When people think of making a holiday trip to Africa especially a country in North Africa, you’ll mostly hear of Egypt, Morocco, and maybe Tunisia, but you’ll hardly ever hear of Mauritania, despite the fact that this North African country has loads to offer. This is most likely due to the misconceptions that people have about this beautiful African jewel. Sure the country may have had a few tourism setbacks in the past, but that is no longer the case and Mauritania has become one of the best countries to visit in Africa today.
It’s totally normal for people to fear what they do not fully understand so this article seeks to set the story straight by giving you a deeper insight into Mauritania as a tourist destination today and debunk some of the harrowing misconceptions that continue to plague this country.
Where is Mauritania?
Officially known as the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, this country is located in the Northwestern parts of Africa. It is the eleventh largest sovereign state in Africa and its bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the west, Algeria to the northeast, Western Sahara (occupied by Morocco) to the northwest and Senegal to the southwest. Its capital is called Nouakchott and happens to be the largest city in the country with an estimated one-third of the country’s population located there. The vast majority of the country’s population depends on agriculture as a means of livelihood and their official language is Arabic but you’ll also hear people speaking the french language.
Debunking Travel Misconceptions About Mauritania
There are many publications on the web painting Mauritania in a bad light as a result of its political issues which actually ended more than a decade ago. These misconceptions have made people scared to visit Mauritania, but people who have seen Mauritania in recent times will refute those claims. Here are some of those misconceptions that definitely need correcting:
Misconception #1 – Mauritania is full of terrorists
As a result of past issues regarding terrorism in Mauritania, it’s easy to assume that the country is still in turmoil and hasn’t recovered enough to be called a peaceful state. This is a false assumption. In the last decade, Mauritania has recorded high levels of peace and political developments. The country is far from being a terrorist country. While it is true that there may have been some remote cases of attacks around the borders of Mauritania, they have nothing to do with the welfare and growth of Mauritania as a country.
The lasting negative impression is probably because to date, they have poor internet access so the world doesn’t know much about how they progressed over the years. Also, the locals don’t seem particularly invested in justifying their current state of living to the outside world.
Misconception #2 – The city streets and most tourist destinations are not safe
In reality, the city is actually laidback and the tourist sites are completely safe. There are only a few hotels and restaurants available but you can walk on the streets undisturbed. You also don’t have to worry about beggars approaching and harassing you. To bolster security, the government of Mauritania has stationed military personnel at certain points where you simply need to present your passport ( in most cases, this will be taken care of by your tour operator) but otherwise, a multi-day day tour of Mauritanian is peaceful.
Misconception #3 – There is nothing to see in Mauritania
Ha! This is a completely laughable statement especially since Mauritania is actually home to a dazzling array of magnificent hidden oases, amazing sand dunes, and unique rock formations. The Atar region of Mauritania is its tourism Mecca. The capital Nouakchott is also another nice place to visit. It’s laidback and simple but there are interesting sights to see. The city itself is worth exploring but don’t expect fancy coffee shops or “various” restaurants for that matter. Most are local shops and when exploring, you need to keep an open mind to observe people and their culture and not expect establishments/ commercialized as usual modernization takes over.
Another interesting tourist spot is Nouadhibou which features deserts, and activities like kitesurfing, camping, and fishing. Other tourist attractions include Tichit, Chinguetti, Rosso, Nema, and the Diawling National Park where you can spot African golden wolves, African wildcats, warthogs, Cape hares, and patas monkeys. You also don’t want to miss the famous Richat Structure or Eye of the Sahara as it is popularly known. This prominent, slightly elliptical dome features a diameter of around 40 kilometers and resembles a giant eye, especially when viewed from above. It is located in the Sahara’s Adrar Plateau, near the town of Ouadane.
Mauritania is also home to the longest train in the world, the Mauritanian Mineral Train which boasts a humongous set of train cars measuring up to 2.5 kilometers. This train runs on a railway line of over 700 kilometers going from the mine deep inland in Zouerate all the way to the Nouadhibou port and then back. Adventure tourists can take this train ride as well for a once in a lifetime experience!
Misconception #4 – Mauritania is not accessible
Not true at all, considering that there are overland trips from both Senegal and Western Sahara. It is quite lengthy with a lot of transfers and waiting time but still doable.
Mauritania also has different forms of transportation systems, all of which are relatively safe. Many private taxi companies operate in the town and cities of Mauritania, including the capital, Nouakchott. However, the more popular means of transportation is called the ‘bush taxis’ which travel between towns. There are no public buses in Mauritania, though there are lots of private buses that operate within the country. Otherwise, there are plenty of tour operators who can arrange everything for your convenience.
Misconception #5 – Mauritanians are not friendly
Mauritania was colonized by the French and though their official language is Arabic, French is also largely used as a medium of communication. Now if you do not understand French or Arabic, it’s easy to assume that the people are not friendly, but this is not the case. The people here are actually quite friendly and interested to get to know tourists.
Mauritania has in recent times been applauded for recording high tourism patronage and the records continue to grow. The people of Mauritania have proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the country is truly a tourist destination and should be explored.
Mauritania is an amazing place to see. Though still developing the country possess lots of interesting features and places to see. Even the world bank has applauded the country’s efforts at excelling in its ease of doing business. So it’s time to allay those fears and maybe put Mauritania on your travel list for the year.
Though Mauritania is safe, it still lacks proper infrastructure, it doesn’t have the accommodation that Kenya and Tanzania and Morocco offers for example. There are few hotels that are basic to average but if you’re an adventurer or your family fancies something new and challenging and not a common tourist destination, then Mauritania would be a great choice.