Nouakchott the capital city of Mauritania was founded at the site of a small colonial village, the Ksar after the country gained its independence in 1960. Situated on the Atlantic Coast and home to the University of Nouakchott, Nouakchott is the largest city of Mauritania and houses one-third of the country’s 3.5 million people. Many sedentary peoples, whose ancestors had been expelled centuries earlier, began to trickle back into Mauritania, with many settling in at Nouakchott. Nouakchott is said to have played a significant role in 1986 when the country’s first deepwater port was opened near the city.
There’s plenty to do in Mauritania’s capital city, including dropping by the many souks or markets like Marche Capital or Marche Sixieme. The National Museum (Musee National du Nouakchott) has archaeology and ethnography collections, the building is labelled as the Ministry of Culture and would appeal to anyone interested in Moorish culture. The Saharan sand dunes on the edge of Nouakchott are worth checking out, especially at sunrise or sundown. The Port de Peche is credited with being the star attraction in Nouakchott for both its lively and colourful activity of hundreds of teams of mostly Wolof and Fula men seen dragging in heavy fishing nets, while the smaller boys hurry back and forth with trays of fish, which they sort, gut, fillet and lay out on large trestles to dry. It is best seen to be appreciated. The Grande Mosquee is situated in the centre of the city and dominates its skyline; not exactly a model of architectural magnificence, but worth a couple of pictures for its slender minarets. Also visit the Friday Mosque located on the road to the airport and notable for its blindingly white façade. Access to visitors is restricted during prayer times but otherwise, feel free to feed your eyes on its magnificent architecture. The imposing Mosquée Marocaine is a precious landmark and a definite must see.
Traditionally, mutton, camel meat, chicken, and fresh fish dishes are eaten over a bed of couscous or rice. Freshly baked French-style baguettes are also widely available. In addition to local standards, Senegalese style thieboudiene (rice and fish), Lebanese-style chawarma (pressed mutton slices), and Moroccan tajines and stews can be found in local establishments. For fish lovers, Nouackhott is home to one of the largest and most vibrant fish markets in all of West Africa. Each day colorful boats reel in loads of fresh fish, which are then sold by local vendors on the beach or at the Etalage du Poisson (fish market). For vegetarian dishes, eggs, fresh veggies, and sundried dates are readily available. Same for various vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, onions, and fresh fruit dishes.
For drinks, don’t forget to try the nutritious camel milk that can be purchased in the local markets or roadside from nomadic herders. Tea drinking is a revered pastime in Mauritanian culture. Small glasses of strong green tea sweetened with spoonfuls of sugar are served several times daily. However, make sure to finish the entire glass including the leafy dregs as it is considered impolite to leave them. It is also advisable to stay as custom demands until the third glass of tea has been drunk and the glasses cleaned and cleared. Alcohol is illegal throughout the country except at a handful of licensed establishments.