Mauritania is a country in the Sahara region. Part of the Maghreb, Mauritania borders Algeria, Senegal and Mali, as well as the disputed territory of Western Sahara.

Mauritania is basically made up of desert and ocean. It is not surprising that the main attractions for tourists are the desert, in the Adrar and Tagant areas (around Atar), and the ocean, in the Arguim Bank (a nature reserve full of dunes, with millions of birds and protected by the UNESCO). The Adrar region is exactly how you imagine the Sahara: endless ergs (dunes) and regs (rocky desert) with small mountains. Most tourists stay on the west coast of the country, although there are some attractions inland (for example, the rock formations of Aioun). If you decide to travel to these regions, you better have plenty of time.

Mauritania is an Islamic Republic. Don't be intimidated by the political status - most Mauritanians are not extremists, even though most people in the north of the country are very conservative and reserved. The southern part is full of friendly people, and very hospitable, even if they are not used to tourists.

Traveling to Mauritania has already been easier, with flights from France to Atar during the winter, although today they are suspended. Guides and tourist agencies are easy to find. However, Mauritania is not connected to the international banking system. A Visa card will only work at some international ATMs such as Atijari or the Société Générale in Nouakchott and Nouadhibou. Apart from these, credit cards are not accepted anywhere else. It is easy to exchange euros, dollars and CFA to ouguiya in Nouakchott, however.



The climate is characterized by extreme temperatures and irregular and scarce precipitation. Annual temperature variations are small, although diurnal variations can be extreme. The harmattan, a warm dry and sometimes dusty wind, comes from the Sahara during the long dry season and is the predominant wind, except along the coast, which is influenced by ocean winds. Most of the rain falls during the short rainy season (hivernage), from July to September, and annual rainfall ranges from 500 to 600 millimeters in the far south to less than 100 millimeters in the north, about two-thirds of the country.



Nouakchott, the capital and largest city of Mauritania. Highlights of the city include the Nouakchott Museum, various markets such as the Nouakchott Silver Market, and the beaches.
Atar - Known as a gateway to visit the ancient Moorish towns of Ouadane and Chinguetti (see below), it is also an important stop on the Dakar rally.
Chinguetti - Along with Ouadane, Oualata and Tichit, it's been a world heritage site since 1996. It's a former ksar, or medieval merchant town, center of the trans-Saharan routes. It continues to attract visitors who come to see its architecture, its old libraries and its exotic atmosphere.
Nouadhibou, a major fishing center and industrial port, as well as the second largest city in the country. Nouadhibou's tourist attractions include the Table Remarquable, several markets, a boat graveyard and Mediterranean monk seals.
Tichit, a partially abandoned city known for its ancient architecture. The small town also has a museum.
Other destinations
Banco de Arguim National Park - A national park on the Mauritanian coast, which is home to several species of birds (which, incidentally, are the main attraction of the park. It is close to Nouadhibou and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Ouadane and Oualata - Along with Tichit and Chinguetti (see above) constitute a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to their importance as ancient merchant towns. They contain a well-preserved historical heritage.


Getting there

All citizens of western nations need a visa to enter. People holding West African passports do not need a visa.

In 2009, visas to Mauritania could not be bought on arrival, so foreigners had to get them outside the country (eg Rabat). A single entry visa costs 37 euros, double entry is 52 euros. Two passport-sized photos are required, as well as a copy of the passport information pages. Visas are available the next day.

For most people, no vaccinations are needed to travel to Mauritania. Only people coming from yellow fever endemic areas need to present a vaccination certificate.

By airplane
Nouakchott International Airport is the only international airport in the country and the base of Mauritanian Airways, which flies from Paris (approximately five hours), Dakar, Abidjan and Nouadhibou. It also receives flights from Algiers through Air Algérie and from Paris through Air France. There are options for Tunes or Las Palmas. Another alternative is to take a charter flight, which costs around €400.

Of boat
The main port is Nouadhibou and there is also a small port at Nouakchott, while St. Louis in Senegal also serves Mauritania.

By car
You can enter Mauritania by land crossing the borders with Western Sahara, Mali or Senegal. These borders can be crossed by own vehicle or by bicycle.

The road from Western Sahara/Morocco enters the country near Nouadhibou. The road is paved all the way to the Moroccan border post of Fort Guerguarat, where you have to cross about seven kilometers on a winding and stony, yet simple, road until you reach the Mauritanian border, where the tarmac road starts again. Although the trip is simple, you have to be careful not to leave the road between the two border posts, because the region is a minefield. This danger is still present until you cross the train line, already on the Mauritanian side.

There are numerous roads that cross the border between Mauritania and Mali. The best choice is the one that connects Nara, in Mali to Ayoun al Atrous in Mauritania. Border formalities in Mali are carried out at various buildings around Nara (local children will take you to the police or customs in exchange for a small gift). Mauritanian formalities are carried out in a series of buildings along the border road.

An alternative route runs directly from Mauritania to Timbuktu, Mali. Travel to the road southeast of Néma, which is at the end of a tarred road leading from Nouakchott. This road continues to Bassekounou before crossing the border near Léré, Mali, then to Niafunké and on to Timbuktu.


By bus/coach or collective taxi
From Morocco: There are currently no buses, although CTM (the national bus company is planning to establish a service from Dakhla to Nouakchott. Access from Morocco is currently only available by hitchhiking (you can try Camping Moussafir north of Dakhla ) or by paying a passage from Mauritanian traders (which can be found north of Dakhla), costing between 250-380Dhs (negotiable). The journey should start very early and will take most of the day, and the border post is closed at night Cars driven by experienced drivers can be booked at Hotel Sahara This costs about 250Dhs per person Be careful and avoid a driver with an obvious disorder of facial pigmentation Has a reputation for being aggressive towards passengers
For Morocco: Cars and drivers can be arranged to cross the minefield from Mauritania to Western Sahara at hotels in Nouadhibou.
From Senegal: You can take a collective taxi from Dakar (6,000 CFA) and Saint-Louis (2,000 CFA) (among others) to Rosso, where a ferry makes the journey across the Senegal River, and other collective taxis can be taken as far as Nouakchott (about 2,000 UM). Beware of collective taxis offering deals that seem too good to be true. There may be illegal taxis and they can be a dangerous means of transport. There will likely be a few drivers waiting. Ask and find out the standard rate. Other border points with Senegal include the Diama Dam north of Saint-Louis.
From Mali: There are vans that leave Kayes for Selibaby daily. It is also possible to enter Nema, and across the southern border at several points.

by train/train
There are no trains between Mauritania and its neighbours.


Transport around the country

By airplane
Air Mauritanie (MR) operates flights between Nouakchott and Nouadhibou.

By car
There are good roads that connect Nouakchott with Rosso in the south of the country, Néma in the southeast and Akjoujt in the north. The Route de l'Espoir, a paved motorway runs from Nouakchott to Mali. All other routes are dust roads. In some regions during and after the rainy season, roads can be impassable. In the dry season the paths can be obscured by sand; a guide is highly recommended, if not essential.

It is recommended that you have an International Driving Permit, although it is not legally required.

Tourists should not attempt a desert trip without a spare set of parts and essential safety equipment. The Direction du Tourisme in Nouakchott, part of the Ministère du Commerce de l'Artisanat et du Tourisme, can provide further information and advice on trips of this type.

car hire
Available in Nouakchott, Nouadhibou and Atar. You can rent 4x4 vehicles and these are recommended, although they are expensive.

by bus/coach
Several companies (El Bouragh, El Gavileh, Global, Al-Moussavir, As-Salaam, Somtir, Sonef and LTM) operate the Nouakchott-Nouadhibou route, most of them making one trip per day.

by train/train
There is only one train line in the country, connecting Nouadhibou, Choum and Zouerat, which is a tourist attraction in itself. The train is said to be the longest in the world, with over 150 carriages and running over two kilometres. It is used to transport iron ore from the Zouerat mine to the port of Nouadhibou.

There is only one passenger carriage, but you can travel in one of the carriages carrying the iron ore (which is advisable as the passenger carriage is crowded). The ticket price is 1500 ougiyas if you go in the passenger car, while if you go in one of the other cars it's free. Remember to take a scarf to cover your face, as there is a lot of dust in the air.



Hassaniya Arabic is the language of the Moorish majority, while other languages are spoken by black southern Africans, including Pulaar, Wolof, and Soninke (especially in the Guidimakha region around Selibaby). French is the second official language and is spoken by many, particularly near cities. In the countryside, people 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 greeting for many of the region's dialects.



Traditional villages in the interior of the country, such as Ouadane, Oualata, Tichitt and Chinguetti - In the interior of the country you can find old villages, forgotten by time and that have changed little over the centuries. They are one of the biggest attractions in the country, and well worth a visit.
Desert - The desert is one of the most characteristic elements of the country, and at sunset the dunes gain a new range of colors, and become much more beautiful. Very beautiful, one of the must-visit spots, especially during the cooler parts of the day (dawn and dusk; of course you could go at night, but you couldn't see anything).
Fishing villages - Scattered along the coast, these villages have a unique character. See the men pulling the fish and buy the freshest seafood in the country. Don't forget to haggle!



You can buy souvenirs at Marche Capital or Marche Sixieme in Nouakchott, or in tourist shops on Adrar. Fabric is sold in boutiques across the country, but Kaedi is famous for its dyeing technique.

Overall, the quality of most Mauritanian souvenirs is not as high as one might expect. You can find leather products, pipes, wooden bowls, teapots and silver jewelry, among other things (be careful with the quality of the jewelry). The fabric, however, is hand-dyed and can be very beautiful. The fabric will be sold as a mulafa (veil) - usually transparent - or as material for a boubou, with two separate pieces, for a skirt and a top. Fabric costs between CU1500 to CU8000, depending on the quality and work involved.

When buying anything in Mauritania, try to negotiate the price. Sometimes the initial price can be up to three times more than the real price. Be nice, but don't worry if you insult someone by asking for a lower price.



There is a decent variety of restaurants in Nouakchott with dishes ranging from 1000 to 2500 UM. Most restaurants in the capital offer pretty much the same menu - simple pizzas, hamburgers, sandwiches, and salads. There are a number of restaurants on the road from the Stade Olympique to the French Embassy. Some good restaurants on this road are: Pizza Lina, Cafe Liban, and Le Petit Cafe. Sahara Cafe, on the other side of the stadium, is also a good place for pizza, sandwiches or Lebanese food, and has some of the most reasonable prices in town. Close to the Marche Capitale, there is a street of sandwich shops offering almost identical menus, the best of which is Prince (which taxi drivers know by name).

Outside of Nouakchott, it is possible to find burgers in Atar. In addition, you only have traditional dishes to choose from: fish and rice (chebujin) in the south and meat with rice or couscous in the north. Mechui, or grilled sheep, is also delicious, although a bit more expensive. Some fruit can be found in most regional capitals. Most restaurants outside of Nouakchott are not very sanitary, so be careful. If you want, in the absence of a restaurant, you can pay a family to prepare the food for you, which should be relatively cheap (no more than 1500 one), although it takes a while (about two hours to buy the food and prepare it -there).

Bottled water can be purchased for 200 UM and is a good idea for people not used to Africa.

If none of the ideas appeal to you, you can go to a supermarket and buy bread, crackers and drinks.

Tea is normally served after a meal, but is not included with a meal in a restaurant. If you're offered tea at someone's house, it's not polite to leave until at least the second or third cup.



Despite being an Islamic country there are some fun bars in the capital. Drinking can be expensive, however: beers can cost around 4.50 euros! There is a nightclub within the French Embassy complex. You can also try Salamander or Club VIP. Next to this is Casablanca, a bar with live music on weekends.

Note: It is illegal to import alcohol



You can find accommodation of all types, although there are only higher class hotels in Nouakchott and Atar. "Auberges" and campsites can rent beds/mattresses for around 1500 ouguiya in Adrar and Nouadhibou.

There is usually at least one hotel in every regional capital, although they can be expensive. If possible, become friends with the locals and try to get invited to stay with the family. As long as you don't mind a) sleeping on the floor or a foam mattress b) sleeping/eating near animals, you're likely to have a memorable stay.



The area near Western Sahara is a minefield, and traveling through this area is highly inadvisable. The border areas with Algeria and Mali are known for the number of robbers. In other areas, you should avoid showing money or expensive things. Although it can be intimidating, a little research and common sense will ensure a good trip to Mauritania.

Seek advice from your embassy or consulate. Due to the increasing number of attacks on Westerners in recent years, most Eastern nations advise great caution.



For most Westerners, the local water is not safe to drink. Tourists should only drink bottled water if they don't have access to some sort of water filtration or purification system. The Sahara is a very dry climate. You can get dehydrated very easily, and not even realize it. In the hottest part of the year you may need to drink several liters of water a day.

The south of the country is an endemic area for malaria, and tourists should always use a mosquito net in this area. Mosquitoes are less common in the dry desert of the north of the country, but they exist all year round in the south, although there are fewer in the dry season (December-May).



Learn to say Salaam alaykum and greet people like that. If you're a man, don't try to shake a woman's hand, and vice versa (some African women have no problem shaking a man's hand, but it's best not to try to initiate contact). You can, however, say hello and touch your heart with your hand.

Be careful to eat with your right hand, especially outside of Nouakchott, as you may not be offered cutlery there. As elsewhere in the Arab world, the left hand is reserved for the toilet. If you're left-handed... try harder.

Covering your head isn't necessary, but it's polite. Westerners, especially women, can be targets of unwanted attention and harassment. Know, however, that many Mauritanians, both men and women, think that eye contact is a sexual invitation.

If you are traveling with someone of the opposite sex, avoid touching each other in public. It is much more common to see two men holding hands than a man and a woman. As for clothing, the more skin you show, the more negative attention you get. In Nouakchott, women can wear trousers, but avoid tops and knee-length skirts. Long skirts are the best choice for women. It's also a good idea to cover your arms.

If you are a woman there is no non-sexual reason to be private with a man. If they ask you to go into an office or go to the back of a store or something like that, don't go. If you stay private with a man, however briefly, everyone will assume you're going to have sex, and they'll judge you for it.

If you are gay or lesbian, do not reveal your sexuality to any Mauritanian. They would react very harshly to this. Don't do anything in public that implies you are, or you will be put to death.

If you are white, Nasrani, Toubac and Toubab are words referring to you. Small children, and sometimes naughty adults, may refer to you by this name. Nasrani means person from Nazareth. Since Christians follow the teachings of Christ, and Christ is from Nazareth, all Christians are Nazarenes.

Beware of people who take advantage of your good education to make a sale. Know that in markets, almost everyone will try to be your friend to sell you something for a higher price. They've tried various tricks to get him to buy (including "gifting"), and some might even accuse him of not liking Africans if he doesn't want to look into their shop.


Keep in touch

There are two GSM network operators: Mattel and Mauritel Mobiles. For more information on coverage and roaming, see GSM-World.

If you are traveling through the desert, where there is no network, you can use a satellite phone. Thuraya, Iridium or Inmarsat. Thuraya is the cheapest and easiest to use. Equipment is also available for hire.

You can find internet cafes with DSL internet in Nouakchott and Nouadhibou for 200-300 UM an hour. There are also "cybercafes" with slower internet spread across the country.