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SafetyTravel Safety: Africa: Mauritania

Mauritania: Islamic Republic of Mauritania
Capital: Nouakchott
Population: 2,828,858
Currency: ouguiya (MRO)
Languages: Hassaniya Arabic (official), Pulaar, Soninke, Wolof (official), French
Religions: Muslim 100%
Borders: Algeria 463 km, Mali 2,237 km, Senegal 813 km, Western Sahara 1,561 km

Mauritania is a developing country in northwestern Africa. Arabic is the official language, but French is widely used and several local languages are also spoken. Tourist facilities in the capital, Nouakchott, are adequate, but limited or non-existent elsewhere.

Travel is generally safe within most of Mauritania. However, all travelers must exercise prudence and caution. Travelers should not venture into the Sahara unless accompanied by an experienced guide and even then only if equipped with sturdy vehicles and ample provisions. Moreover, the U.S. Embassy in Nouakchott continues to receive reports of banditry along the borders between the Western Sahara and Mali. Landmines also remain a danger along the border with the Western Sahara. Travelers planning surface trips from Mauritania to Morocco, Algeria, Senegal or Mali should check with the U.S. Embassy in Nouakchott before setting out. For more information about travel in Mauritania, please see the section �Traffic Safety and Road Conditions,� below. 

In Nouakchott and other major cities in Mauritania, police routinely conduct road blocks at which they may ask for proof of identify and drivers' licenses. Americans visiting Mauritania should be prepared for such inquiries and carry their identification cards at all times. Americans are advised to drive cautiously and be prepared to stop at short notice. 

Political gatherings and street demonstrations occur periodically. During periods of political unrest, demonstrators frequently throw rocks at passing cars. An increased police presence and additional vehicle controls may also occur. U.S. citizens should avoid large crowds and maintain security awareness at all times. 

Although U.S. citizens are generally welcomed in Mauritania, there were reports of anti-American incidents such as threats and stoning of vehicles, following the 1998 U.S. and British-led intervention in Iraq, and demonstrations outside the Embassy during the 2003 U.S. intervention in Iraq. Some Muslim extremists have occasionally perceived Christian non-governmental organizations as a threat. However, local authorities closely monitor political violence and religious extremist groups.

The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas.

Crime in Mauritania is moderate but steadily increasing. Most incidents are in the cities and larger towns, and are petty crimes such as pickpocketing and the theft of improperly secured and openly visible valuables left in vehicles. Residential burglaries, robberies, rapes, and assaults do occur, but they have rarely involved the American community. Most criminal activity occurs at night, and walking alone at night is not advisable. Violent crimes and crimes involving the use of weapons are also rare, but increasing. In Nouakchott, Americans should avoid the beach at night. During the day, beach-goers should travel in large groups or stay in popular areas, since a number of thefts and violent incidents have been reported there in the past several years.

While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offences. Persons violating Mauritanian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Mauritania are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in illicit sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.

Medical facilities in Mauritania are limited. There are few modern clinics or hospitals beyond the capital and a few major towns. At local pharmacies, some medicines are difficult to obtain; travelers are advised to bring their own supplies.

While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Mauritania is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance. 

Road conditions in Mauritania are generally poor, particularly in the interior, and overland travel is difficult. The country's size and harsh climate make road maintenance and repair especially problematic. Mauritania possesses only about 2,070 km (1,286 miles) of surfaced roads, 710 km 

(441 miles) of unsurfaced roads and 5,140 km (3,194 miles) of unimproved tracks. There are four major roads, linking Nouakchott to Akjoujt and Atar to the north; Rosso to the south; Aleg, Kaedi, and Boghe to the southeast; and eastward to Nema (the �Road of Hope�). A new highway between Nouakchott to Nouadhibou is under construction. 

U.S. citizens traveling overland for long distances in Mauritania should be sure to have a suitable four-wheel drive vehicle, a local guide, an adequate supply of water, and a second fuel reservoir. A second vehicle is recommended in case of breakdown. Visitors are urged not to travel alone into the desert. 

Driving in Mauritania is treacherous, and hiring a trained local driver is encouraged. Traffic patterns differ considerably from American-style �rules of the road,� and many Mauritanians drive without regard to traffic signs or rules. Roadway obstructions and hazards caused by drifting sand, animals, and poor roads often plague motorists; when combined with the number of untrained drivers and poorly maintained vehicles, heightened caution is imperative at all times. Drivers and passengers should drive defensively and wear seat belts at all times. Motorcycle and bicycle riders should wear helmets and protective clothing. Nighttime driving is discouraged.

For additional information about road travel in Mauritania, see the Department of State, Bureau of Administration's Post Report on Mauritania at

As there is no direct commercial air service at present between the U.S. and Mauritania, nor the economic authority to operate such service, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Mauritania's civil aviation authority for compliance with international aviation safety standards for oversight of Mauritania's air carrier operations. 

For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the U.S. at 1-800-322-7873, or visit the FAA International website at The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign air carriers for suitability as official providers of air services. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact the DOD at 618-229-4801.

Islamic ideals and beliefs in the country encourage conservative dress. Sleeved garments and below-the-knee skirts are recommended, and people should avoid wearing shorts.

Please also refer to the separate Worldwide Caution Public Announcement.

October 7, 2004

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