Mauritania is bordered by Algeria, Mali, Western Sahara and Senegal. To the west lies the Atlantic Ocean.
Mauritania consists mainly of the vast Saharan plain of sand and scrub. Most of this area is a sea of sand dunes, but in places the land rises to rocky plateau with deep ravines leaving isolated peaks.
The Adrar plateau in the central region rises to 500m, and the Tagant further south to 600m. The area is scattered with towns, small villages and oases. The northern bank of the Senegal River, which forms the countrys southern border, is the only area in the country with any degree of permanent vegetation and it supports a wide variety of wildlife.
Much of the land is dry and inhospitable and many locations are difficult to reach without long journeys in 4 wheel drive vehicles. Mauritanias coast is essentially an 800km long sandy beach, all but devoid of vegetation but supporting an astonishingly large and varied population of birds. Drawbacks aside, Mauritania is a fascinating country with a colourful, indigenous Moorish population. Mauritanias coast is essentially an 800km long sandy beach, all but devoid of vegetation but supporting an astonishingly large and varied population of birds.
The Parc National du Banc dArguin is reputed to be one of Africas best places for bird watching. Amongst the many species that can be observed are large colonies of aquatic birds, such as herons, pelicans and flamingos. The park is fairly difficult to access and there is an entry fee. The head office is located in Nouadhibou.
There are some good spots for fishing and even surfing along the coast in the west. Swimming is also possible, but travellers should note that pick pocketing and crime is reported to be rife on Mauritanias beaches. Remote and deserted beaches can be found near Nouadhibou, although travellers should beware of landmines in the area.
Most of the country is hot and dry with practically no rain. In the south, however, rainfall is higher with a rainy season which runs from July to September. The coast is tempered by trade winds and is mild with the exception of the hot Nouakchott region. Deserts are cooler and windy in March and April.
The official language is Arabic. The Moors of Arab Berber stock, speaking Hassaniya dialects of Arabic, comprise the majority of the people. Other dialects include Soninke, Poular and Wolof. French and English are increasingly spoken.
Islam is the official religion. Despite ethnic and cultural differences among Mauritanians, they are all bound by a common Muslim attachment to the Malekite sect.