Sixty years old, youthful by most standards, Nouakchott mushroomed quickly from a small village to the country's capital and largest city. Near, but not on the coast, building continues apace, even where roads are non-existent. Certainly, they're a strange sight: massive, gated homes plonked down in the desert. The city is unassuming and seemingly unplanned, as if on an overnight caravan stop it was left to grow by accident. Most travelers use it as a staging post before the Adrar, Banc d'Arguin or the next international border.
Nouakchott is sleepily idiosyncratic and you could do worse than spend an afternoon at the gloriously frantic fish market (one of the busiest in West Africa), treat yourself to a comfy hotel or feast in a good restaurant. Laid-back and peaceful – bliss after the rigors of the desert – the city is chock-a-block with international organizations and geared less to travelers, more to business people.