Mauritania travel guide
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).
3.5 per sq km.
President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz since 2009.
Prime Minister Yahya Ould Hademine since 2014.
Last updated: 19 February 2018
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.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all travel to:
- the province of Tiris Zemmour (except the town of Zouérat)
- the province of Adrar (east of Atar)
- the provinces of Tagant, Hodh el Chargui, Hodh El Gharbi, Assaba and Guidimaka
- within 25km of the Western Sahara border (except the Noukchott - Nouadhibou corridor)
The FCO advise against all but essential travel to the rest of the country, including the Nouakchott - Nouadhibou corridor.
Terrorists are likely to try to carry out attacks in Mauritania, including kidnapping. You should be especially vigilant in public places and monitor local media. Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places visited by foreigners.
Demonstrations have taken place in the capital Nouakchott. Some have involved clashes between police and demonstrators resulting in the use of tear gas. You should avoid all demonstrations.
If you need consular assistance while you are in Mauritania, contact the British Embassy in Rabat or any EU Embassy in Nouakchott.
Safety and security
Demonstrations are generally peaceful, but some have involved clashes with police and the use of tear gas. 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.
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
Terrorists are likely to try to carry out attacks in Mauritania, including kidnapping. Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places visited by foreigners.
The porous nature of borders in the Sahel region - of which Mauritania is a part - means terrorist groups are able to operate across borders and carry out attacks anywhere in the region.
As seen in Mali, Cote d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso, terrorist groups continue to mount attacks on beach resorts, hotels, cafes and restaurants visited by foreigners. Be especially vigilant in these locations.
The main threat comes from groups associated with Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeer (JNIM). JNIM formed in March 2017 following the merger of Al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, Ansar-al-Dine and al-Murabitun. These groups remain intent on demonstrating capability and increasing influence across the wider region. Read more about the threat from terrorism in the Sahel region.
There’s a high threat of kidnap throughout Mauritania from these terrorist groups. Although 2 foreign victims were released in May and August 2017 after years in captivity, several foreign hostages are still held by factions of JNIM in the Sahel.
Victims in the region have included construction workers, humanitarian workers, tourists and diplomats, often people travelling under tight security arrangements. If you’re kidnapped, the reason for your presence is unlikely to serve as a protection or secure your safe release.
JNIM operates directly or through criminal gangs who carry out kidnappings on their behalf or pass on their kidnap victims in return for payment. The long-standing policy of the British government is not to make substantive concessions to hostage-takers. The British government considers that paying ransoms and releasing prisoners increases the risk of further hostage-taking. The Terrorism Act (2000) also makes payments to terrorists illegal.
When travelling in Mauritania you should take sensible safety precautions. Keep a low profile and maintain a high level of vigilance, particularly in public places and where there are large gatherings of people.
There is a heightened threat of terrorist attack globally against UK interests and British nationals, from groups or individuals motivated by the conflict in Iraq and Syria. You should be vigilant at this time.
Find out more about the global threat from terrorism, how to minimise your risk and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack.
Local laws and customs
Local laws reflect the fact that Mauritania is an Islamic country. You should respect local traditions, customs, laws and religions at all times and be aware of your actions to ensure that they do not offend other cultures or religious beliefs, especially during the holy month of Ramadan or if you intend to visit religious areas.
There have been incidences of visitors receiving large fines at the airport and having their passports confiscated for trying to import pork products such as chorizo, ham and bacon.
In 2018, the holy month of Ramadan is expected to start on 15 May and finish on 14 June.
You should dress modestly. Sale and consumption of alcohol is against the law. Police sometimes object to photography without prior permission.
Carry ID, especially when travelling outside Nouakchott (where you may encounter many police road checks). You should comply promptly with directions from the police and other Mauritanian security forces.
Homosexuality is a punishable offence in Mauritania. See our information and advice page for the LGBT community before you travel.
Drugs laws are severe. Those found in the possession of any illegal drug may receive a prison sentence.
The information on this page covers the most common types of travel and reflects the UK government’s understanding of the rules currently in place. Unless otherwise stated, this information is for travellers using a full ‘British Citizen’ passport.
The authorities in the country or territory you’re travelling to are responsible for setting and enforcing the rules for entry. If you’re unclear about any aspect of the entry requirements, or you need further reassurance, you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.
You should also consider checking with your transport provider or travel company to make sure your passport and other travel documents meet their requirements.
You need a visa to enter Mauritania. Check visa requirements with the Mauritanian Embassy in London before you travel. The Mauritanian Embassy is located at 235-237 Vauxhall Bridge Road, Victoria, London, SW1V 1EJ, Telephone: 020 7233 6158.
You may be able to get a visa on arrival. The current cost is €55 (euros) in cash only. The visa issuing process at the border can take several hours.
Your passport should be valid for a minimum period of three months from the date of entry into Mauritania.
Yellow fever certificate requirements
Check whether you need a yellow fever certificate by visiting the National Travel Health Network and Centre’s TravelHealthPro website.
UK Emergency Travel Documents
UK ETDs are accepted for entry, airside transit and exit from Mauritania. A valid entry visa would still be required for entry to Mauritania using an ETD.
Visit your health professional at least 4 to 6 weeks before your trip to check whether you need any vaccinations or other preventive measures. Country specific information and advice is published by the National Travel Health Network and Centre on the TravelHealthPro website and by NHS (Scotland) on the fitfortravel website. Useful information and advice about healthcare abroad is also available on the NHS Choices website.
Medical facilities are extremely limited, particularly outside Nouakchott and Nouadhibou, where lack of communications makes dealing with an emergency very difficult. Clinics in Nouakchott and Nouadhibou charge for medical care (sometimes in euros or US dollars), and may not accept foreign insurance cards. Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad and repatriation.
The weather can be very hot and dry. Fluid intake should be kept high, making sure enough salts are included.
Local currency (Ouguiya) is not convertible and can’t be exported. US dollars and euros can be changed for Ouguiyas at banks, some hotels and official bureaux de change. The sterling rate is very poor. Credit cards can be used at a few hotels in Nouakchott and Nouadhibou; some hotels only accept Visa cards. Some ATMs accept foreign credit or debit cards.
Travel advice help and support
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission. If you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad, contact the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in London on 020 7008 1500 (24 hours).
Foreign travel checklist
Read our foreign travel checklist to help you plan for your trip abroad and stay safe while you’re there.
The FCO travel advice helps you make your own decisions about foreign travel. Your safety is our main concern, but we can’t provide tailored advice for individual trips. If you’re concerned about whether or not it’s safe for you to travel, you should read the travel advice for the country or territory you’re travelling to, together with information from other sources you’ve identified, before making your own decision on whether to travel. Only you can decide whether it’s safe for you to travel.
When we judge the level of risk to British nationals in a particular place has become unacceptably high, we’ll state on the travel advice page for that country or territory that we advise against all or all but essential travel. Read more about how the FCO assesses and categorises risk in foreign travel advice.
Our crisis overseas page suggests additional things you can do before and during foreign travel to help you stay safe.
Refunds and cancellations
If you wish to cancel or change a holiday that you’ve booked, you should contact your travel company. The question of refunds and cancellations is a matter for you and your travel company. Travel companies make their own decisions about whether or not to offer customers a refund. Many of them use our travel advice to help them reach these decisions, but we do not instruct travel companies on when they can or can’t offer a refund to their customers.
For more information about your rights if you wish to cancel a holiday, visit the Citizen’s Advice Bureau website. For help resolving problems with a flight booking, visit the website of the Civil Aviation Authority. For questions about travel insurance, contact your insurance provider and if you’re not happy with their response, you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
Registering your travel details with us
We’re no longer asking people to register with us before travel. Our foreign travel checklist and crisis overseas page suggest things you can do before and during foreign travel to plan your trip and stay safe.
Previous versions of FCO travel advice
If you’re a British national and you have a question about travelling abroad that isn’t covered in our foreign travel advice or elsewhere on GOV.UK, you can submit an enquiry. We’re not able to provide tailored advice for specific trips.