Laura Trujillo has been in over 50 countries. One of the places she traveled alone is Mauritania. What are the do’s and don’ts in this part of the Sahara?
Read more and find out!
Traveling to Mauritania can be quite intimidating. It is one of the most isolated countries in the world and from a cultural perspective, it can also be one of the most shocking ones. Additionally, while men can plan independently a full itinerary and easily move around, things change a lot if you are a woman. Mauritania is a very patriarchal and conservative Muslim country in which society see the role of a woman quite differently than in Europe or America. However, this was not an excuse for Laura to embark alone on a trip around this part of the world. She visited Mauritania solo as a female and found here the extraordinary and unique experience she was hoping for.
A country for those who are curious
“Mauritania is the most extreme country I’ve visited in my entire life”, said Laura when I asked to summarize her experience in a single sentence. “However, I went there with an open mentality looking forward to a unique experience”, she added.
Laura is not a newcomer when traveling to “off the beaten path” destinations. This Colombian adventurer has visited some of the most extraordinary Arab destinations by herself: Lebanon, Syria, among many others. Curious by the mysteries some of these almost-untouched countries offer, she selected Mauritania as her next destination to travel alone – a decision she loved.
Just like many more other solo female travelers around the globe, she wanted to get a unique experience from her travels and at the same time, not be dependent on travel partners or a group itinerary.
“I understood Mauritania’s mentality towards women and how my ideals collide. However, I wanted to get a more local experience, which I knew a group tour couldn’t provide”. She told me. “At the same time, I knew that as a western woman, who do not speak Arabic, it was not going to be easy moving around”.
Getting ready for a trip to Mauritania as a solo woman
According to Laura, one of the most important things to be ready for Mauritania is to know exactly what to wear. Unlike other more moderate Arab countries like UAE, Egypt or neighboring Morocco, Mauritania is very attached to their local traditions. Women are always wearing a traditional melahfa and a hijab covering their heads.
Although it was not entirely necessary, getting a traditional attire was one of the first thing she did. Western female travelers are not required to cover their head, but she did not found any issue in getting an outfit that covered her whole body. “It was not only a good way to blend into the culture, but also a way to avoid uncomfortable situations with more traditional Mauritanians I encountered on a daily basis”, she added.
Furthermore, without a common language to speak with the locals and due to the cultural differences in the behavior from men towards women, Laura got a local guide to travel around.
“Getting a guide makes a huge difference. In some places, men didn’t even want to talk to me”, she mentioned. “One time in a local supermarket, I entered alone and the man behind the counter went hiding until I returned with a male companion”.
Still, she believes that getting ready for this kind of situations is the best way to start dealing with them.
Moving alone – Possible but unnecessary.
Visiting Mauritania as a woman alone is different than traveling alone anywhere else. She didn’t see a single woman uncovered, rarely there was a woman alone after then sun went down and in many situations, she was completely ignored by the men around her.
“Sometimes at some restaurants, waiters offered food to my guide and not to me”, she said. “At the same time I also understood it was part of their culture and I should not feel offended by it”.
She also agrees that the infrastructure in Mauritania is way less developed than in many other Saharan countries and as a traveler, you need to be mentally prepared that a trip to Mauritania can be mentally exhausting as many things simply won’t work.
“I didn’t find a guide because I felt I couldn’t travel completely independent – I found a guide because it made my trip better”.
Getting ready for an adventure
Mauritania is not one of the easiest countries to travel. Everything goes slow and traveling independently is definitely a pain in the ass for everyone. At the same time, She saw in Mauritania a very safe destination for a woman traveling alone – of course – with the right precautions. “I never felt in any way unsafe or harassed during my stay in the country”, Laura said. “I knew exactly what I was getting into and I tried to adapt the most to their traditions and culture”
According to her, the most uncomfortable situation were men asking if she was already married. Something in which she simply nodded with a smile and even showed them photographs of her two children back in Medellin, Colombia.
Laura showed that you can travel Mauritania solo as a woman and have the experience of a lifetime. Traveling between Choum and Nouadhibou with the iron ore train was one of her biggest lifetime highlights and by traveling alone, she simply felt fulfilled and happy.
This is just another of her many “off the path” destinations and as she told me, “Mali, Burkina Faso or South Sudan might come soon”.
Read more: A guide for traveling the Mauritanian Sahara
Mauritania as a woman in a nutshell
- Understand the dress code in public spaces and religious places
- Be prepared for a country lacking in proper infrastructure
- Travel with a guide – It is way more comfortable and facilitate lots of things
- Be open to new experiences
- Understand cultural differences and behavior between men and women
- Ask about the separate waiting rooms for men and female at public facilities
- Niqābs or Hijads are not necessary – it just catches less attention towards you.
- Hospitality is not the best – unfortunately there is not much you can do about it.