Haggling is expected in markets, crafts shops and when buying from street vendors. It's done good naturedly and not aggressively. You can also bargain for accommodation rates on longer term stays and prices quoted to you by guides and drivers. However, for the latter, petrol costs are usually a fixed price.
Dangers & Annoyances
Mauritania is generally one of the safest countries in Africa, particularly the coastal region from Senegal to Morocco, but the previously popular tourist region of the Adrar was off-limits at time of writing for security reasons.
Other than petty theft, easily preventable through common-sense precautions, and somewhat chaotic driving patterns in Nouakchott, there's little to worry most travellers. In fact, and remarkably so compared to many other countries in the region, you're unlikely to attract any unwanted attention or be hassled when out and about. If anything, one's status as a foreigner and especially as a tourist will only elicit hospitality, warmth and kindness.
- US and European embassies caution against travel to large swaths of Mauritania, especially areas in the east. These will likely seem hyperbolic and unfair to Mauritanians and expats who know the country well. Of course, warnings should be taken very seriously, but these should be supplemented by up-to-date advice from locals in the area you intend to visit.
- Between late 2007 and 2011, there were a handful of incidents, mostly involving Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. The popular Paris–Dakar rally was cancelled in 2008 because of threats against Mauritania by Islamist groups.
- Regional security threats, especially instability in neighbouring Mali, are concerns. Be sure to check the current security situation before travelling to border areas.
Government Travel Advice
The following government websites offer travel advisories and information on current hot spots.
- Australian Department of Foreign Affairs (www.smarttraveller.gov.au)
- British Foreign Office (www.fco.gov.uk/countryadvice)
- Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs (www.dfait-maeci.gc.ca)
- US State Department (www.travel.state.gov)
- The perils of desert driving need to be respected and are best avoided by hiring a car and driver.
- If you do choose to self-drive, be sure to carry a spare tyre, basic mechanical equipment, and enough water and food to allow for lengthy delays in the case of a breakdown.
- On the main roads, regular police checkpoints take note of all foreigners passing through for security. To avoid annoying waits while your information is copied by hand into a ledger, it's best to carry copies of a fiche (a document with all your details listed on it) and your passport information page with you.
Current is 220V AC, 50Hz and most electrical plugs are of the European two-pin type.
Embassies & Consulates
Emergency & Important Numbers
|Mauritania's country code||222|
Entry & Exit Formalities
It is illegal to bring alcohol into the country.
Visas are required for everyone, except nationals of Arab League countries and some African nations.
Visas for Onward Travel
In Nouakchott you can get visas for most neighbouring countries.
One-month visas (UM6500) are issued within 24 hours at the embassy in Nouakchott. You need two photos and a passport photocopy.
Most nationalities do not require visas, and simply get an entry stamp valid for 90 days on arrival. Nationalities that do (mostly Africans, including Mauritanians) must pay around UM9000 and provide two photos and passport photocopies and (according to whim) an air ticket.
Americans, Australians, Canadians and Europeans do not need a visa to enter Senegal. Its helpful to have a photocopy of your Mauritanian visa page for officials on the Mauritanian side of the border.
In countries where Mauritania has no diplomatic representation, including Australia, French embassies often issue visas.
However, visas (US$130) are also issued upon arrival at the airport in Nouakchott, as well as at border crossings from Senegal and Morocco. The process itself, which involves biometric fingerprinting and a photograph, is quick, however the wait can be long, both at the airport and land borders. For the former, de plane as quickly as possible, grab the form and fill it out while you're standing in line.
There's a rumour the visa fee will be reduced substantially in coming years.
One-month visa extensions can be obtained for UM46,000 at the Sûreté in Nouakchott.
- Greetings For men, a soft handshake; none for women.
- Eating Outside of cities, meals are generally taken sitting cross-legged on the ground, using one's hands to eat.
- At the Mosque Take off your shoes; women should cover their heads and shoulders.
- Photography Ask permission before photographing people; avoid photographing military or government buildings.
- Alcohol It’s impolite to drink infront of others, unless approval is given in advance.
Homosexuality is explicitly illegal in Mauritania. According to religious law, the maximum penalty is death if witnessed by four individuals. For what it’s worth, however, there is little evidence of government-sponsored violence or discrimination. Regardless of the legality, Mauritanians are conservative in their attitudes towards gay and lesbian people. In most places, discretion is key and public displays of affection should be avoided, advice that applies to homosexual and heterosexual couples alike.
You can get online in any reasonably sized town, although outside Nouakchott connection speeds can often be wanting. Expect to pay around UM200 an hour. Top-end and midrange hotels and many restaurants in Nouakchott and Nouâdhibou generally offer free wi-fi.
The legal system is a mix of Islamic and French civil law. Drug laws are harsh. If found in possession of illegal substances a prison sentence is a possibility. Sale and consumption of alcohol is against the law, however enforcement is somewhat lax in a few isolated spots.
Travellers in their own vehicles will require good quality maps, especially if planning on doing any off-piste driving. Auberge Bab Sahara in Atar sells a detailed topographic and road map, circa 2015, of the Adrar region for €10 (www.bab-sahara.com/kaartbestellen.html). In theory they can mail it to you for a few extra euros.
The University of Texas Libraries website (www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/mauritania.html) has links for several country and regional maps produced by the US Army Map service and CIA.
And ITM Canada sells a country map at a scale of 1:2,000,000 available for purchase online.
- Newspapers For the news (in French), pick up Le Calame or Horizons.
- TV Mauritania has two state owned TV stations (TVM and TVM2) with programs in Hassaniyya and French; the five privately owned stations are Elwatania, Chinguitty TV, Sahel TV, Elmourabitoune and Dava. Top-end hotels have satellite TV.
The unit of currency is the ouguiya (UM). There are plenty of ATMs in Nouakchott and a handful in Nouâdhibou. It's best to take euros or US dollars as back-up.
Credit cards (Visa and MasterCard, not Amex) are accepted at top-end hotels and larger businesses.
Only crisp recently issued bills are accepted at bureax de change. Exchange rates at the Nouakchott airport aren't much different than those offered in town. Either way, it's quick and hassle free with no commissions. Rates at top-end hotels are generally worse.
For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.
- Hotels Leave a gratuity for cleaning staff at your discretion.
- Restaurants No tip expected at basic places; leave between 10-15% in more upscale places.
- Taxis Loose change is appreciated on short trips.
- Guide & Driver Tips are always expected; begin around 10%, more for multiday trips or if service has been particularly good.
Mauritania is a Muslim country, and for business purposes adheres to the Monday to Friday working week. Friday is the main prayer day, so many businesses have an extended lunch break on Friday afternoon. Many shops are open every day.
Government offices, post offices and banks are usually open 8am to 4pm Monday to Thursday and 8am to 1pm on Friday.
The headquarters for Mauripost, the company that runs the country’s postal service is in Nouakchott. Post is generally slow and unreliable.
New Year's Day 1 January
National Reunification Day 26 February
Workers' Day 1 May
African Liberation Day 25 May
Eid al-Fitr (end of Ramadan) 7 July
Armed Forces Day 10 July
Aid el-Adha (Feast of Sacrifice) 13 September
Islamic New Year 3 October
Independence Day 28 November
Mauritania also celebrates other Islamic holidays.
Mauritania has one of the world’s highest rates of tobacco consumption. A significantly higher percentage of men than women smoke; the latter tend to chew tobacco. The government recently raised the tax on cigarettes to 7.5% and Parliament is debating various laws meant to control the growth of its use.
Taxes & Refunds
Mauritania's sales tax is 18%.
You can make international calls at post offices. The innumerable privately run phone shops in the major cities and towns cost about the same and are open late.
There are no telephone area codes.
A GSM SIM card for the Mauritel, Chinguitell or Mattel networks costs around UM2000 (a SIM with 3G runs around UM3000); a new phone with a pre-installed SIM card should run around UM20,000. Coverage is generally good and the best way of staying connected while travelling.
Mauritania is on Greenwich Mean Time (GMT/UTC). It does not observe daylight savings. Time differences:
|New York City, US||-5|
You’ll mostly experience Western style sit-down toilets. Outside major cities and towns, you might find some squat-style ones.
The official Ministry of Tourism has two offices, one at the airport in Nouakchott and another in Nouakchott proper, however neither is of much use. Even if open, they’re unlikely to have good maps on hand.
Travel with Children
Children younger than nine months should avoid travel to Mauritania because the yellow fever vaccine is not approved for them. Baby-changing facilities are mostly non-existent and sidewalks are unsuited to strollers. A handful of high-end hotels in Nouakchott have outdoor swimming pools. Camel trips in the desert are certainly enjoyable and recommended for older kids. You can generally expect hospitality and warmth from Mauritanians if you arrive with kids in tow.
Only the high-end hotels in Nouakchott are likely to have lifts or other amenities designed for travellers with disabilities. Streets and footpaths are generally potholed or uneven, and ramps scarce. Accommodation at many budget hotels is on the ground floor, however bathroom access can be difficult. Challenges like these are only partly offset by the fact that Mauritanians are usually very accommodating and helpful.
Most taxis are small sedans and minivans are not wheelchair equipped. Pricey 4WD vehicles are available for rent in Nouakchott.
Download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guide from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.
Volunteering opportunities in Mauritania are scarce, in large part due to security concerns. Whether this is entirely warranted or not is another issue – even the Peace Corps pulled out in 2009. Volunteers generally need to speak Arabic, French, Hassynia, Pulaar, Soninke or Wolof. Most projects run by international organizations like the European Union and United Nations involve professionals.
Weights & Measures
- Weights & Measures Mauritania uses the metric system
Mauritania is a conservative Muslim country, but it is by no means the most extreme in this regard. Women might receive the odd bit of sexual harassment, but it's nothing in comparison with some North African countries. It's wise to dress modestly, covering the upper legs and arms and avoiding shorts or skimpy T-shirts.
Not surprisingly, since mining is the primary driver of the economy, the mining industry is a good place to look for work. Contracts tend to be a month or two on and then two or three weeks off. You’re basically isolated on the company property the entire time. Teaching English is also a possibility; there's a well-respected English language school in Nouakchott.