Visiting Mauritania is very a challenging experience. This country, essentially a desert, very poor and with an unpredictable political climate, does not attract flock of tourists. That’s exactly the type of country that adventurers will appreciate. They will explore cities covered by desert sand, drink tea with nomads under colored Bedouin tents, discover lunar landscapes, and admire rock painting and ancient Saharan architecture. Even locals, who have always lived in the Sahara desert, continue to find it surprising and exceptional
- Capital: Nouakchott
- Languages: Arabic (official language), French, Pulaar, Soninke, Wolof
- Time difference: GMT/UTC + 0h
- Entry formalities: French, Belgium, Canadian and Swiss nationals must get a visa before entering the country. The maximum time allowed by a tourist visa is 3 months and you must justify a return ticket
- Electricity: 220V
- Telephone: +222
- Health: Yellow fever vaccine is no longer required but is still strongly recommended. Please bring your international vaccination booklet as you may be asked to show it when crossing the border of the country. All travelers are recommended to have up-to-date vaccinations for tetanus, polio, diphtheria,meningococcal disease, typhoid fever, and hepatitis A& B. Take precautions against malaria and do not drink tap water
- The “ouguiya” is the national currency. Mauritania is the most expensive country in West Africa (even after the devaluation of the “ouguiya” in 1992)
- Low cost hotels are in general dirty and poorly equipped, and the food you could buy in the streets is not especially good. But if you don’t mind the poor quality of the food and a rudimentary comfort, then a daily 15 USD budget would be enough (even if the law requires a minimum daily budget of 25 USD for the tourists)
- If you planning on renting a car, take a room in a sumptuous hotel, and eat very good meals then you will need 170 USD per day.
- For average accommodation, good food, and taxis, you will spend less than 90 USD per day.
- To change money, you should go to the main bank located at the airport or high-end hotels. Credit cards are welcome in international luxury hotels and traveler’s checks (American Express) are not accepted most of the time.
Tipping: If you look like a rich tourist, you will be expected to leave a 10% tip, but if you are simply dressed, you won’t have to tip.
Currency: Ouguiya (MRO)
Daily budget food
- Low budget: <550 ouguiyas
- Average budget: 550- 1 450 ouguiyas
- Higher budget: >1 450 ouguiyas
Daily budget food accommodation
- Low budget: <6 200 ouguiyas
- Average budget: 6 200 – 12 800 ouguiyas
- Higher budget: >12 800 ouguiyas
Best Time To Go And Climate
Best time to visit Mauritania
The best time to go visit extends from November to February, when days are hot and sunny whereas evenings a cold thanks to southerly winds. From June to October, temperatures are extreme but bearable along the coast of the country. From March to May, the climate is relatively warm. There can have sometimes sandstorms and hot winds.
The climate is hot and dry and there are almost never rainfalls, particularly in the Sahara region. From June to August, the average temperature can reach 40°C. The weather is practically ideal in Nouakchott between December and March: maximum temperatures are rarely above 29°C during the day, and can go below 13°C during nights. So, don’t forget to bring warm clothes because temperatures can descend below 0°C anywhere and anytime in many places of the country.
Nouakchott: Nouakchott, the very recent capital of Mauritania was created after the independence of the country in 1960. Nouakchott which was then built on a fertile land has been gradually invaded by the Sahara Desert. The capital has lost some dynamism since the 1989 riots. But the two main markets of the country are still very active and the beach is a fun place for jogging and swimming. Nouakchott is built for maximum 200 000 inhabitants, but 5 times more inhabitants live in it. The peripheral “neighborhoods” are just tents and barracks. In the heart of the city, you will find the well-designed national museum. Visiting this museum will give you an interesting and useful introduction of the local culture and lifestyle of the Mauritanian nomads. Just outside the capital, there is a charming fishing port where you will see very active fishermen (Wolof and Haal-Pulaar). It is nice to talk with them and take pictures.
Nouadhibou: The port city of Nouadhibou is located in the north of the country (few meters from Western Sahara). The city has a modern airport but other constructions are basic and covered by desert sand. Nouadhibou is a right place for you if you like swimming, water skiing, and fishing (its fishing grounds are some of the richest in the world). There are two daily flights connecting Nouakchott with Nouadhibou separated by 520km. You can also take the train to travel between the two cities. If you going by car, you must hire a guide and bring enough water and eye drops
Atar: Gathering place of the nomads coming from the north, this commercial town is the starting point for interesting excursions in the desert. Don’t forget to bring cash money because there are no banks around. The village is separated in two, and in the middle there is a local market. The narrow winding streets of ksar are very interesting to see.
Rosso: There is no much to see in this transit city despite its 30 000 inhabitants. The city is located 160km away from the capital city at the border of Senegal. There is the only black market of the country, which is not recommended for tourists.
Tichit: If you are very brave, go visit the ancient town of Tichit (865km east of the capital). This town is listed as a UNESCO Heritage of Humanity site. Tichit, ancient capital of Tagant was the crossing-point for commercial caravans. The town was a very important city during the 8th century. You must visit the beautiful mosque of Tagant and discover the old manuscripts. Today the town has only 500 residents. Don’t go without a guide.
Koumbi Saleh: The legendary capital of the Ghana Empire is the most famous archaeological site of Mauritania. The first ruins of the city have been discovered in 1913. There are many reasons to believe that Koumbi Saleh used to be the biggest city in the world during the 11th century (approximately 30 000 inhabitants). This site is 1000 km away from Nouakchott. There are many flights during the week connecting Nouakchott to Ayoun-el-Atrous (2 h drive from Koumbi Saleh)
Banc d’Arguin National Park: The Banc d’Arguin National Park (French: Parc National du Banc d’Arguin) lies on the west coast of Mauritania between Nouakchott and Nouadhibou. This World Heritage Site is a major breeding site for migratory birds, including flamingos, broad-billed sandpipers, pelicans and terns. Much of the breeding is on sand banks including the islands of Tidra, Niroumi, Nair, Kijji and Arguim. There are between 25,000 and 40,000 pairs belonging to 15 species, making the largest colonies of water birds in West Africa (IUCN Technical Evaluation, 1989). The surrounding waters are some of the richest fishing waters in western Africa and serve as nesting grounds for the entire western region. You can hire a boat with a guide and go watch the birds. You must plan your visit because the periods of visit are extremely regulated (you cannot come close to the birds during the breeding season which happens twice a year).
Customs: Moorish social life is often organized around the traditional mint tea ceremony. It is common practice to serve successively 3 cups. The tea is strong and sweet and gives a lot of energy. Mauritania is the only West African country governed by citizens coming from a nomad tradition. However, decades of dry season and the progression of the desert have caused the dispersion of many clans and the sedentarization of a portion of the population in the cities.
Languages: The official language is Arabic, but French is also spoken (used to be the official language until independence of the country in 1960). Other spoken languages: Hassaniya, Pular, Soninke and Wolof
- Salamm aleïkoum: May peace be upon you
- Aleïkoum salaam: Peace be upon you too (response)
- Marhaba: Hello!
- Ma’elsalami: Good bye!
Food: Moorish cuisine is not as sophisticated as Moroccan cuisine. But Moorish cuisine can still bring in some good surprises. Bedouins have introduced dates, milk and bread. Moors have brought from Andalusia olives, nuts, almonds, fruits and aromatic herbs. Arabs brought spices such as ras el-nahout, which is a subtle mix of spices used to cook tajine. Berber influence is felt in most of Mauritanian dishes. The most famous is couscous(dish of semolina – granules of durum wheat- which is cooked by steaming and traditionally served with a meat or vegetable stew spooned over it. Other famous dishes are Tajines (slow-cooked savory stews, typically made with sliced meat, poultry or fish together with vegetables or fruit, spices, nuts, and dried fruits are also used. Common spices include ginger, cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, and saffron. Paprika and chili are used in vegetable tajine. The sweet and sour combination is common in tajine dishes like lamb with dates and spices. Tajines are generally served with bread. Harira is another Berber traditional soup cooked with sheep meat or lamb meat, lentils, chick peas, onions, garlic, spices and aromatic herbs. Harira is usually served during the month of Ramadan to break the fast.
Religion: The religion of Islam teaches unity and equality between all Muslims regardless of the skin color or race. But this Islamic principle is not applicable in Mauritania. 99% of Mauritanians are Sunnites Muslims, but the 1989 racial war between moors and black Mauritanians proved that racial prejudice against blacks Mauritanians is still an issue. Other than this sensitive racial issue, the Islam practiced in Mauritania is open and liberal.
Music: Listen to Mauritanian traditional music, with the tidnit (small hourglass-shaped, four-stringed lute) or ardine (nine-string harp-like instrument). The men play the tidnit, while the women play the ardin, usually accompanied by the tbal, a large kettle drum.
Geography: Twice the size of France, Mauritania has 700km of Atlantic coast, and shares its borders with Morocco, Algeria, Mali and Senegal. The desert occupies 60% of the country, and it is expanding continuously. Going south, the desert ends while the bush and savannah start. Along the southwest border, the Senegal River has generated a fertile land of 400km where country’s major food crops are grown.
Fauna and Flora: Birds, including endangered species visit the national park of Diawling (inland delta of Senegal River) and along the Atlantic coast. Within the country, the progression of the desert does not favor animal presence. You will see few gazelles, and Houbara bustards
Your children will love:
- Caravan cities of the Sahara
- Chinguetti (walk in the narrow streets of the old city of ksar)
- Ouadane (The old town, a World Heritage Site, though in ruins, is still substantially intact, while a small modern settlement lies outside its gate)
- Excursions in the desert
- Ride a camel across the superb dune of Adrar
- Take a balloon trip above Adrar from Atar or Chinguetti…just magical!!!
- Excursion to the luxurious oasis of Terji. You can swim in the basin
- The oasis of Matmata with its crocodiles trapped in huge ponds in the middle of the desert
- Atlantic coast
- Boat excursion from islands to islands (Banc d’Arguin National Park) to watch thousands of birds (pink flamingos, pelicans, cormorants…)
- Nouadhibou bay: perfect for swimming
- Nouakchott: The capital city is crowded and lively. Watch the return of the fishermen
- Enjoy a trip to the Cabo Blanco lighthouse (Cap Blanc in French) (both meaning “White Cape) (Ras Nouadhibou) and watch the monk seals