There’s no doubt that Mauritania has some of the continent’s grandest scenery. The Adrar region offers up epic sand dunes, eye-popping plateaus and green oases, plus Africa’s biggest monolith. The TagÃ¢nt has similar charms, and both hide ancient (and World Heritageâ€“listed) caravan towns Chinguetti, OuadÃ¢ne and OualÃ¢ta. Millions of migratory birds winter along the coast at Parc National du Banc d’Arguin and the expanding capital Nouakchott is where modernity takes root in the desert.
The highlight of any visit is a wander through the labyrinthine lanes of Le Ksar (Old Town). The principal attraction is the 16th-century stone mosque (no entry to non-Muslims). Also of great interest are the five old libraries, which house the fragile-as-dust ancient Islamic manuscripts of Chinguetti.
Parc National du Banc d'Arguin
Port de Pêche
Do not swim here or nearby, there’s a strong undertow and people drown every year. Otherwise, it’s pretty safe as long as you’re vigilant and sensible with your possessions, although people can be sensitive about photography.
The city itself sprawls north to south; mostly low slung buildings, paved roads petering out into sandy pathways a few blocks from the main artery. Often bypassed by travellers making a dash to the capital or to the Adrar, its sleepiness is its selling point. North of the centre, the Baie de l’Etoile resembles a mini Banc d’Arugin and a destination for intrepid kite-surfers. Daily life â€“ the call of the muezzin, afternoon football, joggers hugging the coastal road â€“ feels close.
Réserve Satellite du Cap Blanc
The reserve is near the lighthouse at the southern tip of Cap Blanc. To get there, cross the rail tracks near the fenced-in SNIM refinery on the edge of Nouadhibou; the piste (track) is sandy and sometimes rough for the final 8km. Also near the lighthouse is the spectacular wreck of the United Malika, a cargo ship beached on a wide sandy beach and looking all the world like the set of a Hollywood movie.