Far off the bucket list of many travelers, Nouakchott is a hidden gem in Mauritania where travelers can see how life in the Sahara was decades ago.
Not many people would consider adding Mauritania to their travel plans. However, those who do, are welcome to a country full of mystery, cultural diversity, and a fascinating past. Even though Nouakchott is mainly ignored by those who step into this off-the-beaten-path destination, the more you explore the city, the more intriguing you will find it.
I visited Nouakchott and found out what makes this city special and the key spots not to miss. These are the best things you can do in Nouakchott.
Explore Port de Peche
Considered one of the highlights of Mauritania, the lively and colorful Port de Peche is a must for those who visit this country. A walk along the beach brings you closer to the Atlantic Ocean and gives you a close-up look at the anglers at work.
No matter what time you come, expect to find a lot of the hustle and bustle. Countless fishing boats are docking and going out, large groups of fishermen are hauling in heavy fishing nets, and local Mauritanian, and Senegalese migrants, are selling the fish they have caught at one of the many stalls. You won’t find fish as fresh and seafood as delicious as at this market.
But not only the fish market is a highlight. Many attractions along the beach invite the curious to immerse themselves in the culture of Nouakchott. You can prove your skills at one of the many shooting ranges with your gun filled with stones and shoot at small targets, or simply observe the local families spending a free day at the beach.
Get lost at Marche Capitale
If you are curious to experience life in Nouakchott fully, Marche Capitale is the place to go.
This vast market, located in the heart of Nouakchott, is the center of local commerce for Nouakchottes and merchants from other parts of West Africa. On the small wooden stalls, you can find everything from traditional clothes, spices, hand-woven bags, and household goods. Expect also to find unnecessary items such as damaged electronics and parts of broken cars.
There is always a lot happening here. Let yourself be enchanted by the exciting atmosphere while strolling through the market, observe people trading, and admire the extraordinary items for sale.
Don’t forget, though. Be careful with your valuables.
Stop at Nouakchott’s mosques
Being one of the most conservative Muslim countries globally, Mauritania offers a unique perspective on Islam culture. From its traditions to its fascinating architecture, travelers can learn more about Islam and visit one of its multiple mosques.
The Saudi Mosque is characterized by a beautiful structure, often the subject of curious travelers looking for pictures. The two large towers that reach the sky can be seen from afar. Unfortunately, only Muslims are allowed to enter the mosque. Still, a view from the outside can be enough to understand why this mosque has such a special meaning for the locals.
Known for also having fascinating facades, the Ibn Abbas Mosque and the Grand Mosque are also worth visiting. The same rule applies, though; non-Muslims are not allowed to enter.
Pay a visit to the Musée National
For anyone interested in Moorish culture, visiting the National Museum of Mauritania is worthwhile. The two-story building, built in cooperation with China, is centrally located in Nouakchott and hosts two exciting exhibition spaces.
Inside, there are remarkable archaeological and ethnographic collections, which present the living conditions of the population of the last centuries. Examine original arrowheads, shards, and traditional costumes. Or simply immerse yourself in the life of the locals well over 100 years ago.
Price: 300 MRU (8 EUR)
Taste the best of the West African kitchen
While the food of the Saharan countries tends to taste quite similar after a while and become monotonous, Mauritania might be the exception to the rule. Shaped by Arab and African nomads who used to travel through Africa in caravans for centuries, the cuisine in Nouakchott is a complete melting pot of West and Saharan Africa. Even today, people from all parts of Africa come to the capital of Mauritania, and Nouakchott is the best city to find food from Senegal, Morocco, Congo, and Nigeria.
Since the coast of Mauritania is one of the richest fish areas in the world, fish dishes are also a must-try in Nouakchott and recommended.
Best restaurants for international food in Nouakchott
- Restaurant Ivoirien (Ivory Coast)
- African Restaurant (Sengalese)
- Restaurant Maroccain Chez Mariyam (Moroccan)
- Tafarit, Son House (Mauritanian – Seafood)
Get a tailor-made African boubou
When visiting Nouakchott, the blue robes of the men immediately catch the eye. These are called boubou and have essentially become a relic of the past. Nevertheless, people in Mauritania are proud of their traditional clothing and do not take them off to this day.
The origins of this particular garment can be traced back centuries to the past when many locals lived in the desert. To protect themselves from the dry climate and hot sun, they wore the boubou with a turban.
To date, this outfit is popular with every local and is worn with pleasure. Tourists can also slip into the robe and see why the population is so enthusiastic about it. You can even have a boubou tailor-made at many market stalls!
Get a taste of Mauritania’s French influence
Being a French colony until 1960, Mauritania got a lot of its influence, which is felt today. The culinary delights, particularly pastries and coffee preparation styles, are reflected in the numerous cafés in Nouakchott.
Visit La Palmeraie Cafe & Bakery to enjoy the best croissants and delicious cappuccinos. French flair in Africa!
Visit the Abandoned Old Airport
A relatively unknown but fascinating attraction is the old airport of Nouakchott. It feels like a huge thrill to walk through the deserted airport and look at the ancient relics from the past.
Check out the passport control booths or even get to the second floor, where the airline offices are located. This extraordinary location is just the right thing for anyone who wants to see something different and is in the mood for excitement.
Even though the airport is not open to the public, the doors are curiously always available, or some window is broken. Saying that. I’m not encouraging you to do trespassing on private property, but giving it a quick look won’t hurt anyone.
Buy Sub-Saharan and Saharan crafts
A unique feature of Nouakchott is that the influence of North, Central, and West Africa can be felt everywhere! It is precisely this special flair that makes the city so unique.
From masks from Senegal and Guinea to daggers and stones from the Sahara desert, you can find everything in the markets and shops!
If you are interested in art, you must visit the Zeinart Gallery. Here, established local artists exhibit their works of art. This gallery is the perfect spot to glimpse how modern art can be combined with traditional Islamic art. On the other hand, the shops on Kennedy Avenue in Nouakchott’s city center are also worth a visit. Here, you can browse various souvenir, art, or antique shops.
Read more: Visiting Chinguetti and Ouadane – Mauritania’s secret cities
Stop by the camel market of Nouakchott
What is a visit to Nouakchott without visiting the Camel Market? Located a 15-minute drive from the city center, the camel market in Nouakchott is known for being one of the most unique places in the city and the second-largest camel market in all of Africa; the first place goes to the camel market in Sudan.
There are countless leaning camels, bartering traders, and noisy auctions on a huge area surrounded by dusty nature. You’ve never seen so many camels in one place! Unfortunately, tourists are not very welcome here, which is why it is best to visit the market with a guide and take your photos inconspicuously.
NOTE: When visiting the camel market in Nouakchott, put on sturdy shoes and no sandals, as the ground is littered with camel waste.
Read more: A journey into Mauritanian Sahara – How to plan a trip into the Sahara
Getting around Nouakchott was way easier than I thought it would be.
A taxi ride in Nouakchott costs around EUR 5, but many sights can easily be explored on foot. The capital of Mauritania is a relatively safe city. Even though there is not much lighting in the evening, short distances can be covered on foot. If you travel by car at night, expect to get stopped multiple times by police officers checking IDs. While one or two might be looking for a bribe, most are just there for security reasons. Try to carry your passport (or a copy of it). Additionally, if you travel around with a copy of your passport, make sure you also have a copy of your Mauritanian visa.
Unfortunately, as a woman, it is still advisable not to be alone at night and keep a very conservative attire covering your whole body and hair.
Read more: How to travel Mauritania as a woman alone
Where to stay in Nouakchott
With accommodation in all price ranges, finding something that suits your budget and taste is not difficult. From simple guesthouses to luxury hotels, Nouakchott offers variety.
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Where to go next?
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