The area near the Western Sahara is heavily mined and travel through this area is highly unadvised. Border areas lining Algeria and Mali are notorious for banditry. The one paved road coming from Morocco is especially dangerous, being the site of recent Al Qaida kidnappings. If you must travel on this path, it is best to do so in a tight caravan. In other areas, one should avoid flaunting wealth or expensive wares. Daunting though it may seem, a bit of research and common sense will ensure a pleasant trip in Mauritania.
Check your Embassy or Consulate travel advisories carefully. Due to increasing numbers of attacks on Westerners in the past several years, most Western nations advise great caution. Resident expatriates travel between cities by day, in groups and on major routes.
For the majority of Westerners, the local water in any part of the country including Nouakchott is not safe to drink. Visitors should drink only bottled water if they don't have access to some type of water purifying or filtration system. The Sahara is a very dry climate. You may become dehydrated quite easily, and not be aware of it. The best rule of thumb is to be sure that you have urinated three times each day, at reasonable intervals. In the hottest part of the year, this might mean drinking several liters of water each day.
Malaria is endemic in the Southern part of the country, and visitors should always use a mosquito net there. Mosquitos are less common in the dry desert in the North of the country, but exist year-round in the South, if a bit less prevalent during the dry season December-May.
There are three operators of a GSM-Network: Mattel (http://www.mattel.mr) excellent English website, Mauritel Mobiles (http://www.eljawal.mr) and Chinguitel (http://www.chinguitel.mr/...). Prepaid plans are available for three of them. Further Information regarding Coverage and Roaming are available from GSM-World (http://www.gsmworld.com/r...).
For tours into the desert where no GSM-Network is available satellitephones are a good solution. Thuraya, Iridium or Inmarsat. Thuraya tends to be the cheapest and the easiest to use. The equipment is also available for rent.
Internet cafÃ©s with DSL internet can be found in Nouakchott and Nouadhibou for 200-300 UM an hour. Slower connections plauge "cybercafes" elsewhere in the country, but if you are desperate to check your email it is usually possible.
Hassaniya Arabic is the language of the Moor majority, while other languages are spoken by Southern Black Africans including Pulaar, Wolof, and Soninke especially in the Guidimakha region around Selibaby. French is the second official language and is spoken by many. This is especially true near towns. In the countryside, individuals may often speak several languages but not French.
It is considered polite to say Salaam aleikum when entering a taxi, office or when greeting someone. It is the first greeting for most of the dialects spoken in the region.
Learn Salaam alaykum and use it when greeting people. If you are a man, don't try to shake hands with a woman, and vice versa note that some African women will not have a problem with shaking a man's hand, but it is best to not try to initiate contact, just follow their lead. You can, however, say hello and touch your hand over your heart.
Be careful to eat with your right hand, especially outside of Nouakchott where you may not be offered silverware. Like other places in the Arab world, the left hand is reserved for the bathroom. If you're left-handed... try hard.
Covering your head isn't required, but it is polite. It may cut down on the Madame ou bien Mademoiselle? question, but Westerners, especially women, will be the target of unwanted attention and minor harassment everywhere in the country. Be aware though, that many Mauritanians, both male and female, think that a direct gaze is a sexual invitation. There is even a phrase in Hassiniya, ayna m'tina, meaning strong eyes, to describe what many people feel is an agressive act. Just because you are in a foreign country doesn't mean that the men have carte blanche to be jerks, though. Calling them on their bad behaviour, or pointing it out to the ever present bystanders, can often work. If you give respect, you can demand it also. The Moors respect women who stand up for themselves even while they push you to see how far they can get.
If you are travelling with someone of the opposite sex, avoid touching in public. It's actually much more common to see two men holding hands than a woman and a man. As far as dress, the more skin you show, the more negative attention you will receive. In Nouakchott, women can wear trousers, but avoid tank tops and to-the-knee skirts. Long skirts are the best choice for women. It is a good idea to cover your arms also. Trousers display the crotch area and thus are also disturbing, especially to people in the countryside who aren't as used to seeing this as the city folk. Most people will be very polite, and you will not know what they are thinking.
If you are a female, there is no non-sexual reason, EVER, to go off in private with a man. If they ask you to step into an office, or back of a shop or anywhere; don't. The men are aware that that is an unreasonable request, and no one would ask you for a private chat if they meant well. If you allow yourself to be alone with a man, for however brief a time, everyone will assume you had sex, and will judge you accordingly. As a weakling, not as dissolute. In fact, if you have a boyfriend, not a series of boyfriends, most people are a bit flattered. The men are pretty uninhibited, very sensual, and can be lots of fun.
If you are a LGBT visitor, do not try to be open about your sexuality to any Mauritanian. They will act very harshly to this. Also do not make any acts in public that would imply the fact that you are LGBT: Mauritania imposes the death sentence for homosexuality.
If you are white, Nasrani, Toubac and Toubab refers to you. Little kids, and sometimes rude adults, will refer to you by this name. Nasrani actually means a person from Nazareth. Since Christians follow Christ's teachings, and Christ is from Nazareth, then Christians are all honorary Nazarenes.
Beware of people who may try to take advantage of your politeness in order to try to make a sale. Be aware that in market areas, almost everyone who tries to befriend you is trying to sell you something at an inflated price. They will try many tricks to get you to buy items from them including "giving them to you as a gift", and a few might even accuse you of not liking Africans if you decline to look at their souvenir shop. If someone is going beyond the normal limits to bother you, it is not impolite to tell them, without question, that you are not interested. If they ask for something that you own, just say that you need it right now, and can give it to them in a month or so.