Guide and route of 7 days in Mauritania

Probably one of the most unknown countries in all of Africa. Located on the coast between Western Sahara and Senegal, this country of 5 million inhabitants is the 12th least dense in the world. With an area more than twice the size of Spain, you will see sand in every corner of this wild country.

Its greatest tourist attraction, although it does not receive many tourists, is the “Iron Ore Train”. A train that travels more than 600 kilometers through sand dunes, arid and rocky deserts and small towns lost in the middle of nowhere. Transporting iron ore daily in its more than 2.5 kilometers of length connecting the mines of Zouerat with the coastal town of Nouadhibou.

Everything you need to know for your trip to Mauritania:

  1. Best time of the year to visit Mauritania
  2. Basic tips for Mauritania
  3. 7-day itineray of Mauritania
    1. Day 1: Nouakchott
    2. Day 2: Terjit
    3. Day 3: Chinguetti and Atar
    4. Day 4: Iron Ore Train
    5. Day 5: Nouadhibou
    6. Day 6 and 7: Back to Nouakchott and Nouakchott
  4. Mauritania daily budget
  5. Where to stay in Mauritania

Official exchange rate 1EUR = 39.1MRU (Ouguya) The type of currency is not really well understood when you search online. But this is the exchange rate they offer everywhere. Between 36.5-39.1 Ouguya for each Euro.

Best time of the year to visit Mauritania

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.

Inside the country:

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.

On the coast:

Much more relaxed temperatures especially in the north where a lot of wind blows and even when the whole country is at 40ºC degrees, it cools down a lot there.

Basic tips for Mauritania

  • Visa: You need a visa to enter Mauritania, you can get it either through your embassy or in most cases (Europeans) on arrival. It costs €55, is a single entry and is valid for 30 consecutive days in the country.
  • Land borders: You can cross through Nouadhibou if you come from the north or through Rosso if you come from the south. Rosso is said to be one of the worst borders in Africa for its corruption, you may need to bring something loose to give to the gendarmes.
  • Money: The exchange rate is 39.1 Ouguya, although they divided the value of this in 2017 in most places in the country, they still think of the old value, so if you see that they ask you for a lot of money for something, always remove a zero. For example, some potatoes inside they asked me for 400MRU, which is €10, but they really wanted to ask for 40MRU.
  • Language: Arabic is spoken everywhere, and although they presume to be educated in French, the truth is that the majority of the population is not able to speak it (my level is not that much better…)
  • Water: The heat is extreme, don’t hesitate to stay hydrated all the time, I drank an average of 5-6 liters a day and we reached 46ºC degrees on occasion.
  • Protect yourself from the sun: High temperatures and strong winds from the interior will burn and destroy your skin. Take good protection and buy a scarf to protect yourself.
  • Distances: Everything is further away and it takes longer than Google Maps tells you… Although it may seem impossible if in my post I tell you that it is 2h and Google that 1h, it will probably be 2h 30m. Be patient, in this country there is no rush to get to places.
  • Get up early: You will want to avoid the hottest hours, visit early and move during the hottest hours.
  • Passport photocopies: If you don’t want to delay your trip any longer, remember to bring at least 30-40 photocopies of your passport for police checks.

Iron Ore Train: Find out what you need in my other post dedicated to how to get on the Sahara Train.

7-day itineray of Mauritania

At 99% you are reading this post to get on the Iron Ore Train. The experience and the week around the country is well worth it. The first thing you should know before embarking on this adventure is the great distance that separates the few points of interest in this country. You will travel between cars, buses and train a total of 2,500km to make the circular route back to Nouadhibou. That implies an average of 4-5 hours a day on buses, the truth must be said quite decent compared to other African countries.

Take it easy, talk to people wherever you go, everyone is very nice and hospitable. In this case the important thing is not the destination but the way to it.

Day 1: Nouakchott

I divided the visit to Nouakchott into two parts. On my first stay in the city I went to visit the Nouakchott Camel Market.

This is the largest camel market in Mauritania and from what I have been reading in other blogs and publications, one of the largest in all of Africa. Honestly, I had never seen so many camels together, there were hundreds everywhere. The most interesting thing was to see how the locals interacted with each other and argued to get a good price for the camels, how they loaded them in the pickups and how they rested and protected themselves from the sun. The market is about 25km from the center and it takes almost half an hour to get there and/v they charged me 800MRU while they walked me around the market.

Currently, the trade of camels is one of the main economic sectors of the country, since milk, meat and skin are obtained from them. Especially in the province of Adrar, in the center of the country.

In the afternoon we would head from Nouakchott to Terjit by bus. As in all the main towns and cities there is usually a transport that leaves at 8 and another at 3 in the afternoon. It costs 500MRU and it takes about 6 hours. Along the way you will stop to pray, police controls (deliver the “fiche” or photocopy of the passport, snack breaks and stops to rest…) and the bus left us at the police stop at the Terjit intersection where our host came to us. to pick up to take us to their camp in Terjit.

Day 2: Terjit

In Terjit we stayed in a camp in the middle of an oasis, it was a little paradise in the middle of the desert. We were having tea under the stars with some friends, there was even a pool where we could cool off (the only one I saw in the whole country).

In the morning we got up early and went trekking through the oasis and the mountains that surrounded it. It must be recognized that until 11 in the morning, when the sun did not hit very hard, it was quite good.

The landscape changes constantly, you start with a path of palm trees with a small stream, and suddenly the path begins to dry up, dunes appear and the landscape becomes arid and dry in a matter of meters, leaving behind the green of the palms.

When it started to get very hot, we headed back to the camp, took a dip, ate, and went to Atar to catch the pickup for Chinguetti. We got the shared taxi Terjit – Atar for 1,000 MRU for three people, it is not a bad price considering a journey of almost 2 hours.

From Atar to Chinguetti (200 MRU) there are usually a couple of pick-ups a day, once ours had been filled it left around 5pm and we would arrive at Chinguetti around 7pm just to see the sunset in the desert, where Abdou our host told us his stories and true or not spoke to us in Japanese and told us that he had been living in Kyoto (Japan) for 2 years.

Day 3: Chinguetti and Atar

Chinguetti is a small town in the middle of the desert. What centuries ago was one of the main cities for Islam (the 7th) and one of the biggest points of exchange of goods and barter for Berbers in West Africa, is now a small and relaxed town.

Buried under the sands of the Sahara twice, we are now in its third phase and its locals tell us that in the future they will have to build a third city. Chinguetti was a 30-day journey between Morocco, Mali, Tunisia and Senegal and was one of the largest educational centers in West Africa, with up to 12 libraries and several mosques.

Currently, there are two Libraries that can be visited, these contain manuscripts from several centuries old. The library that is best preserved is that of Al-Ahmed Mahmoud and you can visit and talk to its owner and in return he will ask you for a small donation of 100MRU (2.5€) destined for the conservation of the library.

As I was just on time, I had to go early around 10:30 in the morning to Atar (here they scammed me a bit and that is that for two seats in the pickup they charged me 600 MRU. Tired of arguing, I decided to accept the price and go to Atar. Where I met a local boy from Zouerat with whom I was spending the day, I went to eat with his family and have tea, we walked around the center of Atar until we went to get the bus to Zouerat for 400 MRU per person This one leaves at 3 (another one at 8-9am) and takes about 6 hours to travel, with the usual stops.

In Zouerat I stayed to sleep at his house with him and his family for a donation and the next day he would accompany me to buy the material to get on the Sahara train and go by taxi to the stop.

Day 4: Iron Ore Train

The big day has arrived, the day I have been waiting for for more than a year. The day got up very well, high temperature but without excessive heat and slightly cloudy. Perfect (as far as it goes) to get on the Iron OreTrain.

I’m not going to get too involved with technical details in this post, here you have everything you need, from what to take to how to get on the train.

We went to the local market to buy all the necessary material and to ask the railway station what time the train left to avoid waiting in the sun longer than necessary. Zouerat is a city of about 100,000 inhabitants, relatively new and cleaner and more orderly than the rest of the cities in the country.

The Iron Ore Train is really a unique and impressive experience and hardly comparable to other experiences you can live.

Without a doubt an experience that you should live if you have the opportunity!

You will be sitting on top of a mountain of iron dust while the train moves along the desert, passing by dunes, arid landscapes, while little by little the sun goes down and the landscape turns orange. Little by little the light disappears and in my case I was lucky enough to have a lunar eclipse where I saw the entire starry sky and later the full moon dyed the entire desert with a dim light.

I’m not going to deny that sleeping is uncomfortable because you’re constantly aware of not falling, your luggage moving or the constant bumps and rattle of the train. Besides how awkward this is.

Day 5: Nouadhibou

Around 9 in the morning, after 19-20 hours on the Iron Ore Train, we reached the coast, at Nouadhibou. The wind is strong and cold (it comes from the Atlantic, unlike the rest of the country, which usually comes hot from the center of the desert.

In Nouadhibou you could previously visit the abandoned ship cemetery in Cansado, but which is currently practically dismantled and the Banc d’Arguin National Park, but you will need a car to get there. Apart from this, there is not much else to do other than take a good shower to remove all the dirt from the train and rest a bit after this intense adventure.

I was staying near the Port du Peche Sportif, where they have spectacular fresh fish of the day and at a very good price 300 MRU two fish with accompaniment, there is a pretty cool bar called Aqua-Rim very close to the Port du Peche Sportif where they serve some juices Spectacular natural.

Apart from this, the owner of the homestay, a Dutch man, and his son took me for a zodiac ride to the sandbank where we could see pelicans and fortunately we managed to rescue the boat before the sea carried it away due to not tying it up correctly.

Days 6 and 7: Back to Nouakchott and Nouakchott

The next day I wanted to visit the Nouadhibou ship graveyard, but between the fact that it was very far away and almost dismantled and I couldn’t find a decent price, I resigned myself and went to look for a bus to return to Nouakchott.

They told me that the bus left immediately, we left after 2 hours. After drinking four teas with some locals, the driver started the vehicle and we headed to Nouakchott. Not without first going back a few meters to refuel, stop to leave a couple of things, check the air in the tires, etc… All that could have been done before leaving. Almost leaving the city we stopped two more times to buy water and snacks. Twelve checkpoints between Nouadhibou and Nouakchott, two prayers (2 pm and 7 pm, luckily we didn’t do the one at 8:30 pm…) and 7 or 8 more stops, we managed to reach Nouakchott after 9 hours.

The buses leave very frequently and there are 10 or 12 companies, the price is 600MRU.

There was little else I could do that day. But the next day I went to see the Saudi Mosque in Nouakchott and the fascinating Port du Peche in Nouakchott. Kilometers and kilometers of beach occupied by pirogues of fishermen who go out every day to fish to bring fresh fish to the markets of the capital. It’s worth going around and walking around, plus the distance to the hotel wasn’t very long and I was walking around the city for a long time.

In short, a peculiar country, not very touristy and although it has few tourist attractions, it has a lot to offer if you are one of those who like to walk and get to know remote countries.

Daily budget for Mauritania

Keep in mind that it is a country without tourist infrastructure, so you will have to sleep where you need to and eat where you need to, and if there is no transportation, pay what they ask for (if you are in a hurry)

Accommodation: Between €5 and €15 per night is what you will pay anywhere. More expensive in the big cities and cheaper in the desert camps.

Food: There aren’t many street food stalls and the ones that are there look really bad, I’m usually the first to eat from the street, but here you practically had no choice. So you usually eat for about €5 in a restaurant or in the same homestays or hotels.

Daily budget for Mauritania

Transport: Transport is expensive, because the distances are enormous, 500km usually separate the 4 large cities of the country, including Nouadhibou – Nouakchott – Atar – Zouerat. Taxis to the airport are between 800-1,000 MRU depending on where you stay or your bargaining power.

Leisure and others: There is not much leisure here, alcohol is not sold in the country without a special permit. You will have to pay for a couple of tickets, buying drinks all day, so that is where your money will go in this game.

Where to stay in Mauritania

In Mauritania outside of Nouakchott you will not find anything on Booking or similar pages because there are no streets, ergo you cannot verify the places… But there is a good network of accommodation for the few travelers who visit the country.

  • Le Triskell // Nouakchott: Run by a French boy who has been living in Mauritania for 20 years, it is a place more in love with the country than denies France. He will help you in everything and will give you all the advice you need. Private rooms, shops and everything very clean and central.
  • Chez Jemal // Terjit: There are only two options in Terjit and this is the one that everyone recommends, it has a pool, the food is very good and it is right inside the oasis.
  • Auberge Abdou Zarga // Chinguetti: This peculiar Japanese speaking gentleman has a couple of rooms and shops for people who come to visit Chinguetti, he is very funny and friendly and will show you around the city and the library. The children of the town adore him, since he does not stop giving them candy. It is quite clean and the food is correct.
  • Chez Jed // Zouerat: Although not technically a hostel, this guy who helped me get to the train offered me to stay in his place with him and his family in Zouerat, not very clean, but very authentic and local experience.
  • Villa Maguela // Nouadhibou: A spectacular beachfront villa next to the Nouadhibou fishing club, this Dutch businessman welcomes travelers into his home. It is very clean, quiet and the beds are very comfortable. Perfect to rest after the train trip. Dinner is very good and varied for only 100 MRU.

Keep reading the blog on how to get on the Sahara Train in my next post!

10 Comments

  1. Just wonder if you need to buy Nouakchott-Tergit bus ticket ahead of time or simply show up before 3pm and still have tickets available?

  2. Interesting read. You are writing the bus from Atar to Zouerat is leaving at 3. Assuming you mean 3pm? What time does it arrive in Zouerat? Around 9pm?

  3. Hello, your article is such an inspiration. I am going to travel to Mauritania next week to experience the Iron Train. I have 2 or 3 questions, I hope you can help me.
    Is it easy to find the bus stations in Nouakchott to Atar and Zouerat? Is there a direct bus from Nouakchott to Zouerat? Do you think its all the way safe for tourists? You said that you need a lot of copies from your passport, do you also need a hotel reservation (copies) to show to the police or is that find to look for a hotel when I arrive in Zouerat? I could not find any hotel online, difficult to book. Thank you

    • 1-Bus station: easy you can ask at your accomodation and they’ll hook you up on a taxi
      2-Buses stop at Atar and then you switch, its +7h from NKC to Atar and other 7 to Zouerat id recommend to stop in between im Terjit for insnatcne
      3-One of the safest places I’ve been in Africa, everyone is kind and this police checkpoints are to know in which area you are in case sth happened
      4-Just the passport copies i met a guy in Atar that let me stay in his place in zouerat and took me to buy provisions for the ride in exchange for some money. Couldnt find any hotels either 😂😂

  4. If you want to be at the front of the train (the F’derick carts based on what your wrote) where do you go to get on those? Will locals/taxi know?

  5. Hey Kevin, so the town is not big, i would say you will manage it perfectly, maybe show them some pictures of the train and if you speak some french they will most likely understand

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