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How To Ride The Iron Ore Train In Mauritania


Modified: December 27, 2023

by Anselma Fraley



The Iron Ore Train in Mauritania presents a unique and thrilling adventure for travelers seeking an out-of-the-ordinary experience. Known as the “Backbone of the Sahara,” this legendary train journey takes you through the vast desert landscapes of West Africa, transporting iron ore across the country. Riding the Iron Ore Train offers a glimpse into the daily lives of locals, breathtaking views of the desert, and a taste of the rugged and untamed beauty of Mauritania.


Imagine yourself aboard a long train composed of open iron ore cars, with dust swirling around you as the hot desert wind blows. The rhythmic clanking of the train, the panoramic views of sand dunes stretching as far as the eye can see, and the camaraderie of fellow adventurers make the Iron Ore Train a truly unforgettable experience.


This article will guide you through the ins and outs of riding the Iron Ore Train, from choosing the right time to ride and planning your trip, to booking tickets and preparing for the journey. You’ll learn what it’s like to ride the train, capture the experience through photography, and arrive at your destination of Choum or Nouadhibou, where you can further explore the wonders of Mauritania.


So, if you’re ready to embark on a thrilling escapade through the Sahara Desert, hop aboard the Iron Ore Train and let’s discover the magic and adventure that awaits!


Overview of the Iron Ore Train

The Iron Ore Train is a vital lifeline for Mauritania’s economy, as it transports iron ore from the interior of the country to the coastal town of Nouadhibou for export. Spanning an impressive length of around 700 kilometers (435 miles), this train journey is considered one of the longest and toughest in the world.


Composed of a series of open iron ore cars hauled by powerful locomotives, the train can stretch up to two kilometers (1.2 miles) in length and carries an astonishing amount of cargo, sometimes reaching up to 20,000 tons of iron ore. The train operates daily, departing from the Zouérat mining town in the Mauritanian desert to Nouadhibou.


The landscapes you’ll encounter on this journey are awe-inspiring. The train traverses vast stretches of arid desert, passing by towering sand dunes, rocky plateaus, and nomadic encampments. The contrast of the red sand against the blue skies creates a stunning visual spectacle.


The train’s passengers largely consist of locals who use it as a means of transportation between towns and villages along the route. It’s not uncommon to see families, traders, and livestock sharing the same space as the iron ore. This communal atmosphere adds a unique and authentic touch to the journey, allowing travelers to immerse themselves in the local culture and connect with fellow adventurers.


While the journey can be challenging due to the extreme temperatures and rough terrain, it is this very element of adventure that attracts thrill-seekers from around the world. Riding the Iron Ore Train is not just about getting from point A to point B; it’s about embracing the spirit of exploration and embracing the untamed beauty of the desert.


Whether you’re a seasoned traveler seeking an off-the-beaten-path experience or a passionate photographer looking to capture breathtaking shots, the Iron Ore Train promises an unforgettable adventure that will leave a lasting imprint on your memory.


Choosing the Right Time to Ride

When it comes to riding the Iron Ore Train in Mauritania, timing is crucial to ensure a successful and enjoyable journey. Here are a few factors to consider when choosing the right time to hop aboard:

  1. Weather: The desert climate in Mauritania can be extremely hot during the day and chilly at night. It’s advisable to avoid the scorching summer months when temperatures soar to uncomfortable levels. Instead, opt for the cooler months between November and March when the weather is more pleasant.
  2. Day or Night: The Iron Ore Train operates both during the day and at night. Riding during the day allows you to witness the stunning desert landscapes in all their glory, with the sunlight casting beautiful shadows on the dunes. On the other hand, night rides offer a different perspective, allowing you to gaze at the starry sky and experience the mysterious ambiance of the desert after dark.
  3. Weekdays or Weekends: The train tends to be busier on weekends when locals use it for commuting and transporting goods. If you prefer a more serene and less crowded journey, consider riding during weekdays. However, keep in mind that weekdays may have fewer departures compared to weekends.
  4. Festivals and Holidays: Mauritania celebrates various cultural and religious festivals throughout the year. If you’re interested in experiencing these festivities or capturing vibrant cultural events, try to time your trip accordingly. The train might be busier during these periods, but the cultural immersion is well worth it.
  5. Sunset or Sunrise: For photography enthusiasts, capturing the golden hues of the desert skies during sunrise or sunset is a must. Plan your ride to coincide with these magical moments, and you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking photos and memories that last a lifetime.

It’s important to note that the schedule of the Iron Ore Train is subject to change, and there may be delays or cancellations due to various factors. It’s always a good idea to check with local authorities or consult with reputable travel agencies for updated information on train departures and any specific considerations you should be aware of.


By considering these factors and doing some research, you can choose the right time to ride the Iron Ore Train and make the most of your adventure through the scenic landscapes of Mauritania.


Planning Your Trip

Planning your trip to ride the Iron Ore Train in Mauritania requires careful consideration to ensure a smooth and enjoyable experience. Here are some important factors to keep in mind when organizing your adventure:

  1. Visa and Entry Requirements: Before traveling to Mauritania, check the visa requirements for your country of residence. Ensure you have a valid visa and passport with at least six months of validity remaining. It’s advisable to contact the Mauritanian embassy or consulate to obtain the most up-to-date information.
  2. Duration of Stay: Decide how long you want to spend in Mauritania to fully enjoy your Iron Ore Train ride and explore other attractions in the country. Consider adding a few extra days to your itinerary to allow for any unforeseen delays or to indulge in local culture and traditions.
  3. Accommodation: Research accommodation options in Nouadhibou or Choum, the starting and ending points of the train journey. There are a range of hotels, guesthouses, and camping options available, catering to different budgets and preferences. Booking in advance is recommended, especially during peak travel seasons.
  4. Health and Safety: Ensure you are up to date with your routine vaccinations and consider obtaining vaccinations for diseases prevalent in Mauritania, such as malaria. It’s also advisable to bring a basic first aid kit, insect repellent, and sun protection as the desert climate can be harsh. Respect local customs and dress modestly, particularly when visiting conservative areas.
  5. Travel Insurance: Purchase comprehensive travel insurance that covers medical emergencies, trip cancellations, and lost or stolen belongings. Check the policy details to ensure it offers adequate coverage for your specific needs
  6. Local Customs and Etiquette: Familiarize yourself with the local customs and cultural practices of Mauritania. Greeting people with a simple “Salam aleikum” (peace be upon you) and respecting local traditions will go a long way in fostering positive interactions with the Mauritanian people.
  7. Language: While Arabic is the official language of Mauritania, some locals may also speak French or Hassaniya Arabic dialect. Learning a few basic Arabic phrases can help you better communicate and connect with the locals.
  8. Transportation: Plan your transportation to and from Nouadhibou or Choum, where the train journey starts and ends. Options include domestic flights, car rentals, or hiring a private driver for a more convenient and comfortable journey.

By carefully planning your trip to ride the Iron Ore Train, you can make the most of your adventure and ensure a hassle-free experience. Stay organized, do your research, and embrace the spirit of adventure as you embark on this extraordinary journey through the heart of Mauritania’s desert landscapes.


Booking Tickets

When it comes to booking tickets for the Iron Ore Train in Mauritania, there are a few options available to travelers. Here’s what you need to know to secure your spot on this unique journey:

  1. Independent Booking: If you prefer a DIY approach, you can try booking your train tickets independently. Visit the SNIM (Société Nationale Industrielle et Minière) office in Nouadhibou or Zouérat to purchase your ticket directly. Keep in mind that availability may be limited, and it’s recommended to book well in advance, especially during peak travel seasons.
  2. Through a Travel Agency: Another option is to book your Iron Ore Train tickets through a reputable travel agency or tour operator. They can handle the logistics for you, including securing the tickets, arranging transportation, and providing additional support and guidance throughout your trip.
  3. Consider a Guided Tour: If you prefer a hassle-free experience and want to explore more of Mauritania, consider booking a guided tour that includes the Iron Ore Train ride. Many tour operators offer packages that combine the train journey with visits to other attractions in the country, such as the Banc d’Arguin National Park or the ancient city of Chinguetti.
  4. Flexible Travel Dates: Keep in mind that the schedule of the Iron Ore Train may change due to various factors such as weather or maintenance. Be prepared for possible delays or cancellations, especially during adverse conditions. Having some flexibility in your travel dates can help accommodate any unexpected changes to the train’s schedule.
  5. Double-Check Reservation Details: Whether you book independently or through a travel agency, make sure to double-check your reservation details, including the date, time, and departure location. Confirm any specific instructions or requirements such as where to pick up your tickets or any necessary identification or documentation.

It’s important to note that the Iron Ore Train is primarily a cargo train, and passenger accommodations are limited. It’s a good idea to manage your expectations as the train ride may not provide the same level of comfort as traditional passenger trains. However, the raw and authentic experience of riding the Iron Ore Train more than makes up for any lack of luxury.


By planning ahead and securing your tickets in advance, you can ensure that you don’t miss out on this extraordinary journey through the dramatic landscapes of Mauritania.


Preparing for the Journey

Preparing for the Iron Ore Train journey in Mauritania requires careful consideration to ensure that you have a comfortable and enjoyable experience. Here are some essential tips to help you get ready for this unique adventure:

  1. Pack Essentials: As you’ll be traveling through the desert, it’s crucial to pack the right essentials. Consider bringing lightweight and breathable clothing to combat the heat, including long-sleeved shirts and pants to protect yourself from the sun and sand. Don’t forget to pack a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, and a water bottle to stay hydrated.
  2. Comfortable Shoes: Opt for comfortable and sturdy footwear, as you may need to navigate uneven terrain when boarding and disembarking the train. Closed-toe shoes or hiking boots are the recommended options to protect your feet.
  3. Snacks and Water: While the train journey does pass through some small villages where you may have the opportunity to purchase food and water, it’s advisable to bring your own snacks and enough water to last the duration of the ride. Pack non-perishable snacks that won’t melt or spoil in the desert heat.
  4. Camera and Equipment: If you enjoy photography, make sure to pack your camera and any necessary equipment, such as spare batteries and memory cards. The desert landscapes and unique train experience provide ample opportunities for stunning photos.
  5. Pack Light: Keep in mind that space on the train may be limited. Pack only the essentials and avoid bringing oversized luggage or heavy backpacks. A small daypack or bag will be sufficient to carry your belongings.
  6. Currency: Ensure you have enough local currency or small denominations for any purchases you may need to make during the journey. It’s advisable to bring a mix of cash and smaller bills, as larger bills may be difficult to exchange in remote areas.
  7. Entertainment: Prepare some form of entertainment, such as books, music, or downloaded movies, as the journey can be long. You may also want to have a power bank or external charger to keep your electronic devices charged.
  8. Expect Basic Facilities: It’s important to note that the train does not have luxurious amenities. Toilet facilities and seating arrangements may be basic, and there may not be access to running water or electricity. Prepare accordingly and bring necessary toiletries and hand sanitizers.
  9. Be Flexible and Patient: The Iron Ore Train operates on its schedule, and delays are possible. It’s essential to have a flexible mindset and be patient during the journey. Embrace the slower pace and unpredictable nature of the desert adventure.

By being well-prepared and taking these tips into consideration, you can ensure a comfortable and enjoyable journey on the Iron Ore Train through the captivating landscapes of Mauritania.


Boarding the Iron Ore Train

Boarding the Iron Ore Train in Mauritania is an exciting and unique experience. Here are some important things to keep in mind when getting ready to hop aboard:

  1. Arrive Early: It’s recommended to arrive at the train station at least an hour before the scheduled departure time. This allows you to secure a good spot on the train and gives you time to familiarize yourself with the surroundings.
  2. Observe and Follow Instructions: Pay attention to the instructions given by train officials and follow any safety protocols they provide. Boarding and disembarking the train can be challenging due to the height of the iron ore cars, so it’s important to be cautious and follow proper procedures.
  3. Choose a Strategic Spot: When boarding the train, choose a spot that suits your preferences. Some may prefer to sit in the open-air cars for a better view, while others may opt for covered cars to shield themselves from the sun or wind. Find a comfortable spot that allows you to enjoy the ride.
  4. Secure Belongings: As the train can gain momentum, it’s essential to secure your belongings to prevent them from falling off the train. Bring a small lock to secure your bags and ensure that personal items are safely stored or strapped down.
  5. Interact with the Locals: One of the highlights of riding the Iron Ore Train is the opportunity to interact with the local Mauritanian people. Engage in conversations, share experiences, and embrace the camaraderie that develops throughout the journey.
  6. Enjoy the Landscape: As the train traverses the picturesque desert landscapes, take the time to appreciate the stunning scenery. Marvel at the vast sand dunes, rocky outcrops, and endless horizons. Capture photos, soak in the atmosphere, and savor the unique experience.
  7. Respect Local Customs: Be mindful of the local customs and cultural traditions during your journey. Dress modestly, ask for permission before taking someone’s photo, and be respectful of the local way of life. Embrace the opportunity to learn and immerse yourself in the Mauritanian culture.
  8. Stay Hydrated and Protected: The desert heat can be intense, so it’s important to stay hydrated throughout the journey. Drink plenty of water and use sunscreen to protect yourself from the sun’s rays. Consider wearing a hat and lightweight, breathable clothing to stay comfortable.
  9. Enjoy the Journey: The Iron Ore Train ride is not just a means of transportation; it’s an adventure in itself. Embrace the slower pace, disconnect from the distractions of daily life, and allow yourself to fully enjoy the experience. Take in the sights, sounds, and sensations of this unique journey through the Mauritanian desert.

Boarding the Iron Ore Train is the first step towards an unforgettable adventure. By following these tips and guidelines, you’ll be ready to embark on this extraordinary journey through the heart of Mauritania.


Riding the Train

Riding the Iron Ore Train in Mauritania is an immersive experience that takes you through the stunning desert landscapes of the country. Here are some key points to keep in mind as you embark on this exhilarating journey:

  1. Feel the Rhythm: As the train sets off, you’ll immediately feel the rhythmic vibrations and hear the clanking of the iron ore cars. Let yourself be swept away by the unique ambiance created by the sounds and movements of the train.
  2. Embrace the Unique Atmosphere: On the Iron Ore Train, you’ll find a diverse mix of passengers, including locals and adventurous travelers. Embrace the communal atmosphere and strike up conversations with your fellow passengers. Share stories, learn about their lives, and make new connections.
  3. Enjoy Breathtaking Landscapes: The train journey takes you through a variety of landscapes, including vast sand dunes, rocky plateaus, and remote desert villages. Keep your camera ready to capture the awe-inspiring views as they unfold before your eyes.
  4. Marvel at the Sunset or Sunrise: If you’re fortunate enough to ride during sunset or sunrise, prepare to be dazzled by the dramatic beauty of the desert sky. Watch as the colors change, casting a golden glow over the landscape, and create memories that will last a lifetime.
  5. Break for Nomadic Encampments: Along the route, the train may pause near nomadic encampments, providing a fascinating glimpse into the traditional way of life in the desert. Take the opportunity to see how people live and interact with their environment, and engage with the locals if appropriate.
  6. Enjoy Time for Reflection: The slow and steady pace of the Iron Ore Train allows for moments of solitude and reflection. Take advantage of this serene atmosphere to appreciate the vastness of the desert, contemplate life, and absorb the peacefulness of the surroundings.
  7. Stay Hydrated and Energetic: During the journey, make sure to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated, especially in the desert heat. Pack some snacks or a picnic to keep your energy levels up, enjoying a simple meal while admiring the panoramic views.
  8. Interact with the Train Crew: The train crew plays a vital role in ensuring a smooth and safe journey. Engage with them, learn about their experiences, and gain insights into the challenges they face traversing the demanding landscape.
  9. Indulge in Local Cuisine: If you have the opportunity to purchase food from local vendors during stops along the route, don’t hesitate to try some traditional Mauritanian dishes. Savor the flavors and experience the culinary delights of the region.
  10. Immerse Yourself in the Moment: Finally, remember to fully immerse yourself in the experience. Put away your electronic devices and take in the sights, sounds, and sensations of the journey. This is a rare opportunity to disconnect from the world and appreciate the raw and unfiltered beauty of the desert.

As you ride the Iron Ore Train, let the sights, sounds, and unique atmosphere envelop you, creating memories that will stay with you long after the journey comes to an end.


Capturing the Experience

Riding the Iron Ore Train in Mauritania provides incredible opportunities to capture the essence of this unique adventure. Here are some tips to help you capture the experience through photography:

  1. Plan Your Shots: Before the journey, research the route and identify potential points of interest along the way that you would like to photograph. This could be scenic landscapes, interesting compositions, or interactions between passengers.
  2. Utilize Different Angles: Experiment with different angles and perspectives to add visual interest to your photos. Consider shooting from a low angle to highlight the vastness of the desert or capturing overhead shots to showcase the length of the train.
  3. Embrace Natural Light: The desert offers abundant natural light, which can create stunning effects in your photos. Pay attention to the direction and quality of light, and use it to your advantage to enhance textures, shadows, and colors in your images.
  4. Showcase Human Connections: The Iron Ore Train is not just a train; it’s a community on wheels. Capture candid moments of passengers interacting with each other, sharing stories, or simply taking in the beauty of the surroundings. These images can convey the shared experience and camaraderie onboard.
  5. Capture the Train in Motion: The movement of the train is a defining characteristic of this journey. Experiment with long exposure shots to capture the blur and sense of motion as the train passes through the desert. This technique can create dynamic and captivating images.
  6. Photograph Cultural Encounters: When the train pauses near nomadic encampments or small villages, take the opportunity to capture portraits of the locals. Ask for permission before taking their photos and respect their privacy and cultural sensitivities.
  7. Document the Details: Don’t forget to capture the small details that make this experience unique. Focus on the textures of the iron ore cars, the dust swirling in the wind, or the weathered faces of the train crew. These details can help tell a richer and more meaningful story.
  8. Be Respectful: While photographing, be mindful of the environment and the people around you. Respect the privacy of fellow passengers and ask for permission before taking close-up portraits. The goal is to capture authentic moments while ensuring that everyone feels comfortable and respected.
  9. Enjoy the Moment: It’s important to strike a balance between capturing moments and fully experiencing the journey. Remember to put your camera aside at times, soak in the beauty of the landscape, and be present in the moment. Some memories are best captured in your heart, not through the lens.
  10. Share Your Experience: Once your journey on the Iron Ore Train is over, share your photos and experience with others. Whether it’s through social media, a blog, or a photo album, sharing your images and stories can inspire others to embark on their own adventures.

By using your camera as a tool to capture the Iron Ore Train experience, you can preserve the memories and share the magic of this unique journey with others.


Arriving at Choum or Nouadhibou

As your Iron Ore Train journey comes to an end, you’ll disembark at either Choum or Nouadhibou, depending on the direction you traveled. Here’s what you can expect upon arriving at these destinations:


Choum is a small town located in the heart of the Mauritanian desert. Known for its proximity to the Zouérat iron mines, Choum is a common stopping point for the Iron Ore Train. Upon arrival, you can witness the bustling activity as cargo is unloaded from the train’s iron ore cars.


Choum offers a glimpse into the traditional way of life in Mauritania’s remote desert regions. Take the opportunity to explore the town and its surroundings, interact with the friendly locals, and learn about their daily routines and cultural traditions. You may encounter nomadic communities, experience traditional music and dance, or feast on local delicacies.


Nouadhibou, on the other hand, is a coastal city that serves as one of Mauritania’s major economic hubs. As the final destination of the Iron Ore Train, it offers a stark contrast to the desert landscapes you experienced during the journey.


In Nouadhibou, you can indulge in fresh seafood delicacies, visit the colorful fish market, and relax on the beautiful beaches that stretch along the Atlantic coast. Take time to explore the city’s vibrant markets, where you can find a variety of local crafts, colorful fabrics, and traditional souvenirs.


If you have some extra time, consider venturing further afield to explore the Banc d’Arguin National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site known for its rich biodiversity. You can also visit the historical Spanish colonial town of Port Etienne, which reflects the region’s unique history.


Both Choum and Nouadhibou offer a different perspective on Mauritanian life, culture, and landscapes. Take the opportunity to immerse yourself in the local atmosphere, interact with the welcoming people, and further appreciate the beauty and diversity of Mauritania.


Whether you choose to explore the desert town of Choum or the coastal city of Nouadhibou, both destinations provide fascinating insights and experiences that complement your remarkable Iron Ore Train journey.


Tips and Recommendations

Riding the Iron Ore Train in Mauritania is a unique adventure that requires some preparation. Here are some valuable tips and recommendations to make the most of your journey:

  1. Bring Sufficient Supplies: Pack enough food, water, and snacks for the duration of the train ride. While there may be opportunities to purchase items along the way, it’s best to come prepared to ensure you have what you need.
  2. Stay Hydrated: The desert heat can be intense, so make sure to drink plenty of water throughout the journey. It’s advisable to bring a reusable water bottle that you can refill along the way.
  3. Dress Appropriately: Wear loose, breathable clothing to stay comfortable in the desert heat. Protect yourself from the sun by wearing a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen. It’s also a good idea to bring a light jacket or shawl for cooler evening temperatures.
  4. Travel Light: As space on the train is limited, pack only the essentials. Opt for a small daypack or bag instead of large luggage to ensure easy movement and storage on the train.
  5. Respect Local Customs: Remember to dress modestly and respect local customs and traditions. Mauritanian society is conservative, so it’s best to err on the side of caution and dress respectfully.
  6. Carry Cash: While some vendors may accept credit cards, it’s advisable to carry enough cash in small denominations for any purchases along the way. ATM or banking facilities may be limited in the remote areas you’ll be passing through.
  7. Be Prepared for Rust and Dust: The iron ore on the train can generate rust and dust, so consider bringing a dust mask or bandana to cover your face if needed. Protect your electronic devices and cameras from dust by keeping them in a protective case or bag.
  8. Engage with the Locals: Interact with fellow passengers and locals you encounter along the way. Mauritanians are known for their hospitality, and engaging in conversations will enrich your experience and provide cultural insights.
  9. Stay Flexible: Due to various factors such as weather conditions and maintenance, the train schedule may change or experience delays. Stay flexible and patient, and be prepared for unexpected changes or extended travel times.
  10. Take Precautions for Photographs: While capturing memorable moments is encouraged, always ask for permission before taking photos of individuals or sensitive locations. Respect people’s privacy and be mindful of cultural sensitivities.
  11. Embrace the Adventure: The Iron Ore Train journey is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. Embrace the unique experience, disconnect from the outside world, and take in the untamed beauty of the Mauritanian desert.

By following these tips and recommendations, you’ll be well-prepared to embark on an unforgettable journey on the Iron Ore Train in Mauritania. Embrace the adventure, be open to new experiences, and create memories that will last a lifetime.



Riding the Iron Ore Train in Mauritania is a truly extraordinary adventure that takes you through the heart of the Sahara Desert. This legendary train journey offers a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in the rugged beauty of the Mauritanian landscapes, engage with local communities, and create memories that will last a lifetime.


From the moment you step aboard the Iron Ore Train, you’ll be captivated by the rhythmic clanking of the iron ore cars, the sweeping panoramas of sand dunes stretching as far as the eye can see, and the camaraderie of fellow adventurers. The journey itself is an experience like no other, allowing you to witness the vastness of the desert and connect with the cultural richness of Mauritania.


To make the most of your Iron Ore Train ride, it’s important to plan ahead, choose the right time to travel, and prepare accordingly. Consider the weather, the availability of tickets, and other logistical aspects to ensure a smooth and enjoyable journey.


Throughout your adventure, remember to respect the local customs and traditions, engage with the local communities, and take the time to capture the beauty of the landscapes through photography. But more importantly, also take the time to simply be present in the moment, allowing yourself to fully embrace the magic and experience of the journey.


As you arrive at either Choum or Nouadhibou, let your exploration continue beyond the train ride. Take the opportunity to discover the unique charm and cultural treasures of these destinations, and indulge in the flavors of Mauritanian cuisine.


Whether you’re a seasoned traveler seeking an off-the-beaten-path adventure or a photography enthusiast looking for extraordinary shots, the Iron Ore Train in Mauritania offers an experience unlike any other. So, be ready to embark on this incredible journey, embrace the unknown, and let the untamed beauty of the Mauritanian desert leave an indelible mark on your soul.