The iron ore train of Mauritania
I had briefly heard about a famous train carrying iron ore through the desert in Mauritania, but I wouldn’t have thought I’d travel on it until I get into the country.
It was while leaving Western Sahara to reach Nouadhibou that I saw it, arriving from Zouerat with the ore. We were driving in the opposite direction and the wagons did not end. It’s one of the longest trains in the world, by around 2.5 kilometers long.
Iron ore industry
Several trains leave Zouerate in the Tiris Zemmour region from a giant mine and carry iron ore to Nouadhibou. From here, it is exported to other countries or to Europe from the seaport.
How to take the train
In this travel guide, we will see how to take the iron ore train from Nouadhibou to Choum (in Adrar) and reverse. If you want to continue to Zouerat where you can take it from this point, the process remains the same.
This guide is based on my experience. I took the train 2 times : with and without the ore.
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Take the train from Nouadhibou to Choum
From Nouadhibou, trains leave empty. That is, you travel without the iron ore. We thought it was the most comfortable option, but it’s definitely the opposite.
The cars are empty, which means that the train is going very fast and therefore all the dust flies heavily and you often have to close your eyes. In addition, the noise is deafening since the ore is not there to suffocate it.
The advantage is that you have a lot of space, you can also save 1 to 2 hours ride and you do not come out all black from the ore!
How do I take the train?
You have 2 options: climb into an ore car for free or into the passenger car. If you opt for the latter, you will have to go to the station building and buy your ticket. You should know that this car is often crowded.
● In all cases, you must go to the train station:
1. Taxi to the train station
A taxi ride in Nouadhibou costs on average 50 MRU.
3 trains depart from Nouadhibou every day. The times are never exact, but the first one usually leaves between 3pm and 4pm. The day before we left, he left at 1pm. It is best to get there as soon as possible to enjoy the view while it is daylight.
The journey takes about 10 hours.
The train stops 3 times:
When another train arrives in the opposite direction – a long break at Inal and a very short stop at Bon Lanuar (occasionally).
4. Where to stay in Choum?
There is a small hostel reachable on foot in a few minutes. We paid 300 MRU each.
Take the train from Choum to Nouadhibou
By far the most comfortable option, but you won’t see much of the route since the train leaves around 8pm (doften on time). On the other hand, you will witness the sunrise and you will be more comfortable than when the train is empty.
The journey takes 2 hours longer (12 in total), but there will be less shaking, wind and noise.
If you want to get on the passenger carriage, you will need to buy a ticket at the station. Otherwise, simply climb into any ore wagon.
Reach the city center of Nouadhibou
Many taxis will be waiting for travelers at Nouadhibou station in front of the railway. Wave your arm when you spot one and it will follow your car to the train stop.
With fatigue, we forgot to ask the price of the race before going up. The driver asked us for an exorbitant price on arrival that we had to bother to negotiate. Don’t forget to ask before. We agreed on 100 MRUs per person.
– Where to stay
There are many comfortable hotels in this location. Pretty necessary after a trip into the ore!
Zouerat to Nouadhibou
The train does not exactly leave in Zouerat but set back from the city of Fdérik. He leaves every day in the late afternoon. The schedule is not fixed, but the first train is often around 4pm. I advise you to go before since it can also leave at 12am or 1pm depending on the day.
The journey to Choum takes about 4 hours and another 12 hours to Nouadhibou.
Taking the passenger car
The journey inside the wagon (and not in the dumpsters) costs 250 ougiyas to Nouadhibou. It is often very crowded except on Saturdays and Sundays (not systematic).
To enjoy a minimum of “comfort” I strongly advise you to bring what you need before traveling:
● A turban (haouli) is very useful. Iron ore is everywhere, and it is difficult to remove it. Especially since sandstorms are not uncommon, as evidenced by this photo I took before embarking in Nouadhibou. I myself had not thought of it, I was glad that my friend had one more for me.
● Swimming goggles . You can easily find them in Nouadhibou in fishing shops. Sunglasses also do the trick with the well-fitting turban.
● A tarpaulin. I had the good idea to go for a ride to the souk of Nouadhibou to find one. It was more than convenient for me to land on it or wrap me in it when it was cold.
● A down, and warm clothes at the same time. The nights are cold in the desert and the wind does not help.
● Awindbreaker/waterproof clothes. I had one for the top and one for the bottom. Black besides! Perfect to roll in the ore without fear of getting dirty in addition to cutting wind, cold and protecting the clothes underneath. It’s really the best.
● Food. Because there will be nothing to eat for more than 10 hours.
● Garbage bags to protect your bag and belongings. If you travel with the ore, they will all be black.
● A dose of motivation and go!
What to do in Choum?
If you want to keep busy with an interesting tourist activity in Choum, I advise you to go to the monolith of Ben Amera.
What is a monolith?
A monolith is a rock formation of a single block. Ben Amera is the second largest after Uluru in Australia. Simply, it is the 2nd largest pebble in the world and the largest in the whole Africa.
Ben Amera at the time of the caravan route
Ben Amera, like many other places in Mauritania and in neighboring countries, was a meeting point during the caravan route. Nomads used the monolith to find their way around and this place has become a kind of crossroads steeped in history.
As his name shows, “Ben” Amera also had a Jewish population in the past.
How to get to the monolith?
You can easily reach it by car by following the track. But to continue in line with the article, you can go by train. Not this time with that of ore, but another type of train that you can get on. It is all yellow and is located in the center of Choum.
This train leaves 2 times a day to Ben Amera and then returns to Choum. So you can stay in the village of the monolith for a few days and then come back whenever you want.
See Ben Amera from the ore train
You will be likely to see Ben Amera from the iron ore train in broad daylight if he leaves Choum earlier than average. Otherwise, you can see it very easily if you come from Nouadhibou since by the time you reach it, the moon will be high and will illuminate all the surroundings.
Just make sure you don’t miss it by checking the GPS. The monolith is very close to the railway and it’s so gigantic from the top of its 600 meters. You can’t miss it.