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Riding the Iron Ore Mauritania Train across the Sahara Desert in

UPDATE JULY 2022: COME JOIN ME – I’M RUNNING TOURS TO MAURITANIA TO RIDE THIS EPIC TRAIN!! Of all the 54 countries in Africa, Mauritania is one of the least visited. But Mauritania is home to the best train journey in the world. That is if you’re up for a hard-core adventure of course! Mauritania is home to the longest train in the world, all 2.5km of it.

The Mauritania train is used to transport iron ore from the mines in the depths of the Sahara, all the way to the west coast of Africa. It then unloads the iron ore in the Mauritanian coastal town of Nouadhibou, and returns empty, back deep into the Sahara, to the area around Zouerat, 700km from the coast.

Locals in Mauritania know that this train runs almost daily, so they hop on the back of the train in either direction. No ticket, no timetable, just hop on and hop off where you like. For free. So you too can do the same thing. But only if you’re ready for the most hardcore train journey in the world.

TOP-TIP: JOIN ME on my Mauritania tours, including the iron ore train!

iron ore train mauritania
iron ore train mauritania
Iron ore train mauritania
Me riding the Iron Ore train across the Sahara

Where is the Iron Ore Train In Mauritania?

First of all, where is Mauritania?

It’s in West Africa. north of Senegal, and south of Morocco. Only 4m people live in Mauritania, despite it being huge. This is largely due to the fact it’s mostly desert, the Sahara desert. The people are lovely, and not used to tourism at all. They generally come from Arab-Berber ethnicity, with some west Africans there now too.

But where is the Mauritanian train?  It runs from the Nouadhibou all the way to Zouerat, about 700km deep into the Sahara Desert. The last stop before the mining town of Zouerat is a town called Choum. It’s in Choum where you will either get on the train and ride it to Noouadhibou, or vice-versa.

Mauritania Train Map

In the image below you can see the single-track iron ore train running right across the top of Mauritania. From Nouadhibou, on the coast, to M’Haoudat deep in the Sahara Desert. Generally speaking, most Mauritanians only ride the train to Choum, at roughly the halfway point. The only reason to go further than that would be if you work in the iron ores mines at the end of the line.

Mauritania train map
Mauritania train map

How to Ride the Mauritania Iron Ore train through the Sahara

First of all, anyone can do it if they have enough of the travelers’ spirit. It’ll be one of the best travel experiences of your life. But it’s not easy. It’s hard on the body, it’s cold, it’s dirty, but this is what we travel for. Here’s how you can do it too:

The train journey itself runs every single day of the yea. And it’s the longest train in the world at 2.5km long. Despite Mauritania being quite poor, they are rich in natural minerals with Iron Ore being one of the largest exports.

So each morning an empty train runs from Nouadhibou on the West coast of Mauritania to the iron ore mines at Zouerat, via Choum/Atar.  And each evening, the train now full of iron ore, makes the 700km journey back to Nouadhibou. From Choum to/from Nouadhibou, the journey takes roughly 14 hours. If you’re going all the way to Zouerat (I wouldn’t recommend it) then add another 5 hours or so

Hitchhiking IRON ORE Train Across S...
Hitchhiking IRON ORE Train Across SAHARA Desert | Quantfury Expeditions

Step 1: First you need to get to Choum (including a google map)

From the capital of Mauritania, Nouakchott, you can take a shared taxi all the way out to the depths of the Sahara to a quaint little town called Atar.

Spend a couple of days there, sleep under the stars in the Sahara, amazing. Once you’re done in Atar, the following morning, you can take an off-road, pretty uncomfortable 4X4 ride to a dusty little outpost called Choum. This isn’t even a town, just a few mudbrick buildings and a gathering of people who’ll be surprised to see you.

From Choum, you wait around until around 6 pm/sunset by the train tracks. The train runs every single day, so don’t lose hope. It’s frequently late. But equally, don’t go wandering. Once the train arrives in Choum, it only stays for around ten minutes or so. So you have to choose your carriage quickly, get your backpacks and blankets read and throw everything on the top of the iron ore. Quickly make your ‘bed’ for the night and get ready for the experience. There’s very little time to waste.

That’s it. You’re on. 14 hours later you’re in Nouadhibou, filthy but exhilarated!

NOTE: If you’re going to ride the train the other way (I don’t recommend it), then you simply go to the station at sunrise in Nouadhibou and hop in one of the carriages. It’s empty of iron ore though. So all those epic pics you see in this blog, you won’t get them.

Riding the Iron Ore Train In Mauritania; My Experience

I had read about this epic train journey, on the longest train in the world, for a year or so on travel forums.

Then Brendan a blogger friend of mine took it last year from the coast in Mauritania into the Sahara too. Once I had made it as far as Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania, I knew I had to ride this train. The train requires no tickets, no bookings, no cash. You just hitch-hike and hop on top of the iron ore cargo across the Sahara and jump off when you reach the Mauritanian coast. Wow.

First, we had to work out how to get so deep into the Sahara. The infrastructure in Mauritania isn’t great. Think lots of sand, not so many roads. But after a couple of days in Nouakchott, Josh who I was traveling with, and I managed to get a shared taxi to Atar, quite deep into central Mauritania.

A very early start, $20, and about 10 hours later we made it to Atar, where we spent three or four days exploring the desert, taking camels into the dunes, and sleeping under the stars. Another amazing experience, by the way, I’ll write about that another time.

iron ore train mauritania
Iron Ore Train In Mauritania
Nouakchott to Atar
The Nouakchott to Atar Road


After chatting to the locals about how to get to Choum, the small ‘town’ that the Nouadhibou-Zouerat train runs past each evening, we discovered we could score two seats in a shared 4X4 each day around 11 am for another $16 or so. The journey should take less than 4 hours. And we’ll be there in plenty of time to hitch a ride on the train. Plenty of time indeed.

The whole journey from Atar to Choum was off-road in a jeep. 6 people in 4 seats, and we ate up the time. The guy driving like he stole it. We arrived in Choum around 13.30pm to discover that Choum was just a dusty settlement with a few mudbrick buildings and we were here for the next six hours or so, wonderful. One particularly religious man spent my first half-hour upon arrival trying to convert me to Islam. And with my French just about good enough to order food and get in buses, this wasn’t going well.

After a very dodgy chopped goat lunch, Josh and I went to find the train tracks, which are only a few hundred metres of Choum ‘town centre’. Rather than wait in the town, we set up base beside the tracks. We figured if we miss the train, we’re stuck in Choum until tomorrow night. Not a great outcome, so better we chill trackside all afternoon and take no risk of missing it.

mauritania train
Choum, where the Mauritania train stops briefly
nouadhibou to choum
choum to nouadhibou train
Waiting for the Mauritania Train
Choum to Nouadhibou
Waiting by the train tracks…


Actually, the afternoon went by quite quickly.

Every so often word would spread that two crazy foreigners had set up camp beside the train tracks and hordes of kids would come by and chat with us. The time flew by and before long we could see the lights of the train in the distance, the sun was setting, and it was about 18.30.

We packed up our stuff and walked over to three older Mauritanians who clearly knew infinitely more about the process that was about to transpire than we did. So we stood beside them and tried to ask them what the hell happens next. They explained as best they could with my awful French and zero Arabic, and their awful french and zero English. With that, they ushered us further down the tracks so as not to lay claim to the carriage they intended to jump on. On we went.

Finally, the train pulled up, the front whizzed past us, and then keep kept coming and coming and coming. Literally maybe 10 solid minutes of carriage after carriage of full, fine iron ore heaped on each carriage. Finally, it came to a halt, and judging by the speed of the old boys beside us, we had no time to lose.

Josh and I sprinted to the second last carriage, I hopped up the crusty, rusted orange iron ladder, half hanging on and Josh passed me all our bags, I threw them all up, then jumped on myself. Josh joined me, we were laughing like children, “Wow, we’re really doing this, THIS IS EPIC”. Two minutes later, the chugging started and we were off.

mauritania train
The Mauritania train pulling up
iron ore train mauritania
We dug into the iron ore to make camp for the night


I should add that the desert at night is cold, and the forums had told us that the train gets you dirty. Not dirty like a night out in Bangkok, dirty like you’ve never been dirty before.

So in Atar, we visited some second-hand shops and bought two blankets, extra socks, a hoody and the best piece of all, a local jellaba and a headscarf. An authentic overcoat the guys in Mauritania and Morocco wear, we looked the part. That combined with a pair of ray bans and we were set.

My buddy who had taken the train before took it from the cost TO the mines, so it was empty. We were taking it the other way around, so it was full. This, in my opinion, is much, much cooler. You’re riding IN the iron ore, rather than riding empty carriages. Sure, you get a lot dirtier, but it’s the full experience, and you get to ride through the night, traversing the Sahara, under the stars. This is living. Risky, adventurous, fun. I can’t get enough.

We chatted and chatted for hours, mostly patting ourselves on the back for being such heroes, having a great time. Soon we decided to try to sleep, so we covered ourselves in our blankets, our extra clothes and managed to sleep a few hours. It was chilly, and the super-fine iron ore gets everywhere. Even through your blankets, but it’s not too bad. Sometimes you wake up, sit up and appreciate just where in the world you are exactly, and it blew my mind. Dig deep into the iron ore again, set up a new ‘nest’, and grab another hour or two of sleep.

iron ore train mauritania


The sun rises and the temperature starts to warm up, Josh and I both get up and watch the last two hours of the journey, with the gorgeous morning glow, in amazement.

Now in the light of day, you can see the vastness of the Sahara, the undulating dunes, the remoteness of it all. I loved those two hours that morning, as much as I’ve ever loved any of my manic travel experiences. Eventually, we saw the bright lights of Nouadibhou. It was time to get ready to stop. As we finally stopped to a halt, we threw our bags off the carriage and hopped out.

Thankfully we copied the old guys when we boarded the train, so we were at the train station when we stopped. If you choose the wrong end, that’s a 2.5km walk back to where we got off. It wasn’t until the morning we saw the camels strapped to the carriage three carriages behind us, that must have been quite the job getting those boys strapped on. The owners now came and toppled the camels onto the ground, just as we were walking away, we donated all our spare clothes and blankets for the journey to the local guys at the station. And then took off our headscarves. We were FILTHY.

My sheer dirtiness was the source of amusement for a lot of the Mauritanians at the train station, and after attacking my face with a full two-litre bottle of water it looked vaguely acceptable. We jumped into a shared taxi and headed into Noudhibou to try to find somewhere to sleep. Before long we were showering the iron ore off us and our epic adventure had come to an end. The shower felt amazing, but I have to admit I was sorry to draw a line under that experience, it was something truly unique. I hope you guys can venture out that way one day. Experiences like this are hard to come by in a world dominated by social media and Nat Geo. Go and get it while you can.

mauritania iron ore train
The iron ore in the train.
train across mauritania
Sitting on top of the iron ore
Mauritania train
After washing myself for ten minutes.

Final Tips for the Mauritania Train:

  • Although the train goes both directions back and forth. And it seems easier to do it from Nouadhibou. Take the train from Choum to Nouadhibou, not the other way around, it’s much cooler. And when you’re finished, you’re in a town where you can get cleaned and sort yourself out. If you do it the other way, the train is empty when you ride it. And you end up in the middle of the Sahara, filthy and miles from anywhere!
  • It gets very cold at night, buy some disposable second-hand clothes from somewhere in Nouakchott, Atar or Nouadhibou. They’ll get very, very dirty.
  • Bring sunglasses. The iron ore gets everywhere. Ideally wrap-around sports glasses/goggles.
  • You don’t need to ask permission, or book anything, or buy a ticket. Just be at Choum at the right time.
  • Water is important but food is almost impossible. Bring lots of food to Choum, and eat it just before you jump on board. Once you’re on, you can’t really eat due to the iron ore in the air.
  • Get through a rather chilly, very loud, and pretty uncomfortable night. Then brag about this experience for the rest of your life!
  • The Mauritania train is the longest train in the world at 2,500m

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38 thoughts on “Riding the Iron Ore Mauritania Train across the Sahara Desert

  1. This is largely due to the fact it’s mostly desert, the Sahara desert. The people are lovely, and not used to tourism at all.

  2. Pingback: How to Travel by Train from Victoria Falls to Bulawayo or Harare, Zimbabwe - Where The Road Forks
  3. i was planning for a office trip there, and luckily found this amazing guide…
    thanks a lot as this guide will help me for the travel trip… briefly explained travel guide…!!

  4. What a journey! I always wanted to take this ride in Mauritania. I hope that I will make it one day. Truly inspiring, thank you for sharing your experience 🙂

  5. An electric-powered train with enough power to run the United States of America from Omaha to New York is on track to reach the world’s toughest desert in three months.

  6. At one point you said you guys got in the “second last” carriage. And then you say you saw camels in 3 carriages behind yours! So in your opinion, which is the best carriage to jump in to so that you can get out at the train station in Nouadhibou?


    1. we made this trip a couple of days ago, from Choum to Nouadhibou. The first train that was supposed to come at 6 or so, it actually arrived at 9 and it didn’t stop there (we knew this with about half an hour before, the people from the village who were also waiting for the train, have told us, as my husband speaks their language) but another one came at midnight and it stopped. This second train it actually had attached a normal passenger coach which was full, of course. Anyway, it wouldn’t have been fun to ride there. we climbed in the second last carriage. The best carriages to ride are in the second half, because they’re not so full and you have enough room to set your “camp”. Don’t worry, you will have enough time to climb it and to choose the best option for you. Just follow the locals. If they can put 100 sheep in the train, you can put your bike as well. It was really fun and interesting, I totally recommend it!

  7. Hey! I’m planning a cycle tour from Amsterdam to Dakar, Senegal. I’m thinking of catching the train heading West to Choum, cycling to Atar-Chinguetti-Terjit-Akjoujt-Nouakchott, and then carrying on south to Dakar. How hard to you think it would be to get a touring bike onto the empty train? Any other advice? I’m leaving in July 2018 – mind if we connect over email?

    Thanks Johnny!

  8. Hello mate,

    Thanks for your advice, I’m planning to go for it but not only once – two times 🙂
    Nou – Choum and return Choum – Nou, hopefully I’ll be able to survive.

    Any article about what’s worth to see in Atar and the area and how to get there?
    I’ll have one day and a half only and trying to plan it properly.
    Some advice will be appreciated.

    Krystian from #Visit111

    1. Hi Krystian

      Did you end up doing it both ways? I’m traveling south and wanted to do it both ways. Did you get off and chaum and just wait there until it passed again later on that day? Was there stuff to do and was it worth the hassle of doing it twice?

      Any advice on this would be great!!

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  10. I will be traveling the area with my (blond) girlfriend and very intrigued by this journey. We are both very experienced travelers, primarily in developing countries. We are hoping to avoid areas that are particularly dangerous, among which the area along the Western Sahara border is one. What do you think about that?

  11. hello sir, awesome article i was got shock after reading it extremly good and informative content.
    Thanks for sharing that type of information with us.:)

  12. This is one of those travel experiences you hope to still find in the world, truly amazing! A story you will be recounting for some time to come I imagine 🙂

    1. (Was so excited I hit ‘post’ too soon!) It seems like Africa wold still have a ton of the off-the-beaten-track adventures that are becoming harder to find elsewhere. Great photos, and you have a great writing style to Johnny. Just found your site and look forward to going thru your archives.

  13. Absolutely loved reading about this. Michael and I are just sitting here in awe. We love Africa and have spent a lot of time there, just not in the West. So cool to read. We’re now sitting here grinning and making plans!

    Stay safe!

  14. I’ve read a couple of articles about this lately. Sounds like such a different and eye opening adventure.

    1. it’s amazing mate, and you have the whole experience to yourself, very difficult to find these days with lonely planets and travel blogs 😛

  15. I love reading about your journey Johnny. You have some amazing photos and memories that will last you a lifetime! You look like your wearing eyeliner in the photo when you just got off the train. I

  16. Wow! That’s insane. Amazing photos though. The most scenic train ride I’ve done is the ride into Kandy, Sri Lanka. It was stunning. Did you manage to do it when you were there?

  17. What an epic journey! I definitely want to put this on my bucket list, especially just to see the stars at night while riding the train back to the coast. I can only imagine what that night sky looked like for you guys. Aside from the iron ore train ride, how much time would you say is adequate to visit the main sites of Mauritania?

    1. Friendly, but I wasn’t there for that mate, I was there to explore the awesome landscape and friendly culture 🙂

  18. What an awesome adventure! I have rode many, many trains before but not under the conditions that you experienced. Thanks for providing a great tale for my reading enjoyment.

  19. Wow! I have no words to describe this experience and how exciting it sounds to me! I’d so love to do it! Hope I manage to do it one day! It’s beyond cool!
    Thank you so much for sharing all this info!
    Really appreciated!

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