From the Atlantic to Chinguetti

Mauritania is a wild land of spectacular deserts, sand blown historic towns and picturesque oases. Here nomads live in goat hair tents, eking out an existence like their forefathers and adhering strongly to the traditions of the Sahara of old.

This unique Mauritania trip takes you to a country that has been little visited by travellers in recent years. It is full of hidden gems that will excite even the most experienced traveller.

We start in the capital Nouakchott. We then head up the Atlantic coast to the villages of the Imragen people, renowned for using dolphins to help them catch the fish on which they depend. We explore the Banc d’Arguin National Park with its impressive bird populations and visit the beautiful beaches of Cap Blanc.

After visiting Mauritania’s second city Nouadhibou we head inland to the almost unknown Ben Amera, second only to Australia’s Uluru in size and rising from the desert like a lost island. We explore the Guelb er Richat, a vast crater-like structure that can be seen from space. Next, we travel through the stunning Adrar region, one of Africa’s most unforgiving landscapes. Here we hope to meet nomadic groups and learn about their lives.

The highlights of this trip are saved until near the end as we visit the historic towns of Ouadane and Chinguetti. These were once important centres of scholarship and played an important role in the historic trans-Saharan caravans. Here we discover ancient mosques, crumbling citadels and wander the sandy streets, soaking up the Saharan atmosphere and almost travelling back in time.

On our way back to Nouakchott we spend our final night in the delightful oasis of Tergit, with its lush palm groves and springs. This is an exciting, unique and surprising Mauritania tour through an utterly captivating land.

From the Atlantic to Chinguetti itinerary image

Highlights

  • Impressive desert scenery
  • Meet the Imragen people
  • Exciting driving through sand dunes
  • Incredible architecture and mosques
  • Camp overnight in desert oases

Day 1 - Nouakchott

Arrive in Nouakchott and transfer to your hotel. Depending on when you arrive there may be time to explore the city. Overnight Sunset Hotel or similar.

Nouakchott

Nouakchott’s name means ‘windy city’ in Hassaniya, not a bad description for a place that experiences sandstorms for more than half of the year. The largest city in the country and reputedly the largest in the Sahara, Nouakchott perches between the desert and the Atlantic. But it wasn’t always such a significant place and in the 1950s was little more than a fishing village, of little importance to colonial French West Africa. Chosen as the capital of Mauritania at independence, it grew quickly into an economic and political hub, and benefits from a deep sea port which handles Mauritania’s massive amount of imported goods.

In common with most cities in the region, there’s little in the way of formal tourist sites. However, it is a great introduction to the country, with a feel of the Sahara crossed with Morocco crossed with Europe plus a little bit of West Africa proper.

Nouakchott’s markets are fun to explore, with women clad in colourful robes bargaining furiously for goods, while nomads from the desert beyond give them an air of the exotic. The fish markets are the busiest in West Africa and well worth exploring, and a rewarding excursion, if you have the time, is to visit the beaches to see the fishermen bring in their catches.

Day 2 - Iwik – Banc d’Arguin National Park

Our adventure starts as we leave the city behind and head to the world-renowned Banc d’Arguin National Park. On the way, we stop at the fishing village of Iwik, inhabited by the Imragen people. Banc d’Arguin is home to a huge variety of birdlife and we spend time exploring before heading to our camp for the night. Overnight in haima (Moorish tents). (BLD)

Banc d’Arguin National Park

Banc d’Arguin is one of the world’s most important sites for birds, lying directly on the route between Europe and Africa and a haven for migratory species. Fringing the Atlantic coast, the park comprises sand dunes, coastal swamps, small islands and shallow coastal waters. The contrast between the harsh desert environment and the biodiversity of the marine zone has resulted in a land- and seascape of outstanding natural significance.

Banc d’Arguin is home to the largest population of wintering waders in the world, with over a hundred species here; some of the larger ones include flamingos, spoonbill and pelicans. As well as birds, several species of sea turtle and dolphin, used by the fishermen to attract shoals of fish, can also be found and dorcas gazelles, hyenas, fennec and jackals are sometimes spotted.

Imragen people

The Imragen are a unique ethnic group confined to Mauritania’s northern coast and are famous for using dolphins to help herd shoals of fish into their nets. Numbering less than five thousand, their lives are intricately bound with the population of mullet that lives offshore. Traditionally they have been rather powerless in the social structure of Mauritania, having been relegated to the lower caste position of znaga by the ‘noble’ Hassanes. Their origin is unclear; some say they pre-date the Berbers, others that they are the relics of Spanish moors who fled Europe centuries ago.

Day 3 - Nouadhibou – Cap Blanc

Drive to Nouadhibou, Mauritania’s second city and an important fishing port. We visit the bay with its abandoned ships – a unique and rather photogenic sight. We also head to Cap Blanc with its pristine beaches and great views over the Atlantic. Overnight Hotel Sahel or similar. (BLD)


Day 4 - Ben Amera

Drive through the desert to the huge monolith of Ben Amera, the second largest in the world after Australia’s Ayer’s Rock and a rather spectacular site. This region is also crossed by the ‘train of the desert’, the longest train in the world and up to 3km in length, transporting iron ore from Zouerat to Nouadhibou – we hope to see one if we are lucky. Overnight camping. (BLD)


Day 5 - Atar

Head into the Adrar, Mauritania’s most beautiful region with the country’s most impressive dunes, rock paintings, stunning oases and nomadic culture at its best. We continue to Atar, the main town here and explore its traditional quarter and market. Overnight Hotel Caravannes or similar. (BLD)


Day 6 - Guelb er Richat - Ouadane

On our way to Ouadane we visit the Guelb er Richat, an interesting crater-like structure also known as the ‘eye of the Sahara’ and 40km wide. Founded in the 12th century Ouadane is a fascinating collection of old houses and mosques and has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We have plenty of time to explore the historic quarter. Overnight local guesthouse. (BLD)

Ouadane

Founded by Berbers in the 12th century, Ouadane grew prosperous due to its location on the Trans-Saharan caravan routes, bearing host to traders bringing dates, gold, salt and slaves to the markets further north. A Portuguese trading post was established in 1487 in an attempt to gain access to the trade, but does not appear to have lasted very long. With the discovery of the sea routes around West Africa, the Trans Saharan routes fell into a slow decline, and with them, the towns that depended upon them for their livelihood – around the 16th century Ouadane began to fade.

Like Chinguetti, Ouadane was also a place of Islamic scholarship and the town is home to a number of ancient manuscripts. The buildings of the historic old town are clustered around a cliff and consist of old mosques and dwellings, their stone built structures blending into their environment, and one of the highlights of a visit to Mauritania is strolling through its narrow and atmospheric streets.

Day 7 - Tenewchert – Chinguetti

Drive to the picturesque oasis of Tenewchert located amidst the dunes, then continue to Chinguetti, one of Islam’s holiest cities and a real gem of Mauritania. With its collection of historic buildings, this is one of the Sahara’s most interesting towns, with a sense of history that is almost tangible. We drive through the desert, then have the remainder of the time in Chinguetti to savour its very special atmosphere. Overnight local guesthouse. (BLD)

Chinguetti

Founded in the 13th century as the centre of several trans-Saharan trade routes, Chinguetti’s well preserved historic buildings give it the sense of yesteryear and walking through its sandy streets, rubbing shoulders with blue-robed men and veiled women, it’s not hard to imagine that you’re in another time. The indigenous Saharan architecture of older parts of the city includes houses constructed of reddish dry-stone and mud-brick techniques, with flat roofs timbered from palms. Many of the older houses feature doors cut from massive ancient acacia trees, which have long disappeared from the surrounding area. Many homes include courtyards or patios that crowd along narrow streets leading to the central mosque.

Some of the most impressive buildings in the town include the Friday Mosque, an ancient structure of dry-stone construction, featuring a square minaret capped with five ostrich egg finials; the former French Foreign Legion fortress; and a tall water tower. The old quarter of Chinguetti has five important manuscript libraries of scientific and Koranic texts that date back centuries. with many dating from the later Middle Ages.

For centuries the city was a principal gathering place for pilgrims of the Maghreb to gather on the way to Mecca. It became known as a holy city in its own right, especially for pilgrims unable to make the long journey to Arabia. It also became a centre of Islamic religious and scientific scholarship in West Africa and in addition to religious training, the schools of Chinguetti taught students rhetoric, law, astronomy, mathematics, and medicine. For many centuries all of Mauritania was popularly known in the Arab world as Bilad Shinqit, “the land of Chinguetti.”

Day 8 - Mheirith – Timinit

Spend today discovering the stunning scenery of the Adrar, driving to the pretty oasis of Mheirith. From here we continue to Timinit, a seasonally inhabited oasis known for its large date plantations. Overnight camping. (BLD)


Day 9 - White Valley – Tergit

Visit the White Valley, named for its striking light sand which contrasts with the dark surrounding rocks, then continue to the oasis of Tergit, stopping to meet local people along the way. We explore the oasis with its lush palm groves, streams and ‘hot’ springs, and spend our last night in Mauritania at a tented camp, amidst beautiful surroundings. Overnight tented camp. (BLD)


Day 10 - Nouakchott

After breakfast, we drive back to the capital. There will be time to explore the fishermen’s beach and market, a vibrant area with boats landing on the beach with their catches, before transferring to the airport for your flight home. (BL)


We arrive in Nouakchott in the afternoon of the final day and you should not book any departure flight before the evening.

Desert scenery in the Adrar region - Mauritania holidays
Local men in the ancient city of Ouadane - Mauritania tours
The Atlantic coastline at Cap Blanc, Mauritania
Ancient manuscripts in the libraries of Chinguetti - Mauritania holidays and tours
Desert scenery in Mauritania

What's included?

  • Airport transfers

    We include arrival and departure transfers regardless of whether you book flights yourself, or we book them for you. If you’re booking them yourself, then please let us know the details so that we can arrange the transfers.

    Please note though that if you arrive earlier than Day 1 of the tour, and leave after the final day, we may need to make an additional charge for an airport transfer.

  • Accommodation

    Accommodation as listed in the dossier. The nature of the destinations that we operate may sometimes mean that we need to change hotels, but we’ll always endeavour to keep the same standards. Please be aware that as we operate in many countries where tourism is in its infancy, hotel standards may not be the same as you’re used to elsewhere.

  • Guides

    In most cases, you will be accompanied by one guide from start to finish. However, there may be occasions when this is not practical, for example, if your trip covers a number of different countries. In these cases it often makes more sense to include different guides for each place, to take advantage of their specific knowledge of the destination.

  • Meals

    As listed within the itinerary / dossier (B-Breakfast, L-Lunch, D-Dinner). These will vary from trip to trip – in some areas it makes sense to include all meals while in others there is a good choice of restaurants and we feel people might like to ‘do their own thing’ now and again.

  • Entrance fees

    Entrance fees are listed for those sites that we mention within the itinerary. If there are any other sites that you’d like to see, these would be at your own expense.

What's not included?

  • Visas

    We don’t arrange visas for our travellers, but if an invitation letter is necessary then we will arrange this for you. If you need any advice with visas then just give us a call, or alternatively, a visa agency such as Travcour can assist.

  • International flights

    Many of our travellers arrive from different destinations and so we don’t include international flights in the cost of our tours. If however, you would like us to book flights for you, then just give us a call and we’ll be happy to discuss your options.

  • Travel Insurance

    If you need any assistance with this, then let us know – although we can’t arrange it ourselves we can point you in the direction of a reputable provider that can assist.

Visas

All travellers will require a visa to enter Mauritania. These are currently available upon arrival for €60, which must be paid in Euros. You should also bring two passport photos for this.

Your passport must be valid for six months after your date of entry into Mauritania.

Visa regulations can change however and so we recommend that you contact your nearest embassy for the most up to date information.

Health and vaccinations

We are not medically qualified and so we recommend that you speak to your doctor or nearest health professional for advice concerning recommended vaccinations. For more advice on vaccinations, you can also visit www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk.

Please note that Yellow Fever is a compulsory vaccination for entering Mauritania and you must bring your international vaccination certificate with you, otherwise you may not be allowed to enter.

Insurance

It is a condition of joining our tours that you have suitable travel insurance in place, and we cannot accept travellers without insurance. All policies differ in terms of what they will cover, but as a minimum you need medical and health cover which will cover you for the whole time that you are away. Most policies will also include cancellation cover, which will cover you if an unforeseen circumstance obliges you to cancel your trip. We recommend that you obtain your insurance as soon as you book your trip.

Please note that government travel warnings often affect the validity of your travel insurance, and you should check this with your insurance company.

Money

The local currency in Mauritania is the ougiya, which is impossible to obtain in Europe. It is best to bring Euros for exchange purposes.

You will find it difficult to change money outside of Nouakchott and so we recommend that you change money at the hotel upon arrival.

Local conditions

When travelling to some of the destinations we offer you need to bear in mind that things won’t always work here as we’re used to them working at home. Travelling in underdeveloped and untouristed destinations requires both patience and a sense of humour. There may be problems with infrastructure, attitudes may be different, and maintenance may not be as high a standard as we would always like, but this is very much part and parcel of travelling in such a place. We aim to resolve any issues as quickly as possible, and thank you for your patience.

Travel advice

We keep a very close eye on the travel advice issued by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office so that we can keep you up to date with any warnings. At the time of writing the FCO advises against travel to all parts of Mauritania.

We work very closely with our local team and are fully confident that we can operate tours safely in Mauritania. Should you have any concerns over safety please do not hesitate to contact us and we can address your concerns.

This relates to advice from the British government – other nationalities need to check the stance of their own governments.

Please note that the information contained above is highly susceptible to change, and while we endeavour to keep up to date we recommend that you use this as a guide only. Should you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Updated May 2019

Desert scenery in the Adrar region - Mauritania holidays
Local men in the ancient city of Ouadane - Mauritania tours
The Atlantic coastline at Cap Blanc, Mauritania
Ancient manuscripts in the libraries of Chinguetti - Mauritania holidays and tours
Desert scenery in Mauritania
Date(s)
Price (PP) Exc. Flights
Single Supplement
Trip Status
Date -
28 December 2020
Price (PP) -
£1,999
Single Supplement -
£150
Trip Status -
Available
Date -
03 March 2021
Price (PP) -
£2,049
Single Supplement -
£150
Trip Status -
Available
Date -
29 December 2021
Price (PP) -
£2,049
Single Supplement -
£150
Trip Status -
Available
Date -
02 March 2022
Price (PP) -
£2,049
Single Supplement -
£150
Trip Status -
Available
Date -
28 December 2022
Price (PP) -
£2,049
Single Supplement -
£150
Trip Status -
Available