What is the terrain and geography like in Mauritania?
Mauritania has three distinct geographic regions:
The Saharan Zone, which constitutes the northern two-thirds of Mauritania. Beautiful shifting dunes, rock outcroppings, and rugged mountain plateaus with elevations higher than 1,500 feet characterize this vast, sparsely populated region. Irregular, scant rainfall permits little vegetation, although date palms are cultivated around larger oases and on some of the higher plateaus in the east. Herds of camels, goats, and sheep, which formerly ranged in this area, were depleted during successive droughts in the 1970s and 1980s.
The Riverine Zone, a narrow belt of rich, well-watered alluvial soil stretching along the Senegal River Valley in the south. It is the center of settled agriculture. Rainfall averages 10-25 inches annually.
Between the two is the Sahelian Zone, a broad, east-west band that extends from the riverine zone to just north of Nouakchott. Until recently, annual rainfall averaged 4-18 inches, which was enough to support savannah grasslands suitable for nomadic cattle and sheep herding. However, a decrease in rainfall has diminished the grasslands forcing many inhabitants to move south to the riverine zone or migrate to larger towns. When it rains, it is usually as heavy, localized thunderstorms. Nouakchott, at the northern extreme of this zone, experiences such storms when they occur.
Mauritania's climate is hot and arid, except in the far south, which has higher humidity. In Nouakchott, daytime temperatures reach 85°F in the winter, although at night sweaters and blankets are needed. Summer temperatures regularly reach over 100°F during the day. It is usually a dry heat that most find more bearable than the same temperatures with high humidity. Summer evenings can be considerably cooler.
The area's fine sand makes beach going one of the highlights of a tour in Nouakchott. However, winds can stir this sand into sandstorms that last several hours. These infrequent sandstorms occur throughout the year, although they are less frequent during the summer and fall months.