An Amateur Overview
Everything we can tell you about Mauritania, starting with the basic facts so you can impress your friends.
Population: 3.5 million
Economy: GDP (PPP)- 6.232 billion, Per Capita GDP $2.055 143rd
Exchange rate: 1 Euro = 350UM (approx)
Human Development Index: .520 154th
Random sports trivia: After chatting to a couple of Mauritanians about their sporting prowess, they remained adamant that no Mauritanians were playing football in any European leagues & they have yet to win an Olympic medal. They then rightly added that the country faces bigger challenges. As far as supporting a team goes, our straw pole on the Iron Ore Train was evenly divided between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid fans.
Mauritania, a country where before coming we didn’t know much about except for its ongoing battle with slavery. It’s blessed with a pristine coastline, a burning desert and probably the world’s longest train (no one appears to be able to actually confirm this, anywhere). All of this combines to make for an unforgettable experience in a country where we were originally just going to pass through.
Visa/Entry Requirements: It’s no longer possible to get a visa at the border. We had to resort to getting ours 2 months earlier in at the Mauritanian embassy in Berlin. Costs depend on nationality and which embassy you apply at. For us it cost 60 Euro for a single entry 1 month visa.
Rating: 60% – You can probably just get by with English here, but the people speaking English are generally the one’s who’ll charge you a bit more. Head out onto the street to get into the culture. Usually amongst every group, people are more than willing to help with any problems and somebody might have a bit of English.
Where we stayed: Auberge Chez Abba – camping 1500UM (4 Euro) or twin room 2000UM (5.5 Euro) per night. Friendly staff, a few who speak English & hot showers.
How we got there: From bush taxi from Dakhla (Morocco) 350DH (30 euro).
Difficulties: We struggled to find a good internet connection here, it was extremely slow so make sure you have a good look around. 200UM/hour.
Traveller scene: Met an English lad and a French lady at the camping grounds who had just jumped off the Iron Ore train. It’s a great place to exchange stories with people who’ve been trekking off the beaten track in West Africa and more importantly to get some tips for the region and the travels ahead.
Getting a feed: There is no way we can go past the grilled fish and rice served at local hole in the wall eateries along with Mauritanian tea, a national specialty.
Out on the town: You’ll struggle to get a beer here as alcohol is illegal in the country, however you can find it if you look hard enough.
Where did we stay: Auberge Menata – in 3 bed dorm – 2500UM (7.5 Euro) It has very basic beds, internet available, cooking facilities, large outdoor areas, a shop at the front and a turtle. On the negative side, if you want some information from the staff here you’ll probably be hooked up with one of their ‘mates’ who will help you, but they’ll help break your budget as well. Everything’s cheaper in the street.
How we got there: We took the scenic route, the Iron Ore train from Noudhibou – Choum – 12 hrs – FREE in the wagons, departing Noudhibou at around 3pm. Then from Choum-Atar at 4.30am jumped aboard with 6 other people on top of a truck to Atar through unsealed roads for 3hrs – 1500UM (5 Euro) Then from Atar-Nouakchott in a shared taxi for 4500UM (13 Euro) for a 6 hr journey.
Difficulties: We jumped in a taxi from the Gare Routiere for our hotel, we had the address and a map, in the middle of the taxi ride our driver asked somebody else in, this person grabbed our guidebook and ‘showed’ us the way. He then came into the hotel demanding 500UM for his ‘help’. Be firm, but polite in response to this.
We had read about problems with finding an ATM, however there seems to have been a recent boom and on a few main streets in the capital you’ll find them guarded with security.
Learn from Us: Doing a load of washing. There are plenty of places to get your clothes washed, but you’ll pay per piece so it adds up. 15 Euro for a load was a high price to pay for that lesson. Ask around in-house or plug up the bath tub and get your hands dirty.
For the onward traveller – if you’re going to Senegal and need a Visa, make sure you get it here and leave yourself 2 days for processing. Trust us – this was a lesson we learnt the hard way.
The traveller scene: There are quite a few French speaking tourists, particularly campervans around the place.
Getting a feed: There are plenty of food options available around the centre of the city. Alternatively head to the Fish markets for something straight from the ocean. Take a stroll around to find what you’re after for a reasonable price. You can grab a large lamb sandwich for 400UM (1.20Euro) at small local restaurants and we also stumbled across an Algerian restaurant serving traditional cuisine for 700UM (2 Euro) or at lunchtime Senegalese style fish and rice for 400UM (1.20 Euro).
Biggest surprise: The hectic, smelly, amazing fish markets. Make the journey down there late in the afternoon to see the boats bring the day’s catch in, watch people clean fish and soak up the atmosphere at the markets just 50m from the ocean. The beach is lined with boats painted in all sorts of colours that make a great backdrop.
The sheer amount of Mercedes Benz on the road is staggering and it’s another thing you’ll notice, along with the roadside hand gestures which local hitchhikers use to hail bush taxi’s in all directions.
One thing you can do to break down a barrier: Slavery was only outlawed in Mauritania in 2007. It is estimated that 18% of adults are still in forced labour, It is estimated that it is the highest % of a population anywhere in the world. Click here to continue the campaign to condemn slavery to the past and you can do your bit to help local Mauritanian groups like SOS Esclaves.
For all the pictures you’ve got to check out the gallery.