Mauritania’s is a lonely beauty. A land of endless deserts, empty coastlines and spectacular birdlife, it is lays claim to some of the most spectacular scenery in Africa and a fascinating population comprised of Arab-Berbers and black Africans.
Arguably the jewel in Mauritania’s crown is the Banc d’Arguin, where the Sahara Desert slips silently into the Atlantic Ocean. This is nirvana for twitchers, particularly during the European winter, when more than two million migratory birds descend on the national park. The Banc d’Arguin is also home to the Imraguen fishermen, who catch their quarry with a little help from local dolphins.
The Mauritanian coastline is a bleak and beautiful place, an empty shore littered with the occasional shipwreck or whale skeleton. Miraculously, one of the last remaining Mediterranean monk seal colonies can be found living around Cap Blanc, where there is a small nature reserve dedicated to protecting this endangered species.
Inland lies the oasis settlement of Ouadâne. Concealed by coloured sand dunes, this ghost town was once a centre for intellectual thinking and its private libraries contain thousands of ancient scholarly manuscripts. It’s also home to the crumbling remains of a 14th century mosque, which dominates this UNESCO-listed town. Nearby Chinguetti, the seventh holiest city of Islam, is also worth a visit.
Nouakchott, the capital, is hot and dusty and doesn’t have very much to recommend it besides a few French restaurants and bustling markets. The best thing to do in town is to watch local fishermen land their catch at Port de Peche, where every evening a colourful mass of people haul nets, carry fish and drag brightly painted boats out of the waves, singing songs as they go. It’s one of Mauritania’s many simple pleasures.
1,030,700 sq km (397,955 sq miles).
4,166,463 (UN estimate 2016).
Head of state:
President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz since 2009.
Head of government:
Prime Minister Yahya Ould Hademine since 2014.
220 volts AC, 50Hz. European-style plugs with two round pins are standard.
Last updated: 13 March 2017
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. ‘We’ refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
Demonstrations are generally peaceful, but some have involved clashes with police and the use of tear gas. On 3 March 2014 one person died and at least 15 were injured in Nouakchott during a demonstration over an alleged case of apostasy. You should avoid political gatherings and demonstrations and take local advice about places to avoid. Always observe instructions given by the local security forces.
Crime levels are moderate but steadily increasing. You should avoid the unlit and isolated beach at Nouakchott and ‘Le Cinquième’ district after dark. A number of thefts and violent incidents have been reported there in recent years.
Crossing the border into Mauritania can be time-consuming and officials may ask for payments before they allow you to cross. There have been reports that some southern border crossings were closed at the height of the Ebola virus outbreak in Guinea and neighbouring countries. You should check local advice before travelling.
The conditions of paved roads in Mauritania are generally poor, and overland travel is difficult. Use four wheel drive vehicles, check the tide times on coastal roads, travel in convoy and make sure you have adequate supplies of water and fuel. Driving standards can also be poor.
Sailing in the port at Nouadhibou can be dangerous because of the number of shallow shipwrecks.
There is no British Embassy in Mauritania. If you need consular assistance, you can contact the British Embassy in Rabat, Morocco or any EU accredited diplomatic representation (i.e. Embassy) in Nouakchott. Details for the French, German and Spanish Embassies are as follows:
Embassy of France in Mauritania
Telephone: +222 529 96 99
German Embassy in Mauritania
Telephone: +222 525 17 29 / +222 525 10 32
Spanish Embassy in Mauritania
Telephone: +222 529 86 50 / +222 525 20 80 / +222 525 25 79