Mauritania Travel Guide
Located on the western coast of Africa, Mauritania borders the Atlantic ocean and boasts an 800-kilometer sandy beach. It is home to many ancient cities and archaeological sites, as well as historic libraries and museums. Some of its major attractions are the Adrar region, often called center of Mauritanian tourism, the old Moorish town of Ksar, and the Parc National du Banc d’Arguin, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The diverse bird population near the coastline is also a favorite spot, as much of the land is dry, arid, and inhospitable to wildlife. Tourists are also attracted to the pristine sandy beaches, although many are discouraged by the health alerts, poor medical facilities, and limited accommodation.
There is very limited hotel accommodation, except for a few in Nouakchott, which are mostly high-end and fairly expensive. A few budget hotels and hostels can also be found outside the capital, but they get crowded easily. There are government rest houses located throughout the country, which can be booked through the Tourism ministry. It’s best to book hotels well in advance and secure a written confirmation of your booking to avoid problems.
When to Go
Weather is hot and dry for most of the year with very little rain, although there is a rainy season in the southern area from July to September. The coastal regions are also slightly milder because of trade winds. The best time to visit is March to April, as the deserts are cooler and windier. Dress in lightweight cottons and linens, with a wrap to keep you warm on cool evenings. Wear waterproof coats during the rainy season.
Getting There & Away
The main entry point is Nouakchott Airport, about five kilometers east of Nouakchott itself. There is also a smaller airport in Nouâdhibou, 2.5 kilometers from the city. Taxis are available from both airports. There are also two ferry ports, mostly connecting to Senegal, and overland transport from neighboring capitals. A desert train runs between Zouerat, Fderik, Choum, and Nouâdhibou, and taxis ply most of the major cities. Most tourists opt to rent or share a 4x4, which is almost mandatory especially if you plan to tour the rugged highlands outside of Nouakchott.
Health & Safety
Health risks include malaria, typhoid, polio, rabies, and hepatitis B. All water and milk is potentially contaminated, so sterilize drinking and cooking water, and drink only tinned milk reconstituted in pure water. Make sure all your food is well-cooked. Crime rates are very low, but there is a general threat from terrorism in the area. Pickpocketing incidents are also on the rise. Nouakchott has a good medical facility with 450 beds and many private doctors, but medical care is inadequate outside of the capital. If you expect to tour outside of Nouakchott for more than a few days, you may want to bring your own first aid and medical supplies, or stock up on them before leaving Nouakchott.
Four days in Nouakchott
Three days in Adrar
One day at the Parc National du Banc d’Arguin
Two days in El Agher
Nouakchott: Created only in 1960, Nouakchott is a young, modern capital lying close to the sea and littered with low dunes, thorn bushes, and traditional Berber architecture. Some of the highlights are Ksar, an old Moorish settlement, the Plage du Wharf, the Maison de la Culture, and the numerous open markets.
Parc National du Banc d’Arguin: This sprawling park houses one of the world’s biggest bird sanctuaries and has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site .
El Agher: This wild plateau is home to several archaeological sites, including Koumbi Saleh, former capital of the Ghana Empire, and the Aoudaghost, an ancient Berber capital.
Adrar Region: This rugged mountainous area, inhabited since the Neolithic period, is famous for its pink and brown plateaus, palm groves, and deep canyons.
Fishing: Nouâdhibou, one of the major fishing villages, has several excellent fishing spots. The locals have an interesting symbiotic relationship with the dolphins – the dolphins carry the fish to shore, and the fishermen get their share and leave the marine mammals with theirs.
Swimming and surfing: The western coast has some good beaches and resorts, and the waves are just right for leisurely surfing. Don’t bring any valuables to the beach though, as they’re a hot spot for robbery and pickpocketing.
Shopping: Some of the best local markets can be found in Nouakchott. These include the market in Ksar, the Camel Market, and the African Market.
Night train at Choum: Board the nighttime train at Choum to Nouâdhibou, and experience a quiet night in the desert with a rare, unobstructed view of the stars.