Exploring the Sahara

The Iron Ore Train, Mauritania, smallworldtravels.com

Have you ever thought of traveling on rails through the Sahara desert? I can hear you thinking… there’s no way that passenger trains would be operating in the middle of the desert, right? Well, you are correct… However, there is one rare exception: The Iron Ore Train. A single 704-kilometres long railway line in Mauritania, being operated by the Société Nationale Industrielle et Minière (SNIM).

SNIM operates freight-trains, consisting of hundreds of wagons full with iron ore. These kilometre-long “snakes” can be seen every day (3 trains fully loaded, and 3 trains returning empty) in the northern part of Mauritania. From the iron mines of M’Haoudat, Guelb El Rhein, Zouérat and Fderîck the trains depart fully loaded with iron ore to Nouadhibou. Nouadhibou is the second-largest city in Mauritania and the main industry activity is processing the iron ore, being shipped from the Port of Nouadhibou to all over the world.

Looking for an adventure? Ride on top of this Iron Ore train. Say what? Ride on top? Yes, the locals traveling on this railway line simply find a nice open-air cozy place on top of these iron-ore-filled wagons. Although there is 1 passenger car attached to one of the daily trains you would do well to choose a place on-top, unless you prefer to be piled up together with passengers that do not wish to get dirty. The dust of the iron ore will find a way to all of your beloved items, including your very own body. But seriously… who cares? You being in the Sahara, under the stars, laying on a bed of iron ore, experiencing one of the best 12 hours of your live… for free (when you travel on-top, which is allowed!).

Your best dep point for this incredible journey would be Choum: a place that can easily be reached from Atar (which is nowadays known for visiting the ruins of the ancient Moorish cities of Ouadane and Chinguetti). The train departs around 18:30 and it is possible to buy a ticket for the passenger car. I highly recommend you don’t! From Nouadhibou the empty train towards Choum and further will depart around 14:00. Don’t worry about further transport in either Nouadhibou and Choum. In both places you have options to travel in or out Mauritania. Interested? I hope so! Don’t forget to bring face protection, and don’t dress lightly… as the nights can get quite chilly, even in the Sahara.

Train 1
(↓)
daily
Train 2
(↓)
daily
Train 3
(↓)
daily
Train 1
(↑)
daily
Train 2
(↑)
daily
Train 3
(↑)
daily
M’Haoudat dep/arr
Guelb El Rhein dep
Zouérat dep/arr 14:00 07:00
Fderîck dep
Twajeel dep
Char dep
Choum dep/arr 18:30 02:30
Ben Amira dep
Tmeimichat dep
Inal dep
Agueijit dep
Bon Lanuar dep
Nouadhibou dep/arr 07:30 14:30

– The fare between Zouérat and Nouadhibou for “3th class” (on top of the train) is free.
– The fare between Zouérat and Nouadhibou for “2nd class” (no guaranteed seet) is 2 euro.
– The fare between Zouérat and Nouadhibou for “1st class” (a guaranteed seet) is 5 euro.
– The fare between Choum and Nouadhibou for “3th class” (on top of the train) is free.
– The fare between Choum and Nouadhibou for “2nd class” (no guaranteed seet) is 2 euro.
– The fare between Choum and Nouadhibou for “1st class” (a guaranteed seet) is 5 euro.
– The fare between Choum and Zouérat for “3th class” ticket (on top of the train) is free.
– The fare between Choum and Zouérat for “2nd class” ticket (no guaranteed seet) is 1 euro.
– The fare between Choum and Zouérat for “1st class” ticket (a guaranteed seet) is 2 euro.

A nice cozy bed on the iron ore, Michael Huniewicz.

What a sight… would be an amazing experience, Jody MacDonald.

Locals trying to squeeze in.. don’t join them! Hop on top ;), tedchang.free.fr.

Passengers enjoying one of the small breaks during the journey, Joe Penney.