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.