Nouakchott is the capital of Mauritania and its largest city, with almost 1.2 million residents in 2019. The city is the hub of the Mauritanian economy and is home to a deepwater port and Nouakchott–Oumtounsy International Airport, one of the country's two international airports.
Nouakchott is built around a large tree-lined street, Avenue Gamal Abdel Nasser, which runs northeast through the city centre from the old airport. It divides the city into two, with the residential areas in the north and the medina quarter, along with the kebbe, a shanty town formed due to the displacement of people from other areas by the desert.
Nouakchott was a large, fortified fishing village (ksar) in pre-colonial times and under French rule. As Mauritania prepared for independence, it lacked a capital city and the area of present-day Nouakchott was chosen to be a symbol of modernity and national unity. The village was selected for its central location and to avoid the sensitive issue of whether the capital was built in an area dominated by the Arab-descended Moors or Black Africans.
Construction began in 1958 to enlarge the village to house a population of 15,000. Nouakchott was planned with the expectation that commerce and other economic activities would not take place in the city. Nouakchott's central business district was planned with broad streets and a grid-like structure; the new Cinquième Quartier (Fifth District) was located close to this area and became the location of a large open-air market and residential area within a few years. By the 1970s, these new areas had grown so much that they replaced the old ksar in terms of importance, as they also hosted the governmental buildings and state enterprises.
Nouakchott has a hot desert climate with hot temperatures throughout the year, but cool winter night temperatures. While average high temperatures are relatively constant at around 33 °C (91 °F), average low temperatures can range from 25 °C (77 °F) during the summer months to 13 °C (55 °F) during the winter months. Minimum temperatures can be as low as 10 °C (50 °F) during winter nights in Nouakchott. Nouakchott is affected by the dust-laden harmattan winds.
- 1 Nouakchott–Oumtounsy International Airport (NKC IATA). It is the base for Mauritania Airlines which flies from Bamako, Casablanca, Dakar, Abidjan and Nouadhibou. The airline is not known for its punctuality. The airport also receives flights from Algiers on Air Algérie and from Paris on Air France. Other connections include Casablanca, Istanbul, Tunis and Gran Canaria. The airport is 40 km north of Nouakchott. Finding a taxi at the airport may be difficult especially late at night. usually someone will help if you ask but the ride will not be cheap. There is an ATM, but the chances of it working are low. Carry enough cash in euros or U.S. dollars to get you into town which could be up to 50 in either currency.
From Nouadhibou (470 km, ca. 6 hours): the most comfortable option, a Mercedes taking 4 passengers, costs from 4,000 UM. Sept-places are also available. It is also possible to arrange direct transport from Dakhla in Western Sahara. Ask in Hotel Sahara. The duration of the trip depends mostly on border formalities.
Normal fare in a shared taxi is 100 UM, but taxis around the city for non-set routes can cost up to 300 UM per person.
You can use the Mauritanian version of Uber called “ClassRide”, download the app available on Appstore and Play-store, or call the call centre 1122 to book a ride with comfortable vehicle, the fares starts at 1,000 UM (for less than 4 km), and then counts 200 UM for each km.
There are mainly shared taxis running in the city, but if you want to ride alone, you need to pay for all the seats (600 UM).
For an empty taxi between the fishing port and the city centre, be prepared to pay 1,500 UM, otherwise 100 UM per person should suffice if you find one with people in it.
Attractions in Nouakchott include the National Museum of Mauritania, the National Library and the National Archives.
- 1 National Museum of Mauritania.
- Head to the bustling fishing wharf 'port de peche' for a firsthand look at Mauritania's artisanal fishing industry. At evenings one can see teams of fishermen bring in the day's catch on brightly painted sea-canoes. The catch is sold on the spot and loaded onto donkey carts or ancient Renault 12s to be resold in town.
The Nouakchottois go to the beaches on weekend evenings (especially in the hot season). Swimming in the sea at Nouakchott can be dangerous due to the treacherous and strong current.
5 km west from central Nouakchott are beaches, the fishing wharf and a few seaside hotels.
- Franco-Mauritanian Cultural Center: movies, concerts, exhibits etc.
- Stade Olympique: run laps at the stade Olympique, or watch a football match.
Fishing: surf-casting is possible from the beaches near Nouakchott. Bring your own equipment. Some basic fishing supplies can be bought from Lebanese-owned shops in Nouakchott. Travel in groups only for security reasons.
Traditional Mauritanian handicrafts are available in hotels, at the museum, and in shops catering to tourists at the top of Avenue Kennedy. Silver jewellery, such as bracelets and earrings, are popular souvenirs. Rugs made of camel wool can also be purchased. Items from Mauritania's fast-disappearing nomadic lifestyle, camel saddles and wooden chests, can be purchased.
Unfortunately many items for sale in Nouakchott are of shoddy workmanship. Be prepared for some determined tracking down to find a quality piece. Dakar, Senegal is also a good place to purchase jewellery from Moorish silversmiths. There is a small collection of artisans selling quality good on Autoroute Rosso, away from the airport, but it is hard to find. Sometimes referred to as the Aritsian's Market or the Zoo. Most prices given to you can usually be haggled down to about a third of the given price, so don't be afraid to walk away at an initial offer.
- Markets: the Marche Capitale and Marche Sixieme are the most interesting for purchasing local specialities and souvenirs. The Camel Market on the outskirts of the city on the road to Boutilimit makes an interesting visit.
- The city also hosts the Nouakchott Silver Market. One beach is devoted to fishing boats where fish can be bought fresh. Nouakchott is a principal selling place of native Saharan meteorites.
There is a decent variety of restaurants in Nouakchott with plates from 1,000 to 3,500 UM. Most restaurants in the capital offer pretty much the same menu: pizzas, hamburgers, sandwiches and salads. Nicer places, such as Iman, will have steaks, brochettes, seafood and even curry.
- There is a string of restaurants on the road from the Stade Olympique to the French Embassy such as Chez Lina on Ave du General de Gaulle (+222 45 24 06 84).
- Nearby is Tafarit Sun House, +222 45 25 46 73, which, depending on availability, has alcohol if you're a westerner.
- 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).
If you wish to cook, there are many large markets, including Deja-Vu, next to Ta-ta on Du Gaulle, which specializes in American products.
Mauritania is a dry country, but alcohol can still be found if you know where to look. Many of the French- and Spanish-owned clubs and restaurants will have some whisky or beer available, depending on their supply, and cost from 2,000-3,000 UM a drink. If you're checking in the United States embassy, ask the Marines on duty (be subtle about it) if they're having a party. You'll have a great time in a safe place. Same can be said at just about every embassy, as the expat community is very close and will spend the weekends together.
- Monotel - Run by a Spanish father and son, this local gets busy at around two in the morning and regularly plays hosts to Senegalese DJs. Decent restaurant and bar by day, is a fairly reliable source for whisky.
- Naf's Cafe, located behind Friso's also has beer, whisky, rum and vodka.
Cafe in the American Embassy will also have drinks during the day.
If you're feeling bold, ask around if anyone knows where to get drinks. Several people will sell it here and there, smuggled from Senegal, but don't expect anything top shelf. A small bottle should run you around 6,000-10,000 UM each.
- 1 Hotel Mercure Marhaba, 160, Avenue Gamal Abder Nasser, ☏ .
- 2 Hotel Tfeila, Avenue Charles de Gaulle, ☏ , [email protected]. The former Novotel hotel, which is still is referred to sometimes.
- 3 Hotel Halima, Rue de I Hotel Halima (just behind Hotel Tfeila).
- In central Nouakchott, there is the Hotel Houda at Centre ville, Avenue Kennedy and the Hotel Mouna north of the Novotel/Tfeila.
- Auberge Menata, Rue Aber Baker. Owner speaks English. Help with renting a car and a guide. High reputation with former guests. Dorms with shared facilities from 2,500 UM per person, tent from 1,500 UM.
- Residence Zahra, opposite Hotel Halima and the Russian embassy, has clean and spacious rooms with air-conditioning, bathrooms, TV and WiFi from 12,000 UM.
There is also a few hotels out at the beach.
- 4 Complexe Sabah, Plage des pecheurs. A relatively new (opened 2022) holiday complex by the beach. As of December 2023 various parts of it are still under construction. Bungalow rooms are available which are air conditioned and have good internet. Food in the restaurant is good but service can be a bit slow.
There are also a couple of camping places not far away.
Like anywhere else, try to stay in groups after dark. You might occasionally run into some rude people, but by and large, Mauritanians are a very nice people. Don't be surprised to be offered a glass of tea in a shop.
Embassies and consulates
Nouakchott has almost 30 embassies and consulates.
- Brazil, RE nº 502 Tevragh-Zeina, ☏ , [email protected].
- 1 France, Rue Ahmed Ould Mohamed, Quartier de Tevragh-Zeina, ☏ , fax: , [email protected].
- Greece, Quartier des Ambassades, ☏ , fax: , [email protected].
- Spain, Boulevard Median s/n (consular services), ☏ , [email protected]. Consular emergency phone: +222 4670 7502
- 2 United States, Route de Nouadhibou, Avenue Al Quds, ☏ , , , fax: .
- The United Kingdom and Romania do not provide consular services in Mauritania, and Canada has only an honorary consul in the country. Contact their embassies in Rabat for consular assistance.
One can get from Nouakchott to the most parts of Mauritania.
- Nouadhibou - Two buses per day depart from Gare routiére du Atar to Nouadhibou at 08:00 and 16:00. Though probably more convenient option is shared taxis.
- Atar - to get to Atar, go to Gare routiére du Atar. Plenty of bus companies depart from there, though all seem to have the same time of departure. The first group of buses tends to depart every day at 07:00, but actually you have to wait till 08:00 and the second at 16:00 the bus ticket should cost no more than 400 UM except for Teissir voyage (500 UM) which is reputable among locals as the safest company and therefore requires reservation at least one day in prior.
- Terjit - there are buses from Nouakchott to Oujeft/Aoujeft that pass Terjit. Price is about 500 Ouguiya (2023). They leave quite far from the city centre on the road towards Akjoujt. One company that goes there is called "Transport Emine / أمين".
- Rosso - Plenty of buses depart from Gare routière de Nouakchott to Rosso. The bus ticket costs 300 UM and takes you about 500 m away from the border.