adventure travel & photography
Destinations: Pakistan ◦◦ India ◦◦Turkey ◦◦ Egypt ◦◦ Bulgaria ◦◦ Mongolia ◦◦ Bangladesh ◦◦ Jordan ◦◦ Russia ◦◦ Turkmenistan ◦◦ Iran ◦◦ Kazakhstan ◦◦ Japan ◦◦ Hong Kong ◦◦ Greece ◦◦ Ukraine ◦◦ Syria ◦◦ Morocco ◦◦ Italy ◦◦ Mauritania ◦◦ Oman ◦◦ Algeria ◦◦ Faroe Islands
Tours/Expeditions: List with all our scheduled tours and expeditions
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- Travel to Mauritania
This travelogue is dedicated to my trip with three friends through Mauritania in February 2023. The country is wild, authentic, and blessed with stunning natural beauty and hospitable people. It's a place for travelers looking to experience a reality and daily life unchanged for centuries. If you're seeking a glimpse of something natural, real, and largely untouched by civilization, Mauritania is the place for you!
We included the most interesting places in the country on our route, covering around 3,000 km. Our tour began and ended in Nouakchott, the capital, which we all agreed was the ugliest capital in the world. We had a delicious fish meal in a small pub in the center, and then spent the rest of the day at the fishing port, which is one of the largest in the world and the most colorful and exotic I have ever seen.
We drove inland in a 4x4 with a local driver, which I believe is the best way to explore the country if you have limited time. Our first stop was the renowned camel and cattle market near Nouakchott – one of the largest in the world. However, it doesn't compare to the camel market in Pushkar, India, which I had the chance to visit twice.
We drove 500km from the capital to reach Matmata—a stunning canyon with a river at the bottom and lounging crocodiles on the beach. It's the only place inside the Sahara where these reptiles still live. We watched them from a distance, as they were aggressive and hard to approach. The last leg of the journey was on a dirt road, passing through villages and oases. Truly a wonderful place!
We continued on to Tidjikja, a remote desert village that has been untouched for hundreds of years, I believe.
The road to Terjit, the next oasis village, was incredibly scenic. We often stopped to take photos. The dunes had an impressive presence on the road. Although it may appear passable, driving on it with a regular car is difficult, if not impossible in certain areas. You'd definitely need a 4x4.
In Terjit, we were welcomed with a delicious dinner and a pleasant group of travelers. All of them were experienced and had come to Mauritania for the grand adventure-riding the ore train across the desert.
We took a leisurely stroll around the quaint village, popping into a few shops to purchase some dates, the only local product available. The following morning, we had the serendipitous fortune of stumbling upon a breathtakingly beautiful garden, filled with palm trees, tranquil ponds and babbling streams. We spent quite a few hours in the garden, taking a dip in the ponds, and basking in the sun, relaxing under the palm trees - a truly blissful and memorable experience.
The next stop was Chinghetti, a town seemingly frozen in time, with its red brick and stone houses. We photographed the Friday Mosque from the roof of one of the libraries. It was built in the 13th or 14th century, and is the second oldest minaret still in use in the Muslim world. Non-Muslims are not permitted to enter the mosque.
The libraries are without a doubt the most intriguing and captivating thing in the city. Unfortunately only five of these libraries remain operational. We visited one of the libraries. The atmosphere was truly magical. We were welcomed by a kind man who showed us some of the incredible ancient texts, some of which dated back over three centuries. His voice was melodic and calming as he recited a passage from the holy Koran, creating a mystical atmosphere.
The Sahara hosts some of the world's largest sand dunes, located just outside the town. Tourists can rent camels and embark on a trek around the area. We resisted the temptation of this opportunity. Instead, we stumbled upon a small restaurant with a single table and an alluring menu.
On the next dat we continued on to Ouadane, cutting straight through the desert. We noticed the driver holding a phone between his hips, with the location of the target, driving directly towards it through dunes, rock fields, groves, and oases. Sahara is an incredibly diverse region. The scenery changed almost every hour. Although it was all desert, it wasn't quite the same. The only dull part of the journey was the distance between Nouadhibou and Nouakchott.
In the Sahara, there are many caves and sites with ancient drawings, showing evidence of a turbulent social and agricultural history. Just before Ouadane, we stopped in front of a cave with an entrance fee. A young local curator tried to provide some information about the paintings and caves around.
We later stopped at an oasis for a cup of tea, and were pleasantly surprised to find two Italian families travelling from Italy to Mauritania. While their stories were all intersting, the one that stood out the most was that of the elderly man, who must have been in his 80s. He mentioned that this might be his last time traversing the Sahara, and I couldn't help but feel a deep admiration for his determination and tenacity.
We also took a detour to the "Eye of the Sahara" (Richat Structure)- a circular geological phenomenon with a large radius that is only visible from space.
Satellite image of the "Eye of the Sahara"
The photo is from Wikipedia
The souvenir market, situated right on the sand in the middle of nowhere, was intriguing.
Ouadane is a small town in central Mauritania's desert region. It is located on the Adrar Plateau's southern edge, 93 kilometers northeast of Chingeti. The city served as an important stop for caravans transporting salt. Though in ruins, the Old Town – a World Heritage Site – gives a glimpse of its past size and prosperity. We had a great time here with the local guide, a 23-year-old boy.
In Ouadane we encountered the two Italian families again, standing in front of an old house. It turned out to be a unique museum filled with a variety of items which one of the Italians deemed as junk. However, I found these objects to be quite interesting. It was the most authentic museum I had ever seen. The owner of the museum was an elderly man wearing a pointed hat. He was a former teacher, as we later discovered. The old man was a character out of a fairytale, and it was incredible to see how passionate he was about the items in his museum. The atmosphere was filled with a certain kind of energy that seemed to bring the objects to life.
I liked an old map of the area, but it was not for sale. The man said he had taught geography at the local school years ago. The place resembled a flea market, but it was actually a museum, as I have mentioned; items weren't available for purchase. Later, the museum man took us to a similar house. In a secret inner room, he showed us his treasures - mostly old copies of the Koran, but also other books on various topics. It was an unforgettable experience.
We had a delicious meal at the hotel in Ouadane. The hostess informed us that the only lunch option was potatoes and salad. The Italians who had parked their campers had come here mainly for the praised food. Generally, the food in Mauritania is acceptable, but nothing extraordinary. The fish along the coast is excellent.
We continued from Ouadane to Zuerat, with a stop in Atar, a small desert town void of noteworthy attractions. It was noisy, dusty, and quite dismal. We filmed in the square in the center while a man hurled stones at people. A young, slightly ostentatious Moorish woman passed us, but her presence could not alter the feeling of despair.
We decided to stay near Zuerat and our guide found us a small palm grove in the middle of the desolate desert. On the phone, we noticed that the road crossed the Western Sahara, which Morocco has now annexed. We stopped to take pictures.
We unloaded our luggage in the palm grove. The location was quite isolated; cars only passed by every hour. We pitched our tents, ate canned food, and drank tea. Nearby was the railway line, and throughout the night we heard the train we'd be boarding the next day. A goat bleated, interrupting the otherwise peaceful night. We slept well among the palm trees.
The next day, we continued to Zuerat, a town which had a much better appearance than other cities in Mauritana, likely due to its mining industry. We were checked at checkpoints every 20 minutes. It seemed that the personnel from one checkpoint could see those from the next. In the past, the region and the country had not been safe, but we experienced no issues.
At around 12:30 PM we found the place where the iron train departs, the highlight of our journey to Mauritania. This train transports iron ore from the mines near Zuerat to the west coast of Africa in the Mauritanian coastal city of Nouadhibou, some 700 km away. Every day, it travels full on the way out and empty on the way back, without a break. People—both locals and foreigners—ride ticketless in the ore wagons. The train doesn't have a set schedule; when they load it, it goes.
We waited at a sort of train station for about 6 to 7 hours. There was a shooter who invited us to his small, dirty room for a cup of tea. We politely declined.Another local man appeared and the two started a conversation that continued throughout the wait.
A bit later, two Italian women arrived, intending to ride the train from Zuerat to Choum, a settlement about 3-4 hours away. We exchanged pleasantries and short stories.
Boredom drove me to clean up the area around the railway arrow. I filled a bag with the garbage from an area of 3-4 square meters, tied it securely, and left it near the shooter's house, hoping that he would collect it or dispose of it in a proper place. Little did I know, however, that a herd of goats had appeared and were rummaging around, including poking their snouts into the garbage bag. The shooter, who had been observing the scene, was not amused and angrily came over to inspect the bag. We and the Italian women watched the scene, waiting with bated breath to see what would happen next. After surveying its contents, he grabbed it and with a swift motion, threw it onto the railway tracks, some 3 meters away from the little room. We all stood still, stunned by the unexpected turn of events, before finally bursting out laughing.
Our train departed at 8 PM, so we missed the sunset. However, we were rewarded with the most star-studded sky I've ever seen; due to the lack of light pollution, the stars visible to the naked eye were countless. We spread mats and tarpaulins over the ore. We looked like astronauts with towels on our heads and thick goggles over our eyes. Then, the moon rose right in front of us. With our feet propped up on the rail of the wagon, lying on the ore, we savored every minute of the experience.
It was magical! The train moved at 40 km/h across the desert. A beautiful morning. Gradually the light revealed stunning desert views. We lit a fire in the wagon and enjoyed coffee and tea. Then took photos, selfies, and communicated with the locals from other carriages. When one of them pounded his mat through the wagon, we all envied his optimism.
The ore dust was so fine, it seemed to be everywhere. Even with double socks and scarves covering our heads, our feet and faces were still coated in black dust. I don't think I've ever been dirtier.
At the early afternoon on the next day the train arrived in Nouadhibou. We hopped into our car, which was waiting for us, and asked the driver to take us directly to the hotel bathroom. The feeling of cleanliness was indescribable. The bed was soft and perfect, and the restaurant served the tastiest fish in the world.
If you plan to take this train, please call me for more information.
Nouadhibou is Mauritania's second-largest city and a hub for fishing. During the flight to Nouakchott, there were about thirty Russians on board. We were surprised to find out that they were crews from Russian fishing vessels stationed in the Atlantic off the coast of Mauritania.
The fishing harbor with the Senegalese boats was on my list of places to see and photograph. The car stopped amidst the stench and exoticism of the harbor. After taking several pictures, a uniformed man appeared and forced us to delete all the pictures from our cameras and phones before his eyes. No amount of explanation worked.
Back at the hotel, there was a young man, a sort of manager, who spoke good English. I promised to write a positive review of the hotel on TripAdvisor if he assisted us in finding an unguarded access to the harbor, so we could take pictures. He suggested we should have bribed the uniformed guy - a foolish idea, of course. Nonetheless, he said his taxi driver friend would take us to the port.
An hour later we were loaded into a dirty car and taken back to the same place at the port. I explained to the manager at least 3 or 4 times on the phone to take us to a place without uniformed guards. However, the driver dropped us off at the same dirty place. I decided to take pictures anyway.
Just as I became engrossed in my creative activity, a group of uniformed men approached us and again made us delete all the pictures.
Shortly before, another man tried to chase us out of another port with abandoned boats, but we had already taken pictures and left. Apparently taking pictures is a problem in this city.
Nouadhibou Bay has seen many shipwrecks, the largest and most recent of which was at the tip of the peninsula. However, the Chinese purchased them all and melted them down.
At the southernmost end (Cap Blanc) of the peninsula (Ras Nouadhibou) lies a small national park. For a small fee (200 local money), we visited the information center where we watched a short video in French explaining the story behind the seals and the place. Two women - a German and an Italian, I think told us there were only two seals left, appearing at certain times. No more shipwrecks.
The beach on this part of the Ras Nouadhibou captivated us - the sky was dark blue from the storm clouds. Huge flocks of seagulls rested lazily on the beach until we chased them up for photos. Three fishermen were casting rods right from the beach into the rough sea. Everywhere, piles of garbage flung from the sea. Despite the garbage, we still enjoyed ourselves and took a lot of photos.
Nearby are the remains of the old Spanish fortress of La Guerra on the southern tip of the peninsula. However, they are not in Mauritania, but in Western Sahara.
On our way to the info center, we didn't take the road, but went straight through the sand dunes. I think we briefly passed through Western Sahara's territory, but there was no definite border.
The last thing we saw in Mauritania was a large baked fish in a seafood restaurant right by the airport. It was a perfect way to end our journey.
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Travel to Mauritania
Join us on a unforgettable journey to Mauritania, one of the most fascinating and captivating countries in West Africa. Our tour will take you through the country's rich history and culture, from the ancient city of Chinguetti, one of the largest and most important centers of learning in the Muslim world, to the bustling capital city of Nouakchott. Along the way, you'll explore the stunning natural beauty of the Sahara desert, with its towering sand dunes and breathtaking landscapes, and learn about the traditional way of life of the country's nomadic tribes. You'll also have the chance to try some of the delicious local cuisine, including dishes made from traditional ingredients like millet, couscous, and camel meat. Whether you're a history buff, an adventure seeker, or just looking for a unique and unforgettable travel experience, our tour of Mauritania is the perfect way to discover all that this amazing country has to offer.
We usually have one or two small groups (max 7/8 participants) per year traveling to Mauritania. If you are interested in joining a group setting out from Europe, please drop me a line. We will provide more information, like dates, a program, and other details.