According to various sources, you can now buy a visa for Mauritania at the Mauritanian border. Lately, Mauritania has raised the price of a single entry visa (1 month) from 35 euros to 120 euros per person . Travelers from Arab and African countries pay 80 euros for 1 month. Also, it is required to make use of a customs clearing agent at the border for temporary importation (transit) of your vehicle. This applies to cars of all ages at the cost of 40 to 60 euros (depending on your negotiation skills). The border has been modernized and they are working with a biometric system. Still, I recommend to buy your visa in advance: In the event that no visas are issued at the border (for any reason), you will have to travel 2000 kilometres back to Rabat. This will waste time and a lot of money. Border passage is easy if you already have a visa. The address of the Mauritanian embassy in Rabat is:
6 Rue Thami Lamdouar, Rabat, Morocco
Important change! as per 26/02/16, see updates.
The visa application must be submitted before 11 a.m. and will be ready around 15 p.m. Sometimes in the next morning when it’s really busy. On friday, the embassy closes at noon. Make sure you have two recent passport photos. Around the corner is a supermarket with a photo booth. If you do not speak French, use the help of Habib. He is a Mauritanian ‘fixer’ who is assisting foreigners at the embassy site. He is helpful and reliable. Give him something for his services, it’s his full-time job.
The border crossing
As previously mentioned, the section of no man’s land between the Moroccan and Mauritanian border could be a little stressful. A detailed description of the track, including ‘Google Earth’ maps can be found here. When leaving Morocco, numerous intrusive individuals are offering their ‘services’ to guide you up to the Mauritanian border. I don’t know about their reliability nor the fees they will charge. If not driving a four-wheel drive car, you are at risk getting stuck in the sand. When this happens, the people of no man’s land will circle around you like vultures, asking several hundreds of euros to help you get out of the soft sand.
Tip! It’s an idea to follow more experienced drivers or cars that do have four-wheel drive. At the border passage procedures, you may contact other overlanders and ask them if it would be OK to join with them.
Once arrived at the Mauritanian border, new challenges are waiting. You will be surrounded by locals who are offering their ‘services’. Often, they claim to work with authorities, but do not wear any uniform. You don’t need them. Walk peacefully and confident to the first office building.
If you did get your Mauritanian visa in Rabat or Brussels, it will be checked here. You only need one of the ‘helpers’ to buy a new liability car insurance. This insurance covers for Mauritania up to the Senegalese border and costs you roughly 20 euros for ten days. Altogether, there are about three small office buildings you must enter.
Warning! Be sure not to transport contraband like alcohol. Your car will be thoroughly checked by customs and military, making use of a dog. Check the latest news on this border at the News and Updates page.
Nouadhibou is the first town in Mauritania you could visit and is situated on a peninsula. If your destination is Nouakchott, you don’t need to stop in Nouadhibou unless you have some technical car problem(s) to resolve. There is a camping site where overlanders meet each other. The last time I visited Nouadibhou was in 2002. You can find information about this city, here (Wiki, Nouadhibou) and the Sahara Travel Forum.
This is the capital of Mauritania. For overlanders, a good place for a well deserved rest or stop. While being in Nouakchott, you could pass by the Senegalese embassy to get your visa for Senegal (see important updates !). You must have completed the online pre-enrollment procedure in advance. The address of the Senegalese embassy in Nouackchott is:
Avenue Moctar Ould Daddah en face de la police judiciaire
+222 45 25 72 90
In town, there are sufficient hotels and restaurants to eat and sleep well. At the entry of the town, there’s an Auberge (Auberge Sahara), which is run by a Frenchman. Here, you can choose between a room or sleeping in your car, on a fenced terrain. Downtown, you can find ATMs for withdrawing cash (in 2013 with Visa).
Tip! Make sure to have a good rest: You will need all your energy when driving up to the Senegalese border.
Roads and traffic
If you are heading directly towards the capital Nouakchott, there is only one road southbound. The road condition is fairly good but also treacherous. At times, you see warning signs for bad road condition when everything is well, but they can also be absent when dangerous road conditions are ahead! At the daytime with good vision, you can easily drive 100 km’s per hour. After Nouakchott, the road conditions deteriorate considerably with many (large) potholes and unpredictable traffic. Beware of crossing camels. To get an impression on the roads in Mauritania, watch: Youtube driving overland, Mauritania.
Driving at night
There is no problem driving at night with the advantage of much less hot, even pleasantly cool temperatures. Once passed Nouakchott, it is not commendable.
Warning! Make sure that you are not overlooking one of the many checkpoints. In Mauritania, you must stop well in advance, sometimes 800 metres or more! Just like Morocco, follow up on the instructions when approaching checkpoints and offer them a ‘fiche‘. The many checkpoints are there for your protection and safety. A small present or a little socializing (if not busy) is often highly appreciated.
Once you drive past Nouakchott, the surroundings become greener and more beautiful. You will get a real sense of being in Sub-Saharan Africa. At this point, you are two hundred kilometres away from the Rosso border crossing and three hundred kilometres away from the Diama border crossing. To reach Diama, you must turn right 30 kilometres before entering the town of Rosso, onto the recently finished road constructed by the Chinese. This road brings you halfway the dam along the river Senegal and in the middle of Parc National du Diawling . Yet another 40 kilometres and you will reach the Senegalese border crossing. Ignore any proposition from locals offering you to buy a Senegalese liability car insurance, along this stretch. There is a reliable and knowledgeable insurance agent in Diama, right behind the Senegalese border crossing.
I only have experience with the Diama border crossing, hence I can not write a lot about Rosso. According to many, Rosso is known for being one of Africa’s most corrupt border crossings. In Diama, still at the Mauritanian site, you can check out of the country until late night. There are three small offices and all of them demand 10 euros. I am still in the process of finding out if these fees are legitimate. Next trip, I will certainly update. The Senegalese border is closed at 7 p.m. How to go ahead in Senegal will be discussed in the next part of this series.
Short impression of road somewhere in Mauritania
To be continued…