Flights & getting there
With its own national carrier and several international airlines flying to Nouakchott, Mauritania is relatively easily accessible by air. Gateways are Paris, Istanbul and Casablanca.
Airports & Airlines
Opened in June 2016, the Nouakchott-Oumtosy International Airport handles most air traffic. It's 25km north of the city, essentially plopped in the middle of the desert. It's polished to a shine, if also mostly empty of facilities. There's no wi-fi, no electrical outlets and no food court, despite signage for one. There is a bureau de change and a tourist office with brochures and country maps – at least they were seen on a desk through the locked door. Nouâdhibou and Atâr also have small international airports.
Mauritania Airlines, the country's flag carrier which began operating in its current incarnation in 2012, flies twice weekly between Nouakchott and Casablanca and four times weekly to Las Palmas in the Canary Islands – all have stops in Nouâdhibou. Its track record is so far unblemished. Senegal Airlines flies five times a week to Dakar. For other Saharan or sub-Saharan countries, you'll have to change in Dakar or Abidjan.
Mauritania is well connected to North Africa. Royal Air Maroc operates between Casablanca and Nouakchott five times a week (keep in mind that if onward connections to North America or Europe are longer than 12 hours, Royal Air Maroc provides complimentary accommodation in a Casablanca hotel and meal vouchers); Tunis Air connects Tunis with Nouakchott (three times a week); Air Algérie flies to Algiers twice a week.
Binter Canarias connects Nouakchott and Las Palmas in the Canary Islands.
There is no departure tax in Mauritania.
The main border crossing for Senegal is at Rosso (by ferry), but it's also possible to cross by the bridge over a dam at Diamma (Keur Masséne), west of Rosso. The latter is a much calmer and overall prefererable experience (officials at Rosso often hassle travellers for a cadeau (bribe); on the plus side, there is a ATM and it's only a CFA2000 taxi ride to Saint-Louis in Senegal), although poor road conditions make Diamma largely a dry-season option. Travelling via Diamma also provides some pleasant scenery, in the very least some greenery, as well as some wildlife spotting (monkeys and monitor lizards are likely) passing through the heart of Parc National Diawling.
From Dakar to Nouakchott by public transport usually takes from 11 to 13 hours depending on the wait at the border. At Rosso, most travellers without vehicles cross by pirogue (UM200/CFA500, five minutes) as the ferry crosses only four times daily (free for foot traffic). The border is open from 8.30am to noon and 3pm to 6pm.
Vehicles cost CFA5000 (foot passengers free, that is, no cost for a visa entering Senegal). Customs fees are around UM1500 if you're entering Mauritania, CFA2000 for Senegal, but officials here are reported to be notoriously greedy, so keep your paperwork (and vehicle) in good order.
The trans-Sahara route via Mauritania was once, now less so, a very popular route from North Africa into sub-Saharan Africa. This crosses the internationally disputed territory of Western Sahara, although the border itself is administered by Morocco.
The only border crossing between Morocco/Western Sahara and Mauritania is north of Nouâdhibou. Crossing this border is straightforward, though the process can be painfully slow, and the road is entirely tarred to Nouakchott, except for the 3km no-man's land that separates the two border posts. Note, generally motorcycles are allowed to skip to the head of the car line.
There are direct bush taxis heading north from Nouâdhibou to Dakhla (Western Sahara), but travelling in the opposite direction you'll need to change vehicles at the border. The 425km trip can easily be accomplished in a long day.
All border information is subject to security advice as to the situation in Mali. Check for updates before you travel.
The most straightforward route to Mali is from Ayoûn el-Atroûs to Nioro. You can also cross at Néma, Timbedgha (both connecting with Nara in Mali) and Kiffa (connecting with Nioro in Mali). We recommend you apply for a visa (UM6500) in advance at the Malian embassy in Nouakchott; bring two passport-sized photos and address of contact in Mali.
From Nouakchott, you can catch bush taxis to Néma and Ayoûn el-Atroûs. From these places you can catch a bush taxi to Nara or Nioro. It's also possible to travel from Sélibaby to Kayes.
If crossing into Mali, have your passport stamped by police at the first town you reach after crossing the border. You must also clear customs, which is done in Néma or Ayoûn el-Atroûs.
There are no passenger boat services operating to Mauritania.