In the heart of the African continent lies an extraordinary railway that traverses the seemingly endless expanse of the Western Sahara desert. This railway, stretching over 700 kilometers, is home to one of the world’s most remarkable train journeys – the longest train in the world – a vital artery for both commerce and adventure.
This iron behemoth, laden with tons of iron ore, weaves its way from the desert city of Zouerat to the coastal town of Nouadhibou, showcasing the unique blend of industry and tourism that Mauritania has to offer.
A Backbone of the Economy
The train’s significance to Mauritania’s economy cannot be overstated. Carrying iron ore from the depths of the desert to the coast for export, it serves as a lifeline that fuels the country’s economic engine.
With a length that can reach up to an astounding 3 kilometers when all wagons are connected, this train is a spectacle in itself. Each journey accommodates a staggering cargo load of approximately 20,000 tonnes, underscoring its pivotal role in the mining and export industry.
The iron ore extracted from the mines in Zouerat forms the bedrock of Mauritania’s economic prosperity, making this lengthy train a symbol of its industrial might.
A Journey Beyond Commerce
While primarily a freight train, the longest train in the world also doubles as a mode of transportation for the locals. Many people from the surrounding areas use the train to travel, given that there are no strict prohibitions against boarding the wagons.
However, this unconventional mode of transportation comes with its own set of challenges. The scorching desert sun and temperatures that frequently surpass 40 degrees Celsius pose a significant health risk to passengers.
Furthermore, the dust from the iron ore presents a continuous inhalation hazard. Despite these hardships, for many residents, this train represents a lifeline that connects them to essential resources.
A Tourist’s Delight
Recognizing the potential for tourism, the Mauritanian government took steps to transform this industrial marvel into a captivating tourist attraction.
The train’s journey is not merely a utilitarian one; it is a unique opportunity for travelers to experience the desert’s vastness and the allure of the iron trade firsthand.
Two passenger wagons, including a sleeper carriage, were introduced to facilitate tourism. This development opened up access to remote desert towns and the world’s largest open-air mine, captivating the imaginations of those intrigued by this enigmatic landscape.
A Desert Expedition
For those seeking an adventure beyond the ordinary, riding the longest train in the world offers an unparalleled experience. Departing from Nouadhibou in the late afternoon, the journey takes travelers through the heart of the Sahara, culminating in a nighttime arrival at Choum.
The train’s composition comprises just two types of carriages: first-class and regular. First-class passengers enjoy limited yet relatively comfortable accommodations, while the second-class option offers a more basic setting.
Traveling through the desert at night brings a unique set of challenges and delights. The stark contrast between the hot days and cold nights requires passengers to prepare for drastic temperature changes. The train makes a couple of stops along the route, providing opportunities for refreshments and interaction with locals who offer sustenance amidst the solitude of the desert night.
Embracing the Unpredictable
The train’s schedule is an adventure in itself. The journey from Nouadhibou to Choum takes anywhere from several hours to potentially well past midnight. Passengers are advised to be adaptable and patient, as the train operates on a more relaxed timetable. Despite this unpredictability, the experience of being part of this incredible journey is a reward in itself.
A Ride of Freedom
The train’s unique feature lies in the fact that riding it does not necessarily require a formal ticket. Passengers are free to hop onto the cars, with the option of climbing in using a ladder if necessary. Choosing a wagon near the passenger car is recommended for ease of disembarkation.
While stowing away is free, those aiming to access the passenger car are required to purchase tickets within the station. Prices for carriage seats range from 3.82 USD to 11.50 USD for first-class, offering an affordable adventure that few train journeys can match.
Mauritania’s longest train is not merely a means of transporting iron ore; it is a testament to the country’s tenacity, ingenuity, and willingness to embrace unconventional possibilities. This iron serpent, winding its way through the unforgiving desert, connects far-flung communities, supports a vital economic sector, and beckons adventurous souls to experience its unique charm.
From the scorching heat to the chilly night, from the iron ore dust to the ever-changing schedule, this journey is an odyssey that encapsulates the essence of Mauritania’s desert spirit. Riding the longest train in the world is more than a train ride; it’s an encounter with the heart and soul of a nation, an experience that leaves an indelible mark on the traveller’s memory.
What to Bring as a Tourist
Headscarf: A headscarf or turban is needed to cover your mouth and nose as the dust from the desert will affect you tremendously without one.
Snacks: Although the locals will bring tea and bread into the car with them and will invite you when it is time to eat as a group, it is better to bring snacks along with you
Water: Bring two liters of water per person if you can as 1 liter won’t be enough. There are times when the locals would want to make tea for you and might even use your water
Sunglasses: Make sure you cover your eyes with sunglasses though they do not protect the eyes fully. Most travellers pack ski goggles instead of eye protection.
Fiche: A document with your data in it (name, nationality, journey itinerary, etc). Make sure your nationality is written in French to avoid misunderstandings. Other essentials to pack include; jacket, torchlight, and a mat.
If you are looking to go on this once in a lifetime adventure on the longest train in the world, do get in touch with us.