Mauritania, located in North West Africa struggles with poverty, terrorism, escalating crime rates and heavily mined border areas.
While the natural beauty of its deserts and coastline are undeniable, unfortunately safety in the region is almost constantly in question.
(The ship graveyard near Nouahadibou)
Like most parts of West Africa, the risk of an indiscriminate terrorist attack is high. 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.
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 travelling by car, you should keep the doors locked, the windows up and keep valuables out of sight.
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-travelled 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.
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 travelling outside Nouakchott. You should also comply promptly with directions from the police and other Mauritanian security forces.
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 travelling.
Hepatitis A & B
Revaccination / booster shots for Measles, Mumps and Rubella and Tetanus-Diptheria
It seems unlikely that Mauritania will be a tourist destination for Western travelers any time soon, it is not a very safe country and many Westerns governments advice against travel to the country... for good reason.
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