Mauritania in Northwest Africa is the seventh largest sovereign state in Africa, bordered by the Atlantic to the West and West Sahara to the northwest. The desert is the perennial presence in this African country, which people hardly dare to visit, courtesy its conflicted history. However, the sun-bleached golden landscape, which is home to both Moors of Arab Berber and black Africans strikes a cultural diversity that is part of its appeal. Even though few choose to venture into Mauritania, for those who do, some of the most mesmerising terrain awaits in the country that is hardly witnessed elsewhere. By Shubhanjana Das
1. Port de Pêche
The showstopping attraction of the capital of Nouakchott, Port de Pêche is known for the Wolof and Fula fishing folk engrossed in their daily business. With pirogues populating the beach like sardines, spending a whole day at the Port, right from when the fishing boats depart till they return, seems like the only wise thing to do. The Nouakchott Fish Market is the unquestionable place to be if you wish to witness the buying and selling of freshly caught fish and the locals go about their daily errands. However, do not give in to the provocation to swim for the undertow here has claimed multiple lives.
2. Parc National du Banc d’Arguin
Birdwatcher or not, this World Heritage-listed park is one of the absolute must visits when in Mauritania. Thousands of birds migrating from Europe to South Africa make this park their stopover. The best way to approach the birds is by taking a boat from the locals at the fishing village of Iwik. However, remember that you will need both permits and map guides given at the park headquarters.
Chinguetti pops out of the mighty Saharan dunes, once a significant trading stopover between the Med in the North and the sub-Sahara in the South. Part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, which also includes parts of the other historic desert towns in the Adrar region, the brick-built towers and the old fortresses of the Berber tribes and Almoravids dating all the way back to the Middle Ages attract the greatest crowds in Mauritania.
4. Grand Mosquée
A remarkable landmark in the city centre, the Grand Mosquée with its minarets and sandy courtyards is where worshippers perform ceremonial ablutions. The structure may not be architecturally outstanding but it holds considerable religious significance.
5. Parc National Diawling
In the sun-bleached landscape of Mauritania, any amount off greenery comes as a relief to the eyes and the Parc National Diawling is for when your eyes are parched of greenery. You can catch the sight of mangroves and acacia and large coastal dunes. While the undeveloped facilities in the area may be a bummer, it still proves to be a mandatory stopover on the way to Senegal Djoudj National Bird Sanctuary for its own share of birdlife, monkeys, warthogs, and monitor lizards.
You’d be hard-pressed to find Mauritian trinkets anywhere else in this country, which has one of the lowest population densities in the world. But in Atar, which is the gateway to the Adrar Plateau, the earth bazaars and traditional crafts markets make it an ideal visit for those who are keen on collecting Mauritian souvenirs. Station yourself at one of the guesthouses and make it your base for venturing into the Richat structure or the Saharan oases.