1,267,000 sq km (489,191 sq miles).
17.5 million (2014).
13.8 per sq km.
Head of state:
President Mahamadou Issoufou since 2011.
Head of government:
Prime Minister Brigi Rafini since 2011.
220 volts AC, 50Hz. European-style plugs with two round pins are most common.
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.
Last updated: 19 October 2015
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. ‘We’ refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
Extreme poverty means that levels of crime, especially in the capital Niamey, are high. Thefts, robberies and residential break-ins can occur at any time. The main type of incident for which British nationals need consular assistance in Niger is theft. Take sensible precautions to keep important items like money, passports, jewellery and mobile phones safe. The areas around the Gaweye Hotel, National Museum and Petit Marché in Niamey are particularly prone to muggings and you should not walk alone there, or cross the Kennedy Bridge on foot at any time. Walking at night is dangerous due to the lack of street lighting.
Car thieves often target off-road vehicles. Make sure car doors are locked at all times.
Banditry, smuggling and other criminal activity is common in border areas, especially after dark.
Bandits are thought to be operating in the border area with Nigeria south of Zinder. You should take special care and avoid crossing the border with Nigeria during the hours of darkness.
There have also been incidents of Nigeriens being killed in the course of hold-ups and robberies on public transport buses travelling between Tahoua and Agadez and between Agadez and Arlit.
British nationals are increasingly being targeted by scams. The scams come in many forms: romance and friendship, business ventures, work and employment opportunities, and can pose great financial risk to victims. You should treat with considerable caution any requests for funds, a job offer, a business venture or a face to face meeting from someone you have been in correspondence with over the internet who lives in West Africa.
Travel around Niger can be difficult, and conditions are poor for overland travel. You should take all necessary safety precautions, especially outside of main urban areas, have confidence in your security arrangements and maintain a high level of vigilance. Avoid all travel between towns at night. Seek local advice and use local travel agents and guides when travelling outside main towns and in desert areas. An approved local travel agent can arrange all the necessary permits for your journey and leave details of your itinerary with the local authorities. Travel in convoy and carry an independent satellite phone when travelling off the beaten track. You should prepare well in advance and make sure you have a sufficient supply of drinking water and food.
Local authorities are extremely sensitive about foreigners travelling out of Tahoua to other parts of Niger in the east and the north. There is a risk of arrest and deportation for even enquiring about travel to Agadez, given the security situation in that region.
The MNJ armed group has launched attacks in the north including the use of land mines, and Islamist terrorist groups have recently launched attacks in Agadez, Arlit and against a prison in Niamey (see Terrorism section for more details). The Governor of the city of Agadez has banned vehicles without a security forces escort from leaving the city after 4pm. Attacks against tourists are known to take place at El Meki between Agadez and Timia. The Aïr and Ténéré regions are particularly prone to attacks. From 28 November 2014, a curfew has been implemented in the whole of the Diffa region prohibiting the movement of motorised vehicles from 8pm to 6am.
The roads listed below in northern Niger are permanently closed to tourists, except with special authorisation:
- Chirfa (Djado) / Djanet (Algeria)
- Achouloma (north Djado) / Salvador Pass (Libya)
- Adrar Bous (north Aïr) / Djanet (Algeria)
- Adrar Bous (north Aïr) / In Azawa (Algeria)
- Agadez / Arlit / Iferouane
- Agadez / Tahoua
UK driving licences are not valid. If you plan to drive in Niger, you should get an International Driving Permit.. This is valid for 3 months, after which you will need to get a Niger licence. You should carry car registration documents with you at all times.
The main roads between Niamey and other large towns are generally satisfactory by African standards, but some roads are pot-holed. Driving standards are poor. Vehicles are often poorly lit at night and there is little street lighting. There have been reports of land mines being used in Burkina Faso on the road between Ouagadougou and Niamey. Seek local advice before making this journey.
Buses operate on routes between Niamey and other large towns, but distances are long and buses are prone to mechanical failure. There have also been incidents of Nigeriens being killed in the course of hold-ups and robberies on public transport buses travelling between Tahoua and Agadez and between Agadez and Arlit.
Taxis are available but are often in poor mechanical condition. Driving standards are poor. On 8 January 2008, a car drove over a landmine in Niamey, killing one person and injuring another. There have also been reports of land mines being used in Burkina Faso on the road between Ouagadougou and Niamey. Local advice should be sought before making this journey.
In the case of an accident, you should go immediately to the nearest police station to file a report: remaining on the spot risks being taken to task, sometimes violently, by the local population. Medical help in the event of an accident is likely to be limited.
Following a coup in 2010, President Issoufou was elected as President of Niger in April 2011. President Issoufou reshuffled his government in August 2013.
Niger has contributed troops to the UN Peacekeeping Mission (MINUSMA) in neighbouring Mali.
On 17 and 18 January, a number of violent demonstrations took place in several cities across Niger. Churches, bars and other buildings were targeted, burned and looted. The situation has since returned to normal.
There’s no British Embassy in Niger. The British Ambassador to Niger resides in Bamako, Mali, but the ability of the Embassy to deliver consular services is limited, especially outside of Bamako. The telephone number of the British Embassy in Bamako is +223 2021 3412.