Where the Sahara Meets the Sea: Mauritania
by Geoff Weiss, Travel Writer and Andrea Papitto, Producer, Essakane Film
Although considered off the beaten path for many world travelers, the Saharan nation of Mauritania has much to offer adventuresome visitors who are open to its cultural complexities, historic sites and natural wonders. The vast, desert nation—which is nearly the size of California and Texas combined—boasts a sparse population of roughly 3.1 million inhabitants and derives its name from the Moors, the country’s dominant ethnic group.
Imperialized by France in the late 19th century, the capital city of Nouakchott was founded in 1960 when the country first gained independence. Mauritania held its first multi-party elections in 1992 and is currently led by President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz. In recent years, Mauritania’s fraught economy—dominated by iron ore and fisheries—was bolstered by the discovery of oil off of its coasts.
From the world-famous bird-breeding grounds of the Banc d’Arguin National Park to the country’s 437 mile-long ore train lines, (which are among the longest in the world), Mauritania’s manifold attractions are as staggering as they are remote. The country’s two major annual festivals include the Guetna, held in July and August, in which nomadic families gather in desert oases, and the Festival International des Musiques Nomades, a week-long African music celebration in early April.
In our forthcoming feature on Mauritanian tourism, we will be compiling a categorical guide to the country’s diverse natural and cultural offerings. In the coming weeks, we will be exploring the country’s rich music scene, its inimitable cuisine, its multi-faceted colorful markets, and its breathtaking natural and historic sites.