One of the motivators for our adventure is our love of wildlife and the natural environment. Unfortunately, human activity is decimating both – rapidly – and so we planned to experience both where we can.
Parc National du Banc d’Arguin (PNBA) (pronounced locally as bun-dar-gin with a hard g as in gull) is a World Heritage listed site, and it is on the migratory route for birds between Europe and Africa. Conveniently, it is located 200km from Nouadibou on the way to Nouakchott, so we thought we would include it on our Mauritanian itinerary. We also discovered that December / January is the prime viewing time – perfect!
There are park headquarters both in Nouadibou and Nouakchott to buy park permits, but you can also buy from the park office at the entrance at Chami. There is also a park map available (which has both routes and GPS waypoints) – but the park office had none, and wanted us to take a guide (for a fee) instead. After much discussion, and a promise that we had a GPS and routes, we escaped with only the cost of the park permits (1200UM per person per day – about 3-4 euros).
Like most of Mauritania, the park is mainly a desert habitat – small dunes, scrub bush, lots of sand. Oh yes – lots of sand. Only passable with a 4×4, and even then we had a few pretty hairy patches of deep, soft sand. The hard driving, though, was worth it – it was rather picturesque. Notably, also, it was mostly litter-free! There was evidence of animals – likely jackal and mongoose – as well as herds of camels.
The waterbirds are varied and numerous, and if you are an avid birder, I am sure you would have appreciated it far more than us amateurs. The lagoon near the camp had hundreds of birds – a little far out since the tide was out. There were flamingos, pelicans, egrets, plovers, stilts, redshanks, gulls, terns … we struggled to identify everything we saw!
Within the park, there are a few local fishing communities who also run the campsites. The one we stayed in at Iwik was very basic but clean and pleasant. There were low white tents (typical in Mauritania) with a simple mattress on the floor, a communal dry toilet with sawdust, and a warm shower (for a small fee).
We met 2 French couples in Iwik who loaned us a map for a few hours so that we could get our bearings and plot our stay. We also managed to pick one up at Telloit campsite, where a very helpful park official broke away from his village duties to search his little office for one. With our new found freedom (!!) we explored the park a little more, managed to almost get stuck and also found our way out through a more southern entrance, which isn’t marked on the main road.
We certainly are glad we took the time to visit the park. However, it wasn’t necessarily quite what we had expected, and our advice for future visitors is:
- Only passable in a 4×4
- Obtain a map. Try to pick up in Nouadibou or Nouakchott – don’t assume the park office at the entrance has one. Some camps may also have maps. (I’ll be making GPS waypoints available to download – yip, I typed in all 70!)
- Ensure you have sufficient fuel, food and water. You are in the desert!
- This isn’t the east African or southern African national park animal watching experience – but a good place for watching water birds.