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Introducing Mauritania

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Mauritania © Manu25

Arab and African influences mesh and collide in the northwestern African country of Mauritania. Northern Moors are the majority while Tukulor Africans mostly populate the southern regions. The tug of war between power centres results in unstable politics, but Mauritania is blessed with breath-taking natural beauty and some fascinating historical sites, for those willing to risk visiting. A number of influential governments advise against travel to large swathes of Mauritania, including the British FCO, which warns that none of the country is considered safe due to the general threat of terrorism. Tourists willing to overlook these dangers are often richly rewarded, but caution should be exercised.

Mauritania is a land of rare natural beauty and dramatic open landscapes. The desert scenery of endless undulating sand dunes is quite a sight; in fact, something like 90 percent of Mauritania is within the boundaries of the Sahara. The north's nomadic people traverse the sea of sand in much the same way they have for centuries. The central land is covered by two vast plateaus only broken by occasional cliffs. Flat plains and desert dunes stretch uninterrupted across most of the west. These are some of the least populated regions in West Africa. The stunning, unspoilt coastline of Mauritania is the most alluring attraction for many travellers; the country's 468 miles (754km) of seashore is characterised by sandy beaches with hardly any development.

Tourism dries up in the summer months when the heat can become unbearable. Throughout the rest of the year travellers can arrive over the sand dunes from Morocco or across the river from Senegal. Larger cities such as Chinguetti, Nouakchott, Nouadhibou and Atar have some small guesthouses and hotels, but the general lack of tourist infrastructure makes Mauritania a country for the adventurous. Visitors are advised to travel with reputable guides and tour operators, or in large convoys. Various forms of four wheeled transport from old cars to sturdier jeeps can get travellers about.

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