Is Travel to Mauritania Safe? 5 Important Things to Know

The Northwest African country of Mauritania struggles with poverty, terrorism, slavery, escalating crime and heavily mined border areas. Here's what you need to know.

A surfer next to the shipwreck graveyard in Nouadhibou Photo © Getty Images/John Seaton Callahan

While the natural beauty of its deserts and coastline are undeniable, unfortunately safety in the region is constantly in question.

1. Terrorism

Terrorists have been known to target areas frequented by foreigners, government buildings and any area that attracts locals and foreigners alike, including: clubs, restaurants, embassies, international schools, hotels, expatriate housing compounds, churches and other places of worship, shopping centres, outdoor recreation events, tourist areas and transport hubs or identifiably western interests, including businesses.

In early 2011 Mauritanian security forces prevented a car bombing in Nouakchott and in mid 2010 three people were wounded in an attempted suicide bombing in Nema.

The risk of kidnapping is also very high in Mauritania, particularly against Westerners in Nouakchott and Atar. There are regular reports of terrorists planning to kidnap Western tourists, mine workers, oil workers and aid workers in Mauritania.

In mid 2010 a French national was kidnapped and executed and the threat to Westerners of kidnapping remains very high. To avoid becoming a victim of kidnapping, avoid open terraces and cafes and change your daily routines and travel schedules.

The border areas with Mali, Algeria and Western Sahara are not safe. The risk from bandits, smugglers and extremist groups is particularly high in these areas. In particular, there have been reports that AQIM, the terrorist group responsible for the kidnapping of foreign hostages in North Africa, is active throughout this region and poses a significant security threat.

It is also not safe to travel to the eastern and northern provinces of Mauritania - Tiris Zemmour, Adrar, Tagant, and Hodh el Chargui - due to the continuing high threat from terrorism throughout the country.

2. Crime

Poverty and terrorist activities have lead to increasing crime levels in Mauritania. Violent crime including robbery, rape and assault are on the increase. Also, armed bandits are a major risk across Mauritania. Bandits pose a threat in beach areas, deserted areas and along the road between Mali and Mauritania. When traveling by car, you should keep the doors locked, the windows up and keep valuables out of sight.

3. Getting around: transport in Mauritiania

Many of Mauritania's border areas are not safe due to unexploded landmines, particularly in the area bordering the Western Sahara region. Keep in mind that landmines have been known to shift in sandstorms. Do not stray from well-traveled roads.

Landmines are not the only threat to drivers in Mauritania, very poor road conditions, lack of vehicle maintenance and poor local driving standards means that accidents are common. Driving at night is particularly hazardous due to the risk of shifting sand dunes and accidents with other vehicles and animals.

The risk of kidnapping and terrorist attacks makes taxis and public transportation very unsafe for Westerners.

4. Local laws in Mauritiania

Mauritania is a conservative Islamic State, as such visitors should dress and behave accordingly, particularly during the holy month of Ramadan. It is wise to avoid physical contact between men and women in public as public displays of affection can cause offence, particularly in rural and traditional areas and near mosques, religious shrines and religious educational institutions. Homosexuality remains a punishable offence in Mauritania and drug laws are severe. Those found in the possession of any illegal drug may receive a prison sentence. Mauritania is a dry country. The sale and consumption of alcohol is against the law, although some restaurants do serve it. It is wise to carry your ID at all times, particularly when traveling outside Nouakchott. You should also comply promptly with directions from the police and other Mauritanian security forces.

5. Health

Malaria occurs throughout the year in Mauritania. Chloroquine-resistant strains of malaria are reported. Other insect-borne diseases (including dengue fever, yellow fever, filariasis and leishmaniasis) also occur. You should take measures to avoid insect bites, including using an insect repellent at all times.

Water-borne, food-borne and other infectious diseases (including cholera, hepatitis, measles and tuberculosis) are prevalent, while other diseases (including meningitis, polio, Rift Valley fever and typhoid) are known to occur with outbreaks occurring from time to time.

Boil all drinking water or drink bottled water (for at least three mintues), avoid ice cubes and raw and undercooked food. Do not swim in fresh water to avoid exposure to certain water borne diseases such as bilharzia (schistosomiasis).

The temperature in Mauritania is often extremely high. You may become dehydrated quite easily, and not be aware of it. Try to drink water regularly throughout the day, in the hottest months this may mean several litres of water.

You should consider the following vaccinations before traveling here:

  • Hepatitis A and B
  • Typhoid
  • Meningococcus
  • Malaria
  • Revaccination / booster shots for Measles, Mumps and Rubella and Tetanus-Diptheria

It seems unlikely that Mauritania will be a tourist destination anytime soon, it is not a very safe country and many governments advise against travel to the country for good reason.

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  • Peter Holmes a Court said

    Really? I had a totally different experience in almost every regard. Of course not at borders, but I think this is a negligent review of the situation. 1200 km on great road. No signs of risks you discuss. Please update. I have been in 30 countries less safe.

  • Paige said

    What's it like for a woman travelling? I'm looking at going from Morocco > Senegal. Obviously want to be safe, but I feel just flying over would be missing a lot. Also, I read a travel blog in which a guy seemed to meet people along the way and stay at their houses, but I'm thinking for a woman perhaps these natural, serendipitous meetings in public places might be less likely?

  • Jane said

    How old is this information. I have read many reports of travellers going through the area without problems. I am considering it on a few weeks time...From Morocco and through South West Sahara and Mauritania into Senegal. Any info would be useful.

  • Zahra said

    Anyone who is reading this comment let me tell you that it’s exactly the opposite Mauritania is pretty much safe and people there are very much welcoming for tourists you can be sure of that and you guys who wrote this article you better update it I am living there and never heard of a one single case of kidnapping in 20 years and believe me no news can be hide here everyone knows eachother

  • George Le’Bigoux said

    Well, pretty discouraging info here but fortunately for me, I never pay attention to it; I am on my way there today :)

  • Shawn Henderson said

    Well they did move the Dakar in 2009.

  • Sonsoles Rosende said

    We are european expats living in Mauritania for 3 years now. Whilst it is not a very touristic country due to lack of infrastructure Mauritania is a safe place to visit and live
    - kidnappings : unheard of since 2009 and only near the border with Mali which is up north.
    - Terrorism: no more risk than in Brussels or London. We normally live in Brussels and we feel safer here. Mali terrorists are avoided by the numerous road checkpoints which prevented the 2011 attempt.
    - Crime: not higher than any european country. Not one incident in our expat community in these last three years. Rape unheard of.
    - getting around : we all travel around often with our children to visit the stunning oasis and wonderful natural parks on the coasts. Again no incidents. Landmines????
    - Malaria: no cases in the capital, allegedly present near the senegalese border but definitely not on the desert areas ( most of the country).
    Mauritania is poor enough and does not need deterrents for the few tourists needing to come. All our european visitors go back home absolutely thrilled with the experience

  • Jack wayne said

    Im really interested in mauritania and am British but didnt think you were allowed to buy property in mauritania as a foreigner

  • Some other guy said

    What you're describing is so unreal. You fail to mention any numbers/statistics of this ongoing rape, kidnapping, and random shooting party in this imaginary Mauritania of yours.

  • Michael said

    "Like most parts of West Africa, the risk of an indiscriminate terrorist attack is high". JESUS, this is so wrong. Read the comment, not the article.

  • Don said

    I am so pleased i have read these comments.
    Planning travelling from Morocco to Ghana Jan 2020.

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