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Mauritania is the least developed and poorest country in northwest Africa. Geographically part of the Maghreb, Mauritania borders Algeria, Senegal and Mali, along with the disputed territory of Western Sahara. The Mauritanian Adrar is probably exactly how you've always imagined the Sahara: endless ergs (dunes) and regs (rocky desert) with tabular small mountains but most tourists stay along the west coast of Mauritania. There are a few beautiful sights far into the interior (rock formations in Aioun, for example). If you decide to travel off the beaten path, leave plenty of time to get around, though. (less...) (more...)
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The climate is characterized by extremes in temperature and by meagre and irregular rainfall. Annual temperature variations are small, although diurnal variations can be extreme. The harmattan, a hot, dry and often dust-laden wind, blows from the Sahara throughout the long dry season and is the prevailing wind, except along the narrow coastal strip, which is influenced by oceanic trade winds. Most rain falls during the short rainy season (hivernage), Jul-Sep, and average annual precipitation varies from 500 to 600 millimetres in the far south to less than 100mm in the northern two-thirds of the country.
There is a decent variety of restaurants in Nouakchott with dishes costing from MRO1,000 to MRO2,500. Most restaurants in the capital offer much the same menu - simple pizzas, hamburgers, sandwiches and salads. There is a string of restaurants on the road from the Stade Olympique to the French Embassy. Good ones include Pizza Lina, Café Liban and Le Petit Café. The Sahara Café, on the other side of the stadium, is also a good place for pizza, sandwiches or Lebanese dishes, and has some of the best reasonably-priced food in town. Near Marche Capitale, there is a street of sandwich shops that offer near-identical menus, the best of which is the Prince (which taxi drivers know by name).
Outside of Nouakchott, it is possible to find a hamburger in Atar. Otherwise, the choice is local dishes: fish and rice (chebujin) in the south and rice and meat or couscous in the north. Hole-in-the-wall restaurants can be found everywhere and serve meals from MRO200-500. Mechui, or grilled sheep, is also delicious if a little more expensive. Look for carcasses hanging by the side of the road. Some fruit can be found in most regional capitals. Note that most restaurants outside of Nouakchott do not have very high standards of cleanliness. Since most small restaurants go under within a few years of opening, your best bet in trying to find one in a regional capital is to just ask locals for directions to whatever is nearby. Another alternative, in the absence of a restaurant, is paying a family to prepare food for you, which should be relatively inexpensive (no more than MRO1,500), even if it takes a while (up to a couple hours to buy the food and prepare it).
Bottled water can be bought for MRO200 and is a good idea for anyone not accustomed to Africa.
If none of this sounds good, keep in mind that boutiques everywhere sell bread, cakes, biscuits and drinks if nothing else.
Tea is usually served after a meal, but it is not included with the meal at restaurants. If you are offered tea in someone's home, it is impolite to leave until at least the second (of three) glasses. The whole process takes about an hour.
Despite being an Islamic country there are a few fun bars in the capital. Drinking can be expensive, with a beer costing up to $US6. There is a nightclub inside the French Embassy compound. For the non-French, try the Salamander or the trashy (but open late) Club VIP. Next door to VIP is the Casablanca, a more low-key bar with live music on the weekends. Note that it is illegal to import alcohol!
Souvenirs can be bought at Marche Capital or Marche Sixieme in Nouakchott, or at tourist shops in the Adrar. Fabric will be sold in boutiques all over the country, but Kaedi is famous for its tie-dying.
In general, the quality of most Mauritanian souvenirs is not as good as one might expect. That said, you can find leather products, pipes, wooden bowls, tea pots and silver jewellery among other things (be careful with the quality of jewellery). Fabric, however, is tie-dyed by hand and can be quite beautiful. Fabric will be sold as a mulafa (veil)--usually gauzy and one piece--or as material for a boubou, with two separate pieces for a skirt and top. Fabric is sold anywhere for anything from MRO1,500 to MRO8,000, depending on the fabric quality and work involved.
When buying anything in Mauritania, be sure to bargain. Sometimes the starting price will be three times the actual price. Stay friendly, but don't worry about insulting anyone by asking for a lower price.
This article is based on Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike 3.0 Licensed text from the article Mauritania on Wikivoyage.
Cities in Mauritania
Points of Interest in Mauritania
The Adrar massif in the north is full of stunning desert scenery. Take a 4x4 off-piste across rocky terrain and through narrow canyons to explore the lush, hidden oases which have provided water and refuge to traders crossing the Sahara for centuries. The Adrar contains two of the countries magnificent historical cities. Chinguetti was once a trading centre and centre of Islamic scholarship whose architecture remains unchanged in nearly a millennium. Along with Ouadane and a few other small towns, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And don't forget to miss the world's longest train either just for a glimpse or to hop into an iron ore car filled with Mauritanians for the 12-hour journey from the Adrar to the coast. The remains of the Almoravid capital Azoughui as well as rock paintings are also draws of the Adrar.
Much of the central coastline is part of Parc National du Banc d'Arguin—home to millions of migrating birds each year. At Nouamgar, you can watch the unique spectacle of local tribesmen communicating with dolphins to round up teams of fish into shallow waters for them to be netted.
In the southeast, the oasis city of Oualata was the southern end of most trans-Sahara trading routes in the 13th & 14th centuries. The city boasts colourful buildings, many of which feature intricate geometric designs. The city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and also boasts a manuscript museum with examples of ancient scrolls in fine calligraphy.