One of the world’s poorest nations, Niger might be a challenging destination to travel around, but rewards abound for those willing to persevere. And with political stability returning to this West African nation, it is slowly opening up to tourists.
A country shaped by Saharan trade routes, visitors came and went through this land for centuries, leaving behind them a wonderful fusion of Arab and African traditions.
Agadez and Zinder sprung up along these now defunct routes and today these cities retain their ancient mercantile charm. Comprised of beautiful adobe dwellings, their labyrinthine streets are home to bustling markets, which sell pottery, leather and other decorative pieces. Zinder is also renowned for its extravagant Ramadan festival, during which horsemen can be seen riding through the streets in the most flamboyant fashion.
Unlike Agadez and Zinder, Niger’s capital, Niamey, was never a site of trans-Saharan trade, and remained relatively unimportant until the 20th century. It continues to be possibly the least-hurried and most relaxed capital in the region. Situated on the lush banks of the Niger River, from which the country takes its name, Niamey is the commercial centre and a great place to delve into local life.
Niger’s biggest cultural event, however, occurs out in the desert town of Ingall. At the end of the rainy season the town’s population of 500 swells to several thousand as Tuareg and Wodaabe nomads attend the annual Cure Salée festival. The centrepiece is the Wodaabe gerewol, during which unmarried men adopt extravagant makeup and sing rhythmic chants in the hope of impressing a future bride.
Naturalists are also well catered for in Niger, which is home to a number of national parks, most famously W Regional Park, a haven for lions, leopards, elephants, baboons and much more. Ultimately, though, it’s Niger’s ancient cities, time-honoured festivals and nomadic culture that make this friendly country so beguiling.