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Mauritania Travel Guide - Travel S Helper

Mauritania

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Mauritania, formally the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, is a nation in western North Africa’s Maghreb area. It is Africa’s eleventh biggest nation, bordering to the west by the Atlantic Ocean, to the north by Morocco and the remains of Western Sahara, to the northeast by Algeria, to the east and southeast by Mali, and to the southwest by Senegal.

The country takes its name from the ancient Berber Kingdom of Mauretania, which flourished in the far north of modern-day Morocco from the third to the seventh centuries BC. Because the Sahara covers around 90% of Mauritania’s area, the population is concentrated towards the south, where precipitation is slightly greater. Nouakchott, the capital and largest city, is located on the Atlantic coast and is home to roughly one-third of the country’s 3.5 million inhabitants. On August 6, 2008, the government was deposed in a military coup led by then-General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz. Aziz resigned from the military on April 16, 2009, in order to compete for president in the July 19 elections, which he won.

Approximately 20% of Mauritanians live on less than US$1.25 per day. Mauritania suffers from a number of human rights violations, including slavery, which enslaves an estimated 4% (155,600 individuals) of the country’s population against their will, primarily political opponents.

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Mauritania - Info Card

Population

4,614,974

Currency

Ouguiya (MRU)

Time zone

UTC (GMT)

Area

1,030,000 km2 (400,000 sq mi)

Calling code

+222

Official language

Arabic - French

Mauritania | Introduction

Mauritania is a desert and ocean country. It’s no surprise that the desert in the Adrar and Tagant regions (near Atar) and the ocean at Banc d’Arguin are the primary draws for most visitors (a natural reserve with dunes ending in the sea, full of millions of birds and protected by UNESCO).

Mauritania is a Muslim-majority country. Don’t be frightened of this political position unreasonably; most Mauritanians are not radicals, even though the bulk of the population in the north is conservative and restrained. The danger of abduction and eventual killing for individuals from outside the Maghreb, on the other hand, is extremely high.

The southern portion of the nation is full with nice people who are extremely hospitable, even if they are unfamiliar with visitors.

Charter flights from France to Atar are now available throughout the winter, making it simpler to visit Mauritania. Tourist information and guides are readily available. Visa cards will not function in local ATMs since Mauritania is not linked to the international financial system. In Nouakchott and Nouadhibou, there are now foreign ATMs at BNP and Societe Generale, although credit cards are accepted virtually nowhere else. In Nouakchott, changing euros, dollars, and CFA is simple.

Climate

Extremes in temperature, as well as sparse and unpredictable rainfall, define the climate. Although annual temperature changes are minor, diurnal variations may be dramatic. During the lengthy dry season, the harmattan, a hot, dry, and sometimes dusty wind, comes from the Sahara and is the predominant wind, except near the short coastal strip, which is affected by oceanic trade winds. The majority of rain occurs during the brief rainy season (hivernage), which runs from July to September, and average annual precipitation ranges from 500 to 600 millimetres in the extreme south to less than 100 millimetres in the northern two-thirds.

Geography

Mauritania is the world’s 29th biggest nation, covering 1,030,000 square kilometers (397,685 square miles), 90 percent of which is desert (after Bolivia). It is about the same size as Egypt. It mainly lies between latitudes 14° and 26°N, and longitudes 5° and 17°W (with a few exceptions east of 5° and west of 17°).

The vast desert plains of Mauritania are broken up by occasional hills and cliff-like outcroppings. These plains in the middle of the nation are bisected longitudinally by a series of scarps that face south-west. The scarps also divide a succession of sandstone plateaus, the tallest of which, at 500 meters, is the Adrar Plateau (1,640 ft). Some of the scarps have spring-fed oases at their base.

Isolated peaks rise above the plateaus, typically rich in minerals; the lesser peaks are known as guelbs, and the bigger ones as kedias. A notable feature of the north-central area is the concentric Guelb er Richat (also known as the Richat Structure). The tallest mountain, Kediet ej Jill, is located near the city of Zouîrât and stands at 915 meters (3,002 feet).

Mauritania is desert or semi-desert for around three-quarters of the country. Since the mid-1960s, the desert has been spreading as a consequence of prolonged, severe drought. Between the coast and the plateaus, to the west, there are alternating regions of clayey plains (regs) and sand dunes (ergs), some of which change from place to place when strong winds move them. The size and movement of the dunes tend to grow as you go north.

Demographics

In 2013, the population of Mauritania was estimated to be 3,537,368 people.

Bidhans, Haratins, and West Africans are the three major ethnic groups in the area. The Bidhan, or Moors, make up about a third of the population. They are mainly of Sahrawi Berber ancestry and speak Hassaniya Arabic. The Haratin account for around 40% of the population. They are descended from former slaves and speak Arabic as well. The remaining 30% of the population is made up of of people of West African ancestry from different ethnic groupings. The Niger-Congo-speaking Halpulaar (Fulbe), Soninke, Bamara, and Wolof are among them.

Religion

Mauritania is almost entirely Muslim, with the majority of the population belonging to the Sunni faith. The Tijaniyah, a minority Sufi brotherhood, has had significant impact not just in the nation but also in Senegal and Morocco. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Nouakchott, established in 1965, serves Mauritania’s 4,500 Catholics. In Mauritania, freedom of religion and belief is severely restricted; it is one of thirteen nations in the world that punishes atheism with death.

Language

The official language is Arabic. The majority of Moors speak Hassaniya Arabic, while black Africans in the south speak Pulaar, Wolof, and Soninke, among other languages (especially in the Guidimakha region around Selibaby). Many people still speak French. This is particularly true in the vicinity of towns. Individuals in the countryside may speak a variety of languages, but not French.

When entering a cab, workplace, or welcoming someone, it is customary to say Salaam aleikum. For most of the languages spoken in the area, it is the initial greeting.

Internet & Communications

Mattel (great English website), Mauritel Mobiles, and Chinguitel are the three GSM network providers. For three of them, prepaid plans are available. GSM-World can provide further information about coverage and roaming.

Satellite phones are an excellent option for excursions into the desert where there is no GSM network. Thuraya, Iridium, and Inmarsat are among the service providers. Thuraya is usually the cheapest and most straightforward to operate. The equipment may be rented as well.

Internet cafés with DSL internet are available for MRO200-300/h in Nouakchott and Nouadhibou. Slower connections afflict “cybercafés” throughout the nation, although email may still be checked.

Entry Requirements For Mauritania

Visa & Passport

To enter, citizens of all Western countries need a visa. West African passport holders do not need a visa.

Mauritania visas for 0-30 days are available on arrival for 120 Euros as of August 2015. Overland travelers may get them in Rabat, for example, where a single entrance visa costs 1000 MAD. For 1100 MAD, a double-entry visa is also available. Two passport-size photographs, as well as a copy of your passport’s information pages, are needed. For most nations, visas are available the same day in the afternoon if applied for in the morning.

In Mauritania, immunizations are not needed for the majority of the population. Only those traveling from areas where yellow fever is prevalent are needed to provide proof of immunization.

How To Travel To Mauritania

Get In - By plane

Mauritanian Airlines, travels to Bamako, Dakar, Abidjan, and Nouadhibou from Nouakchott International Airport (IATA: NKC). It also gets Air Algérie and Air France flights from Algiers and Paris, respectively. Tunisair, Senegul Airlines, Turkish Airlines, Royal Air Maroc, and CanaryFly all have flights to Tunis, Senegal Airlines to Dakar, Turkish Airlines to Istanbul, Royal Air Maroc to Casablanca, and CanaryFly to Gran Canaria.

Get In - By car

Western Sahara, Mali, and Senegal all have open road borders with Mauritania. These borders are accessible by private automobile or bicycle, although the first two are very hazardous.

Near Nouadhibou, the route from the Western Sahara to Morocco enters the country. The route is paved all the way to the Moroccan border station in Fort Guerguarat, where a 7-kilometer stretch of winding, rocky, but straight pistes leads to the Mauritanian border, where the tarred road resumes. Despite the ease of driving, caution should be used while leaving the well-worn pistes between the two border stations, since the region is a minefield. Once you reach the tar on the Mauritanian side, the risk remains, and the region is not considered mine-free until you cross the railway line.

The procedures for crossing the border are simple. Transit visas, which are good for three days, are no longer available at the border, but this may change in the future. At the border, there is a bureau de change, a car insurance agency, and a slew of optimistic guides for the ancient desert crossing down to the capital.

From Mali, there are several pistes that go over the Mauritanian border. These used to be the de facto route between the two nations, but a new tar road now connects Mali’s Nara and Mauritania’s Ayoun al Atrous. Mali’s border procedures are performed at different locations around Nara town (local children will lead you to the police or customs for a small present). At a series of roadblocks along the border route, Mauritanian procedures are completed.

Traveling southeast from Néma, which is at the end of a decent paved road from Nouakchott, is an alternate land route that travels straight from Mauritania to Timbuktu, Mali. This dirt road continues to Bassekounou before crossing the border into Mali at Léré, where it improves to a decent dirt road that leads to Niafunké and Timbuktu.

Get In - By bus/bush taxi

  • From Morocco: Supratours operates a nightly bus from Guerguerat to the French border. For MAD150, it leaves from Dakhla’s seafront at 23:59 and arrives at the border at 05:30. From Dakhla to Nouakchott, CTM (Morocco’s national bus operator) plans to operate services. Hitchhiking with overlanders from Dakhla (most may be picked up at Camping Moussafir just north of Dakhla) or the Mauritanian embassy in Rabat, or paying for passage with Mauritanian merchants are the only ways to get there right now. These may be located north of Dakhla, near the first police checkpoint; the going cost is now 250-380Dhs (negotiable). The trip should be begun early since it takes the whole day, and the border crossing is closed overnight. Hotel Sahara can provide you cars with competent drivers (the budget one). This will set you back approximately 250 Dhs each person.
  • To Morocco: From hotels in Nouadhibou, cars with drivers may be hired to cross the minefield from Mauritania to Western Sahara.
  • From Senegal: Bush taxis are available from Dakar (XOF6,000) and St Louis (XOF2,000) to Rosso, where a ferry crosses the Senegal river, and additional bush taxis are available to Nouakchott (about MRO2,000). Be wary of bush taxis that offer bargains that seem to be too good to be true. They may be illegal taxis, and they could be a hazardous mode of transportation. There will very certainly be a large number of drivers in line. Find out what the going fee is by asking around. The Diama dam, approximately north of St Louis, is another crossing point from Senegal; public transportation is available on this route.
  • From Mali: Every day, pickup trucks depart Kayes for Selibaby. It is also feasible to enter at Nema and at many locations along the southern border.

How To Travel Around Mauritania

Get Around - By train

In Mauritania, there is just one railway line that connects Nouadhibou, Choum, and Zouerat, yet it is a tourist destination in and of itself. Although many claim it to be the world’s longest train, with over 150 carriages and a length of over 2 kilometers, it is most definitely not. It transports iron ore from the Zouerat mine to the Nouadhibou port.

The train leaves Nouadhibou about 15:00 every day and arrives in Choum (for Atar) around 02:00 the following morning. When you arrive, double-check the departure timings.

There is just one passenger car in Mauritania, although iron ore hopper transport is also available (and advisable, as the passenger car is usually overcrowded and tickets are required). There is also first-class seating, which provides access to a smaller room with bunk beds. First-class tickets are restricted. It does not, however, guarantee greater comfort. The cost of a second-class ticket in the passenger car is 1,500 ouguiya, and hopper riding is free. Because there is a lot of dust, bring a scarf to protect your face.

With a bush taxi, you can travel to Atar from Choum. If the car breaks down, the trip may take up to eight hours.

Destinations in Mauritania

Regions in Mauritania

Coastal Mauritania is a small stretch of land with a smashing Atlantic shoreline and the capital city of Mauritania.

In the south, the Sahelian Mauritania semi-arid area includes the patchily green Senegal River basin.

Saharan Mauritania has a vast northern desert region that is mostly desert.

Cities in Mauritania

  • Nouakchott – the capital of Mauritania.
  • Atar
  • Chinguetti
  • Nouadhibou, large fishing centre and industrial harbour.
  • Tichit

Accommodation & Hotels in Mauritania

Accommodation is accessible in all price levels, with the highest-end hotels available exclusively in Nouakchott and Atar. In the Adrar and Nouadhibou, “Auberges” and Campsites rent beds/mattresses for as low as 1500 ouguiya.

In the remainder of the nation, there is typically at least one hotel in the provincial capitals, but they may be pricey for what you receive. Make friends with a local and ask to stay with their family if at all feasible. You’ll probably have a nice and memorable stay if you don’t mind sleeping on a foam pad on the ground, sleeping/eating among animals, or using a toilet.

Things To See in Mauritania

The Adrar massif in the north has some of the most beautiful desert landscapes in the world. Explore the beautiful, secret oasis that have given water and shelter to merchants traversing the Sahara for ages by driving off-piste over rugged terrain and into tight valleys. Two of the country’s most beautiful historical cities are found in the Adrar. The architecture of Chinguetti, which was once a trade center and a center of Islamic learning, has remained almost unaltered for over a century. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, together with Ouadane and a few other tiny villages. Don’t forget to get a peek of the world’s longest railway or board an iron ore car packed with Mauritanians for the 12-hour trip from Adrar to the shore. The Adrar is also known for its rock art and the ruins of the Almoravid city Azoughui.

The Parc National du Banc d’Arguin, which covers most of the central coast, is home to millions of migratory birds each year. At Nouamgar, you may see the incredible sight of local tribesmen communicating with dolphins to herd groups of fish into shallow seas to be caught.

In the 13th and 14th centuries, the oasis city of Oualata in the southeast served as the southern terminus of most trans-Sahara trade routes. The city is full with brightly colored structures, many of which have complex geometric patterns. The city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and there is a manuscript museum with specimens of exquisite handwriting on old scrolls.

Food & Drinks in Mauritania

In Nouakchott, there is a good selection of restaurants with meals ranging from 1,000 to 2,500 ouguiya. The menus at most restaurants in the capital are similar: basic pizzas, hamburgers, sandwiches, and salads. The route leading from the Stade Olympique to the French Embassy is lined with eateries. Pizza Lina, Café Liban, and Le Petit Café are all excellent choices. On the opposite side of the stadium, the Sahara Café serves pizza, sandwiches, and Lebanese specialties and has some of the finest fairly priced cuisine in town. A strip of sandwich shops near Marche Capitale offers almost similar menus, the finest of which is the Prince (which taxi drivers know by name).

A hamburger can be found at Atar, which is outside of Nouakchott. Otherwise, native meals are available: in the south, fish and rice (chebujin), and in the north, rice and beef or couscous. Hole-in-the-wall eateries abound, with meals ranging from MRO200 to MRO500. Grilled sheep, or mechui, is likewise excellent but a bit more costly. Keep an eye out for corpses hanging from the side of the road. Fruit is available in most regional capitals. It’s worth noting that most eateries outside of Nouakchott don’t have particularly good sanitation standards. Because most little restaurants close after a few years of starting, asking locals for directions to whatever is nearby is your best chance in attempting to locate one in a provincial capital. In the absence of a restaurant, another option is to hire a family to cook meals for you, which should be reasonably cheap (less than MRO1,500), even if it takes some time (up to a couple hours to buy the food and prepare it).

Bottled water costs MRO200 and is an excellent idea for anybody unfamiliar with Africa.

If none of this appeals to you, bear in mind that boutiques offer bread, cakes, biscuits, and beverages, among other things.

Tea is traditionally offered after a meal, although it is not featured on restaurant menus. It is rude to refuse tea at someone’s house until at least the second (of three) cups have been served. It takes approximately an hour to complete the procedure.

Despite being an Islamic nation, the city has a few entertaining pubs. Drinking may be costly; a drink can cost up to USD6. Within the grounds of the French Embassy lies a nightclub. Try the Salamander or the trashy (but open late) Club VIP for non-French. The Casablanca, just next door to VIP, is a more low-key pub featuring live music on weekends. It is important to note that importing alcohol is prohibited!

Money & Shopping in Mauritania

Souvenirs may be purchased at Nouakchott’s Marche Capital and Marche Sixieme, as well as tourist stores in the Adrar. Although the fabric will be sold in shops throughout the nation, Kaedi is known for its tie-dying.

In general, the quality of most Mauritanian souvenirs falls short of expectations. Leather goods, pipes, hardwood bowls, tea pots, and silver jewelry are among the items available (be careful with the quality of jewellery). Fabric, on the other hand, is hand-dyed and may be very lovely. Fabric will be offered as a mulafa (veil), which is typically gauzy and comes in one piece, or as boubou fabric, which comes in two parts for a skirt and top. Cloth may be purchased for anywhere from MRO1,500 and MRO8,000, depending on the quality of the fabric and the amount of labor required.

Always negotiate when purchasing anything in Mauritania. The beginning price is sometimes three times the final amount. Maintain a pleasant demeanor, but don’t be concerned about offending anybody by requesting a lesser price.

Traditions & Customs in Mauritania

Learn how to say Salaam alaykum and use it to welcome others. If you’re a man, don’t attempt to shake hands with a woman, and if you’re a woman, don’t try to shake hands with a guy (note that some African women may shake a man’s hand, but it’s better not to try to start contact, simply follow their lead). You may, however, greet each other by placing your hand over your heart.

Outside of Nouakchott, where you may not be given silverware, be cautious to eat with your right hand. The left hand is designated for the restroom, as it is in other parts of the Arab world. If you’re left-handed, give it your all.

It is not necessary to cover your head, although it is considered courteous. It may reduce the inquiry “Madame, ou bien Mademoiselle?” but Westerners, particularly women, may face unwelcome scrutiny and mild harassment across the nation. Be warned, though, that many Mauritanians, both men and women, mistake direct stare for a sexual invitation. There’s even a Hassiniya term, ayna m’tina, which means “strong eyes,” to characterize what many consider to be an aggressive behavior. However, just because you’re in a foreign nation doesn’t give the guys carte blanche to be jerks. Calling someone out on their poor behavior, or pointing it out to the onlookers, may frequently be effective. You may demand respect if you offer it. Even though they push you to see how far they can go, the Moors admire women who stand up for themselves.

Avoid touching in public if you’re traveling with someone of the opposing sex. Two guys holding hands is really far more frequent than a woman and a man. When it comes to clothing, the more flesh you expose, the more unwanted attention you’ll get. Women may wear pants in Nouakchott, but tank tops and knee-length skirts are not permitted. For ladies, long skirts are the ideal option. It’s also a good idea to keep your arms covered. Trousers expose the crotch region, which may be upsetting to those in the countryside who aren’t as accustomed to seeing this as city dwellers. The majority of people will be courteous, and you will have no idea what they are thinking.

There is never a non-sexual reason for a woman to go out in private with a guy. Don’t go inside an office, the rear of a store, or anyplace else if they ask you to. The guys are well aware that such a request is ridiculous, and no one would ask you for a private conversation unless they really cared. If you let yourself be alone with a guy for even a short period of time, everyone will think you had sex and evaluate you accordingly. As a knucklehead, not as a scumbag.

If you are a lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender tourist, do not attempt to open up about your sexuality to any Mauritanian. They will retaliate vehemently. Also, do not engage in any public actions that might suggest that you are LGBT: Mauritania has a death penalty for homosexuality.

Nasrani, Toubac, and Toubab all refer to white people. This is the moniker that little kids, and sometimes nasty adults, will call you. Nasrani refers to someone from Nazareth. Christians are all honorary Nazarenes since they follow Christ’s teachings and because Christ is from Nazareth.

Be wary of individuals who attempt to take advantage of your politeness to try to sell you anything. Be careful that nearly everyone who attempts to befriend you in a market area is attempting to sell you something at a high price. If you refuse to look at their souvenir store, they may attempt a variety of tactics to persuade you to purchase from them (including “offering them to you as a present”). Some may even accuse you of not loving Africans if you refuse to look at their business. If someone is bothering you beyond reasonable bounds, it is not rude to tell them flatly that you are not interested. If they ask for something you have, just claim you don’t have it right now and will be able to offer it to them in a month or two.

Stay Safe & Healthy in Mauritania

Stay Safe in Mauritania

The region surrounding the Western Sahara is severely mined, and it is not recommended to go across it. Banditry is well-known along Algeria’s and Mali’s border regions. The only paved road leading from Morocco is particularly hazardous, since it has recently been the location of Al Qaida kidnappings. If you must travel this route, do it in a tightly packed caravan. In other situations, it’s best not to flaunt one’s riches or costly goods. Mauritania may seem intimidating, but with a little preparation and common sense, you can have a nice vacation.

Check the travel warnings issued by your embassy or consulate. Most Western countries urge extreme care due to an increase in the frequency of assaults against Westerners in recent years. Expats living in the United States travel between cities throughout the day, in groups, and on main routes.

Stay Healthy in Mauritania

The native water in any region of the nation (including Nouakchott) is unsafe to drink for the majority of Westerners. If they don’t have access to a water purification or filtration system, visitors should only consume bottled water. The climate in the Sahara is very arid. You may quickly get dehydrated without realizing it. The best rule of thumb is to make sure you’ve urinated three times each day, at regular intervals. This may involve drinking several litres of water each day during the warmest months of the year.

Malaria is prevalent in the country’s south, therefore tourists should always wear a mosquito net while visiting. Mosquitoes are less frequent in the arid deserts in the north of the nation, but they are present all year in the south, although in lower numbers during the dry season (December-May).

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