Atlantic Route visas 690 dirhams/1 day in Rabat or €55 at the Moroccan border and airports.
Same price on the new ‘Old Colonial Route’ south of Tindouf (Algeria).
The Nouadhibou-Nouakchott highway is secure with several checkpoints and roadhouses.
Paris-Atar seasonal charters resumed in 2018. Camel trek report
Updated November 2019
Mauritanian ouguiya exchange rates; now about 41 to a euro. You can buy it black market at the Moroccan border post or in Morocco- RIM No Mans Land or officially at the border/airports.
Note that in 2018 the ouguiya lost a zero along with the introduction of new plastic notes (‘MRU’; right 50 oogs, about £1). Locals will still say ‘2000’ when they mean 200 in new money. Don’t get shafted!
Price of fuel
About 39 oogs for diesel, 43 for unleaded (Atar). More in remote places. 25 in Bir Mogrein (pumps; from Algeria); 30 in Zouerat.
Moderate. Along with a new flag and new banknotes, in 2018 the resumption of inexpensive charter flights to Atar gave organised tourism (local agencies) a long-awaited shot in the arm. If you don’t want to join a group you can rent a Hilux crewcab and driver from €75 a day + fuel, and a cook for €15-20 a day + food.
French, Arabic (Hassaniya).
Visas are issued at airports and the Moroccan, Algerian, Senegalese (Rosso) and Mali (Gogui only) borders. In a bid to revive tourism in 2017 the visa dropped to €55, plus possibly an additional €10 to a border transiteur fixer. On your visa it ought to say €55. No need go to Rabat, Dakar, Algiers or Bamako for visas. Go to the last post of this thread to read about recent visa experiences on the Atlantic Route..
Visa in Rabat is nearly the same price (690 dh) as the border, but takes a day, so why bother?
6, Rue Thami Lamdawar
email (+212) (537) 65 66 78
Apply Monday to Thursday 9-11am (queueing from 7am, some sleep in their cars), and collect same afternoon at 3pm. Read this. A 30-day visa costs 690 dh and is now valid from a date you specify on your application, not the date of issue. A one-year visa (possibly multiple entry) visa was not being issued in Rabat or the WS border in November 2018. For photos and copies there is a supermarket at the crossroads about 100 metres away (N33° 58.93′ W06° 49.75′; opens at 7.30am).
The Mali embassy is in the same street, 100m away.
7, Rue Thami Lamdawar
GPS N33 58.8′ W06 50.0′
There is also a Mali embassy in Nouakchott with visas issued in as little as an hour on a good day. From Mali northwards into Mauritania: ‘At Nioro they are no longer issuing visas at the border... you can get a visa at Bamako near the Chinese Embassy on Rue Kolikoro. You need 4 photos; ready next day for 20,000 CFA.’
Border formalities from Morocco
Both open 9.00 to 18.00, give or take. Allow half a day from arriving at Morocco frontier to leaving the Mauritanian post. In March 2017 a Polisario checkpoint popped up in ‘No Man’s Land’ (actually a PFZ buffer zone) but this did not affect regular travellers and was more of a short-lived propaganda stunt.
Having come a few kms across from the Moroccan frontier (N21° 21.8′ W16° 57.6′) on the partly sealed Moroccan road through ‘No Man’s Land’ (or technically, PFZ territory – green on map left), you reach the buildings at the start of the Mauritanian tarmac (N21° 20.0′ W16° 56.8′) where you get stamped by the Gendarmerie. Buy a visa if necessary or have your pre-obtained visa stamped by the Police. No passport photos or photocopies needed: they photograph you with a webcam, fingerprint you and scan your passport.
By now a fixer will have nabbed you and offer to do it all for you for a fee from €10. Like in Wadi Halfa (Sudan) it’s a bit of a scam, in that you could DIY but there’s no getting away from paying the fixer. You will get all your docs sorted so just accept it good naturedly as a ‘tax’. Your fixer may do all the procedures listed below.
Next, get a white A4 30-day temporary import permit (TIP 480 oogs) and optionally buy official currency if you didn’t buy black in No Man’s Land.
Then buy vehicle insurance, a windscreen sticker which costs 950 oogs for a car for 10 days, less for bike. Or you can buy a forward-dated ‘Carte Brun’ for the ECOWAS West African countries (not Mauritania) for €75 (320 oogs) for a car. This is regional motor insurance, similar to the regional laisser passer ‘local carnet’. Note that they now search your vehicle a little more thoroughly and may not take to lashings of cheaper Moroccan fuel in jerricans or alcohol.
In 2007 a guy was needlessly killed and another badly injured but a landmine while straying east just a couple of kms from the unsealed track through No Man’s Land. Full story and maps for clarification here. Locals (possible evading the border) were also killed in this way in 2009. If you stick to the road/clear track there is zero risk, even if travellers’ blogs routinely exaggerate the deadly experience of ‘crossing a live minefield’ to reach Mauritania.
The road from Nouadhibou to Nouakchott
Following the kidnappings in 2009, the Mauritanians got on the case and there are now several checkpoints on the road from Nouadhibou to Nouakchott and at key junctions all over the country. As in Western Sahara, handing out a pre-printed form (above left) with your details saves time. You can download a Word template by clicking this. Adapt as you wish but make at least two dozen.
The Route d’Espoir from Nouakchott east to Nema is also patrolled but thought to be less safe. If you are a conspicuous foreigner venturing east beyond Ayoun may be unadvisable. Avoid crossings into Mali east of Ayoun; what’s left of AQIM or general-purpose bandits still operate there. October 2018 report of travelling to Oualata.
The ore train
The ore train linking Nouadhibou port with the iron mines at Zouerat no longer allows you to offload vehicles at Choum on the ‘corner’ of the PFZ, but it still carries cars all the way to Zouerat (12–16hrs). Asphalt now runs to Zouerat and beyond. Good northern Mauritania and PFZ report from 2017.
The Old Colonial Route – new border with Algeria
After nearly 70 years, by the winter of 2019 a few southbound tourists had used this reopened border since its announcement in 2018. Because of Algerian visa issues, it’s easier in this direction.
It’s 1250km from Tindouf in western Algeria to Atar (map left). Pick up a military escort at Abada near Bechar and then buy your RIM visa at ‘Hassi 75‘, just below the cut line, (right; no money changing). Your vehicle is written into your passport alongside with visa and they also issue laisser passer (TVIP) for the car; no charge.
From this point it’s 950-km of piste to Zouerat. Tourists are advised not to cut across the PFZ (‘Western Sahara’) as most locals do, but to work their way south then west around the ‘corner’ to the fort at Ain Ben Tili (right). You’ll be alone on this 240-km stage and will need fuel and everything else to reach Bir Mogrein.
At Ain Ben Tili you rejoin the ‘main route’ where the PFZ shortcut comes in from the north. There’s more traffic now but also confusing cross tracks to Bir Mogrein (550km from ABT; fuel, hotel, resto, money change). Apart from ABT, you will pass only nomad tents on this entire stage.
From BM the southbound piste to Zouerat (fuel, hotels, restos, money change, train to NDB) is busier, easier and well-defined in places. And from Zouerat you’re on the Mauritanian road network.
The old map above left indicates colonial-era tracks; today’s tracks may will a slightly different route. For track-and-tree level aerial imagery, Bing in much better than Google in this part of the Sahara.
The southern border with Senegal
At Rosso (map left) remains notorious as a place of low-level scammery, with officials working with uninformed locals. It has been like this for decades so southbound, many choose to avoid the ferry at Rosso and head 30km downstream to the dam or ‘barrage’ at Diama where things are usually less bad. There is no ferry here – you cross the tidal lifting bridge.
Note the differing views (left) from the British and French foreign ministries on where is safe to travel in Mauritania. In my opinion and recent experience, the French version is far more realistic, as is the other zoned map below which, unlike the two above, does not cut off access from Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara near Nouadhibou.
A lot of overlanders still shoot through Mauritania and don’t give the interior a chance. Others in less of a rush recognise that these days it’s the only real Saharan country left where you can drive anywhere they’ll allow without a mandatory guide, although lately they might insist you get to a town before dark and camp by a police station.
The run inland to Choum along the railway (Route R2, below) is a good introduction to the desert with easy navigation with some extended low dune cordons. It gets soft and tussocky so for these sections motorbikes may find it easier on the coarse gravel between the rail tracks (no sleepers).
Once you reach Choum there is asphalt south to Atar and north to Zouerat, with plans to extend it all the way to Algeria. Few tourists go to Zouerat; a huge iron mine, and still fewer venture up to Bir Mogrein which is the end of the road.
In spring 2018 it was reported the old 400-km Route R10 (from Sahara Overland) between Atar and Tidjikja was obsolete, with a new road just about finished (right and red line on map, left). Tidjika has long been on the road network. This new red road opens up access into the interesting Adrar region which is more dramatic in the north and east (near Atar). Elsewhere the canyons (or fault lines) of the Adrar plateau can get dune chocked or are slow and stony on the plateau stages, though Berbera guelta (left) is worth a visit, along with the well-known tourist guelta of Terjit, just out of Atar. Otherwise, a good run in a 4×4 would be up the sandy Tifoujar pass and out over the Amatlich erg back to the N1 highway near Akjoujt. Or out east to Ouadane, Guelb and Gallouiya then back west along the plain below the Adrar escarpment (as shown right).
Actual tracks are rare on the 800-km R11 piste following the Dhar Tichit escarpment between Tidjikja via Tichit to Nema and, being close to Mali, Nema may not be a good place to end up these days. Full details of these tracks and more in the old book or good trip report here from 2013.
North of Choum is little explored, but possibly not actually out-of-bounds on the northwest corner west of 10°W (see this). You won’t make it to Chegga fort where Mali and Algeria meet; there’s probably too much illicit activity going on around here. The map on the left shows access in 2017; basically Bir Mogrein is the limit.
In late 2006 we drove direct from Ouadane east and out across northern Mali to Algeria right on to Djanet and Jabbaren on the Libyan border – a technically easy if very remote 2000km off-piste traverse that was not without risks in northern Mali and would be unthinkable today. Another trip report from far north Mori in late 2011 here. Stick to the Zouerat road and you should be OK, but of course it’s a dead-end, as borders beyond are closed – to tourists at least.
The old Route R2 update from the border via Choum to Atar (520km, p.468 in the old book) is left. Since 2011 it’s said to be improved although the dunes stages are still dunes and would be hard work on a heavy bike and even harder in a 2WD.
Mauritania Route R2 left and a Google map with added information.