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Mauritania Driving Guide

Mauritania is a unique beautiful country. Explore all of it by driving when you get your International Driving Permit

2021-08-03 · 9 mins

A land of sweeping sands and lively coasts, The Islamic Republic of Mauritania is also called “The Land of Wind and Ghosts.” One of the least populated countries in Africa, Mauritania encompasses most of the Sahara desert. Most tourists can be seen driving through Mauritania in 4x4’s across the dunes to unique locations that could be argued as cradles of civilization and astounding natural wonders.

A former French colony, Mauritania today thrives on mineral and oil mining as its number one industry. The people of Mauritania who used to be nomadic still enjoy simple lives today, commonly seen wearing loose and bright garments to ward off the heat. Mauritania may be one of the least visited countries in the world, but it holds great adventures waiting for those who wish to cross the eye of the Sahara.

How Can This Guide Help You

Visiting a foreign country can already be a daunting task when you are unprepared. More so when you have to drive across said foreign country. This comprehensive guide hopes to give you guidance to make your experience of driving through Mauritania a comfortable and enjoyable experience. Included in this guide is general information, car rental procedures, road rules, as well as popular locations to visit—all with the goal of maximizing your trip to Mauritania.

General Information

Located at the Atlantic coast of Africa, The Islamic Republic of Mauritania comprises mostly of the Sahara desert and the Atlantic coast. Most of the cities of Mauritania are based around oases, thus are quite far from each other. Mauritania’s capital, Nouakchott, is a mix of residential and industrial facilities, which include the Nouakchott International Airport. Driving in Nouakchott will be the easiest part of driving in Mauritania. City driving here is slow, but traffic jams are common.

Geographic Location

The Islamic Republic of Mauritania is centrally located in the middle of Western Sahara to the northwest, Algeria to the northeast, Mali to the east and southeast, and Senegal to the southwest. To the west lies the Atlantic Ocean, with a 435 mile (700 km) coastline. The country is generally plains and flatlands though it has a series of sandstone plateaus, the highest of which is the Kediet Ijill, at the height of 1000 meters.

Mauritania has a population of about 4.1 million people, making it one of the world’s lowest population densities, at about ten people per sq. mile, or 3.9 people per sq. km. Arabic is the national language of Mauritania, with French being a commonly spoken second language due to being a former colony.

Languages Spoken

One thing that could surprise you when driving in Mauritania is language. Mauritania has an official language, Arabic, as well as national languages The Arabic used in Mauritania is a bit different, as it is spoken with a certain accent due to the country’s history. It was only in the ’80s that Arabic was made the official language and became the medium used by educational institutions.

History

Some people regard Mauritania, or the Sahara desert, to be one of the yet-to-be-discovered cradles of humanity. Paleolithic and Neolithic discoveries point that the region was once greatly more inhabited than it currently is. Once the location of the Amazigh Almoravids, an 11th-century Islamic movement that practiced an austere and puritanical version of Islam. Once the main route of trade to Morocco, Mauritania always had paper, salts, fine cloths, and gold in transit.

In 1448, Portuguese mariners founded the fort of Arguin, which consequently became the main trading hub in the area. These commodities attracted the attention of Spanish, Dutch, and French traders, most often with them competing with each other. The French expanded their presence beyond trade, and eventually claimed sovereignty of the region, and colonized Mauritania until it declared its independence in 1960.

Government

Mauritania went through much turmoil, going through three coup d’états before its current government configuration. Mauritania is led by a president, who appoints a prime minister. Before 2017, Mauritania had a bicameral legislature represented by the Senators, elected by municipal leaders, and the National Assembly, elected through public votes for a five-year term of office. In 2017, the Senate was abolished in favor of the National Assembly as the sole legislative body.

The country is then divided into administrative regions for easier governmental implementation in such a wide yet sparsely populated land area. Each division is led by a governor. The capital of Mauritania, Nouakchott, is an administrative region on its own. This is where you will likely start your journey when driving through Mauritania.

Tourism

Mauritania suffers from poor tourism due to stigma about its violent history. With an estimated 31,000 US Dollars in tourism earnings as of 2016, while its neighbors are earning in the hundreds of thousands, Mauritania remains one of the least visited countries by tourists. But all that is changing, with multiple locations that were previously unavailable for tours opening up. Slow but steady is the best description of Mauritania’s steadily rising tourism industry.

Here are some of the best places to see in Mauritania:

  • Chinguetti
  • Richat Structure
  • Banc d’Arguin National Park

If you do make your way to Mauritania, the least advisable time to visit and be driving in Mauritania is during summer, when rains can be an unpleasant experience. Sand plus rain, equal sludge. If you do come at this time, make sure to rent a 4x4 vehicle.

International Driver’s Permit FAQs

Driving in a foreign country can be daunting, especially in an environment as harsh as the Sahara desert. These are some of the frequently asked questions about driving through Mauritania, so you can be prepared and confident to get you driving in Mauritania now with your international driver’s license. Here are some of the most commonly asked questions about getting your international driver’s permit for Mauritania.

What Are the Driver’s License Requirements in Mauritania?

Your International Driver's Permit (IDP) and your valid local license are both required for a foreign visitor for driving in Mauritania. Requirements for getting an IDP through the International Drivers Association are easy, and there is no excuse not to have one. Driving without a license could result in fines. Registration and insurance are also required but are available from car rental companies.

Why Are Some Sources Saying You Can Drive Without an IDP in Mauritania?

Though some sources claim that presenting your native driver’s license will be honored by Mauritanian police, this is false. This operates on the principle that you can bribe the officers to ignore your lack of documentation. Not only is this illegal, but this could also end up costing you much more than the cost of an IDP. Checkpoints are plentiful in Mauritania; imagine having to deal with all these stops. Getting an international driver’s permit is more cost-effective.

There really is no excuse not to. have an IDP while driving in Mauritania. Requirements for getting one are documents you already have. And applying for one through the International Driver’s Association website is so easy.

Is my IDP Valid for Rural and City Driving in Mauritania?

If you are unfamiliar with the country, you may have some worries about the validity of your IDP in certain areas. But no need to be alarmed as, in both areas, your IDP is valid for driving in Mauritania. Map apps will be a big help as you navigate through the cities and into Mauritania’s rural areas. If you're headed to Banc D’ Arguin by driving in Mauritania, map apps may not be so helpful. Consult a local guide instead.

What Are the Requirements to Apply for an IDP in Mauritania?

An international driver’s license can be acquired from the Ministry of Equipment and Transport This process, of course can be avoided by going to the International Driver’s Association application page. You can get the IDP delivered to your door or download a digital copy. As soon as you arrive in the country, you can be driving in Mauritania. Requirements for the IDP are a photo of your native driver’s license and a passport-sized photo, as well as your signature.

You need to have your IDP before you go driving in Mauritania. A zip code will ensure faster delivery of your IDP, so you can get to driving in Mauritania. Videos on the application process can be found on the International Driver’s Association website and even on Youtube.

Renting a Car in Mauritania

With kilometers of sprawling desert between locations, there is no better way to get around than driving a self drive car through Mauritania. Distance between cities as well as the sparse population makes public transportation a nightmare. A public utility vehicle, usually a minibus, will fill up on passengers before leaving, which could take as long as three days. Good thing that if you have an IDP, you can be driving in Mauritania. Distance wouldn’t pose much of a problem anymore.

Car Rental Companies

Due to not being a tourism hotspot, Mauritania has only a few car rental companies to choose from. Good thing that the companies available already have proven track records for providing quality vehicles and good service. Make sure to contact these rental companies in advance for a hassle-free experience and soon get you driving in Mauritania. Requirements for renting a car are pretty much documents that you should already have on you.

Normally it’s better to get in touch with these rental companies at their main offices for better prices and packages. But, sometimes, time or situations don’t permit that. But no worries, there are ways around that situation. In case you were pressed for time, Europcar and Hertz have offices in the airport. Contact them through the web, so you get driving in Mauritania now.

Car rental companies in Mauritania

  • Europcar Mauritanie
    Address: Mohamed Abderrahmane، Nouakchott, Mauritania
  • Hertz Car Rental
    Address: Nouakchott, Mauritania
  • SIXTE MAURITANIA
    Address: Unnamed Road, Nouakchott, Mauritania

Documents Required

All car rental companies everywhere in the world have the most basic requirements. You don’t need to prepare anything that you wouldn’t already have if you were planning to travel to a foreign country. The only addition would be your International Driver’s Permit, which you will require when driving in Mauritania. The language barrier can be avoided by having an IDP, which is a translation of your license into the local language used. Prepare the following documents:

  • A Native Driver’s License
  • International Drivers Permit
  • Secondary proof of Identity, your passport is acceptable.

If you were unable to secure an IDP before getting to Mauritania, you can go online to the International Driver’s Association application page and order your IDP then. You can get a digital copy in 20 minutes, then have the physical copy shipped to you.

Vehicle Types

There are few choices of rental vehicles available in Mauritania. The first thing is to know the purpose of your visit and choose a good strong car. Choosing the right one could save you from headaches and unplanned costs. 4x4’s are mostly recommended due to the road conditions in Mauritania, while other vehicles are more for special purpose trips. While driving in Mauritania, the city will feature these common vehicle types:

  • Luxury Car - For people who are in Mauritania, specifically Nouakchott, for business. Luxury cars, sometimes called prestige cars, are available in self-drive or chauffeured services. Car rental companies will always try to offer you a chauffeured service. These luxury cars, mostly older model Mercedes, are not quite adapted for driving on Mauritania’s roads and serve more as a statement than for comfortable travel.
  • 2 or 4 Door 4x4 Vehicle – These are your best bet when driving in Mauritania. Distance between cities and locations makes traveling difficult, not to mention the sandy roads and pathways. Four-wheel drive vehicles will have plenty of power to make sure you don’t end up stuck in sand tracks somewhere, especially if you happen to arrive at Mauritania during its summer season, where monsoon rains turn the sand into sludge and could easily trap vehicles.
  • Family Van – Though these are available, they are hardly rented except for special occasions. Vans aren’t suited for desert driving and don’t have enough power to get you through rough roads unscathed. However, for family vacations or company outings, these are the best options you have short of renting a public utility bus, which may not be in the best conditions.

Car Rental Cost

Due to having so few car rental companies in Mauritania, these companies don’t really need to compete with each other. This results in a higher car rental cost compared to its neighboring countries. The average weekly rental cost in Mauritania is about $492 (412 Euros), or about $70 (59 Euros) a day. But considering the condition of public transport in Mauritania, rentals are still the best way to get around in Mauritania.

Aside from the cost of renting out the vehicles themselves, there will be other premiums like insurance, young driver fees, and other value-added charges. Insurance coverage for rented vehicles in Mauritania is valid only for ten days, so you will need to go back and renew your insurance periodically.

Age Requirements

The legal driving age in Mauritania is 18; however, car rental companies require you to be 25 to rent out a vehicle. If you are younger than this, you may be charged with a “young driver” fee on top of other rental costs. As arbitrary as this sounds, this is standard policy in most rental companies due to the varying legal driving age all over the world.

Car Insurance Cost

Aside from travel insurance, you also need to have car insurance when traveling to Mauritania. In Mauritania and most of its neighboring countries, vehicles will have a windshield sticker as proof of insurance. This means that you cannot avoid getting insurance for your rented vehicle, not that any car rental company would allow this in the first place. The sticker costs 950 oogs ($26) and is valid for ten days. Be wary, though, as car rental companies like to offer a secondary insurance policy for an extra cost, which don’t really add much value.

Car Insurance Policy

Other than rental vehicles, local cars having insurance is not common. The majority of vehicles that do get insurance are those that frequently cross the border for business and other tasks. These are usually indicated by the sticker on the windshield. Another popular form of insurance is the ECOWAS Brown Card. It was originally created as a coalition of multiple countries to protect themselves from accidents caused by foreign visitors.

Mauritania desert photo by Daniel Born

Road Rules in Mauritania

Driving in Mauritania may seem like a free-for-all experience, sometimes. But there are numerous laws in place to ensure the safety of the drivers and the public. Police can be very forgiving with citations, as long as you speak to them respectfully. There are, however, important regulations that will get you a citation no matter how nice you are. Here is some relevant info that could be helpful to you on your visit to Mauritania.

Important Regulations

The road rules in Mauritania are pretty much common sense laws, but as a traveler, be prepared to scratch your head frequently. Though there are laws enacted, regular Mauritanian drivers see these are more of guidelines rather than law. It is not uncommon to see cars going well beyond the speed limit or for them to scratch up against other cars in their hectic driving culture. There are, however, a few laws that are enforced, especially to foreign visitors

  • Seat Belts at all times for all occupants
    • Seat belts must be worn at all times inside the vehicle. This is a good idea wherever you may be
  • Child car seats required
    • Having children sit in child safety seats is mandatory.
  • Drunk driving law
    • Being a Muslim country, drinking is extremely frowned upon, much less drinking and driving.
  • Mobile phone laws
    • Talking on your mobile while driving is absolutely forbidden. Hands-free devices are available for this purpose.
  • Drug driving law
    • Like with drinking, driving under the influence of drugs is strictly prohibited.

General Standards

As you make your way around Mauritania, you will notice an abundance of older Japanese cars. These vehicles from the ’80s and ’90s are still the most popular vehicles driven in the country today. Most of these will not be in good condition, as the driving culture in Mauritania is aggressive, and these vehicles are banged up quite often.

The second most popular type of car in Mauritania is Mercedes, specifically older models from the ’70s and ‘80s. These are seen as prestigious by the locals, and tons of cars that were declared not road-worthy in other countries are imported here and restored to running condition. The third most commonly seen vehicles are minibusses, which serve as the main public transport vehicles. You can see them in terminals waiting for passengers for long drives to other cities.

Speed Limits

By law, the speed limit in Nouakchott is 80km/h, though rough roads make driving at these speeds unlikely. This results in a slower flow of traffic that causes congestion in some parts of the city. The hectic driving culture also means you will see cars slowly crawling and putting their nose of their car between you and the car ahead, trying to cut you off. Stay calm and just let it happen.

In contrast, the speed limit in rural roads and motorways is 100km/h, but since these roads are long and practically empty all the time, drivers don’t hesitate to go over the limit. Some cars don’t hesitate to go off the road to overtake you if they want to pass. This is highly discouraged, as there are dangers buried in the sand, and you as a visitor may not be aware of their presence. When one is driving in Mauritania, it's best to take on a defensive approach and stay alert.

Driving Directions

As mentioned before, driving is quite hectic in this country. So it’s best that as a visitor, you exercise extreme caution and keep an observant eye on other cars on the road. It is quite common for drivers to cut you off at intersections or for cars to ignore traffic lights. Keep a mindful eye on the road, and drive defensively.

Traffic Road Signs

Because the country’s cities are spaced quite a distance apart, and the roads are long, traffic signs are few and far between. The majority of the signs can be found in the city, and only in the most important places such as school zones and pedestrian crossings. Everywhere else is bare of signs. On the roadways, the majority of signs are directional ones that give distance. These are mostly in Arabic with a French or English translation beneath. Here are some you may see:

Speed Limit Sign
Every once in a while, you will see a sign reminding you of the speed limit in the city, which is 80km/h. Though rarely followed by the citizens, it's best that you, as a visitor, try to abide by said limits.

Traffic Lights
The traffic lights are the most recognized traffic sign anywhere. Traffic lights in Mauritania are sparse and regarded more as a suggestion rather than a rule.

Zebra Crossing
Observing the zebra crossing is an absolute must. Pedestrians can be as aggressive as drivers in vying for road space. Make sure that it is safe to proceed before going on your way.

The Real Danger Sign
Strictly speaking, this isn’t a road sign. It’s a grim reminder that things could go very wrong if you are not careful.On some rural roads in Mauritania, you will find burned car wrecks at the side of the road. They don’t remove these, as these serve as a warning that you have entered a location known to have active landmines—exercise extreme caution on these roads.

Right of Way

The right of way is something taught to all drivers anywhere in the world. In Mauritania, however, the right of way is more akin to “first come, first serve.” Drivers will constantly battle for positioning to be able to get the one up on their fellow drivers. There is no hesitation to go unto incoming traffic or “counterflow” if it means getting ahead.

You can apply for a local driver’s license in Mauritania by visiting the Ministry of Transportation and Equipment or through the local police station. One can get a learner’s permit at 16 years old but must be 18 to apply for a standard license. If you need to get a local driver’s license for Mauritania, you can take a written exam at any local police station and acquire a temporary driver’s license while waiting for a practical driving test schedule.

Mauritania does not observe a maximum driving age, allowing even geriatric drivers behind the wheel. All the more reason to exercise defensive driving while on your stay in Mauritania.

Driving Side

Traffic flows on the right side of the road in Mauritania. Unlike nearby countries, there is no law prohibiting you from driving a left-hand drive vehicle in Mauritania, as long as you don’t go against the right side flow. Be careful when overtaking, as a lot of drivers in Mauritania seem to ignore side mirrors and change lanes without looking at rear traffic.

Driving Etiquette in Mauritania

The driving etiquette in Mauritania is rough. Poor driver education coupled with rough roads has led to a volatile situation leading to road accidents being the 9th leading cause of death in Mauritania. Traffic signs and lights are mostly ignored, and drivers have no qualms about having their vehicles scratched up if it means they get to their destination faster.

The president of Mauritania has addressed the issue, and reforms are being developed in order to improve the driving conditions in the country. Their ultimate goal was to reduce the fatality rate by half by 2020. There is no collated data available to see if the government’s efforts have been fruitful yet. Until then, make sure to always drive defensively in Mauritania.

Car Breakdown

Your car breaking down in Mauritania is one of the worst things that could happen. Don't cause roadway obstructions in case this happens. Cities being so far away from each other, it would be extremely difficult to get roadside assistance. Car rental companies have a service of providing your rental with all the parts that commonly break down. If you took the chauffeured service, your driver would be educated in basic car repair. But just in case you do find yourself in that situation, here are some phrases to help you along:

  • Where can I find a payphone?
    • Arabic - 'ayn yumkinuni 'an 'ajida hatif eumumi?
    • French - Où puis-je trouver un téléphone public?
  • Where is the nearest gas station?
    • Arabic - 'ayn 'aqrab mahatat waqawd?
    • French - Où est la station d'essence la plus proche?
  • Can you call for a police officer?
    • Arabic - hal yumkinuk aistidea' dabit shirtat?
    • French - Pouvez-vous appeler un policier?
  • Is there a doctor nearby?
    • Arabic - hal yujad tabib qarib?
    • French - y a-t-il un médecin à proximité?
  • Does anyone here speak English?
    • Arabic - hal min 'ahad huna yatahadath al'iinjalizia?
    • French - Y-a-t-il quelqu'un qui parle anglais ici?

Hopefully, they can understand what you are trying to say and extend assistance to you in an emergency situation. If you have difficulty saying the phrases, maybe showing them the words on your smartphone could facilitate better communication. In the event you need to call emergency services, you can reach the police at 22217 and the fire department at 22218 and 22219 for traffic-related issues.

Police Stops

There are quite a few police checkpoints around Mauritania. They are there mostly to check your papers and to make sure no one is drunk driving. The police do not administer an alcohol blood test, but any liquor smell from a driver is an automatic violation, unlike other countries where you need to reach a certain blood alcohol level to be considered driving under the influence, here any amount of alcohol is considered too much.

The police are generally cheerful and speak to people in a respectful tone. However, they expect you to conduct yourself in the same manner. Losing your temper at a police officer will get you into trouble, from paying a small fine to spending the night in jail. Even if you feel slighted, keep calm and engage the officers respectfully. Your temperament will be appreciated and may even get you off from a violation just for being nice.

Asking Directions

With the lack of road signs within the city, you could easily get lost, especially if you are a first-time visitor. Just in case you find yourself lost, here are some phrases that could help you find your way. Remember to maintain adequate distance and to speak with a smile in order to avoid misunderstandings, as well as begin with a greeting appropriate for the time of day.

  • Good Morning: I don’t speak Arabic or French
    • Arabic - sabah alkhyr 'ana la 'atakalam alearabiat 'aw alfaransia
    • French - Bonjour, je ne parle ni arabe ni français
  • Good Afternoon/Evening, I don’t speak Arabic or French
    • Arabic - masa' alkhayr , 'ana la 'atahadath alearabiat 'aw alfaransia
    • French - Bonjour, je ne parle ni arabe ni français
      Follow this up with your question
  • How do I get to _______?
    • Arabic – kayf yumkinuni aldhahab 'iilaa_______?
    • French - Comment puis-je aller à_______?
  • Do you know the way to ______?
    • Arabic – hal taerif altariq 'iilaa ______?
    • French - Connaissez-vous le chemin pour ______?
  • Will this road lead to ______?
    • Arabic – hal sayuadiy hdha altariq 'iilaa ______?
    • French – Cette route mènera-t-elle à ______?
      End the conversation with
  • Thank you for your help, goodbye
    • Arabic – shukraan lak ealaa musaeadatik , wadaeaan
    • French - Merci pour votre aide, au revoir
  • Much appreciated, goodbye
    • Arabic – muqdar jiddaan , wadaeaan
    • French – Très apprécié, au revoir

Other Tips

As always, when visiting a new place, it's best to educate yourself on local laws and taboos. There are only a few things to avoid while in Mauritania. Take these to heart and avoid conflicts during your stay in the land of winds and ghosts.

Can you drive around Mauritania if you have alcohol but are not drunk?

Mauritania is often referred to as a “dry-country,” meaning alcohol is prohibited. However, one can still access liquor in certain places. In Mauritania, there is no “legal” blood alcohol level. Any amount of alcohol, even just the smell of it on you, will get you a violation for drinking under the influence. It’s best not to partake of alcohol at all while in this country.

Should I install a dash-cam?

Mauritanians, especially the older ones, are quite sensitive to any sort of photography or filming. Never go around taking photos or videos without first asking anyone who will be even slightly in the frame for their consent. Obvious dashboard cameras are treated much in the same way. It will invite negative emotions from people around you. If you need footage while driving in Mauritania, video from a discreet body cam can suffice.

Is it safe to drive at night in Mauritania?

Of course, the answer would differ depending on where in Mauritania you are. But the general consensus is that a visitor should avoid night driving at all. Despite being a lowly populated country with a large land area, police do not have the ability to quickly respond to emergency situations, more so at night. There are also certain lawless elements that especially go after foreign-looking individuals.

Driving Conditions in Mauritania

Mauritania has challenging road conditions, with only about 2,070 km (1,286 miles) of paved roads and 710 km (441 miles) of hard-packed dirt roads. The remaining roads in the country, about 5,140 km (3,194 miles), are unimproved pathways. 4x4 vehicles are a must for a visitor who is still unaccustomed to Mauritian driving conditions. Drivers are aggressive but don’t drive too fast in the city, as the road conditions hamper fast travel.

Night driving is extremely difficult in Mauritania. Inadequate lighting, poor road conditions, and the presence of animals on the streets are all dangerous for a driver unfamiliar with the terrain. Another danger is of driving in Mauritania during summer. Summer brings monsoon rains that quickly turn the sandy roads into mushy tire traps. As dangerous as all this sounds, one can still enjoy driving in Mauritania by taking the tips in this guide to heart.

Accident Statistics

With the latest statistical information (2016), Mauritania ranks 33rd in the world for road-related deaths. The WHO estimates over a thousand people died due to traffic-related incidents as of 2016. Information about smaller traffic incidents in Mauritania is difficult to get, as small scrapes and hits are so common that mostf people don’t bother reporting it.

Common Vehicles

After driving in Mauritania for a day, you would quickly realize that the majority of cars on the streets are cars from the ‘80s and ‘90s. Locals find the tough bodies and design pleasing. Japanese cars are the most common, specifically the old Toyotas and Nissans. For the wealthy in Mauritania, 80’s era Mercedes are the most preferred. Public transports are mostly minibusses. You can also find several passenger cars. The newer vehicles in Mauritania can be found in car rental company’s parking lots.

Toll Roads

Currently, there are no toll roads in Mauritania. There are several fees at the borders for various purposes, such as travel insurance. Roads are an undeveloped part of Mauritania, and the creation of toll roads is still quite far away.

Road Situations

While in Nouakchott, the roads are either surfaced with pavement or hard-packed earth. This results in a smoother riding experience compared to the rest of the county. It may require your attention, though, as roads rarely have paint indicators for lanes or edges. Sand blowing on the roads can also obstruct your view of the road itself. Due to these reasons, drivers generally drive below the speed limit.

On the roads outside the city, it’s a different situation. Having the open desert beside the roads means much more room, and drivers almost always go above the 100 km/h speed limit. Some even organize desert races with sporty 4x4 vehicles. As a visitor, you need to be defensive and observant when driving outside of the city. The roads are long stretches with nothing in the form of service to help you in an emergency. Always leave the city with extra fuel and water.

It’s easy to be tempted to go off-road when you are driving a powerful 4x4 vehicle that can handle the sand. But during the course of its history, Mauritania has a lot of unfound land mines buried in the sand. Though they were once in clearly identified areas, the strong winds and shifting sands have displaced these mines all over the place buried in the sand. Driving over one of these mines can cause serious injury, if not fatal. Stay on the solid dirt or paved roads.

Driving Culture

The driving culture of Mauritania can be described with one word: Aggressive. Old sturdy vehicles are the preferred mode of transport here, and they have no qualms about scratching themselves up if it means getting the upper hand on the road. They won’t hesitate to cut you off even if you have the right of way. Discretion and defensive driving is recommended to any visitor in Mauritania.

Local drivers have it very easy when getting a license in Mauritania, and there are not enough measures in place to make sure drivers conduct themselves safely. The government of Mauritania is aware of the problems with its driving culture and is trying to pass legislation to improve driver education. The driving culture is expected to improve over the years, but for now, it’s best to be hyper aware and protect yourself at all times while on the roads of Mauritania.

Other Tips

Like any other new country you visit, there will always be differences that you may not be aware of. These are small things that locals are aware of, but could potentially cause problems for a visitor like yourself. Here are some tips about driving that could save you from hassles and even save your life.

Should I Trust My Map App?

The roads in Nouakchott are very much documented on the maps, and satellite views are very helpful. Most of the roads in Nouakchott are similar in composition, so there is nothing really to worry about when the app suggests a different route. Chances are, the conditions of that road will be the same as the road you are already on. However, outside of the city, it's mostly just one long stretch of road until you get to your destination, so the map app could prove less useful.

Is It Safe to Drive in the Rain?

Most people don’t think of rain when talking about a desert country. Summer rains in Mauritania, however, present a problem for drivers. Loose and drifting sand plus heavy rains equal sand sludge. Getting stuck on the roadside or on the road itself is always a possibility. This is the reason that 4x4 vehicles are recommended to anyone renting a vehicle in Mauritania.

Why Is Driving Near Mali Discouraged?

Mauritania declares some areas as “off-limits.” These “No Movement Zones” are near Mali, where armed groups engaged in an active insurgency and frequently cross the border to launch attacks in Mauritania. Due to Mauritania’s expansive nature, police are not able to maintain an active presence to defend against these insurgents. Cell phone coverage is also spotty in these areas, creating a problem of not being able to call for help.

Is Driving in Rural Areas Safe?

Daytime driving in rural Mauritania is relatively safe, safer still if you are traveling in groups. There are a lot of dangers present, such as speeding dump trucks, landmines, animals crossing the road, and lawless elements. It’s best to consult local guides in what areas are the most dangerous and avoid them as much as possible.

Are There Obstacles on the Road?

The short answer is yes, always. Between poor road conditions, wandering pedestrians, and donkey-drawn carts all over, there are always obstacles on the roads in Mauritania cities. Outside the cities, animals commonly cross the roadways and pose a danger to any distracted driver. Always stay alert for these obstacles and protect yourself at all times.

Things to Do in Mauritania

The Islamic Republic of Mauritania does not see as much tourism as its neighbors. However, with new areas such as UNESCO heritage sites opening up, it is creating a new buzz in the world of traveling. Tourism is increasing slowly but surely each year and the things you can do in Mauritania increase every year.

Drive as a Tourist

Generally, car rental companies will encourage tourists to take up the chauffeured service. But, of course, if one feels confident in their driving skills, you can certainly drive yourself. Driving in Mauritania is a challenge, but to some people, that itself is the attraction. Just make sure to have your International Driver’s Permit, which is necessary for driving in Mauritania. A zip code should be provided for faster delivery of the IDP to your home address.

Work as a Driver

Mauritania has always had a robust mining industry, and with the recent addition of oil drilling, the sector is expanding rapidly. There is no shortage of driving jobs for the mining and supplier companies in the country. These involve driving large dump trucks across long distances. The median salary for these drivers is 7,150 MRO ($199) a month, with a low of 3440 MRO ($95) with the highest at 10,900 MRO ($303). Here are some of the basic requirement for a driving job:

  • Mauritanian Driver’s License with appropriate classification
  • Experience and a good driving record
  • Good communication in French and Arabic

Some companies may require that you can converse in English, but these companies usually pay a premium for the skill.

Apply for Residency

If you want to move to Mauritania, it begins with getting a Work Visa. The Visa is also required to apply for a local driver’s license if you are a foreign national. Here are the general requirements for acquiring a Work Visa in Mauritania:

  • Passport at least six months validity
  • Four recent passport photos
  • Two completed and signed visa application forms
  • A business cover letter from the applicant’s employer
  • A certificate of vaccination against yellow fever
  • Proof of accommodations in Mauritania
  • A flight itinerary or copy of airline tickets
  • Payment of the visa fee

Work as a Travel Guide

Even though tourism isn’t a fast moving industry in Mauritania, there are still travel guides and tour operators in the county. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough information of how a foreigner could work as a travel guide in Mauritania. But don’t let this deter you. Perhaps when you visit the country and book a tour of your own, you could find opportunities from the travel agency. But until then, there are other things one could do if you are planning to stay for good in Mauritania.

Other Things to Do

Mauritania may be frequently overlooked by world travelers, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything to do here. The country has much to offer in terms of places to visit and unique experiences. As a developing country, there are also plenty of opportunities to be part of it’s growth and journey towards modernity and financial stability.

Can I Teach English in Mauritania?

As the Mauritanian economy improves, the country is finding itself having to deal more and more with the international community. The number of institutions that teach English in Mauritania is always increasing and could be an opportunity for you. The best part is that a degree in education or an ESL (English as Secondary Language) certificate is not required! Here are some of the requirement and considerations for teaching English in Mauritania:

  • Degree requirement – Not required, ESL helpful, but not required
  • Knowledge in Arabic or French – Helpful, but not required
  • Teaching experience – Helpful, but not required

As you can see, the majority of the job application is to impress your interviewer that you have what it takes to teach English as a second language to students who have zero background in the English language. Best of all, you can already be teaching as you review for getting an ESL certification yourself.

Is it Advisable to Invest in Mauritania?

With its economy slowly opening due to oil mining, Mauritania is looking attractive to foreign investors. Foreign investors can obtain a majority stake in a local company for most industries save a few special interests, like fishing. The Mauritanian investment code does not allow for restrictions based on the origin of the investment concerning a Mauritanian company’s capital. This means a foreign investor is free to establish and control their own company in Mauritania.

Can I Work a White Collared Job in Mauritania?
Being a developing country, Mauritania needs a significant workforce engaged in marketing, sales, banking, and finance. There is also a significant need for medical professionals. The education sector also needs qualified individuals. Here is the list of the top-paying jobs in Mauritania and their income:

  • Surgeon 39,900 MRO to 112,000 MRO ($1109 to $3113)
  • Lawyer 33,500 MRO to 93,800 MRO ($930 to $2600)
  • CEO 22,400 MRO to 62,500 MRO ($620 to $1730)
  • Orthodontist 21,600 MRO to 60,300 MRO ($600 to $1676)
  • Pilot 16,000 MRO to 44,700 MRO ($445 to $1242)
  • Judge 33,500 MRO to 93,800 MRO ($931 to $2607)
  • Bank Manager 25,600 MRO to 71,500 MRO ($711 to $1987)
  • CFO 22,400 MRO to 62,500 MRO ($622 to $1737)
  • College Professor 19,200 MRO to 53,600 MRO ($533 to $1490)
  • Marketing director 14,400 MRO to 40,200 MRO ($400 to $1117)

Top Destinations in Mauritania

Mauritania is the land of adventure where you'll find some of the world's best travel destinations. Like in the adventure movies of the ‘90s of desert ruins and sand races, Mauritania has no shortage of interesting places to see and experience. With the lands being so expansive and the sand shifting in the wind, there is no doubt that there may even be places that have yet to be rediscovered and explored. So let’s get ready for an adventure and check out these popular places to visit in the country.

Chinguetti

Rolling sands have claimed this ancient city, which was once a trading outpost in 777AD. It served as a pilgrimage stop for those making their way to Mecca. One can admire the ancient stone architecture that was mostly built by hand. To this day, Chinguetti remains an important part of Islamic history and is part of the UNESCO world heritage sites.

Driving Directions:

Driving to Chinguetti from Nouakchott–Oumtounsy International Airport

  1. Continue to Utilisation de Akjoujt/N1 for 26 min (21.1 km)
  2. Head northeast for 180 m
  3. Turn right at the 1st cross street, then go 650 m
  4. Keep right 160 m, Slight right 170 m, Turn right 20.0 km,
  5. Follow N1 to Atar for 4 hr 42 min (407 km)
  6. Turn left onto Utilisation de Akjoujt/N1. Continue to follow N1 for 405 km
  7. At the roundabout, take the 1st exit and stay on N1 for 2.5 km
  8. Drive to your destination in Chinguetti for 1 hr 8 min (81.8 km)
  9. You have arrived at Chinguetti

Things to Do

Chinguetti stands as one of the most popular sites in Mauritania. Religious travelers come here to experience an important piece of their history, while scholars frequent the area for lessons about the past of humanity. Here are some of the things you could experience in Chinguetti.

  1. The Walls of Chinguetti
    Marvel at the construction of Chinguetti’s walls, made of stones painstakingly constructed by hand. Even with the sands reclaiming major portions of the city, you can still see the streets of Chinguetti clearly marked and portioned, establishing that it was once a major and bustling city. If you are the type to wonder how humans achieved so much without technology, this is the place for you.
  2. Chinguetti Mosque
    The mosque marks Chinguetti as one of Islam’s seven holy cities. Its medieval mosque features a prayer room with four aisles, a double-niched mihrab (an architectural piece that points the direction of Mecca), and a large courtyard that currently battles with the sands. Its size indicated it was once one of the most important mosques in Africa.
    Pilgrims to Mecca would stop at the mosque for prayers, then spend the night at Chinguetti to prepare themselves for the long journey ahead. Evidence suggests that the location used to store gold, ivory, salt, and dates that were widely traded in the area during the middle ages.
  3. The Libraries of Chinguetti
    Some have said that the existence and survival of the libraries of Chinguetti is a miracle in itself. With dry and dusty conditions, it’s a wonder that over 1,300 Quaranic manuscripts have survived to this day. Along with these manuscripts are documents that include contracts, bills of sale, as well as legal judgments, further proving that Chinguetti was as sophisticated as any city at the time.
    Scholars continue to come to the library to carefully inspect the manuscripts, which are crumbling and very sensitive. There have been efforts to relocate the manuscripts for preservation but have met resistance from locals and private landowners. UNESCO awarded the city with the status of World Heritage Site in order to preserve the city and its greatly important library.

Richat Structure or The Eye of Africa

Ever since man was first able to see the world from space, very few things have baffled the minds of humanity. One of them is the Richat structure, also known as the “Eye of Africa” or “Eye of the Sahara”. A 48-kilometer crater only truly observable from space, the eye was a mystery that had scientists and writers in a frenzy since its discovery. Theories, from the impact that ended the dinosaurs to it being an ancient city that collapsed, were all speculated.

Today more is known about the Richat and that it is a completely natural geological event that created it. It was supposed to be a volcano. Lava and the crust pushed themselves up and formed a mountain. But then the flow of magma changed, and, not having been able to break through, the eye lost its mass and collapsed on itself, creating the massive crater that can be seen today.

Driving Directions

From Nouakchott International Head northeast for 180 m

  1. Turn right at the 1st cross street, go for 650 m
  2. Keep right for 160 m
  3. Take a Slight right then another 170 m
  4. Turn right, then go 20.0 km
  5. Turn left onto Utilisation de Akjoujt/N1. Continue to follow N1 for 404 km.
  6. Turn right, then go another 400 m
  7. Welcome to Atar

Things to Do

There are only a few ways to truly enjoy visiting the Eye of Africa. Being a crater, the attraction most people come here for is the journey itself and not the destination. When you make your way to the Richat, try these options, and you may find it more enjoyable.

  1. Book a Camel Trek
    From Atar, you can arrange for a guided tour on camelback. This is, without a doubt, possibly a once-in-a-lifetime scenario for most people. Local Berber guides will accompany you on the trek, and you will get to travel into the Eye itself. Make sure to have your GPS on your device turned on since the eye is so large and the curvature slight that you may not even be aware you are already treading on the Eye of Africa.
  2. 4x4 Drive Caravan
    If you rented a 4x4, you could arrange for a caravan drive with other tourists to drive all the way to the edge of the Richat. Depending on the number of tourists on that day, you may find yourself waiting for others to split the price of the tour guide between yourselves. This, of course, is the fastest way to see the Richat.
  3. Book a Hot Air Balloon Tour
    When it comes to the Eye of the Sahara, this is without a doubt the most popular option. Seeing the eye from the air is the most breathtaking way to experience it. It may not be the same as seeing it from space, but from hundreds of feet in the air, you can see just how large the eye truly is. Some people like to book their trips at sunset, so they can experience the picture-perfect moment of the sun setting in the desert.

Banc d'Arguin National Park

What do you get when the desert meets the sea? You get Banc d’Arguin (Bay of Arguin) National Park. The meeting of two contrasting environments created a unique area of small islands, sand dunes, coastal swamps, and a bastion of biodiversity. This piece of land attracts sea turtles, dolphins, and migratory birds. The Imraguen fishermen who live on the banc have created a symbiotic relationship with the dolphins, which drive fish into the fishermen’s nets.

The Banc d’Arguin has recently been put on the conservation watch list by UNESCO due to overfishing, which could throw the balance of all life on the bank at risk. The Imraguen fishermen have shown willingness to change their ways in order to preserve the bay they call their home. Hopefully, with increasing tourism revenues, more conservation efforts can be put in place to preserve this amazing place. To get to Banc d’Aruin, make your way to Chami.

Driving Directions:

From Nouakchott International Airport, Head northwest for 850 m

  1. Take a slight right, then go for 230 m
  2. At the roundabout, take the 2nd exit then another 4.3 km
  3. Turn right travel another 3.1 km
  4. Turn right onto Autoroute Nouadhibou/N2 an go 206 km
  5. Welcome to Chami. The entrance to the park is south of here.

Things to Do

Knowing the history of a country you’re visiting is a worthwhile and educational experience. Tourist attractions are not just for the aesthetic, but a place where it holds a lot of history as time passes.

  1. Take a tour of the Islands and Tribal Villages
    For people who love to immerse themselves in foreign cultures, the islands and tribes tour is an absolute must. The tour takes about three days, spending the night at a different tribal village and learning their ways. Being originally a nomadic country, each tribe is different and has its own stories to tell.
  2. Bird Watching
    Banc d’Arguin is a favorite spot for migratory birds to stop over. Declared as one of the best places in the world for bird watching, Home to over 300 bird species, the site has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  3. Diving and Snorkeling
    Some people have compared the clear and cool waters of Banc d’Arguin to the beaches of the Caribbean. One of the favorite activities here is to take some gear and snorkel or dive in its rich waters. Here you can find yourself swimming alongside sea turtles, and if you’re lucky, with dolphins.

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