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For a country twice the size of France, few people have heard of Mauritania, much less could find it on a map.

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This vast desert-ridden country on Africa’s west coast sits north of Senegal and south of the Western Sahara, stretching inland where it borders with Mali. It is hot, unforgiving, and completely breathtaking if you’re into desert-scapes. Even if you’re not, the contrasting red sand and blue sky make for incredible photography.

As you might expect from a country made of sand, the coastline has some wonderful beaches, most notably in the Parc National du Banc d’Arguin, which is also one of the world’s great bird sanctuaries. Mauritania also has archeological sites throughout the regions of Affole and Assaba, and you can even visit a walled oasis city in Oualata — once a major stopping point along Saharan caravan routes.

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