Crossing Infamous Rosso Border – Where Travel Nightmares Come True
Planning to travel to Mauritania from Senegal overland? Read 2017 first hand update on crossing border from Senegal to Mauritania through Rosso Town!
I am not sure if there is a place, where all your dreams come true, but I am pretty sure, I found one where at least some of them may come true. Mostly nightmares though. So, one thing is certain. The corruption in Africa is not a fairy tale and it is a huge problem especially in Rosso.
Because I noticed lack of useful information about crossing the border on the internet, I decided to write something about my experience and give some advices, just to make sure, your nightmares will stay nightmares, although your experience in Rosso will still be bad, if things don’t get better soon.
Preparation for Rosso Border Crossing from Senegal to Mauritania
Get up early in the morning and get to the border as soon as it opens. If not possible, cross just before it closes. Statistically fewer attacks in Rosso happen in the morning and afternoon. Get yourself a pocketknife or something else for self-protection. The police officers sometimes just want some money so bad, that you can be attacked.
I got my knife with me and used it once to get rid of a guy who followed me after I already left the border post. A friend of my friend crossed the border on the same day as I did, just in the midday and got attacked with a knife by Senegalese police.
Take plenty of water and food. You never know, how long it is going to take you to get over all the bureaucracy. I met a guy who waited for 3 days there. I did not take much water and waited for 6 hours at the border and because I came from Senegal I had to survive with only one bottle until Nouakchott.
If possible, take another border crossing. Diama seems nice, but the problem is, that it is flooded during rainy season. However, try asking around if there is another option to get through the border. Apparently, there is a car with fishermen leaving Saint Louis for Nouakchott and vice versa every few days and uses its own border crossing next to the coast.
And finally, get a travel buddy or someone you can trust, to go with you. The worst above all the cons about Rosso border is the fact, that you literally cannot trust anybody there. The hostility is very real, especially because the police are so corrupt, that they will never protect you from the local gang attacks.
Senegal is also well covered in Google street view, so it may also help to take a look at Rosso for a better imagination.
Crossing Border from Senegal to Mauritania – Getting to Rosso Border
Getting to Rosso is fairly easy no matter, where you go from. Either you go from Saint Louis or Nouakchott; both cities have regular public transport connection to Rosso. Once you come to Rosso, on the senegalese side you will get surrounded by locals offering you a horse ride to the border, which you probably do not need, as it is only about a kilometer away.
The road leading to the border post takes you along the Senegal River and has one right turn. Right after the turn, you will see senegalese border post, where you can get either exit or entry stamp.
River Crossing – The Ferry Ride
The river crossing is seemingly very banal and untiring process, but just because of the hostility of the place itself, it is also a step that should be carefully planned in advance. First of all, do not for any reason fall for pirogue crossing options, as ferry is free for pedestrians.
Once the ferry is docked, everyone will rush on it. Wait till it is about half full and then get on it. Once on ferry, try to find a place somewhere between the cars in the middle.
You should not expose yourself too much and definitely do not talk to anyone. If possible, avoid authorities and do not give them your passport until the ferry is docked. I did this mistake and waited for my passport for 5 hours!
Crossing Border from Senegal to Mauritania – Visa Procedure in Mauritania
The visa office on the Mauritanian side is located just next to the big entrance gate. If you come from Mauritania, this is the first building on your left as you arrive to the border, or if coming from Senegal, the first building on the right next to the exit gate.
You should not talk to anyone even though everybody will try to initiate a conversation. This is a little harder to manage, if you are alone, but not impossible. Once you enter the building through the staircase, the visa office is behind the last door to the right. Do not accept help even from the police, unless you are in hurry, but expect to pay a lot for an entry/exit stamp.
Mauritanian visa now costs 55€ for EU citizens (as of August 2017) and you can pay either in euros, dollars or ougiyas in Rosso border town. Once you get visa and stamp in your passport, there is no reason for you to wait any longer, although they will tell you to wait. At this point, if you have passport, you are good to go.
Crossing Border from Senegal to Mauritania – Leaving Rosso
The last step of the Rosso border crossing is leaving it! At this point you will already be either happy because you got away without consequences or frustrated because you had to wait for too long or lost some money on bribing the police.
You will be tired and will just want to get away, but you should be extra careful, as scammers know that you will do just anything to get away. Your passport will get checked one last time at the exit gate if going to Mauritania and at this point, by any means, get your passport back.
When I crossed, the military guy handed my passport over to someone else, who told me that I need to withdraw some money from the bank because I needed some papers. He was called a big boss of the border post and everyone seemed to respect him. Even the chief police officer. But I am pretty sure that he is the boss of the local gang.
So I went to the bank with the “big boss” and had to withdraw 80,000 ougiyas. As I came back, he told me to give him 35,000 oug for bank submission. Of course I did not give him any money, so he took it from my hand and kept 60,000 oug, gave me some papers and passport and finally I was good to go.
Well, not really. One of his guys (gang member apparently) followed me still pretty far from the border post and offered me overpriced taxi to Nouakchott. As I was pissed off, I cursed him loudly several times, but he would not go away. At last, I put out my pocketknife and threatened him.
If you decide to hitchhike from Rosso, do not let the police know about your intentions, as they will let you wait for so long, that you will not find anyone to give you a ride. There will also be a lot of Moroccan truck drivers and if the police know which driver you want to hitch, they will tell them not to pick you up.
Crossing Border from Senegal to Mauritania – Safety in Rosso Town
First of all, the safest way to get through Rosso is not going there at all. If there is a slightest possibility to go through Diama, do not risk and go through Diama. There is nothing to see in Rosso either way.
But if you are unlucky like me and Rosso is the only option, there’s no guarantee that you will get away unharmed. Even though I was ripped off for pretty big amount of money, I am glad that I got through in one piece. As written before, try to meet someone you can trust beforehand and let them help you getting through.
No matter what happens, keep calm. Even if you lose your passport, it will eventually get back to you. The police cannot simply put you in jail, so if you curse their families and parents, as I did, they will try to physically atttack you.
Summed up, crossing border from Senegal to Mauritania from Rosso will probably not be a cheap adventure, though it is an adventure you will not easily forget. Nobody actually knows, how far the police will go with getting money from you, so do not risk too much and spend some money on bribes, because your life and well- being is far more important than money after all.
For more information about visiting Mauritania, please visit a blog run by Swiss expat living in Nouakchott.
Written by: Žan Močnik: As a kid, he was always impressed by distant and exotic places. He visited several North African countries with his family in childhood, which was a base for adventurous spirit he possesses today. He set off on his first completely solo trip by the age of 18 and since then he always seeks for unusual places, daring adventures and challenging experiences all around the world. In 2017 Žan embarked on his second solo backpacking trip, this time from Senegal to Morocco, through some of the remotest parts of Sahara desert, where he spent almost whole time with hospitable and extremely generous people living in harsh environment with basic essentials. All photos in this post are copyright of Žan. Visit his travel adventures on Instagram