How to ride the Iron Ore Train in Mauritania

Probably one of the craziest adventures you can embark on in your life. 20 hours aboard a freight train over 600 kilometers through the vast Sahara desert.

They say it is the longest and most dangerous train in the world. But with a head, knowledge and common sense you can safely ride this extensive train of more than 2.5 kilometers in length that transports iron from the mines of Zouerat to the port of Nouadhibou in the country of Mauritania.

Everything you need to know to board the Iron Ore Train:

  1. Best time of the year to get on the Iron Ore Train
  2. Basic tips to get on the Iron Ore Train
  3. How to get on the Iron Ore Train

Best time of the year to get on the Iron Ore Train

The most important thing to keep in mind when boarding the Iron Ore Train is the temperature, being over-prepared will never hurt. During the day it can get very hot even when moving and at night as the speed increases and the temperatures drop it can get quite cold.

May to September are the hottest months in Mauritania, when I was there there was a heat wave and we spent several days at more than 46 degrees of wind chill in the shade. The wind burned your face and at night the temperatures did not drop below 32-33 degrees.

October to April is when more people usually go to Mauritania because in summer it is a country where it is very difficult to be and during the rest of the months the daytime temperatures are more relaxed around 25 degrees and at night, especially indoors temperatures drop below ten.

Basic tips to get on the Iron Ore Train

Get on at Zouerat instead of Choum, it’s a bit further but well worth it otherwise you miss the day tour.

Must have to get on the train:

  • Water: I will not tire of repeating it, it is important to be well prepared. You don’t know when the train will leave and you don’t know when it will arrive either. In my case, during the 20 hours I was there I drank about 4.5 liters of water and carried about 9 liters. I know of people that the train had been delayed 7 hours with a total journey of 27 hours and those 7 hours more you have to do in full sun in the middle of the desert and the last thing you want to be dehydrated.
  • Food: Like water, take extra just in case. Better solid foods that hold up well in temperature. I took fruit that I accidentally left in the sun and ended up with mashed banana mixed with grapes and broken dates… Bread, bags of chips, cookies, all this is the easiest thing to eat and you won’t need to wash it.
  • Warm clothes: go at the time you go load yourself with more just in case. I wore a mountain jacket, a sleeping bag, thermal clothing and a sweatshirt. Although I did not use the jacket or the thermal clothing, if the temperature had dropped more, I would have needed it.
  • Buy a tarp to put your things: Although not essential, this is not like going to the beach where you get a little dirty with grit, if you don’t watch out you will end up as if you had slipped down 20 chimneys. Having a tarp on the ground will help keep your camp and food clean.
  • Do not move from the car or get off at any time: That will be your home for the duration of the journey, do what you have to do but do it in the car (physiological needs). The train stops about 3 times, but they are very quick stops that usually last about 5 minutes and the train starts without warning. In addition, the movements of the train are usually very sudden and it is braking and accelerating all the time, so try to be careful and stay away from the ends of the car and avoid moving between them.

How to get on the Iron Ore Train

As I said before, go up at Zouerat instead of Choum. The reason is simple, the most exciting thing about getting on the train is not just getting on it, but not the views. You usually leave Zouerat at 2-3pm and arrive at Choum at 9pm so, except for the last 2 hours when it’s very cold, you will be traveling all night without seeing anything…

From Atar to Zouerat it takes 5 hours by bus and costs about 400MRU per person (€10 to change).

The Zouerat mining complex consists of three mines in total, from where four trains depart that end up joining a single 2.5km one that departs for Nouadhibou.

The three mines are To14, Rouessa and F’derik. Each with a different type of iron ore. The ones leaving F’derik are more dusty (like soot from a chimney) you will end up very dirty, but you go closer to the first wagons and less dust is raised. The Rouessa mines are usually larger rock style (like a fist) very uncomfortable to sleep on. Finally, those that come out of To14 is a hybrid between dust and pebbles like a big fingernail.

The locals all go to Tazadit, 5 minutes from Zouerat, where for the first convoy that comes from To14, there you will have plenty of time to arrive and set up your camp on the train. It is 50 MRU from the town of Zouerat.

If you can, stop by the railway office to ask if the train leaves on time, but it’s also better to be around 11 am in Tazadit, you won’t get lost and you’ll see that it’s full of people waiting for the train to come back and others waiting for him to come out In order not to wait long in the sun, wait until the passenger train has been loaded and from there you can go and assemble everything in your wagon. Around 1pm the train will begin to move and the locomotives and other wagons will be coupled and will move towards F’derik.

It is a very simple process. From here on, enjoy the ride.

More tips on what to do in Mauritania here on the 7 day itinerary that I took!

If you want to see more content, don’t miss my stories of Instagram, follow me on @Milianways

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