Mauritania Travel Information

Photo Independent from France in 1960, Mauritania annexed the southern third of the former Spanish Sahara (now Western Sahara) in 1976, but relinquished it after three years of raids by the Polisario guerrilla front seeking independence for the territory. Opposition parties were legalized and a new constitution approved in 1991. Two multiparty presidential elections since then were widely seen as being flawed; Mauritania remains, in reality, a one-party state. The country continues to experience ethnic tensions between its black minority population and the dominant Maur (Arab-Berber) populace.
The government of Mauritania attempts to provide free primary education. The effort, however, has been hindered by the nomadic character of the people. In 1996 some 83 percent of eligible children, or 312,700 pupils, attended primary school. Just 16 percent of secondary school-aged children were enrolled. Higher education is provided by the University of Nouakchott (1981) and by a college of public administration, also in the capital. A majority of the population still depends on agriculture and livestock for a livelihood, even though most of the nomads and many subsistence farmers were forced into the cities by recurrent droughts in the 1970s and 1980s. Mauritania has extensive deposits of iron ore, which account for almost 50% of total exports. The decline in world demand for this ore, however, has led to cutbacks in production. The nation's coastal waters are among the richest fishing areas in the world, but overexploitation by foreigners threatens this key source of revenue.
Road conditions in Mauritania are generally poor, particularly in the interior, and overland travel is difficult. The country's size and harsh climate make road maintenance and repair especially problematic. Vehicles may occasionally be forced off the roads due to drifting sand and dunes. Roaming animals and bush taxis frequently cause accidents. Mauritania possesses only about 2,070 km (1,286 miles) of surfaced roads, 710 km (441 miles) of unsurfaced roads and 5,140 km (3,194 miles) of unimproved tracks. There are four major roads, each of which links important cities in Mauritania: Nouakchott and Rosso; Nouakchott and Akjoujt; Aleg Boghe and Kaedi; and Nouakchott and Nema (the Road of Hope). Visitors traveling overland for long distances in Mauritania should be sure to have an appropriate four-wheel drive vehicle, a local guide, adequate supplies of water, and a second fuel reservoir. A second vehicle is recommended in case of breakdown. Visitors are urged not to travel alone into the desert. Nouakchott and Nouadhibou have several tour companies, which are well equipped and will organize desert trips.

Important: Travel to Mauritania may require a travel visa. Whether a visa is required for travel depends on citizenship and purpose of journey. Please be sure to review Travisa's Mauritania visa instructions for details. Visa instructions for other countries are available on our do I need a visa page.

Country Statistics

Full country name: Islamic Republic of Mauritania
Capital city: Nouakchott
Area: 1,030,700 sq km
Population: 3,359,185
Ethnic groups: mixed Moor/black 40%, Moor 30%, black 30%
Languages: Arabic
Religions: Muslim
Government: military junta
Chief of State: President Mohamed Ould Abdel AZIZ
Head of Government: Prime Minister Moulaye Ould Mohamed LAGHDAF
GDP: 7.115 billion
GDP per captia: 2,000
Annual growth rate: 4%
Inflation: 7.5%
Agriculture: dates, millet, sorghum, rice, corn
Major industries: fish processing, oil production, mining
Natural resources: iron ore, gypsum, copper, phosphate, diamonds, gold, oil, fish
Location: Western Africa, bordering the North Atlantic Ocean, between Senegal and Western Sahara
Trade Partners - exports: China 46.6%, Italy 8.8%, France 8.1%, Cote d'Ivoire 5.1%, Spain 4.6%, Japan 4.5%, Belgium 4.3%, Netherlands 4%
Trade Partners - imports: China 12.5%, Netherlands 9%, France 8.7%, US 7.8%, Spain 6.5%, Germany 5.4%, Brazil 5.2%, Belgium 4.3%, Malaysia 4.1%