Nouadhibou is the second most important city of
Mauritania. Located at the north of the country, less than an hour driving from the wild
border between Morocco and Mauritania, controlled by Western Sahara, it is
an important fishing port of the west coast of Africa. More importantly for off
the beaten path travellers, Nouadhibou is where the Mauritanian
iron-ore train stops to offload its cargo unto boats. As such, it is the
starting point of the world’s most epic train journey, a favourite of Young
Nouadhibou can feel quite mad maxy and, to be
completely honest, it is an absolute mess. So here is YPT’s handy guide to find
your bearings while in Nouadibou.
Nouadhibou has a international airport which
covers a very few select flights. While most of its flights are domestic, it has
regular flights to the Canary Islands, linking it to the rest of the world, and
seasonal flights to Morocco.
Road travellers can drive from Western Sahara/Morocco
in less than an hour from the border. Alternatively, travellers coming from the
south, such as Senegal or the capital of Mauritania, Nouakchott, will find that
the road between the two main cities takes about 5 hours on the country’s best
Where to eat in Nouadhibou
When it comes to eating in Nouadhibou, YPT has
clear favourites. You’ll find plenty of street food, cheap eats, Chinese restaurants
and fast food but two restaurants clearly are above the others. As luck would
have it, the two of them are right next to each other.
NDB Ice Café is a café restaurant which has a
massive menu that is only equalled in its size by the size of the portions they
serve. Meals here are also quite cheap, with most of them being less than $8.
Steak, lasagna, pizza, seafood salad, you name it, they have it. It is a
wonderful place to treat yourself a bit before heading inland where your
options will be much more traditional, usually revolving around couscous and
rice. Service isn’t the quickest but the restaurant has some of the best WIFI
in town, so you might actually enjoy being there longer. NDB Ice Café is the sister-restaurant
of NKC Ice Café, with the same formula, in Nouakchott.
A gigantic seafood salad, intended for one, at NDB Ice Cafe
Right next to NDB, you’ll find Hong Kong Restaurant.
Hong Kong Restaurant is actually a restaurant run by people from the Northeast
of China and doesn’t really have Hong Kong fare (not a tragedy if you ask this
humble writer). What it has, however, is a wide menu of all mainland Chinese dishes
you can think of. The menu is in Chinese, French, English and Spanish so even
if you don’t speak Mandarin, you’ll get by by pointing what you want. What is
fabulous about this restaurant is how bizarre it is. From outside, it looks
just like any other building in the city, but once you push aside the flaps of the
entrance door, you feel like you’ve opened a portal to China. Nothing here will
indicate that you are in Africa. You’ll see Chinese decoration, Chinese tableware,
Chinese doors, everything was imported from the Middle Kingdom! It is likely
that you’ll find some Chinese overseas worker playing Mahjong here. Food is
very good and, last but not least, this place has a secret: while alcohol is
supposed to be banned in the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, this place sells
imported beer from the Canary Islands. While the cost of one small can isn’t
the cheapest (about $7), the novelty of having a cold one where it is
supposedly impossible is definitely something worth considering.
Hong Kong Restaurant, Nouadhibou’s inconspicuous vortex to China and beers
Where to stay in Nouadhibou
Nouadhibou has all sorts of hotels, for all
budgets and it shouldn’t be too hard to find somewhere to stay.
For budget conscious people, hotel Al Jezira
would be a good place. The place has some mileage, sure, but the price is fair,
beds are clean and everything is functional.
What to do in Nouadhibou
So you’ll be in Nouadhibou for a while, either
transiting or waiting on the Mauritanian train and you are looking for things
to do while you are there. Nouadhibou is certainly not Vegas or Tokyo in terms
of activities but there are still a few things that can be done other than
surfing the internet at NDB café.
Cape Blanc is a cape on the peninsula where
Nouadhibou is located. This site, of intense beauty, is really worth the
detour. The place is known for its colony of monk seals (you have to be very
lucky to see one though) and also as it was the emplacement where the famous ship
graveyard of Mauritania was. Since a few years ago, however, the ship graveyard
has been dismantled, with the scrap metal of what was the world’s biggest collection
of shipwreck having been totally collected by Chinese recycling firms.
Nowadays, it is hard to imagine that this site was covered in rust not so long
ago. Driving back from the cape, you might be able to see the Mauritanian ore
train driving by, allowing you to take a great photo of its whole length.
The Port Area
The Port Area of Nouadhibou is definitely worth
popping by. While the area is controlled by a military checkpoint, it is still
possible for you to get in. Avoid bringing a camera as they are really not keen
on photography there. Bringing a long lense might simply see you being refused
In the port area, you’ll get to see the hustle and bustle of the fishermen as well as bump into different handicraft stores.
Watch some impressive clunkers
Mauritania, and Nouadhibou in particular has some of the most beaten up pieces of scrap of cars you’ll ever see in your life. Some of the cars you’ll see here just defy the laws of physics as they are still run. They truly are a testament to human perseverance and ingenuity in the face of poverty. Walking around the mad, mad streets (or should we call them paths?) of Nouadhibou and waddling through their chaos is truly a memorable experience.
And that’s it for Nouadhibou, the great
starting point of most Mineral Ore Train Adventure.
Visit Nouadhibou with YPT on our next Saharan Odyssey
Tour Part 2, visiting Morocco, Western Sahara and Mauritania.
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