Mauritania Desert Adventure

The westernmost country of the Sahara Desert, Mauritania is synonymous with the idea of remote, with vast areas that have barely been explored, except by blue robed nomads and their camels. This unique expedition takes you to its wildest and least known regions.

We start by exploring Banc D’Arguin National Park, home to huge numbers of migratory birds making the journey between Europe and Africa. From here we turn inland and cross a remote part of the desert on our way to the historic cities of Chinguetti and Ouadane, once important on the old trading routes between the Sahara and Morocco, and now gracefully crumbling into the sands. From here we venture into the unknown. At Trig Chauail we see rock art dating back six thousand years, when large wildlife roamed a greener Sahara, and then traverse the sand sea of Erg Ouarane, hundreds of kilometres of dunes that stretch as far as one can sea. The going here will be tough at times but the rewards immense – few travellers have ever crossed this vast natural barrier, and human traces are sparse.

Exiting the dunes, we come to the mountains of Aoukar, with remains of prehistoric villages, then drive to Oulata, with its traditional painted houses. Our next stop is Aoudaghost, an outpost of the ancient empire of Ghana, the oldest known kingdom in sub Saharan Africa; along the way we stop to meet nomads in their goat hair tents, and hope to see some of the camel caravans that still tread these routes.

On our way back to the capital we stop at Kiffa to see traditional bead production, and meet the local inhabitants, then spend two days driving through remote towns to the coast, and Nouakchott.

This is a trip for the real desert enthusiast, following a little known route and stopping in places that rarely see visitors. Camping under the Saharan skies and crossing difficult terrain for much of the trip, creature comforts are few and far between but this is more than compensated for by the joy of exploring such an untouched land……

Highlights

  • Sand dunes of the Erg Ouarane
  • Camping under the Saharan sky
  • The ancient cities of Chinguetti and Ouadane
  • Remote desert exploration
  • Meet nomadic tribes

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 Hotel Azalai 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 but 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.

Days 2-3 - 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. Banc d’Arguin is home to a huge variety of birdlife and we spend time exploring on land and sailing between the sand banks. Overnight in tented camp. (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.

Days 4-5 - Desert crossing – Akjoujt - Chinguetti

Head 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. Accompanied by an expert guide we drive through a remote part of the desert, where we hope to encounter local nomads and see the traces of prehistoric man such as ancient pottery. We arrive in Chinguetti on Day 5. One night hotel, one night local guesthouse. (BLD)


Day 6 - Chinguetti

Explore the desert town of Chinguetti, once an important stop on the old Saharan camel caravans. We visit some of the old manuscript collections and climb the nearby dunes to eatch sunset over the town. Overnight La Gueila Guesthouse or similar. (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 watertower. 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 7 - Ouadane

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 and meet the people who still live here. 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 bring 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 - 8 - Guelb er Richat

Drive to the Guelb er Richat, an interesting crater like structure also known as the ‘eye of the Sahara’ and 40km wide. Overnight camping. (BLD)


Day 9 - Trig Chauail – El Ghallaouiya

Continue to the canyon of Trig Chauail. This site is rich in rock art, with hundreds of different examples displaying wildlife, hunters and chariots. We then head to the abandoned fort of Al Ghallauoiya, built by the French camel corps, where we camp for the night. Overnight camping. (BLD)


Days 10-12 - Erg Ouarane

We enter the immense sand sea of Erg Ouarane, eight hundred kilometres of sand dunes and one of the least known parts of the Sahara. Navigating by GPS, we forge a way through the sands, stopping to meet any nomads that we may encounter on the way. This is a spectacular but tough journey, and the thrill of it is very much in the knowing that very few have trodden this path before. Overnight camping. (BLD)


Days 13-14 - Aoukar - Oulata

Drive into the mountains of Aoukar, a difficult but spectacular journey. Once the shore of an ancient lake, long swallowed by the desert, it’s possible to find the remains of prehistoric villages dotted amidst the rocks and sand. We emerge from here at the oasis of Oulata. Overnight camping and local guesthouse. (BLD)


Day 15 - Oualata

A full day dedicated to exploring the small town of Oualata, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The town is known for its beautifully painted adobe houses, which merge the Berber art forms with those of sub-Saharan Africa, and also houses some ancient manuscripts in a small museum. Overnight local guesthouse. (BLD)


Days 16-18 - Aoudaghost

Drive south to the remains of Aoudaghost, believed to be the northernmost town of the ancient empire of Ghana, dating back to the 6th century. Our journey takes us through dunes, scattered acacia forests and past nomadic encampments. We’ll also discover the remains of a barely known site, Togba. At Aoudaghost we explore the site with its ancient clay granaries tucked away in caves. Overnight camping. (BLD)


Day 19 - Kiffa

Head to the small town of Kiffa, known for its traditional glass bead production, which we hope to see in process while here. Overnight camping. (BLD)


Days 20-22 - Nouakchott

A long drive from southern Mauritania back to the capital Nouakchott, arriving in the evening of Day 22. Here our adventure ends, and after a chance to shower off the desert dust, transfer to the airport for your flight home. Overnight camping (Day 20) and simple hotel (Day 21). (BLD)


Please note that we sell this trip in conjunction with our local partner and therefore you should expect people of different nationalities and a maximum group size of 16 on this tour.

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

    Accompanied by Alberto Nicheli. Alberto has a wealth of experience and understanding of this area. He has lead more than 60 Saharan expeditions, including ethnological research on the Tuareg and rock art. He has organised field researches and logistics for documentary films with Discovery Channel on the salt caravans of Niger and has coordinated photographic projects on West Africa with renowned photogrpahers Angela Fisher and Carol Beckwith from National Geographic, as well as collaborating on different television programmes. Alberto has completed solo Sahara crossings, as well as some exploratory missions. Resident in West Africa in the last 32 years, his expertise ranges from African history to tribal art.

  • Meals

    As listed within the itinerary / dossier (B-Breakfast, L-Lunch, D-Dinner).

  • 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 (www.travcour.com) 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 November 2020

 

Date(s)
Price (PP) Exc. Flights
Single Supplement
Trip Status
Date -
19 February 2022
Price (PP) -
£4,999
Single Supplement -
£400
Trip Status -
Available
Date -
18 February 2023
Price (PP) -
£4,999
Single Supplement -
£400
Trip Status -
Available