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Discovery of uranium in the 70s led to a tremendous burst of wealth for the young Niger. But when the world demand for uranium dropped sharply, Niger found itself ripped of its livelihood. In the twenty years since Niger's demise, the country has made little headway into developing new industries. Eyes are turning to tourism, but few are aware of the country's vast potential in this area.
This potential is characterized by stunning vistas of moonlit desert landscapes, lush oases, towering volcanic peaks and remote waterfalls. It's a destination best enjoyed in the cool of night, under the stars. Daytime activities like shopping in bustling marketplaces are well worth it, if you can stand the heat. Niger's major national park, known as Parc W, abounds with lions, cheetahs, leopards, hyenas, jackals and other staple African creatures, such as elephants and crocodiles. During the rainy season, Parc W is one of West Africa's nicest parks.
The Songhai Empire expanded into what is modern Niger from the 1400s, reaching as far as Agadez before its collapse in 1591, from which the modern Zarma and Songhai peoples trace their history. At its fall, portions of the empire and refugees from modern Mali formed a series of Songhai states, with the Dendi Kingdom becoming the most powerful.
In the 19th century, contact with the West began when the first European explorers - notably Mungo Park (British) and Heinrich Barth (German) - explored the area, searching for the source of the Niger River. Although French efforts at "pacification" began before 1900, dissident ethnic groups, especially the desert Tuareg, were not fully subdued until 1922, when Niger became a French colony. In addition to conferring French citizenship on the inhabitants of the territories, the 1946 French constitution provided for decentralization of power and limited participation in political life for local advisory assemblies. After the establishment of the Fifth French Republic on December 4, 1958, Niger became an autonomous state within the French Community. Following full independence on August 3, 1960.
For its first fourteen years as an independent state, Niger was run by a single-party civilian regime under the presidency of Hamani Diori. In 1974, a combination of devastating drought and accusations of rampant corruption resulted in a coup d'état that overthrew the Diori regime. Col. Seyni Kountché and a small military group ruled the country until Kountché's death in 1987. Military rule ended in 1991 for short while and since then it has been a republic for most of the time and since 1999 indefinately. In votes that international observers found to be generally free and fair, the Nigerien electorate approved the new constitution in July 1999 and held legislative and presidential elections in October and November 1999. Heading a coalition of the National Movement for a Developing Society (MNSD) and the Democratic and Social Convention (CDS), Mamadou Tandja won the election.
Niger is a landlocked nation in West Africa located along the border between the Sahara and Sub-Saharan regions. It lies between latitudes 11° and 24°N, and longitudes 0° and 16°E. Niger's area is 1,267,000 square kilometres of which 300 square kilometres is water. Niger borders seven countries and has a total border of 5,697 kilometres. The longest border is with Nigeria to the south (1,497 kilometres). This is followed by Chad to the east, at 1,175 kilometres, Algeria to the north-northwest (956 kilometres), and Mali at 821 kilometres. Niger also has small borders in its far southwest with Burkina Faso at 628 kilometres and Benin at 266 kilometres and to the north-northeast Libya at 354 kilometres. The lowest point is the Niger River, with an elevation of 200 metres. The highest point is Mont Idoukal-n-Taghès in the Aïr Mountains at 2,022 metres. The north of the country is covered by large deserts and semi deserts. The typical mammal fauna consists of Addax antelopes, Scimitar-horned oryx, gazelles and in mountains Barbary sheep. One of the largest reserves of the world, the Aïr and Ténéré National Nature Reserve was founded in the northern parts of the Niger to protect these rare species. The southern parts of Niger are naturally dominated Savannahs. The W National Park, situated in the bordering area to Burkina Faso and Benin, belongs to one of the most important areas for wildlife in Western Africa, which is called the WAP (W-Arli-Pendjari) Complex. It has the most important population of the rare West African lion and one of the last populations of the Northwest African cheetah. Other wildlife includes elephants, buffaloes, roan antelopes, kob antelopes and warthogs. The West African giraffe is currently not found in the W National Park, but further north in Niger, where it has its last relict population.
Niger is organised into 7 departments.
The Parc National Du W Du Niger is a huge park of more than 9,000 square kilometres and is place on the UNESCO World Heritage List. It is a cross border national park with Benin and Burkina Faso being the other two countries with large parts of the park within their boundaries. Niger has about 2200 square kilometres. Although animal numbers are not huge, especially compared to its more famous brothers in the east and south of the continent, there is a wide variety of species indeed. You will definitely see antelopes, buffaloes, elephants, hippos, lions, leopards, cheetahs, baboons, Nile crocodiles, hyenas, jackals, warthogs and more than 300 species of bird live here as well. It mainly consists of dry savanna woodland which functions as a transition zone between the Sahel and the more humid savannas further south. The 'W' actually comes from the double bend in the Niger River at the norther border of this massive park. The entrance in Niger is at La Tapoa, about 145 kilometres from the capital Niamey and you will need a guide to get around.
There are several places in the Sahara where that picture perfect Sahara experience will be the highlight of your trip. The Ténéré Desert is one of them and the high sand dunes are really stunning here. There are also many cave paintings and dinosaur fossils to explore. It is required for travellers to take a licensed guide to go into the desert, as police requires an official itinerary from vehicles travelling here. Licensed Nigerien travel agencies can provide these for you. The Air and Ténéré Natural Reserves are on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Niger is a great country to visit some cattle markets and the one at Beleyara is the most interesting one. This market is a colourful experience and here you can still be the witness of real trading commerce between the Fulani and Touareg from the north and the Bell, Songhai and Haussau tribes from the south.
The Gerewol Festival is annual festival, usually held in September among the Wodaabe people. Young men dressed in their best and most beautiful clothes perform and dance and sing. The main reason actually is quite simple: attentions of marriageable young women. And the ideal men according to traditions are tall and have white eyes and teeth, hence the rolling of the eyes which is popular during this festival.
It takes place each year in September when the nomadic Wodaabe people gather at the southern edge of the Sahara and festivities last for about a full week. The end of September marks the end of the rainy season in this part of the country. The most famous place where the Gerewol Festival is held is in In-Gall in northwest Niger, where a large festival, market and series of clan meetings take place for the Wodaabe people. But there are many more comparable festivals wherever the Woodabe people might be at that time.
Although the festivals have been held for hundreds of years, they are now much more of a tourist attraction than ever and some even have fixed dates, set by the government. The government sometimes even decides who can perform or not!
The Touareg Festival de l'Aïr is a huge festival taking three solid days in December. It is all about certain aspects of the Touareg culture during this period. Every year, more and more travellers discover this fantastic gathering. From many villages, people join contests like who has the nicest cloths, the best looking camel, the most beautiful Touareg girl, the best traditional singer and best dancer. There is also a huge market where people offer there arts. The second night women make music, dance and clapping their hands when the music is playing. The dancers are really fantastic and some people watch the whole show on op of their camels, their public transport.
Celebrated on August 3 annually, this public holiday commemorates the country’s independence from France in 1960. Since 1975 it has also been conjointly celebrated as Arbor Day, where citizens are encouraged to plant a tree to celebrate their young country’s nascence, but also to combat desertification, which is a concerning environmental problem the country faces.
This is the largest traditional festival celebrated in Niger, where the Tuareg and Wodaabe people from the north gather in the town of Ingall to celebrate the end of the rainy season. It usually occurs on the last weekend of September, just as the rains are ceasing. Cure Salee translates as ‘Salt Cure’ from French (the official language of Niger). The clans gather at the salt flats and pools to refresh their cattle and goats in preparation for the dry season ahead of them. It is also a time of traditional courtship, and many weddings are held during this time. The government has been sponsoring this centuries-old tradition and now heralds it as a major tourist attraction.
This is a Muslim festival held at the end of the 30-day Ramadan fast. Ramadan is usually held between September and November, according to the Islamic calendar. The most notable gathering for the Eid al Fitr festival is the horseman show and carnival at the Sultan’s Palace, in the desert city of Zinder.
Also known as Eid al Adha, this is an Islamic festival commemorating Abraham’s sacrifice. At this time the locals feast on goat or lamb in remembrance, and it is considered an important family festival in Niger. It usually occurs in December or January according to the Islamic calendar.
Niger has a hot and generally dry desert climate with a short rain season from June to September when there can be severe thunderstorms with occasional flooding. Rains can be unpredictable though and sometimes the rainy season means just a few showers now and then. The coolest time is between November and February with warm and dry weather. Temperatures generally are still over 35 °C though. March to June are very hot in the entire country with average daytime temperatures of 40 °C or more, but temperatures of over 50 °C are not unheard of. Nights are warm to very warm. Only November to February has nights of roughly 15 °C to 18 °C, but in the hot season temperatures at night average over 25 °C.
More to the north, the hot season usually is a bit later and temperatures during winter are somewhat lower. Here, there is a truly desert climate with in some places virtually no measurable rain at all. Nights can be rather cold as well here during winter months of December to February.
Diori Hamani International Airport (NIM) near the capital Niamey receives the bulk of international flights. Destinations include Bamako, Cotonou and Tripoli with Afriqiyah Airways, Algiers with Air Algérie, Ouagadougou and Paris with Air France, Abidjan with Air Ivoire, Dakar with Air Senegal, Casablanca and Libreville with Royal Air Maroc and Basel with Hello AG.
Point Afrique has flights between Paris/Marseille and Agadez/Niamey.
You can travel to and from Algeria along the road between Agadez in Niger and Tamanrasset in Algeria. Part of it is a sandy track, the rest is tarmac. You need to travel with a licensed travel agency though on both sides.
It's a popular part of the overland route across the central Sahara.
With your own car you are able to cross borders with Benin (Gaya/Malanville crossing), Burkina Faso (Foetchango and Téra) and there are four border crossings to Nigeria: Gaya/Kamba, Birni N’Konni/Illela (which leads south to Sokoto), Maradi/Katsina and Zinder/Jibiya.
Buses travel between Niamey and Cotonou in Benin, taking 14 hours for the journey. Crossing is at the Gaya/Malanville border where otherwise you can take a moto and walk across if you don't feel like doing the whole trip in one stage. On both sides, there are bush taxi's.
Buses and minibuses also travel between Niamey and Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso, taking around 10 hours. Crossing is at Foetchango, west of Niamey.
Some 4wd vehicles make weekly trips to Mao in Chad, with onward transport to N'Djamena. The border with Libya is only open if you are going to Niger and are accompanied by a licenced travel agency.
There are two weekly trucks between Niamey and Gao in Mali, taking up to 30 hours across bad roads.
The crossings to and from Nigeria mostly include taking a bush taxi to the border and taking a moto or walk across the border with onward transport in Nigeria. There are minibuses to Kano though from Maradi and Zinder directly.
To Libya, the border is only open to traffic entering Niger, though you must be in the company of a licensed Nigerien travel agency.
A slow boat travels between Ayorou and Gao in Mali taking around 2 days, leaving on Mondays.
At the moment, there are no scheduled domestic flights in Niger.
There are no railways in Niger.
The main roads include those from Niamey to Zinder, Tahoua, Arlit and Gaya. Many other roads might only be travelled after gaining the special permition. Many secondary roads are dirt and gravel roads or the famous desert piste roads. These can be impassable after heavy rains. You can rent cars in Niamey, but if you want to travel further away you need a driver and guide and a 4wd is recommended. Travelling north of Agadeze requires a detailed itinerary, which you have to show at police checkpoints.
Traffic drives on the right and you need an international driving permit.
Coach services operate from Niamey to Agadez, N’guemi, Tera and Zinder. The main operator is SNTV.
Otherwise, there are numerous bush taxis (mostly French wagon cars) which are cheaper and travel all routes. They are however slow and uncomfortable on longer journeys.
From December to March you might be able to travel along the mighty Niger River between Niamey and Gaya, but only by chartered boats.
Visas are required by all nationals except:
1. Nationals of the African countries of Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Togo and Tunisia
2. Alien residents holding a valid Permis de Séjour or Visa de Séjour
3. Transit passengers continuing their journey within 24 hours who do not leave the airport
An International Vaccination Certificate for Yellow fever is mandatory, but Cholera vaccination certification is required only if travelling from a neighbouring country where an outbreak of the disease has been recently reported. For tourist visas, a copy of a letter from the travel agent certifying that a return ticket has been purchased will also be required.
See also Money matters
Niger uses the CFA Franc as a currency. The CFA Franc is divided into 100 centimes. Coins come in denominations of 1, 2, 5, 10, 25, 50, 100, 500 francs while banknotes come in denominations of 500, 1000, 2000, 5000, 10,000 francs
The exchange range is fixed at aproximately 656 CFA Francs for one Euro.
In Niger the West African CFA Franc (XOF) is used which has the same vallue as the Central African CFA Franc (XAF), but it's not possible to use both currencies in the same country.
Fourteen countries in Africa use this currency, eight in West Africa and six in Central Africa. The West African CFA Franc can only be used in Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d'Ivoire, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo, while the Central African CFA Franc can only be used in Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.
Volunteering would be your best bet here, as many people in the rural areas have been hit by drought.
French is Niger's "official" language for government; it is a second language for nearly all the population and is spoken with varying degrees of fluency. Nearly all travellers should be able to get by using French. There are eight "national" languages which are maternal languages of Nigeriens in various regions of the country. Hausa is the most spoken regional language; nearly 50% of all Nigeriens speak Hausa as their mother tongue, primarily in the south central and southeast of the country. Zarma is the second most spoken language with 2 million speakers (accounting for 25% of Nigeriens) in the southwest of the country. Tamajeq, the language of the Tuareg peoples, is spoken by nearly 10% of Nigeriens in the Saharan north of the country.
Availability varies widely by region, but visitors may wish to try the following delicious specialities, usually available as street food:
There is a wide choice of hotels in the main cities like Niamey and, less so, in Agadez, but outside of these cities choices are very limited.
Drink plenty of filtered or bottled water. You will get dehydrated during your trip to Niger at one point. At times it can be hard to find bottled water, but ask for "Purewater" (pronounced pure-wata) that comes in sealed plastic bags for usually XOF25 (XOF50 in some hard-to-reach places). You will also need to replenish your salts more frequently than you are accustomed.
The national beer is called, appropriately, Biere Niger. The only other locally produced beer is a franchise of the French West-African Flag brewery. While taste is in the eye of the beerholder, Biere Niger is decent. Both are brewed in the same tank from the same ingredients with the slightest variation on how much reconstituted malt they put in each batch. All other beer, boxed wine, and hard liquor is imported.
Locally-made non-alcoholic drinks are delicious. Safety depends on the water quality: generally OK in the capital and NOT OK in rural areas. They are either sold by women out of their houses (ask around), by young girls from trays on their heads, or by young boys pushing around coolers. These drinks include:
See also Travel Health
Proof that you had a yellow fever vaccination is required upon entering Niger You have to have a cholera stamp (prove of the fact that you don't have that desease) when entering overland.
It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Niger. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also both hepatitis A as well as typhoid would be recommended.
If you are staying longer than 3 months or have a particular risk (travelling by bike, handling of animals, visits to caves) you might consider a rabies vaccination. Vaccination against Tuberculosis as well as hepatitis B are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months. When staying longer than 6 months, vaccination against meningitis might be recommended, depending on your contact with other people.
Like most African countries south of the Sahara, Malaria is prevalent in the country. Don't underestimate this tropical disease and take precautions. Buy repellent (preferably with 50% DEET), and sleep under a net.
Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.
See also Travel Safety
Areas near the Mali border are essentially lawless, and travel near the Mali-Niger border is very dangerous due to the current civil war in Mali. Islamists with ties to the terrorist organization al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) control the regions of Mali bordering Niger. Several western tourists have been kidnapped in recent years and at least two (a Frenchman & Briton) have been killed by an al Qaeda affiliate after being kidnapped near the Mali-Niger border. There has also been an increase in violence in eastern Niger resulting from criminal and extremist groups crossing the border from Nigeria and the Nigerien government recommends armed escorts when traveling in the region.
In the region north of Agadez, there have been many carjackings, kidnappings and robberies in the past sixteen or so years. The problem continues to this day, and tourists should consider the area essentially lawless. You should not venture beyond Agadez even if you have a guide and a 4x4 vehicle unless you seriously know what you are doing. The roads past this point are of terrible quality and bandits are abundant.
Avoid driving late at night in a private vehicle. Occasionally armed robbers will operate near the town of Galmi (central Niger) and around Dosso-Doutchi (in western Niger), as well as on the road to Gao, Mali in the Tillabery region. Normally, there are police checkpoints on the main highways which limit criminal activities during the day.
The main annoyances you are likely to meet are young boys shouting "Anasara," which means 'foreigner' in most local languages, derived from the Arabic word. You will also be asked for a 'cadeau' pretty much every time you see a person outside your hotel.
Basically, the only "safe" region of Niger is southwestern Niger south and east of Niamey only, while southern Niger is marginally safe. Travel north of Niamey or to northern Niger is strongly discouraged.
See also International Telephone Calls
Ask TnT a question about Niger
General info & GPS-waypoints. Accurate info about the Tenere-desert. Arbre du Tenere - Bilma - Nguimi - Dirkou - Zinder
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