Yes, however, one should inform oneself in advance whether a journey from Senegal and Morocco is possible by land. As far as air travel is concerned, entry and stay are still possible.
Yes, there are free testing facilities in Mauritania in major cities, and you should take advantage of them in time to leave the country.
The Corona pandemic peaked in the country in August 2021. In the meantime, the number of cases and the mean value are at a very low level. Mauritania has the advantage of a low population density. However, testing is also not being carried out across the country. At no time did life in the country really stand still. Distance rules and hygiene concepts are not observed by most people. Immunization coverage has barely advanced, with 0.5% of people fully vaccinated (October 2021). Covid tests, masks and disinfectants can be purchased at any pharmacy and in many supermarkets.
A glance at the map shows: Mauritania is surrounded by states, some of which are frequently associated with conflict. Algeria, Mali, Senegal, Western Sahara and de facto Morocco. Of these, Senegal is the most conflict-free and thus safest state. In Mali, a conflict between Islamists, Tuaregs, and the government has raged since 2012; in southern Algeria, al-Qaeda in the Maghreb terrorists have been active on a very irregular basis for decades; and in areas north of Mauritania, the decades-long frozen battle between Morocco and the Polisario (Western Sahara) has been boiling up again since 2020, but is currently limited to occasional Polisario artillery fire into the desert. Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb has also left its mark on Mauritania, with a sensational-and so far last-case of a terrorist attack on tourists near Aleg in 2007. The last attack on security forces also took place ten years ago (2011). The police and military have so far been successful in combating terrorism and other threats - in some cases with quite sympathetic methods (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hzVo2OD3XTA&ab_channel=ARTEde). In any case, terrorist attacks in Europe have been far more frequent in recent years than in Mauritania.
Certainly the greatest conflict is the conflict in neighboring Mali. But to what extent is Mauritania affected by this? Although there are Malian refugees in Mauritania, the problems of the failed state of Mali have not spread to Mauritania.
Special caution should be exercised when traveling to the border region of Algeria and Mali. However, there is no need to visit the border of Algeria, there is simply nothing to see. Oualata, which is well worth a visit, is close to the border with Mali, but there have been no reports of security incidents in recent years.
Because of the practically arbitrary demarcation of borders during the founding of the state and, as a result, the large number of different ethnic groups in Mauritania, which also live across borders-in the case of the Tukulor and Soninke, for example-conflicts from other causes can also fundamentally turn into ethnic conflicts. This was most recently the case in the Mauritanian-Senegalese border war (1989-1992), which primarily affected some areas of central southern Mauritania. That conflict, however, was decades ago, and there is reason to believe that it will remain peaceful in the future, despite sometimes significant social differences between different ethnic groups. What makes us so sure? First, there are no separatist aspirations in any part of Mauritania. Furthermore, Islam functions as a unifying and peacemaking element in society. It almost seems as if major conflicts between Soudans and Bidhanis are a part of the past.
Mauritania's neighbors are Senegal, Western Sahara, Morocco, Algeria and Mali. Since the abandonment of Spanish Morocco after the end of Franco's dictatorship, the former colony has been divided between Morocco and Mauritania. The Polisario, as the political representation of the Sahrawis living there, put up military resistance with Algerian support and even shelled Nouakchott several times, so that Mauritania gave up its claims in the following years. Today, Mauritania no longer has any claims in the area and maintains friendly relations with the de facto ruler Morocco and, in any case, no hostile relations with Western Sahara. Morocco invests heavily in Mauritania. Mauritanian relations with Algeria have improved significantly since the war, which has now aroused the suspicion of rival Morocco. Algeria has an interest in Atlantic access and is therefore also financing the expansion of the road from Tindouf through Mauritania to Zouérat (N1). A common enemy of Algeria and Mauritania is the terrorist organization al Qaeda in the Maghreb, which has been operating latently in the border region for decades. In recent years, however, there have been no incidents on either side of the border.
Relations with Mali are basically good, but Mauritania's eastern neighbor has not been a stable neighbor since 2012, and securing the more than 2,000 km long border is a Herculean task for Mauritanian security forces. Relations with Senegal are most interesting because Mauritania is home to a Soudan minority. This minority not only shares ethnic, linguistic, cultural and historical similarities with the inhabitants south of the Senegal River, but is also publicly protected by the state of Senegal. From 1989 to 1991, there was a border conflict between the two states in which hundreds of soldiers lost their lives. The conflict was accompanied by ethnic clashes in both states and hundreds of thousands of displaced people. Despite the end of the border war and the extensive repatriation of displaced persons, Mauritania's ethnic heterogeneity will remain a potential source of conflict in the future, although - and this should also be mentioned - improvements have been made in recent years.
First, we recommend reading the following travel advice (https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/mauritania) to get a general overview and to be able to follow all current developments in case of a planned trip. As a general rule, Mauritania is a country largely free of demonstrations. One looks in vain for marches of thousands of participants, as in many states of the Arab world. There are exceptions, however: Protests can occur during important elections, most notably the presidential election, which takes place every five years (the next time in 2024). In 2019, the entire Internet in the country was shut down for two weeks in response. Visitors should take precautions and plan their trip carefully - we will be happy to help.
Apart from political developments, the following applies in particular in Nouakchott and Nouadhibou: There are districts that tourists should avoid at night and especially without Mauritanian escorts. In Nouakchott, these include Dar Naim and Arafat in particular. Crime is fueled by poverty both inside and outside Mauritania. Meanwhile, there is no reason to avoid city streets during the day. Of course, one should never be naive. Again, however, Mauritanians are generally open and not hostile to strangers. Hospitality is a widely appreciated commodity in Mauritania. The fact that problems can result from careless behavior (e.g., photographing military installations or personnel) requires no further explanation.
The German Foreign Office writes that there are considerable risks of attack and kidnapping in parts of Mauritania. A quick Google search shows: The last kidnappings discussed in the media were years ago. The security situation has also improved massively in this respect. Nevertheless, one should always be aware: Neighboring Mali is a failed state with numerous criminal and terrorist groups. Parts of southern Algeria are also not safe. Therefore, special caution should be exercised when traveling to rural areas, especially those near the border, such as Oualata.
Basically, there are no problems. The treatment of tourists at vehicle controls outside Nouakchott, for example, ranges from reserved and objective to friendly. These controls take place outside the capital at every important intersection in the country and near places of interest. Here, special preparation of documents in sufficient copies is essential if you want to save time. When traveling in public transport, it is common for tourists to be put in the back corner on the part of tour operators in order to avoid controls. It goes without saying that photos of the military and police are to be refrained from. Also, drone flights should not be done in the vicinity, otherwise the device could be cashiered. Since we want to keep the website up to date, we also live on your experiences. If you have experienced bad contact with a member of the Mauritanian security forces - for example during a passport control - please let us know.
There is no fundamental ban on the use of drones in Mauritania. However, there may be problems with importation at the airport and, in the worst case, the drone may be confiscated for the duration of your trip. Drones should not be flown near security sensitive areas, in Nouakchott we really only recommend potential flights at the Port de pêche. It is advisable to talk to local officials in advance if you want to film certain places such as the old town of Ouadane.
Mauritania is an Islamic and conservative country. Even if the number of tourists is increasing, it is a very small amount compared to, for example, various states in North Africa (Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt). Since we also offer tours that go deep into the interior of the country, you will always meet people who are not used to dealing with tourists. From the sometimes poor experience with visitors from abroad, some beautiful fruits grow: No harassment on weekly markets, no overpriced prices at auberges, restaurants and cab rides. Exceptions certainly confirm the rule, especially in places familiar with tourism.
However, norms for visitors to the country arise from what the population is not familiar with. In a conservative society, dress norms should be observed and too much permissiveness avoided. Therefore, it is forbidden for men and women to show too much skin. Pants shorter than knee length are also frowned upon by men. Women should avoid showing cleavage at all costs. Covering the hair is not obligatory for women, and it is rare to see Mauritanian women without a hijab. However, such cultural concession does not hurt, a loose scarf would be quite sufficient here. There are indeed some women among the Soudans who wear body-hugging and cleavage-baring clothing, even public breastfeeding is seen among these in very rare moments. Mauritanian society here is more diverse than it seems at first glance.
However, by avoiding such clothing, one runs no risk at all of making a more negative impression on any segment of the population. It is possible to go swimming in Terjit or Mhaireth, for example. Basically, people are familiar with tourists, even cross-gender water fun should not be a problem. In terms of appropriate bathing attire, we are happy to help. But don't worry: no one has to wear a burkini here. On another topic, visitors to Mauritania might have a hard time buying alcohol in the country. If you do have the opportunity, we strongly advise against drinking alcohol. The situation is similar with any illegal drugs. Smoking is not a problem, but during the fasting month of Ramadan, you must refrain from eating and drinking during sunrise and sunset. It is therefore advisable to avoid public smoking, drinking and eating during this physically and mentally demanding time.
Many visitors to the country find the friendliness of Mauritanians pleasantly surprising. For a cab ride in Nouadhibou or Nouakchott, you pay no more than a local. And wherever you travel, spontaneous tea invitations may be waiting for you. People are genuinely interested - and will usually sell to you at fair prices at the market. Harassment by tourists is not an issue in Mauritania; at most, you may be asked for a cadeau by children in places frequently frequented by tourists, such as Choum or Terjit. In this case, it is advisable not to give anything directly to the children, but if you are interested, to give sweets to a trusted person, who will then distribute them. It may happen that travel entrepreneurs, e.g. in Atar, show something like a business interest. Here you should clearly communicate your intentions, negotiate and not be naive. When traveling with ChingiTours you will not have to worry about such conversations.
Money can be withdrawn directly in Ougiyah (MRU) at some banks in Nouakchott, Nouadhibou and sometimes Atar for a small fee. Furthermore, it is possible to change money at border crossings or at merchants in larger marketplaces. Expectedly, however, these are places where caution is advised with regard to the exchange rate - especially as a tourist. In addition to a direct bank withdrawal, we recommend that you simply exchange money with us at the valid rate. We are happy to provide this service for our customers. We strongly recommend withdrawing cash for the entire duration of your trip before traveling inland. You never know when you will next have the opportunity to do so.
Important info: there was a currency reform in 2018. MRO became MRU. The value of the new currency is ten times the old. It is important to note that in the collective memory, the use of language is only changing peu à peu. A cab driver in Nouakchott, for example, may say that he charges 200 oughiya (about 5 euros) for the ride, but he means only 20 in the new currency. This is something to watch out for. Even some gas pumps at gas stations still show the old prices.
Yes, a couchsurfing community exists. It is rather small compared to many other countries, but it exists. It is definitely possible to see Couchsurfing hosts for example in Nouakchott as the first point of contact for the further stay in the country. Important here is of course the trustworthiness and reliability of the host. Here, appropriate preparation should be made. In case of doubt, we are also happy to help.
We recommend in any case the conclusion of a foreign health insurance before the visit. There are hospitals, doctors and pharmacies in Mauritania. These are first to pay for the drugs or treatment, in the home country you can then get the money back. It is imperative to get a receipt when incurring costs.
It is advisable to always have enough cash with you. Payment by card is not possible except for some hotels and international establishments. You can withdraw the local currency Ougiyah (MRU) in some banks in Nouakchott and Nouadhibou, alternatively we also offer the exchange of your money.
No. As a former colonial language, French enjoys great importance and serves as a lingua franca, especially for the multilingual Soudan population, but the language is spoken less frequently by Ḥarāṭīn and Bidhani. In the tourist regions of Adrar, however, it can be assumed that people can communicate in French due to the decades of Francophone tourists. The situation is similar in the south, where mainly francophone Soudans live. Members of the administration, including the police and the army, usually speak French.
Apart from some tour guides, staff of international hotels, auberges and restaurants, airport personnel and a few sections of the security forces, this is unlikely. Large parts of the young population in larger cities are aware of the importance of English and are therefore at least open to conversation, but the language level varies greatly. In any case, we are at your disposal as consultants and translators.
It is recommended not to drink tap water anywhere in the country, but to buy bottled water in markets or stores, either in bottles or larger canisters. The price is absolutely acceptable. For a larger trip, one should take precautions and buy an appropriate amount of water, but this can be done in any larger or smaller city. In oases and villages that are close to springs, e.g. Terjit, the water is drinkable.
Mauritanian cuisine consists mainly of meat and fish dishes with vegetable side dishes. Basically, the bigger and more modern the city, the better chance there is of vegetarian or even vegan cuisine. In the interior, this requires more preparation and planning, but even here we try our best to accommodate your wishes.
Bus connections between the larger and touristically important cities such as Nouakchott, Nouadhibou and Atar exist several times a day. They are controlled from central places and one has the possibility of telephone registration or registration on the spot. However, one should expect that the minibuses will also only leave when the last seat is occupied. Delays of up to two hours should therefore be taken into account. Longer trips are also quite uncomfortable. In addition to buses, it is possible to rent a pickup truck including driver in larger towns. This is more comfortable and provides greater flexibility, which of course is reflected in the price. We are happy to arrange the appropriate contact at fair conditions.
The ideal time to visit Mauritania is between November and March. Outside these months there is less tourism. Between July and August is the rainy season in the south, in Nouakchott it usually starts a little later and is less intense. It can happen that in the desert areas it does not rain the whole year. Basically we offer tours all year round. You can also travel Mauritania during Ramadan, but then social life stands still in parts during the day.
Social life often comes to a standstill and only picks up speed in the evening hours. Shopkeepers can often be seen sleeping in their stores during the day during Ramadan. Public drinking, eating and smoking should be avoided while people are fasting.
For Internet and on-site telephony (for example with ChingiTours), the purchase of a SIM card is indeed a good idea. One can be purchased cheaply in larger cities for about 50 ougiyah (MRU), credit is also available in strip form at any kiosk in any city. There are three providers (Mauritel, Mattel, Chinguitel), of which Mauritel is the largest and is rumored to have the best reception even in the interior of the country.
Yes, there are campsites (e.g. in Atar, Nouadhibou, Kiffa, Tidjikja, Nouakchott) as well as enough possibilities to sleep in nature and enjoy the solitude of the desert.
As a tourist, you often see more misery in countries like Mauritania than you are used to. It often happens that you are asked for money, for example by children or people with disabilities. In the interior of the country, children also ask for a "cadeau", which does not necessarily have to be money. How you react in these situations is ultimately up to you, of course. In our opinion, however, it is a mistake to give people gifts or money directly, since children in particular will ask for them more often in the future and may be sent by relatives to beg instead of going to school, which is comparatively - in the short term - less lucrative. In order to support the people nevertheless, possibilities can be found in most cases. In the countryside, for example, you can talk to responsible people in the village and give them gifts, or transfer money to foundations and NGOs that are involved in targeted projects, for example for street children. In Nouakchott, for example, poorer people sell mint, handkerchiefs or miswak (toothbrush twigs), so you can also support them by buying their goods.
Shooting sights or public places is not a problem. However, if you want to focus on a person (e.g. a specific trader or a nomad in the desert), you should ask for permission beforehand. It is a good idea to give something in return - in the case of a merchant, for example, the purchase of his goods. Giving money directly could be perceived as rude. If in doubt, our guides will be happy to help.
Photographing military and police buildings or officials should definitely be avoided. Also important economic facilities - recognizable by police presence - should not be photographed to avoid unnecessary problems.
If you decide to go to the desert independently, you should be well prepared. First of all, you definitely need a four-wheel drive vehicle. Make sure you drive at the right time; early morning drives are good because of the better sand texture. A very crucial question is the tire pressure. This depends on your vehicle and the surface. A rough guideline for tire pressure can be: Asphalt 100%, stony ground 85%, sandy track 75%, soft sand dunes 50%. In soft sand, 3rd gear is also often the right choice. The supply of sufficient gasoline, water and food is also elementary. Always take more than you need. Make sure you have recharging facilities and credit for various phones, especially a satellite phone is useful here. Set pre-arranged dates with acquaintances to check in and let them know your planned route as well. Do not do without the right tools for orientation (see below).
If you want to go on your own, you should prepare well. A GPS device seems indispensable for navigation. The price range varies from under a hundred euros to several thousand. A navigation program for laptop and smartphone is QuoVadis. Also under https://de.wikiloc.com/routen/outdoor/mauretanien/ you find navigation aids and profit from the knowledge of those already there. Free OpenStreetMap road maps can also be found at garmin.openstreetmap.nl. Maps.Me and MapOut (iOs) are also recommended. For all your love of technology, never do without analog maps and a compass.
Mauritania has a significantly lower risk of malaria infection than its southern neighbors Senegal and Mali. This in turn is due to the arid desert climate that prevails in most of the country. At the same time, however, the climate in southern Mauritania near the Senegal River favors the spread of the malaria pathogen. We therefore recommend, especially when traveling to the south, to seek medical advice on malaria prophylaxis. The word of the German pharmacy magazine "Apotheken-Umschau" applies regardless of this: "Mosquito screens, mosquito nets, anti-mosquito repellent - mosquito repellent is the most important measure to protect against malaria infection."
Feel free to show your appreciation by leaving a tip. The amount is of course up to you. We recommend that you set the amount of the tip according to the service and its duration. Therefore, the appropriate tip for a hostel owner in Chinguetti who has taken care of you for one night will be less than for a guide or driver with whom you have traveled for several days or even weeks, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. For all tipping issues other than that, you can ask your guide. As a general rule, 10-15% of the total amount is welcome. And remember that even a small tip is better for the recipient than no tip at all.
As in the rest of the Sahara, two species of poisonous vipers live in the Mauritanian desert - the horned viper and the avicenna viper. Both are almost indistinguishable to the naked eye in shape and (sandy-yellow) color, but there are differences in size. While the avian viper can reach a length of up to 30 cm, the horned viper is twice that size. The snakes live preferentially in the proximity of plant accumulations, gladly also in mouse holes. Perfectly camouflaged in the desert sand or under rock crevices, the snakes are practically undetectable. From November to March, the vipers retreat and hold a kind of hibernation. Since heat can also be deadly for snakes, they are practically never seen in midsummer.
First of all, injuries from snake bites are very rare in Mauritania. In order to avoid a bite in the first place, we advise first of all not to move hectically near snakes and to keep your distance. Long pants, sturdy shoes or hiking boots, gloves when in contact with rocks or bushes - e.g. when looking for firewood - if you are unsure, tap the ground with a stick or pole, use a flashlight in the dark - there are many ways to make things easier for yourself. Snakes have no interest in hurting people. Accidents often happen when they are overlooked and feel threatened.
In the case of a snake bite, severe pain usually follows immediately. There is sometimes danger to life, so a doctor should be consulted immediately. In the larger cities there is a supply of antidotes and appropriate medicine. Symptoms should have appeared after six hours at the latest. Until then, all limbs should be immobilized. Contrary to popular belief, the wound should not be sucked out, cut open, or tied off. In fact, poison enters the wound in only about half of all cases. By the way: Panic is not always appropriate with snakes. The viper snake looks confusingly similar to both vipers, but is non-poisonous.
In Mauritania live scorpions of the genus Buthus (family Buthidae), which is distributed in numerous subspecies mainly in Africa and Asia, in parts also in southern Europe. In West Africa it is the sand-colored subspecies of the field scorpion (Buthus occitanus), which, like all scorpions, has a venomous sting, but its venom is comparatively less poisonous. The reactions to a sting are very different. Some people report only pain comparable to a bee sting, while allergic people sometimes suffer a fatal reaction. In any case, however, a doctor should be contacted immediately.
The desert is certainly the hottest region in Mauritania. In the months of July to August, the temperatures rise up to 50° C. Between November and February, around midday, it is about 30 to 35° C. Surprisingly, the nights are cold, about 15 to 20° C between November and February. You should keep this in mind when preparing your clothes and luggage.
Yes, the northeast wind Harmattan also covers Mauritania every year from February. Sandstorms are more frequent, especially between March and April, and can worsen visibility. However, there is no time when a trip should be postponed in advance because of potential sandstorms.
Flights to Nouakchott are offered at many European and non-European airports. For Europeans, however, it is often significantly cheaper to fly from Paris. Since most flights go through Marrakech or Dakar (Senegal) anyway, you can also try to organize a connecting flight on your own to save costs. The main airlines are Air Senegal and Royal Air Maroc. Nouakchott-Oumtounsy is the largest, most important and only daily airport. Nouadhibou airport, which is also frequently used, is mostly served with a stopover in Gran Canaria. During the tourist season (November to April), there are also weekly flights from Paris directly to Atar, capital of the Adrar region, which is worth seeing. This has been suspended in recent months due to corona, but it's worth a look.
First, the political situation: By 2020, a narrow border strip south of Guerguerat between the territory of Western Sahara annexed by Morocco and Mauritania had been taken by Moroccan troops. Thus, there is no longer any no-man's land controlled by the Polisario. However, although this can change at any time, it has no effect on the basic procedure for entering Mauritania from de facto Morocco. It has been possible to travel from there to Mauritania since 1999 and unproblematic since 2002. Mauritanian-Moroccan relations are good, and this is not likely to change in the foreseeable future. Traveling by land is worthwhile. Many travelers combine their trip to the Bilad Shinqit with a tour of Morocco and Senegal.
The last town under Moroccan control in Western Sahara is ad-Dakhla, from there it is a little more than 350 km to the border post Guerguerat. There the papers should be checked last. The expectation of bribe (Arab. Bakshish) is not uncommon at this border post. On the Mauritanian side, one finds oneself on the N2, which splits in two a few kilometers south of the border. Either one drives east in the direction of Bou Lanuar, in order to reach the interior and also Nouakchott, or one decides for the west route, which leads exclusively to Nouadhibou. This second largest city in Mauritania, however, should not be missed for tourist reasons.
Many travelers combine a tour to Mauritania with a trip to Senegal and Morocco. From there it seems understandable to land in Dakar, which is only 400 km away from Nouakchott. The main Senegal-Mauritania border crossing is from Rosso to Rosso. No kidding, the town is called the same on both sides of the border. The serious background is pre-colonial history, when the Senegal River did not mark a border between two states. Therefore, to distinguish them, they officially speak of Rosso (Mauritania) and Rosso (Senegal). The ferry across the Senegal River that connects the two Rossos operates daily from 8 am-12 pm and 3 pm-6 pm (as of 5/31/2021). Due to its border location, Rosso is one of the most important economic centers in Mauritania's south. There is also the possibility to cross the dam of Diama, which is less frequented than Rosso - and has a better image. The possible crossing times are daily between 9 am and 6 pm. The border crossing at Diama is also in the immediate vicinity of the Diawling National Park, which is well worth seeing. Both in Diama and in Tindouf, costs for the crossing and the administrative effort are to be expected. As always, border crossings are a potential source of extortionate prices and dubious offers. In this regard, Rosso is considered far more notorious than Diama.
On the Algerian side, Tindouf is the last major town before the Mauritanian border. The town even has a regional airport. In August 2018, the first border crossing in the history of the two countries ever took place. However, the extent to which this is available for daily crossing has yet to be clarified. Entering Algeria, on the other hand, is much more difficult than in neighboring countries due to VISA regulations.
Entry from Mauritania to Mali is also possible at Néma (Mauritania) - Adel Bagrou (Mali). However, due to the current unstable political situation, we - and the German Foreign Office - do not recommend traveling to Mali.
As a strongly Islamic country, the import of alcohol and - also unsurprisingly - pork is prohibited. Although the consumption of cannabis is not uncommon among residents and travelers in Morocco, for example, transport to Mauritania should be avoided under all circumstances. There is no uniform regulation for drones. Sometimes, however, a drone is confiscated at the airport and only returned on departure.
Vehicles must be registered directly at the border. This is possible similar to the visa for a small financial effort for 30 days. Liability insurance with a Mauritanian insurance company is mandatory. This is also issued for 30 days and is usually less than the equivalent of 100 euros. However, payment is made in the local currency Ougiyah (MRU).
A visa is available at the airport and border crossings. It costs 55 EUR / 60 dollars (as of January 2023) and is valid for 30 days. Please have the exact amount ready. The visa can be easily extended in Nouakchott, Nouadhibou and Atar and at the border crossings for the same price for the same time, but not for several months in advance. Therefore, it is advisable to renew as soon as possible before the visa expires. Before applying for a visa, it is important to have the address of the accommodation (e.g. a hotel) that you wish to move into. Whether one leaves this accommodation for the purpose of traveling is irrelevant. It is important for the authorities to have a registration address and Mauritanian contact person with all the data on how to reach you. It is therefore essential to think about where you will sleep and who your contact person will be before you arrive.
Yes, due to its long and culturally rich history (keyword: Tichitt culture), rock drawings and engravings can be found in many places. Well-known for their works of art, some of which are thousands of years old, are Agrour near the Amogjar Pass in the Adrar region, in the Trig Choauil valley east of the Guilb er Richat, Akreijit in the Tagant region, and the ruins of Aoudaghost in south-central Mauritania. But even away from these places, many drawings of the former inhabitants can be found. The rock engravings often show different animals, people and hunting scenes. Among the oldest engravings are 6000 year old engravings near el-Ghallaouiya.
There are two topics that repeatedly bring the country between Morocco and Senegal out of oblivion into the consciousness and conversations of those who otherwise often do not give much thought to Mauritania. The first is the alleged beauty ideal of corpulent women, and the second is the issue of slavery. Evidence of interest in these topics in particular is abundant.
(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QJtJcRqV4GI&ab_channel=RTDocumentary, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X6VrzGWCq2I&ab_channel=AlJazeeraEnglish, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZM2q7XFOOgg&ab_channel=UnreportedWorld, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5yQlOPD8mNo&ab_channel=CNN, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=whiu9LrYrvg&ab_channel=EqualTimes)
Now it is true that Mauritania has a long history of slavery. The country was influenced by two cultures. In the Moorish, or Arab-Berber, culture, the slave trade was an integral part of the culture for centuries, but there was also intra-African slavery, for example in the Songhai Empire. For Mauritania, this means that two out of three relevant population groups, the Moorish Bidhani and the black Soudans, practiced slavery, although this certainly did not have to apply to every individual. The third group, the Ḥaraṭīn (from Arabic ḥurriya - freedom), are the descendants of former slaves. The slavery of the Bidhani is by far better known in this context and is today mainly associated with slavery in Mauritania. In short, then, there is predominantly the notion of black slaves under white "owners." It should also be noted at this point that this falls short. Also, notions of U.S. slavery, such as plantation workers, do not apply to Mauritania. Either the slaves lived in the house of their "owners" and did all kinds of work, or they lived nomadically with their owners. It happened that they created their own families and under certain circumstances even kept their own slaves. In the course of French colonialism, the first laws against slavery were passed, also drought periods in the 1970s and 80s led to the impoverishment of the "owners" and thus to the dismissal of many slaves. There have also been various laws against slavery since Mauritanian independence, though no real roadmap for their implementation has ever been developed. Officially, slavery has been criminalized since 2007, but in practice there are some hurdles in court cases, as the past has shown.
There are human rights organizations that still suspect numerous slaves in Mauritanian society today, especially in the interior beyond larger cities. But where does slavery begin? It is a fact that many Ḥaraṭīn have remained with their former "owners," still perform work there today and live together with them under one roof. It is also a fact that Mauritanian society is extremely hierarchical, and the political and economic elite is formed by Bidhani. The lack of a reappraisal of the past and the persistent situation of inequality have created an enormous potential for tension along sometimes unclear ethnic lines. This, like slavery as a whole, is taboo. Every visitor is therefore advised to bring up this topic, if at all, only in a protected environment.
As with slavery, the issue of corpulent women as an ideal of beauty is known to many beyond Mauritania's borders. There are now numerous articles and reports on the subject.
(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QJtJcRqV4GI&ab_channel=RTDocumentary, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X6VrzGWCq2I&ab_channel=AlJazeeraEnglish, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZM2q7XFOOgg&ab_channel=UnreportedWorld,)
Now, what some Westerners put forward as a possibility for empowerment and against body-shaming has a very serious background. First: Yes, there is a traditional beauty ideal of corpulent women in Mauritania. This is historically conditioned and a practice that is also widespread in Niger, Uganda, Sudan, Tunisia, Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa. During the European Renaissance, there was also a beauty ideal of female curves, as those women were thought to be particularly capable of giving birth. It is believed that especially in regions and temporal eras characterized by food scarcity, curvy women were considered attractive. In Mauritania and similar nomadic states, this circumstance has long been a given; a possible reason for the traditional ideal of beauty. In the past, this often even led to a kind of force-feeding, especially before special events such as weddings. Today, however, Mauritania is culturally exposed to a variety of influences. As a result of contact with ideals from other countries, especially through the media, the ideal of beauty has therefore already changed considerably among younger people.
Mauritania's history and society were and are strongly influenced by Islam. Almost the entire population are Sunni Muslims, the vast majority of them practicing. Mosque visits and prayers are part of everyday life for a large part of the people, and fasting during Ramadan is performed by almost everyone.