Mauritania is among those African nations better defined as a traveler than a tourist destination. It is also among a small family of African territories that bridge the Moslem/Arabic north with the Afro/Bantu regions of the south. It is an Islamic republic, deeply conservative, and with an inherently unstable and never wholly tolerant political system. It is governed by Sharia Law, which, whatever might be the ramifications on the country’s human rights record, at least guarantees a minimum of street crime and a generally safe and respectful traveling environment.
There is very little in the country to entertain the culture tourist or the thrill seeker, and what appeal there does exist lies mainly in the vastness of the interior desert landscapes, the silence, the desolation and the vast empty spaces. Most of the sedentary population is focused on the long Atlantic seaboard, with the remainder adhering to ancient nomadic traditions that have lasted for thousands of years.
The capital Nouakchott is a sprawling, dusty and compacted city with sand dunes looming on the outskirts and a colorful conglomeration of people of widely different hues. The cultural bedrock remains the strong Moorish traditions of the north, but with also the noise, color and vivacity of the south.
Travel To & Within Mauritania
Why Travel To Mauritania
For overland travelers, and desert and 4×4 junkies Mauritania is a paradise. The road network is poor, but space is ubiquitous and the Sahara Desert covers almost the entire country. The nation has a limited natural heritage, but what it does have is both impressive and of vital international ecological importance. The Banc d’Arguin National Park, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is an extensive area of desert coastline, with associated mudflats, that serves as a vital breeding grounds for an extraordinary diversity of temperate and tropical seabirds. A site of similar importance is the Diawling National Park, an annually flooded lake situated along the Senegal River Delta, that is administered as part of a trans-frontier biosphere reserve.
Culturally Mauritania enjoys comparatively limited ethnic diversity in the context of its neighborhood, and by dint of the nation’s strong religious traditions society tends to be conservative. Mauritanian music is highly regarded on the world music circuit but is largely uninfluenced by either western or mainstream Afro styles. The nation’s principal music celebrity, popular female singer Dimi Tari Tichilat, suffers from a notable lack of verve and sexual energy in comparison to her regional colleagues.
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When To Visit Mauritania
There is no point when you are likely to be overrun by western tourists, and certainly the hot and dry desert conditions mean that you will never be washed out by rain. Naturally the climate is hot, with the months between June and October tending to be excruciatingly hot. The coolest and most comfortable months to visit the region are those between March and May.
December and January is the best time to visit the nation’s national parks and witness the breeding formations of migratory birds. Watch out at this time for the dust laden Harmattan desert winds.
A recent military coup has thrust Mauritania to the top of the global watch list, and although some unrest has followed this episode, the general effect has been restrained. An advisory remains in place, however, and caution should be exercised and advice sought when traveling to Mauritania.
The fact that Mauritania is an avowed Islamic Republic necessitates a high risk of terrorism. No major incidences have yet been reported however.
The levels of street crime, and crime generally, are low in Mauritania in comparison to other nations in the region, but reports of car hijacking in remote areas and rape are increasing. Avoid inter city or backcountry travel after dark, and the usual precautions of movement in urban areas after dark should be observed.
Homosexuality is a punishable offense. Sentences for drug offenses are severe.
Normal precautions in sexual behavior should be observed. Medical facilities in Mauritania are very basic.