Also called Chinguitti, this Mauritanian city is considered the seventh holiest place in Islam. Discover its history in this travel guide, the best things to do, visit and other tourist activities in its surroundings.
Visit the historical monuments of the city, discover the hidden pearls in the Sahara desert, admire the cave paintings between Atar and Chinguetti, visit Ouadane, the Eye of Africa and so on.
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Chinguetti was a stop on the caravan route between Timbuktu and the Mediterranean. Founded in the 8th century AD, it became a transit point 300 years later. Hundreds of camels that formed the caravans with their goods destined for trade passed through the city once bordered by a wadi.
During this period, a large number of pilgrims (Sunni Muslims) on their way to Mecca flocked to Chinguetti, which became an important religious center of Islam. Many Koranic texts, more than a thousand, were brought to Chinguetti and now are conserved in libraries.
The city has since been considered the seventh holiest city of Islam and the holiest of Mauritania.
Chinguetti was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996, appearing alongside Ouadane, Oualata and Tichitt, other ancient cities of the trans-Saharan trade routes.
Visit the historic city
Chinguetti is separated into 2 parts. The first, through which you arrive is the modern city. Which in itself, is very charming and pleasant to visit. You then pass through a sandy area, it was once the place where a wadi passed. Today, it only fills up when there is heavy rain.
Then you arrive in the historic city :
The city is easily spotted. In fact, it is fortified. This is called a “ksar” (ksour in the plural). This is where the libraries and the historic mosque are located.
The Mosque of Chinguetti
Emblematic throughout Mauritania, the mosque represents Chinguetti and its history. This is obviously the must-see to discover. You will not be allowed to enter its enclosure if you are not Muslim but you can still visit the surroundings.
Extraction of materials
Set back south of the village, there are 2 large very deep wells from which is extracted a material that is used in the consolidation of the fortifications of Chinguetti. It is a type of very fine sand that agglomerates very well and acts as cement in this locality.
Several people have died working in these holes, as they dig galleries that sometimes collapse. The structure of the ksar is made with dry stones available in the vicinity.
Visit the remains of the ancient city
Chinguetti has long faced a major problem: the dangerous advance of the desert on the city. The one we have just seen previously is not the first. Indeed, the oldest is about 2 kilometers from here and it is buried under the sand.
From this ancient city, a mosque has been cleared of the sand and it is possible to visit it. It is in the direction of the village Entkemkemt. It is very easy to get there on foot. The place consists of a minaret in very good condition and a prayer room.
Discover ancient manuscripts
During religious pilgrimages to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, many religious texts and manuscripts were deposited in Chinguetti. The books are all kept in the 5 libraries of the city and constitute a great importance in the world Islamic heritage.
At its peak, Chinguetti had more than 20,000 inhabitants excluding nomads. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine it given its current small size. In addition, the city had 12 mosques and 15 Quranic universities!
The Sorbonne of the Desert
This is how Chinguetti, the Sorbonne of the desert, is often called. Indeed, in addition to religious texts, there are many works on mathematics, science or agriculture. There is even a 14th century manuscript on astronomy. Chinguetti has also become a cultural center.
How to visit the libraries?
Only one of the libraries is open to tourists. You can easily visit it by heading to the old town. A local guide will quickly appear when you set foot there and he will guide you there.
💰 The visit of the ksar and the library is free.
The Sahara Desert
The desert around Chinguetti is breathtakingly beautiful. It’s simple, my friend and I slept every night far away in the desert under the stars before finally being invited to the homestay. Lose yourself with your blanket far behind the dunes at sunset and you will be the king of the world for a night.
Trekking in the desert
This thirst of desert greatness pushed us to do a trek in the desert. And digging through the map, we found whitish areas and tourist spots. We went to “Neyanna”, which is a gigantic sand dune, like a huge hill.
You will find some camels and the absolute peace there. This place is amazing. The images speak for themselves.
If you also plan to sleep there, remember to take warm clothes because the nights are cool.
How to get there ?
The dunes are about 5 km south of Chinguetti. If you stay in hostels, they can easily arrange the tour with locals and camels.
We went there on foot with my co-traveler. 5 km one way and 5 km back through the sand dunes, it’s very long. Plan plenty of water and make sure your GPS is working properly. Ours was no longer working and we used the highest dune as a focal point to move forward.
On the way back, we have been informed that a man sometimes takes tourists on donkeys. Given the difficulty, I think it is the worst thing to put him through. Better to choose the camels!
The White Desert
Not far from the dunes of Neyanna is a lot of white sand. Again, there is a spot indicated on the maps but for our part, it was alright to join any whitish area and it was perfect.
Nature is splendid. The hues of pink, orange and white meet. Velvet for eyes. The landscape appears lunar when one is only on the large white expanses.
How to get there ?
To get there, ask your hostel to organize the tour or join the whitish plaques with a map.
The cave paintings of Agrour
Mauritania is known for its cave paintings, but did you know that there are more than 300 of them registered between Atar and Chinguetti? The site of Agrour is the most important site to date in this locality since it is the one that brings together the most different elements. It is the only one that is guarded and monitored.
According to the explanations of the local guide, nomads would have settled in this area 6,000 years ago. They lived in the rocky heights and recorded their activities there, including agriculture, hunting and what are thought to be forms of worship.
Witness of a rich fauna
Some of the paintings on the site testify to the biodiversity that lived here. Indeed, the place was less arid than it is today.
Lions, giraffes, buffaloes and many others are represented in Agrour. These animals became extinct as a result of global warming several thousand years ago.
How to get there ?
From Atar, the Agrour site is 35 km in the direction of Chinguetti. The site is easily accessible as it is not very far from the road. I visited it from Chinguetti with a bush taxi, I gave a small supplement to the driver to stop there. The passengers had never stopped there and they were delighted!
💰 Remember to bring 80 ougiyas for the entrance fee to the site.
I have posted a lot of images of this place on Instagram in the highlight stories.
Ouadane was one of the most important stops in Mauritania during the commercial era through the caravan route.
This UNESCO site is very deteriorated except its mosque. Its age and heyday is similar to that of Chinguetti.
How to get there ?
You must leave Atar to reach Ouadane with a bush taxi.
The journey costs around 700 ougiyas per person for 180 km (the price will be higher if you leave with empty seats). From Chinguetti, the price is about 400 ougiyas per person for 128 km.
The eye of Africa
At the gates of Ouadane is an absolutely crazy and unusual geological formation: the structure of Richat. Also called the Eye of Africa, this phenomenon once confused with a meteorite impact on the Earth’s surface has been studied more deeply.
These strange layers would be due to the pressure of a molten magma bulb below the Earth’s crust. This would cause layers over the years, revealing these “rings”.
Visit the structure of Richat
The structure can be reached with a bush taxi (4×4) but you should know that you will not be able to see in any way the shape of the structure since it measures more than 50 km in circumference. It is possible to observe it in its entirety only from the sky. Nevertheless, his visit remains possible.
A similar phenomenon of much smaller scale is easily accessible before arriving in Ouadane since it is located on the side of the road:
Trekking between Atar and Chinguetti
Atar is a lowland town. When you leave to go towards Chinguetti, the relief becomes rocky and high. In fact, Chinguetti is located on a plateau at altitude. The road between these two cities is breathtakingly beautiful.
When you pass the first mountain you will arrive on the plateau, where once lived the largest animals of the savannah. Today, these lands are populated by camels.
Some travelers decide to get from Atar to Chinguetti on foot. This hiking route is excellent and will offer you a diversity of incredible landscapes. Starting with the dusty lands of Atar, the mountainous and rocky passes, the bush-savannah plateaus and finally the gates of the Sahara at Chinguetti.
How to get to Chinguetti?
You must go through Atar to get to Chinguetti. If you are not driving, you will have to go to the transport square:
From here you will only find Toyota 4×4 taxis. Minivans rarely venture towards Chinguetti. The price per person is 300 ougiyas.
I opted for the previous way to go there but I inquired in Atar to find out if it was possible to go there in another way. I easily found a local bush taxi that asked 200 ougiyas per person. Do not look for comfort, no need to remember you the condition of local cars.
Rent a vehicle
You can get to Chinguetti by renting a car from Atar at the following address:
Back to Atar
The price is the same as on the way out, 300 ougiyas or cheaper with the locals.
Have a good trip in Chinguetti