Niamey at night ©
Niger is a landlocked country in the heart of Africa known for its diverse cultures, oases of wildlife and beautiful desert landscapes. Unfortunately, most people associate Niger more with drought and famine than anything else, due to media coverage of these tragic occurrences. It is a very poor country, and due to the high threat of terrorism many travel authorities advise against touristic travel, but Niger is not without charm.
The capital city is Niamey, a pleasant, fairly modern settlement with great open-air markets and a picturesque situation on the banks of the Niger River. The National Museum is worth a visit, mostly for the impressive artisans collective which produces high-quality goods for fair but surprisingly non-negotiable prices. The country's top attraction is W National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and home to abundant wildlife. Koure, southeast of Niamey, is famous for its herd of giraffe, supposedly the last wild herd in West Africa. Other sites worth visiting are the old trading centres of Agadez, with its vibrant Touareg culture, and Zinder, with its maze-like old town and interesting Sultan's Palace.
Niger was a former French colony, achieving independence in 1960. It suffers from periodic droughts, widespread corruption and poorly developed human capital, all of which combine to make it one of the poorest countries in the world. Niger also has the tragic distinction of having the highest fertility rate in the world (7.2 births per woman) and one of the highest infant mortality rates. Travel can be arduous as the roads are mostly unpaved and potholed, and banditry is common enough for a nighttime curfew to be imposed for cars. It is also astoundingly hot. Apart from aid workers and businessmen the only visitors Niger sees are intrepid backpackers and adventurers. Those that do take the trouble to visit report meeting some of Africa's most friendly and interesting people.
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