Hidden Treasures of Mauritania: 5 Must-Visit Gems
If you’re up for an off-the-beaten-path adventure, Mauritania is calling your name! This West African gem is a playground for intrepid travelers seeking a blend of ancient culture and breathtaking landscapes. Let’s dive into the 5 best places to explore in Mauritania, complete with personal experiences and hidden gems.
Map of Mauritania
Map Showing Mauritania Location in Africa
Countries Bordering Mauritania
Mauritania is bounded to the northwest by Western Sahara (formerly the Spanish Sahara), to the northeast by Algeria, to the east and southeast by Mali, to the southwest by Senegal and to the west by the North Atlantic Ocean,
Nouakchott is the capital city of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania. The population of Mauritania in 2023 is estimated around 4.9 million people.
Our Top 5 Best Places to Visit in Mauritania
1. Chinguetti – Where Time Stands Still
Imagine wandering through labyrinthine streets of golden sandstone, adorned with centuries-old libraries. Chinguetti’s ancient charm is like stepping into a history book. I had the privilege of sipping mint tea in a local’s courtyard, exchanging stories about this desert haven.
The Chinguetti Mosque is a true masterpiece, where minarets seem to touch the sky. Don’t miss the chance to catch sunrise over the dunes – it’s pure magic.
2. Terjit Oasis – Nature’s Oasis Retreat
After traversing the desert, stumbling upon the Terjit Oasis felt like discovering a mirage turned reality. The emerald palms swaying against the azure sky were a sight for sore eyes.
The best part? Taking a refreshing dip in the natural pools, cooled by the underground springs. As the sun dipped below the horizon, we set up camp under a star-studded sky, trading stories around a crackling fire.
3. Atar – Unraveling Mysteries of the Adrar
Atar, the gateway to the Adrar Plateau, felt like stepping into another world. The local market buzzed with vibrant energy, and I relished sampling juicy dates and bargaining for intricate crafts.
The highlight? A thrilling 4×4 ride into the Adrar mountains. The ancient rock art told stories of generations past, and the sunset painted the landscape in hues that words can’t capture.
4. Nouakchott – Urban Pulse and Coastal Bliss
The capital, Nouakchott, offered a blend of modern life and traditional charm. Breakfast at a local cafe was a feast of fresh bread, aromatic tea, and flavorful sauces.
As the day unfolded, the Port de Peche fish market provided an authentic glimpse into local life.
And as the sun set, we savored sundowners by the coast, watching the waves kiss the horizon.
5. Sahara Desert – Dunes, Dreams, and Delight
Our Sahara adventure began with camel treks into the Great Sand Sea. As the sun set behind the towering dunes, we pitched tents under the starlit sky. Sunrise was like a symphony of colors, casting a golden glow over the landscape.
Don’t miss the Richat Structure – the Eye of the Sahara – the Eye of Africa – the lost city of Atlantis..?
And let’s not forget the thrill of sandboarding down the dunes – an experience that left us laughing and covered in sand.
Did we mention the food? EAT!
Mauritanian cuisine is a delightful blend of flavors influenced by the country’s diverse cultural heritage. One cannot explore this West African nation without savoring the delicious local dishes.
At the heart of Mauritanian meals is the communal experience of sharing and enjoying food with friends and family. One must-try dish is “thieboudienne,” a flavorful fish and rice dish cooked with vegetables and spices. You’ll also find “couscous” served with richly flavored stews, often prepared with lamb or goat.
Don’t forget to indulge in “boulet,” a popular street food made of fried dough balls, and satisfy your sweet tooth with “baked goods” infused with local flavors like honey and nuts.
Mauritania’s cuisine is a delectable journey that complements the country’s rich culture and landscapes.
Essential Things to Know Before Traveling to Mauritania:
Essential Things to Know Before Traveling to Mauritania
- Visa Requirements: Check the visa requirements for Mauritania based on your nationality. Most travelers need a visa to enter, so plan and apply in advance.
- Health Precautions: Consult your healthcare provider for necessary vaccinations, including yellow fever and malaria prophylaxis. Ensure you have essential medications and travel insurance.
- Currency: The currency in Mauritania is the Ouguiya (MRO), and cash is the preferred payment method. International credit cards may not be widely accepted, so carry enough local currency.
- Language: Arabic is the official language, but French is commonly spoken. Learning some basic Arabic phrases can be helpful.
- Safety: While Mauritania is generally safe, especially in urban areas, be cautious when traveling in remote regions and the desert. Keep your belongings secure and avoid displaying valuable items.
- Weather: Mauritania has an extreme desert climate, with hot days and cool nights. Pack lightweight, breathable clothing, sunscreen, and a hat for sun protection. In cooler months, bring layers for the evenings.
- Local Customs: Respect local customs and traditions. Dress modestly, especially in rural areas, and ask for permission before taking photos of people.
- Food and Water: Avoid tap water and ice in drinks. Stick to bottled water and eat at reputable restaurants to reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses.
- Travel Insurance: It’s crucial to have comprehensive travel insurance that covers medical emergencies, trip cancellations, and unexpected events.
- Transport: Domestic travel in Mauritania often relies on shared taxis and public buses. Inter-city travel can be long, so plan accordingly. Book inter-city flights well in advance if needed.
- Cultural Sensitivity: Mauritania is predominantly Muslim, and observing Islamic customs is essential. During Ramadan, be respectful by not eating, drinking, or smoking in public during daylight hours.
- Local Markets: Bargaining is common in local markets. Be prepared to negotiate prices when shopping for souvenirs and goods.
- Internet and Communication: Internet access may be limited in rural areas. Purchase a local SIM card for reliable mobile communication.
- Electricity: Mauritania uses European-style Type C and Type E power outlets, with a standard voltage of 220V and a frequency of 50Hz. Bring suitable adapters if necessary.
- Time Zone: Mauritania follows Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), and there is no daylight saving time adjustment.
By being well-prepared and respectful of local customs, you can have a rewarding and safe travel experience in Mauritania, exploring its unique culture and breathtaking landscapes.
How to Get to Mauritania
Getting to Mauritania typically involves international flights and may require transits or layovers. Here are the essential steps to get to Mauritania:
1. Obtain a Visa: Check the visa requirements for Mauritania based on your nationality. Most travelers need a visa to enter the country. Apply for a visa well in advance at the Mauritanian embassy or consulate in your home country.
2. Choose Your Airport: Mauritania has several airports, but the primary international gateway is Nouakchott-Oumtounsy International Airport (NKC), located in the capital city, Nouakchott. Ensure your flights arrive at NKC unless you plan to enter overland from a neighboring country.
3. Find International Flights:
- Search for international flights to Nouakchott from your home country or a nearby major hub. Common layover cities include Paris, Casablanca, and Istanbul.
- Compare airlines and flight options to find the most convenient and cost-effective route.
4. Book Your Flight:
- Once you’ve chosen your flights, book your tickets online through the airline’s website or a trusted booking platform.
- Consider travel insurance that covers trip cancellations and medical emergencies.
5. Prepare Required Documents:
- Ensure you have your passport with a valid visa, return ticket, and any necessary travel documents.
6. Health Preparations:
- Consult a healthcare provider for required vaccinations and health precautions. Yellow fever and malaria prophylaxis are often recommended.
- Carry essential medications and a basic first-aid kit.
7. Arrange Ground Transportation:
- Upon arrival at Nouakchott-Oumtounsy International Airport, arrange for transportation to your accommodation in Nouakchott. Many hotels offer airport transfers.
8. Currency Exchange:
- Exchange some currency into Mauritanian Ouguiyas (MRO) at the airport or local banks to cover initial expenses.
9. Travel Insurance:
- Consider purchasing travel insurance that covers medical emergencies, trip cancellations, and unexpected events during your stay in Mauritania.
10. Respect Local Customs:
- Familiarize yourself with local customs and dress modestly, especially in rural areas.
- Be respectful of Islamic traditions and cultural norms, especially during Ramadan.
11. Arrival Procedures:
- Complete immigration and customs procedures upon arrival in Nouakchott.
- Keep all travel documents, including your visa and passport, readily accessible.
By following these steps and planning your journey in advance, you can reach Mauritania and embark on your exciting adventure in this unique West African country.
How to Get Around Mauritania
Getting around Mauritania can be an adventure in itself, as the country offers various modes of transportation suitable for different types of travelers. Here’s how to get around Mauritania:
1. Shared Taxis:
- Shared taxis, known locally as “bâchés” or “taxi brousse,” are a common and affordable mode of transport between cities and towns. These are usually old Peugeot 504s or 505s with extended roofs to accommodate more passengers.
- Be prepared for a tight squeeze and potentially long journeys, as shared taxis only depart when full.
2. Private Taxis:
- In urban areas like Nouakchott, you can find regular metered taxis. Negotiate fares in advance, as they may not always use meters.
- Intercity buses are available for longer journeys, offering more comfort than shared taxis. They are a good option for travelers on a budget.
- Bus schedules and routes can be erratic, so check in advance.
4. Rental Cars:
- Renting a car can provide flexibility and convenience for exploring Mauritania, especially if you plan to visit remote areas. Major cities have rental agencies, and international driving licenses may be required.
- Be aware of the condition of roads and ensure your vehicle is suitable for off-road driving if you plan to venture into desert regions.
5. Domestic Flights:
- If you need to cover long distances quickly, consider domestic flights. Mauritania has several airports, and flights connect major cities and towns.
- Ensure you book domestic flights in advance, as availability can be limited.
6. Camels and Desert Transport:
- In desert regions like Adrar, camels are still used as a traditional mode of transportation. You can arrange camel treks with local guides to explore the stunning desert landscapes.
- Additionally, 4×4 vehicles are often used for desert excursions and can be hired with experienced drivers.
- Ferries operate on the Senegal River, connecting Rosso in Mauritania to Rosso in Senegal. This is a unique way to cross the border between the two countries.
8. Walking and Bicycles:
- In urban areas and smaller towns, walking and bicycle rentals can be a convenient way to explore. Just be mindful of the weather, as Mauritania can get very hot.
- While not recommended for solo travelers or those unfamiliar with the country, some adventurous travelers have had success hitchhiking in Mauritania. Always exercise caution and prioritize safety.
10. Guided Tours:
- For those seeking a guided experience, consider booking tours with reputable tour operators. They can arrange transportation, accommodations, and activities tailored to your interests.
Mauritania’s transportation options vary in comfort and convenience, so choose the mode that best suits your travel style and itinerary. Be prepared for some rustic and adventurous journeys, especially when exploring the remote and beautiful desert landscapes.
FAQ – Our Top 5 Best Places to Visit in Mauritania and Traveling to Mauritania in General
Traveling to Mauritania: Frequently Asked Questions
1. Is Mauritania safe for travelers?
- Mauritania is generally safe for travelers, especially in urban areas. However, travelers should exercise caution when traveling to remote regions and the desert. Be aware of potential security risks and follow travel advisories from your government.
2. What is the best time to visit Mauritania?
- The best time to visit Mauritania is during the cooler months from November to February. The weather is more pleasant for outdoor activities and exploring the desert. Avoid visiting during the scorching hot summer months.
3. Do I need a visa to enter Mauritania?
- Most travelers need a visa to enter Mauritania. Check the visa requirements based on your nationality and apply in advance at the Mauritanian embassy or consulate in your home country.
4. What vaccinations do I need before traveling to Mauritania?
- Consult your healthcare provider for recommended vaccinations, including yellow fever and malaria prophylaxis. Ensure you have proof of yellow fever vaccination for entry.
5. What is the currency in Mauritania, and can I use credit cards?
- The currency in Mauritania is the Mauritanian Ouguiya (MRO). While credit cards are accepted in some hotels and larger establishments in urban areas, it’s advisable to carry cash, as credit card acceptance can be limited.
6. Is it safe to drink tap water in Mauritania?
- It’s not recommended to drink tap water in Mauritania. Stick to bottled water, and be cautious when consuming ice in drinks or eating raw vegetables washed in tap water.
7. What languages are spoken in Mauritania?
- Arabic is the official language, and French is also commonly spoken, especially in urban areas.
8. How can I get around Mauritania?
- Transportation in Mauritania includes shared taxis, private taxis, buses, rental cars, domestic flights, and desert transport options like camels and 4×4 vehicles. Choose the mode that suits your travel plans and comfort level.
9. What should I wear in Mauritania?
- Dress modestly, especially in rural areas. Lightweight, breathable clothing is ideal for the hot climate. Women should cover their shoulders and knees, and it’s customary to remove your shoes before entering someone’s home.
10. Are there any cultural customs I should be aware of?
– Respect local customs and traditions, and ask for permission before taking photos of people. During Ramadan, avoid eating, drinking, or smoking in public during daylight hours.
11. Do I need travel insurance for Mauritania?
– Travel insurance is strongly recommended. Ensure your policy covers medical emergencies, trip cancellations, and unexpected events during your stay.
12. What is the time zone in Mauritania?
– Mauritania follows Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), and there is no daylight saving time adjustment.
13. Are there any special considerations for desert travel?
– If you plan to explore the desert, be prepared for extreme conditions. Carry plenty of water, sunscreen, and protective clothing. It’s advisable to travel with an experienced guide and a suitable vehicle.
14. Can I exchange currency in Mauritania?
– Currency exchange services are available at banks and exchange bureaus in major cities. It’s recommended to exchange some currency upon arrival to cover initial expenses.
Travelers should stay informed about the latest travel advisories and respect local customs and laws while visiting Mauritania. Planning and preparation are key to having a safe and enjoyable trip to this West African country.
Best Places to Visit in Mauritania: Frequently Asked Questions
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) About Places to Visit in Mauritania
1. What are the must-visit places in Mauritania?
- Some of the must-visit places in Mauritania include:
- Nouakchott: The capital city with its lively markets and beaches.
- Banc d’Arguin National Park: A UNESCO World Heritage site known for its diverse birdlife and stunning coastal landscapes.
- Chinguetti: A historic town with ancient libraries and desert architecture.
- Adrar Region: Explore the desert landscapes, oasis towns, and the Atar market.
- Ouadane: Another ancient desert town with well-preserved architecture.
- Terjit Oasis: A beautiful oasis with palm trees and natural springs.
- Ben Amera: Home to the largest monolith in Africa, resembling a human head.
2. Are there any unique experiences to have in Mauritania?
- Yes, Mauritania offers unique experiences like:
- Desert trekking: Explore the Sahara Desert with camel or 4×4 excursions.
- Sand dune camping: Spend a night under the stars in desert camps.
- Visiting ancient libraries: Chinguetti and other towns have libraries with ancient manuscripts.
- Meeting nomadic communities: Interact with the friendly local nomads and learn about their way of life.
3. What are some hidden gems in Mauritania that tourists often miss?
- Some hidden gems in Mauritania include:
- Tergit Village: A picturesque village with date palm groves and hot springs.
- Atar Market: A colorful market where you can find unique handicrafts and souvenirs.
- The coastal village of Nouadhibou: Known for its shipwreck graveyard and vibrant fishing culture.
- Tidjikja: A charming desert town less frequented by tourists.
- Azougui: A small town with a fascinating history and friendly locals.
4. Where can I enjoy traditional Mauritanian cuisine?
- You can savor traditional Mauritanian cuisine in local markets and restaurants in cities like Nouakchott and Nouadhibou. Try dishes like “thieboudienne” (fish and rice), couscous with stew, and local street food like “boulet” (fried dough balls).
5. Are there any UNESCO World Heritage sites in Mauritania?
- Yes, Banc d’Arguin National Park, known for its biodiversity and cultural significance, is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Chinguetti is also recognized for its historic libraries and desert architecture.
6. Can I visit nomadic communities in Mauritania?
- Yes, you can visit nomadic communities, especially in desert regions. It’s a unique opportunity to learn about their traditional way of life, including camel herding and desert navigation.
7. What is the best time to visit Mauritania?
- The best time to visit is during the cooler months from November to February. This is when the weather is most pleasant for outdoor activities and desert exploration.
8. Are there any safety concerns for tourists in Mauritania?
- While Mauritania is generally safe, travelers should exercise caution in remote areas and desert regions. Stay informed about the latest travel advisories and follow local guidelines.
9. Can I engage in desert activities like sandboarding and dune buggying?
- Yes, you can engage in desert activities like sandboarding and dune buggying, especially in areas like Adrar. Many tour operators offer these experiences.
10. Is it necessary to hire a guide for desert trips?
– It’s highly recommended to hire an experienced guide for desert trips. The desert can be challenging to navigate, and a guide ensures your safety and helps you make the most of your experience.
Exploring Mauritania can be an incredible adventure filled with unique cultural experiences and breathtaking desert landscapes. Be sure to plan your trip carefully and respect local customs and traditions.
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Our Top 5 Best Places to Visit in Mauritania – Final Thoughts
Mauritania may be a lesser-known destination, but it’s a canvas of wonders waiting to be explored. From ancient towns and desert oases to vibrant markets and unforgettable Sahara nights, this African gem is an explorer’s dream come true.
So pack your sense of adventure and get ready to uncover the magic of Mauritania!
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Our Top 5 Best Places to Visit in Mauritania – By David John
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