What you need to know about Nouakchott
Nouakchott is the capital and largest city of Mauritania. It is one of the largest cities in the Sahara. The city also serves as the administrative and economic centre of Mauritania.
Nouakchott was a small village of little importance until 1958, when it was chosen as the capital of the nascent nation of Mauritania. It was designed and built to accommodate 15,000 people, but drought and increasing desertification since the 1970s have displaced a vast number of Mauritanians who resettled in Nouakchott. This caused massive urban growth and overcrowding, with the city having an official population of just under a million as of 2013. The resettled population inhabited slum areas under poor conditions, but the living conditions of a portion of these inhabitants have since been ameliorated.
The city is the hub of the Mauritanian economy and is home to a deepwater port and Nouakchott–Oumtounsy International Airport, one of the country’s two international airports. It hosts the University of Nouakchott and several other more specialized institutes of higher learning.
The Mauritanian Ouguiya is the currency of Mauritania. Our currency rankings show that the most popular Mauritania Ouguiya exchange rate is the MRO to EUR rate.
Nouakchott features a hot desert climate (Köppen: BWh) with hot temperatures throughout the year, but cold winter night temperatures. Nouakchott possesses a relatively warm temperature range compared to other cities with this climate. While average high temperatures are relatively constant at around 33 °C (91 °F), average low temperatures can range from 25 °C (77 °F) during the summer months to 13 °C (55 °F) during the winter months. Minimum temperatures can be as low as 10 °C (50 °F) during winter nights in Nouakchott. Average rainfall in the city is 94 mm (3.7 in) a year.
The official language of Mauritania is Literary Arabic, also referred to as Modern Standard Arabic.
Nouakchott is the center of the Mauritanian economy, with three-quarters of service sector enterprises located in the city as of 1999 with 90% of the city’s economic activity consisting of informal transactions. Some inhabitants have multiple addresses and maintain strong ties with their regions of origin, at times returning for labor.
Nouakchott has a Chinese-built deepwater port that opened in 1986. It was designed for a capacity of 500,000 tons deadweight (DWT) of cargo a year, but has been handling 1,500,000 tons (DWT) by 2009. China agreed in 2009 to invest US$282 million in the port, aiming to extend the main quay by over 900 m (3,000 ft). As of 2011, the World Bank was investigating funding a new shipping container facility at the port. Air service is provided by Nouakchott–Oumtounsy International Airport, which replaced the previous Nouakchott International Airport in June 2016.
The Cairo–Dakar Highway leg from Nouakchott to Noudhibou was paved in 2004, although the Nouakchott-Rosso leg was paved before independence. A 1,100-kilometre (680 mi) road (Route d’Espoir (Road of Hope)) connects the city with Néma via Boutilimit and Kiffa. In the city, there is a public transport and commuter system, with vehicles serving major boulevards.
The city is home to the University of Nouakchott, which is the only university in Mauritania and was opened in 1981. As of 1995, it had 70 professors and 2800 students. Other higher education facilities include the National School of Administration and the Higher Scientific Institute.
There are many primary and secondary schools, among the most prominent are the American International School of Nouakchott and the Lycée Français Théodore Monod.
Culture and religion
Attractions in Nouakchott include the National Museum of Mauritania, the National Library and the National Archives. The city hosts several markets including the Nouakchott Silver Market, and the beaches. One beach is devoted to fishing boats where fish can be bought fresh. Nouakchott is a principal selling place of native Saharan meteorites.
There is a mosque donated by Saudi Arabia in the city centre and a Moroccan mosque further south. Although Islam is the state religion in Mauritania, Nouakchott includes the Catholic Cathedral of St. Joseph. It is home to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Nouakchott, founded in 1965.
Nouakchott is divided into three regions (wilayat), each of which contains three departments (moughataa):
- Nouakchott-Nord (North Nouakchott): Dar-Naim, Teyarett, Toujouonine
- Nouakchott-Ouest (West Nouakchott): Ksar, Sebkha, Tevragh-Zeina
- Nouakchott-Sud (South Nouakchott): Arafat, El Mina, Riya
The town was initially divided into four departments in 1973. In 1986 the current nine departments were created.
Formerly a district, in 1990 Nouakchott became a region of Mauritania. On 25 November 2014, it was split into the three current regions and its governor Mahi Ould Hamed became the first governor of Nouakchott-Nord.
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 litres of water each day.
Malaria is endemic in the southern part of the country, and visitors should always use a mosquito net there. Mosquitoes 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).