrs. or Miss?) question, but Westerners, especially women, will be the target of unwanted attention and minor harassment everywhere in the country. Be aware though, that many Mauritanians, both male and female, think that a direct gaze is a sexual invitation. There is even a phrase in Hassiniya, ayna m'tina, meaning strong eyes, to describe what many people feel is an aggressive act. Just because you are in a foreign country doesn't mean that the men have carte blanche to be jerks, though. Calling them on their bad behaviour, or pointing it out to the ever present bystanders, can often work. If you give respect, you can demand it also. The Moors respect women who stand up for themselves, even while they push you to see how far they can get.

If you are travelling with someone of the opposite sex, avoid touching in public. It's actually much more common to see two men holding hands than a woman and a man. As far as dress, the more skin you show, the more negative attention you will receive. In Nouakchott, women can wear trousers, but avoid tank tops and to-the-knee skirts. Long skirts are the best choice for women. It is a good idea to cover your arms also. Trousers display the crotch area and thus are also disturbing, especially to people in the countryside who aren't as used to seeing this as the city folk. Most people will be very polite, and you will not know what they are thinking.

If you are a female, there is no non-sexual reason, ever, to go off in private with a man. If they ask you to step into an office, or back of a shop or anywhere; don't. The men are aware that that is an unreasonable request, and no one would ask you for a private chat if they meant well. If you allow yourself to be alone with a man, for however brief a time, everyone will assume you had sex, and will judge you accordingly. As a weakling, not as dissolute.

If you are a LGBT visitor, do not try to be open about your sexuality to any Mauritanian. They will act very harshly to this. Also do not make any acts in public that would imply the fact that you are LGBT: Mauritania imposes the death sentence for homosexuality.

If you are white, Nasrani, Toubac and Toubab refers to you. Little kids, and sometimes rude adults, will refer to you by this name. Nasrani actually means a person from Nazareth. Since Christians follow Christ's teachings, and Christ is from Nazareth, then Christians are all honorary Nazarenes.

Beware of people who may try to take advantage of your politeness in order to try to make a sale. Be aware that in market areas, almost everyone who tries to befriend you is trying to sell you something at an inflated price. They will try many tricks to get you to buy items from them (including "giving them to you as a gift"), and a few might even accuse you of not liking Africans if you decline to look at their souvenir shop. If someone is going beyond the normal limits to bother you, it is not impolite to tell them, without question, that you are not interested. If they ask for something that you own, just say that you need it right now, and can give it to them in a month or so.

Connect

There are three operators of GSM networks: Mattel (excellent English website), Mauritel Mobiles and Chinguitel. Prepaid plans are available for three of them. Further Information regarding Coverage and Roaming are available from GSM-World.

For tours into the desert where no GSM-Network is available satellite phones are a good solution. Service providers include Thuraya, Iridium and Inmarsat. Thuraya tends to be the cheapest and the easiest to use. The equipment is also available for rent.

Internet cafés with DSL internet can be found in Nouakchott and Nouadhibou for MRO200-300/h. Slower connections plague "cybercafés" elsewhere in the country, but it's possible to check emails.

Crossing the Sahara

A journey on Mauritania’s infamous iron ore train

Texts and photographs by Jody MacDonald #wedge-0 { background-image: url('https://d36tnp772eyphs.cloudfront.net/blogs/1/2017/04/mauritania_jodymacdonaldphotography10-560x420.jpg') }@media(min-width:560px){ #wedge-0 { background-image: url('https://d36tnp772eyphs.cloudfront.net/blogs/1/2017/04/mauritania_jodymacdonaldphotography10-1200x848.jpg') } }@media(min-width:1200px){ #wedge-0 { background-image: url('https://d36tnp772eyphs.cloudfront.net/blogs/1/2017/04/mauritania_jodymacdonaldphotography10.jpg') } }

When I was young I would pore over National Geographic magazines and dream of adventures like this — train hopping through the Sahara Desert on one of the world’s longest trains.

I had dreamt of the oceans, of the sand, the loud clattering noises of the train, the cold, the wind, the scorching sun. The unknown smells and sounds of the desert, and all the discomfort that goes with it.

That visceral experience was exactly what we got as we slithered night and day through the vast uninhabited desert, sleeping on top of Mauritania’s infamous iron ore train. Our unconventional 700km journey took us right through the Sahara to reach the coast, where we were hoping to find a place of forgotten shipwrecks and unknown surf. #wedge-1 { background-image: url('https://d36tnp772eyphs.cloudfront.net/blogs/1/2017/04/mauritania_jodymacdonaldphotography-30-560x420.jpg') }@media(min-width:560px){ #wedge-1 { background-image: url('https://d36tnp772eyphs.cloudfront.net/blogs/1/2017/04/mauritania_jodymacdonaldphotography-30-1200x848.jpg') } }@media(min-width:1200px){ #wedge-1 { background-image: url('https://d36tnp772eyphs.cloudfront.net/blogs/1/2017/04/mauritania_jodymacdonaldphotography-30.jpg') } }

I have always been enthralled by the idea of train hopping and have a particular fascination with the Sahara Desert. As I began researching this unique country, I became even more intrigued. Not many people travel in this part of the world and even fewer have even heard of Mauritania — quite astounding considering that its territory is twice the size of France and takes up a large portion of north western Africa.

Our journey began in the capital of Nouakchott, from where I travelled north with a surfer to hop on the Mauritania Railway. We planned to ride the 2.5km long train from a small town called Choum, located south of the iron mine in Zouerat, toward the port of Nouadhibou on the Atlantic coast. My aim was to try and capture the spirit of adventure and exploration as we passed through this incredible desolate landscape.

For me, adventure is not about the destination, but about the challenges, hardship and inevitable beauty in the process of getting there. #wedge-2 { background-image: url('https://d36tnp772eyphs.cloudfront.net/blogs/1/2017/04/mauritania_jodymacdonaldphotography-50-2-560x420.jpg') }@media(min-width:560px){ #wedge-2 { background-image: url('https://d36tnp772eyphs.cloudfront.net/blogs/1/2017/04/mauritania_jodymacdonaldphotography-50-2-1200x845.jpg') } }@media(min-width:1200px){ #wedge-2 { background-image: url('https://d36tnp772eyphs.cloudfront.net/blogs/1/2017/04/mauritania_jodymacdonaldphotography-50-2.jpg') } }

From Nouakchott we worked our way through the interior, on what can barely be described as roads. On one particular day the weather conditions take a turn for the worse and a desert sandstorm begins to form on the horizon. I had stopped to take some photographs and before we knew it, the wind picked up considerably and it started to rain.

Within minutes, the sky darkens and the winds increase to what we guess is around 150km/hr. The stinging and blowing of the sand act as sandpaper and is so intense that I feel like my exposed skin is starting to come off.

We quickly find ourselves pinned to the side of our truck, as we try to find some shelter and reprieve. When the wind dies down and we are finally able to climb back inside the truck there are pieces of shattered glass everywhere. Our back window has completely imploded and the interior is soaked. Our guide, who had been waiting for us in the back seat, has cuts all over his body from the glass. As the storm settles we resumed our journey north through the desert, anxious to find the next unexpected turn of events. #wedge-3 { background-image: url('https://d36tnp772eyphs.cloudfront.net/blogs/1/2017/04/mauritania_jodymacdonaldphotography-54-560x420.jpg') }@media(min-width:560px){ #wedge-3 { background-image: url('https://d36tnp772eyphs.cloudfront.net/blogs/1/2017/04/mauritania_jodymacdonaldphotography-54-1200x845.jpg') } }@media(min-width:1200px){ #wedge-3 { background-image: url('https://d36tnp772eyphs.cloudfront.net/blogs/1/2017/04/mauritania_jodymacdonaldphotography-54.jpg') } }

When we finally reach Choum, we are told that the train usually passes through sometime in the late afternoon. As we settle in and wait in the dirt by the tracks, a few families showed up with their goats and boxes of various goods. The kids run around while the parents make dinner and tea on small fires. As the light of the day descends and the sun dips below the horizon we resolved to try to get some sleep. When the train finally arrives, it is six hours late and long after midnight. We grab our gear and wait for the train to slow but it doesn’t actually stop. We run alongside the cars carrying the iron ore, illuminating the ground ahead with our headlamps.

We have no idea how much time we have to get on so we quickly pick a car and climbed up one of the ladders, throwing our gear and ourselves into it as fast as possible. With no warning the train picks up speed again.

We try to get a sense of our surroundings but end up creating a makeshift bed to try and get some sleep on the heaped mounds of jagged iron ore that fill our car. During the night, the desert temperatures drop dramatically and I put on all the clothes I have to try and get a little sleep. Any kind of rest is difficult not only because the train is incredibly loud, but because its huge length means that whenever it increases or decreases speed the cars hammer together violently.

#wedge-4 { background-image: url('https://d36tnp772eyphs.cloudfront.net/blogs/1/2017/04/mauritania_jodymacdonaldphotography14-2-560x420.jpg') }@media(min-width:560px){ #wedge-4 { background-image: url('https://d36tnp772eyphs.cloudfront.net/blogs/1/2017/04/mauritania_jodymacdonaldphotography14-2-1200x900.jpg') } }@media(min-width:1200px){ #wedge-4 { background-image: url('https://d36tnp772eyphs.cloudfront.net/blogs/1/2017/04/mauritania_jodymacdonaldphotography14-2.jpg') } }

Dawn brings with it the realization that the dust from the iron ore has seeped into all of our clothing, staining everything a rusty red hue. The abrasive dust gets everywhere, so we wear ski goggles to protect our eyes and wrap scarves around our heads to prevent us from breathing it in.

As the sun gives us warmth, we look out across the vast Sahara desert taking in the endless sand and arid plains. Relentless winds have endlessly recast the undulating dunes of the interior leaving a stark beauty.

The Mauritania Railway serves not only as the sole connection between remote locations and the country’s only major shipping port, Nouadhibou, but as free transport for locals seeking to travel from isolated communities to the coast. The hours pass slowly and the temperatures rise inexorably to become a blistering, sweltering heat. In some ways, there is little to see along the way except a few very small homes and dead camels wasting away beside the tracks.

#wedge-5 { background-image: url('https://d36tnp772eyphs.cloudfront.net/blogs/1/2017/04/mauritania_jodymacdonaldphotography-8-560x420.jpg') }@media(min-width:560px){ #wedge-5 { background-image: url('https://d36tnp772eyphs.cloudfront.net/blogs/1/2017/04/mauritania_jodymacdonaldphotography-8-1200x848.jpg') } }@media(min-width:1200px){ #wedge-5 { background-image: url('https://d36tnp772eyphs.cloudfront.net/blogs/1/2017/04/mauritania_jodymacdonaldphotography-8.jpg') } }

Eventually, we reach the coast and pull into Nouadhibou station, where we head out in search of unknown surf and a huge cemetery of lost shipwrecks. There are land mines peppering the landscape here, so access to the coast is a delicate task. In recent years, many of the shipwrecks have been dismantled and sold for their metal but there are still some fascinating rusting ship skeletons to be found.

#wedge-6 { background-image: url('https://d36tnp772eyphs.cloudfront.net/blogs/1/2017/04/sahara-jodymacdonald-560x420.jpg') }@media(min-width:560px){ #wedge-6 { background-image: url('https://d36tnp772eyphs.cloudfront.net/blogs/1/2017/04/sahara-jodymacdonald-1200x845.jpg') } }@media(min-width:1200px){ #wedge-6 { background-image: url('https://d36tnp772eyphs.cloudfront.net/blogs/1/2017/04/sahara-jodymacdonald.jpg') } }

From the shipwreck graveyards my curiosity leads me to spend time with the Imraguen fishermen in Banc d’Arguin National Park. It is a world heritage site because of its natural resources and fisheries. The Imraguen people have maintained their age-old lifestyles, based almost exclusively on harvesting the migratory fish populations using traditional sailboats.

The Imraguen fishermen still use traditional techniques that are unchanged since they were first recorded by 15th century Portuguese explorers.

One thing that shocks me is that the fishermen cannot swim. The night I arrive in their village, locals tell me that one of fishermen has fallen from his boat and is believed to have drowned. The next day we help the community look for his body but it is never found. It seems incredible to me that these people live their whole lives by the sea and spend every day fishing, yet still do not know how to swim, almost as though cultural superstition prevents them from wanting to learn.

#wedge-7 { background-image: url('https://d36tnp772eyphs.cloudfront.net/blogs/1/2017/04/sahara-jodymacdonald2-560x420.jpg') }@media(min-width:560px){ #wedge-7 { background-image: url('https://d36tnp772eyphs.cloudfront.net/blogs/1/2017/04/sahara-jodymacdonald2-1200x900.jpg') } }@media(min-width:1200px){ #wedge-7 { background-image: url('https://d36tnp772eyphs.cloudfront.net/blogs/1/2017/04/sahara-jodymacdonald2.jpg') } }

As my journey comes to an end I reflect on our experiences. I realize that this adventure has been one of those rare times in life when the expectations of your dreams and reality converge, and your adventures play out even better than you imagined. #wedge-8 { background-image: url('https://d36tnp772eyphs.cloudfront.net/blogs/1/2017/04/mauritania_jodymacdonaldphotography-22-560x420.jpg') }@media(min-width:560px){ #wedge-8 { background-image: url('https://d36tnp772eyphs.cloudfront.net/blogs/1/2017/04/mauritania_jodymacdonaldphotography-22-1200x848.jpg') } }@media(min-width:1200px){ #wedge-8 { background-image: url('https://d36tnp772eyphs.cloudfront.net/blogs/1/2017/04/mauritania_jodymacdonaldphotography-22.jpg') } }

This article originally appeared on Maptia and is republished here with permission.

MAURITANIA Country Studies: A brief, comprehensive study of Mauritania

CIA

A brief yet detailed report on the country of Mauritania with updated information on the map, flag, history, people, economics, political conditions in government, foreign affairs, and U.S. relations.

Mauritania 1:2,000,000 Travel Map (International Travel Maps)

ITM Canada

The Map distinguishes roads ranging from highways to streets. Legend includes railways, border crossings, national parks, international airports, airports/airfields, yacht harbours, points of interest / Vista, mosques, archaeological sites, gas stations. The western portion of the wind-swept Sahara is largely occupied by nomadic tribesmen in the north and pastoral peoples in the south. It is an interesting and photogenic country, popular with Europeans.

Orientation Guide to Mauritania and the Hassaniya Culture: Religion, Traditions, Family Life, Urban and Rural Populations, Geography, History, Economy, Society and Security

Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center (DLIFLC)

Increasing Islamist terrorist threats from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and ongoing ethnic violence between Africans and Arab-Berbers threaten the stability of Mauritania, a military-directed and mineral-rich nation. This impoverished and mostly desert country in northwest Africa gained its independence from France in 1960 and is one of the continent’s newest oil producers.The majority of Mauritania, the world’s first Islamic republic, lies within the Sahara. Mining operations and coastal fishing drive the country’s economy. Agriculture is confined mostly to narrow strips of land along the Sénégal River in southern Mauritania. Most of the country’s 3.4 million citizens reside in this region, except for the two major coastal cities of Nouakchott and Nouâdhibou. To grow its economy, the country intends to exploit offshore reserves of oil and natural gas.Mauritania has been somewhat stable since the 2008 military ouster of the nation’s first democratically elected government; it has experienced at least five successful military coups and numerous failed attempts since 1960.This book, produced by Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center (DLIFLC), provides comprehensive information about Mauritania and the Hassaniya Culture. Chapter topics include religion, traditions, family life and differences in the lifestyles of urban and rural populations as well as detailed discussion of geography, history and their economy, form of government, society and security and much more.71 pages; dozens of photos, illustration and charts in full color.This is a Print Replica that maintains the formatting and layout of the original edition and offers many of the advantages of standard Kindle books.

Mauritania Geographical Western Sahara (English and French Edition)

Gizi

Discover Mauritania and Western Sahara with the colourful Gizi Map. The best way to prepare your trip, to plan your itinerary, and to travel independently. Localities names are indicated in Latin and Arabic alphabets; the legend is in 6 languages (English and Arabic included); inset map of downtown Nouakchott.

City Maps Nouakchott Mauritania

James McFee

City Maps Nouakchott Mauritania is an easy to use small pocket book filled with all you need for your stay in the big city. Attractions, pubs, bars, restaurants, museums, convenience stores, clothing stores, shopping centers, marketplaces, police, emergency facilities and the list goes on and on. This collection of maps is up to date with the latest developments of the city. This city map is a must if you wish to enjoy the city without internet connection.

Mauritania Travel Journal: Perfect Size 100 Page Travel Notebook Diary

CreativeJournals

Lightweight and perfect for traveling, this soft cover notebook Mauritania travel journal is ideal for tucking into a full bag or suitcase. The cover is a glossy finish so that you can easily wipe it off (if it ends up covered in something delicious-tasting, or lands in a mud puddle ;) Keep your memories for longer by journalling them in your Mauritania travel journal. A nice affordable travel notebook designed with the traveler in mind. This would make a great gift for the traveler in your life. Bon voyage!

Tourist Guide on Mauritania: Discovering of Mauritania tourism Sector

Anderson Jones

Discovering of Mauritania tourism sector, for those who have no idea of Mauritania tourism sector that has being in existence over the years, but due to security problem in this region of Africa not many people bordered to give it attention, but looking at the present situation the security problem has come to control and Mauritania itself is a secured place for tourism respite that it is a Muslim country, this book has also given you the guide (below) on how to proceed on your tour. Mauritania Travel can be very interesting, with the various landscape features that are available in the African country. Located in West Africa, Mauritania is an extremely interesting country to explore. There is lot of sand and desert in the country, but despite that the country is abundant in rich wildlife, especially birds. There are many ancient and medieval caravans in Mauritania, which attract numerous tourists annually.An interplay of ocean and dunes, where the Saharan dunes end as the wild coasts begin, these are what you can expect to see when you visit Mauritania. It’s deep canyons, its grandiose dune fields, its eye-grabbing plateaus, its ancients cities, the virginal coastlines and the seas of sand that are even larger than some European countries are a few of the things that make this place such an exciting place to visit.Some of the places you should never miss when you visit Mauritania is the Parc National du Banc d’Arguin, which is easily one of the world’s best when it comes to bird-watching and the Nouadhibou, this regions gateway and fishing port that will offer you the freshest and bountiful seafood. Some of the most exciting activities that you can participate in during your journey are trekking, camel riding and even hot-air ballooning.The best time to give Mauritania is between November thru March where the temperature during daytime is around mid-20°C and is quite ideal for touring. At night, it may get very cold, so be ready with clothes that will keep you comfortableThis eBook titled: “Tourist Guide on Mauritania” is provided for your Guide and information when touring Mauritania, you don’t need to get lost or frustrated during your tour in any way, and you will have the knowledge of the environment and the places you intend to visit ahead of your visit. Security information is very important when touring a country. Our security information in this book is complete to provide you the security guide, once you abide to the instruction given in the book.You may need to read and understand the information related to Mauritania tourism and its content without traveling to Mauritania in person, you can only achieve this by making this book your tourism informer (presided for Mauritania tourism), you will not have any information to miss out

Mauritania 1: 1,750,000 Geographical Travel Map, Gizi

Gizi

Mauritania 1: 1,750,000 Geographical Travel Map GIZI

2009 This map covers Mauritania and Western Sahara with excellent topographic information and a street plan of central Nouakchot indicating main public buildings, hotels and various facilities.

Vivid altitude colouring with graphics for deserts, flood plains and salt flats shows the terrain. Oases, water wells and numerous spot heights are marked and the map provides plenty of names of geographical features: peaks, mountain chains and rock outcrops, plains, etc. Road network shows distances on main roads and includes dirt tracks. The map also shows locations of local airfields and the route of the iron ore railway line from the mines at Zouérat to the coast. Symbols highlight various places of tourist interest including world heritage sites, forts and archaeological remains, national parks and protected areas, beaches, etc.

Names of main towns and important geographical features are also given in Arabic. Internal administrative boundaries are shown with names of the provinces. The map had latitude and longitude lines at intervals of 1º. Map legend includes English. The index lists separately locations in Mauritania, Western Sahara, plus the adjoining regions of Mali and Senegal.

AVOID NON-ESSENTIAL TRAVEL; see also regional advisories.

The decision to travel is your responsibility. You are also responsible for your personal safety abroad. The Government of Canada takes the safety and security of Canadians abroad very seriously and provides credible and timely information in its Travel Advice. In the event of a crisis situation that requires evacuation, the Government of Canada’s policy is to provide safe transportation to the closest safe location. The Government of Canada will assist you in leaving a country or a region as a last resort, when all means of commercial or personal transportation have been exhausted. This service is provided on a cost-recovery basis. Onward travel is at your personal expense. Situations vary from one location to another, and there may be constraints on government resources that will limit the ability of the Government of Canada to provide assistance, particularly in countries or regions where the potential for violent conflict or political instability is high.

Increased threat of attacks and kidnappings

In 2013, the French military assisted the Malian government in efforts to repel armed rebels. Terrorist groups in the region declared their intention to increase attacks and kidnappings targeting Westerners. While the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Mali has been supporting the transitional authorities in stabilizing the region since July 2013, citizens of countries supporting the intervention are still at particular risk, but all travellers should exercise increased vigilance in the region.

Northern and eastern parts of the country especially the desert areas north of the Oualata-Tichit-Ouadane-Zouérat line, and the border areas with Algeria, Mali and Morocco (see Advisory)

Extremist groups and armed smugglers are active in these areas and there is a risk of banditry and kidnap. Armed Tuareg rebels are active in the northern area beyond the Oualata-Tichit-Ouadane-Zouérat line. Attacks and thefts of personal belongings and vehicles have occurred.

Seek the advice of local authorities when planning land trips if you choose to travel to these regions despite this warning. Leave a detailed itinerary with family or friends and register with the Registration of Canadians Abroad (ROCA) service.

Terrorism

The threat of terrorism, which is present throughout the country, is heightened by the regional instability. The risk is high outside major urban centres. Maintain a high level of vigilance at all times.

Kidnapping

There is a high risk of kidnapping in Mauritania, and Westerners are a favourite target. In past instances, hostages have been detained for several months before being released. Be particularly cautious in the region of Inchiri (Akjoujt is the capital) as well as in areas bordering Morocco and Mali.

Arrange for a trustworthy escort familiar with the country. Use varied and unpredictable routes and schedules when moving from one place to another. Exercise a high awareness of your personal security at all times, monitor local developments and contact the Consulate of Canada in Nouakchott for advice and assistance.

Crime

Petty crime such as pickpocketing, theft, and residential and vehicle break-ins occurs, as does assault. Avoid unpatrolled beaches at all times because of the risk of banditry and carjacking. Avoid beaches and "le Cinquième" district in Nouakchott after dark.

Travel in groups, remain alert, and ensure that your personal belongings, passports and other travel documents are secure at all times.

Demonstrations

Demonstrations occur, particularly on Fridays, and have the potential to turn violent suddenly. They can significantly disrupt traffic and public transportation. Avoid all demonstrations and large gatherings, follow the advice of local authorities and monitor local media.

Desert travel

Be aware of the extreme conditions you may face if you choose to travel to the 20-30 km wide "no man's land" that separates Mauritania and Western Sahara. Unexploded landmines have been laid in these areas and can shift with the movement of sand and dunes. You are isolated after crossing police checkpoints located on either side of this zone. If you choose to travel to this area, travel in convoys, be accompanied by an experienced guide, remain on well-used tracks and carry sufficient supplies. You should also seek the advice of local authorities and leave an itinerary with family and friends.

Transportation

Road conditions are generally fair to poor. There are four major roads in the country. Three run between Nouakchott and Rosso, Nouakchott and Atar (through Akjoujt), and Nouakchott and Néma. The road between Nouakchott and Néma leads to the border with Mali. Trucks use this road to transport containers from Mauritanian seaports. A new road connects the cities of Nouakchott and Nouadhibou. Most other roads are unpaved sand tracks.

Driving can be treacherous in Mauritania. Traffic laws and regulations are rarely respected. Vehicles may occasionally be forced off the roads by drifting sand and dunes. Roaming animals, bush taxis, poor driving habits and poorly maintained vehicles frequently cause accidents. Roadside assistance is non-existent. Wear seatbelts at all times. Avoid driving at night.

Rent vehicles with drivers. In the event of an accident or vehicle breakdown, the driver and rental company will be held responsible. If the vehicle is rented without a driver, the person renting the vehicle will be held responsible. In the event of an accident, a police report must be filed. Should an accident result in injury or death, drivers are detained until a judge determines responsibility.

Police conduct routine roadblocks in major cities such as Nouakchott. They may ask for proof of identity and a driver's licence.

Public transportation is generally unsafe and unreliable.

Passenger rail service operates between Nouadhibou and Zouérat. Book in advance.

Sailing in the port at Nouadhibou can be dangerous because of the significant number of shallow shipwrecks.

Consult our Transportation Safety page in order to verify if national airlines meet safety standards.

Border crossings

There are two official land border crossings into Senegal: Diama and Rosso. Pedestrians and vehicles are permitted to cross over the dam at Diama, and by ferry at Rosso. The road leading to Diama may be impassable during the rainy season. Long delays at the border are common. Ferry crossings at Rosso are available only between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Do not cross the Senegal River by pirogue as it is illegal and dangerous.

Fraud

See our Overseas Fraud page for more information on scams abroad.

Health

Related Travel Health Notices
Consult a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic preferably six weeks before you travel.
Vaccines

Routine Vaccines

Be sure that your routine vaccines are up-to-date regardless of your travel destination.

Vaccines to Consider

You may be at risk for these vaccine-preventable diseases while travelling in this country. Talk to your travel health provider about which ones are right for you.

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a disease of the liver spread by contaminated food or water. All those travelling to regions with a risk of hepatitis A infection should get vaccinated.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a disease of the liver spread through blood or other bodily fluids. Travellers who may be exposed (e.g., through sexual contact, medical treatment or occupational exposure) should get vaccinated.

Influenza

Seasonal influenza occurs worldwide. The flu season usually runs from November to April in the northern hemisphere, between April and October in the southern hemisphere and year round in the tropics. Influenza (flu) is caused by a virus spread from person to person when they cough or sneeze or through personal contact with unwashed hands. Get the flu shot.

Measles

Measles occurs worldwide but is a common disease in developing countries, particularly in parts of Africa and Asia. Measles is a highly contagious disease. Be sure your vaccination against measles is up-to-date regardless of the travel destination.
 

Meningitis

This country is in the African Meningitis Belt, an area where there are many cases of meningococcal disease. Meningococcal disease (meningitis) is a serious and sometimes fatal infection of the tissue around the brain and the spinal cord. Travellers who may be at high risk should consider getting vaccinated. High-risk travellers include those living or working with the local population (e.g., health care workers), those travelling to crowded areas or taking part in large gatherings, or those travelling for a longer period of time.

Polio

There is a risk of polio in this country. Be sure that your vaccination against polio is up-to-date.

Rabies

Rabies is a disease that attacks the central nervous system spread to humans through a bite, scratch or lick from a rabid animal. Vaccination should be considered for travellers going to areas where rabies exists and who have a high risk of exposure (i.e., close contact with animals, occupational risk, and children).

Typhoid

Typhoid is a bacterial infection spread by contaminated food or water. Risk is higher among travellers going to rural areas, visiting friends and relatives, or with weakened immune systems. Travellers visiting regions with typhoid risk, especially those exposed to places with poor sanitation should consider getting vaccinated.

Yellow Fever Vaccination

Yellow fever is a disease caused by the bite of an infected mosquito.

Travellers get vaccinated either because it is required to enter a country or because it is recommended for their protection.

* It is important to note that country entry requirements may not reflect your risk of yellow fever at your destination. It is recommended that you contact the nearest diplomatic or consular office of the destination(s) you will be visiting to verify any additional entry requirements.
Risk
  • There is a risk of yellow fever in this country.
Country Entry Requirement*
  • Proof of vaccination is required if you are coming from a country where yellow fever occurs.
Recommendation
  • Vaccination may be recommended depending on your itinerary.
  • Discuss travel plans, activities, and destinations with a health care provider.
  • Protect yourself from mosquito bites.
Food/Water

Food and Water-borne Diseases

Travellers to any destination in the world can develop travellers' diarrhea from consuming contaminated water or food.

In some areas in West Africa, food and water can also carry diseases like cholera, hepatitis A, schistosomiasis and typhoid. Practise safe food and water precautions while travelling in West Africa. Remember: Boil it, cook it, peel it, or leave it!

Schistosomiasis

Schistosomiasis is caused by blood flukes (tiny worms) spread to humans through contaminated water. The eggs of the worms can cause stomach illnesses like diarrhea and cramps or urinary problems. Risk is generally low for most travellers. Avoid swimming in contaminated water. There is no vaccine available for schistosomiasis.

Travellers' diarrhea
  • Travellers' diarrhea is the most common illness affecting travellers. It is spread from eating or drinking contaminated food or water.
  • Risk of developing travellers’ diarrhea increases when travelling in regions with poor sanitation. Practise safe food and water precautions.
  • The most important treatment for travellers' diarrhea is rehydration (drinking lots of fluids). Carry oral rehydration salts when travelling.

Insects

Insects and Illness

In some areas in West Africa, certain insects carry and spread diseases like African trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness), chikungunya, Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever, dengue fever, leishmaniasis, lymphatic filariasis, malaria, onchocerciasis, Rift Valley feverWest Nile virus and yellow fever.

Travellers are advised to take precautions against bites.


Malaria

Malaria

  • There is a risk of malaria in certain areas and/or during a certain time of year in this country.
  • Malaria is a serious and occasionally fatal disease that is spread by mosquitoes. There is no vaccine against malaria.
  • Protect yourself from mosquito bites. This includes covering up, using insect repellent and staying in well-screened, air-conditioned accommodations. You may also consider sleeping under an insecticide-treated bed net or pre-treating travel gear with insecticides.
  • Antimalarial medication may be recommended depending on your itinerary and the time of year you are travelling. See a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic, preferably six weeks before you travel to discuss your options.

Animals

Animals and Illness

Travellers are cautioned to avoid contact with animals, including dogs, monkeys, snakes, rodents, birds, and bats. Certain infections found in some areas in West Africa, like avian influenza and rabies, can be shared between humans and animals.


Person-to-Person

Person-to-Person Infections

Crowded conditions can increase your risk of certain illnesses. Remember to wash your hands often and practice proper cough and sneeze etiquette to avoid colds, the flu and other illnesses.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV are spread through blood and bodily fluids; practise safer sex.

Tuberculosis

Tuberculosis is an infection caused by bacteria and usually affects the lungs.

For most travellers the risk of tuberculosis is low.

Travellers who may be at high risk while travelling in regions with risk of tuberculosis should discuss pre- and post-travel options with a health care provider.

High-risk travellers include those visiting or working in prisons, refugee camps, homeless shelters, or hospitals, or travellers visiting friends and relatives.


Medical services and facilities

Medical services and facilities

Medical facilities and supplies are extremely limited. Medical services usually require immediate cash payment.

Keep in Mind...

The decision to travel is the sole responsibility of the traveller. The traveller is also responsible for his or her own personal safety.

Be prepared. Do not expect medical services to be the same as in Canada. Pack a travel health kit, especially if you will be travelling away from major city centres.

You are subject to local laws. Consult our Arrest and Detention page for more information.

An International Driving Permit is recommended.

Illegal or restricted activities

The use of drugs and alcohol is prohibited.

Homosexual activity is illegal.

Photography of military installations, airports, government buildings and religious buildings is forbidden.

Dual citizenship

Dual citizenship is not legally recognized, which may limit the ability of Canadian officials to provide consular services. You should travel using your Canadian passport and present yourself as Canadian to foreign authorities at all times. Consult our publication entitled Dual Citizenship: What You Need to Know for more information.

Child custody

Children of Mauritanian fathers automatically acquire Mauritanian citizenship at birth, regardless of where they were born. The father’s permission is required for any child to travel, even if the child is travelling on a foreign passport.

Religion

Islamic practices and beliefs are closely adhered to in the country’s customs, laws and regulations. Dress conservatively, behave discreetly, and respect religious and social traditions to avoid offending local sensitivities. It would be prudent for women to wear a headscarf and cover their arms and legs.

Money

The currency is the Ouguiya (MRO). Mauritania is a cash-based economy. It is not convertible. Only U.S. dollars and euros are accepted for exchange. A few hotels in Nouakchott and Nouadhibou accept credit cards. Traveller’s cheques are not accepted. 

Climate

Mauritania is very hot and receives extremely little rain throughout the year.

The rainy season extends from July to October. Transportation routes, power and telecommunications systems may be affected in some areas, and some roads may be impassable due to flooding. Exercise caution, monitor local media and follow the advice of local authorities.