Located on North Africa’s Atlantic coast, Mauritania is famous for its desert terrain and ancient culture. Travelers have long romanticized the region with its Saharan landscapes and nomadic peoples, but even today, traveling into the wilds of Mauritania is not without its dangers. The U.S. State Department has issued travel warnings for travelers to consider. However, if you decide to visit, keeping precautions in mind, you’ll have a myriad of incredible attractions to explore. Mauritania features amazing experiences that travelers are unlikely to forget.
The capital city of Mauritania is a coastal city that brims with crowds, markets, and amenities like hotels and restaurants. Famous for its fresh seafood, Nouakchott features several picturesque beaches and nearby fish markets that are popular with visitors and locals alike. The exuberant marketplaces of the city are celebrated for their handicrafts like carved wood chests, silver jewelry, and camel wool rugs. As the capital, Nouakchott features many of the country’s more modern attractions like the Franco-Mauritanian Cultural Center, which hosts concerts and art exhibits. Many travelers to the city also enjoy outdoor pastimes like surf-cast fishing.
Located in the shifting dunes of the northern Sahara, Chinguetti was a medieval trading center located in northern Mauritania. Today it's one of the country’s most popular tourist attractions. The trading center was once a major stop between the Mediterranean and sub-Saharan Africa. Visitors to this UNESCO World Heritage Site will be able to witness its red-brick architecture, which once housed old libraries and rooms devoted to scholarly debate. With its towers, fortresses, and courtyards, Chinguetti is a testament to the region’s historic Islamic past.
As the only large-scale national park in Mauritania, Banc d’Arguin is a must-visit destination located on the Atlantic coast. The park is an important breeding site for flamingos, pelicans, terns, and other migratory birds. Its waters are regarded as among the richest in all of Western Africa. Also, the Imragouen people still adhere to their traditional way of life here and, in some villages, may be willing to assist visitors on fishing excursions.
With its kasbah compared to those of Marrakech and Fez, Oualata is a famous Mauritania attraction that’s been heavily influenced by Moorish and Berber cultures. Located in Southeastern Mauritania, Oualata is an oasis town that is now one of the country’s most beloved World Heritage Sites. Home to the Great Oualata Mosque, the city also features a manuscript museum that attracts many visitors.
As the main population center of the Adrar Plateau, the northern town of Atar is home to one of Mauritania’s few airports. Many travelers set off for caravan towns, Moorish ruins, and other northern attractions like Chinguetti from Atar. The city is noted for its bazaars and historic mosque. If you’re in search of traditional Mauritanian handicrafts, this is an ideal place to shop for souvenirs. Atar also features guest houses and traditional restaurants.
Once an important trade post, Ouadane was a Trans-Saharan stop for caravans. Though few people still live here, the dust-swept down is mainly abandoned, but its old section is a World Heritage Site and attracts many of Mauritania’s tourists. The arid landscape and heat may put off some visitors, but if you choose to make the trek, you’ll be able to explore the town’s ruins. Sometimes, Berber tradespeople can be found selling their traditional handicrafts near the town’s red brick walls.
Nema is one of the best places to visit to witness Mauritania’s old nomadic way of life. The city is located far inland in southeastern Mauritania near the border with Mali. The mountain plateaus outside of Nema are ideal for hiking and attract many explorers. Though the town feels quite remote, it does contain a small hospital and an airport, which makes reaching the city a relative breeze. Nema has long been an important caravan stop between the coast and the interior of Western Africa.
One of Mauritania’s primary commercial centers and second-largest population center, Nouadhibou is located on the northern coast of the country. An important fishing and mining city, Nouadhibou’s main point of interest for tourists is its ship graveyard, which is the largest in the world. For decades, the city turned a blind eye to merchants who dumped their aging ships in its waters for a fee, of course. Today, the rotting ships help define the city’s unique coastline.
Located on the edge of the Tangent Plateau in South-central Mauritania, the city of Tichit is a postcard-worthy setting and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Tichit boasts an ancient past and is one of Western Africa’s oldest continuous settlements. The cliffs, where many ancient people took shelter, contain rock paintings that date to 500 BCE and earlier. Tichit is also home to one of the country’s most famous mosques and is a major draw for visitors to the city.
Terjit is an oasis town situated on the western edge of the Adrar Plateau. Visitors typically set off to reach Terjit from Atar to witness its streams and palm-fringed encampments. In ancient times, Terjit was a site where African coronations and important religious ceremonies took place. Today, intrepid travelers choose to visit Terjit to witness its dramatic landscape that includes steep gorges, shady date palms that grow on the banks of streams, and the surrounding cracked desert terrain.