Niamey may not be full of world-famous monuments, but its appeal lies in opportunities to experience everyday life in Niger. If you are prepared to go beyond sipping beers on the terrace of the Grand Hotel, any of the following suggestions will lead you to discoveries that will only deepen your appreciation of this mellow West African capital.
1 – Test your off-road driving skills. Visit surrounding villages, accessible only by 4WD vehicle, to take in views of sandy riverbeds, palm-filled oases, and herds of Bororo cattle.
2 – Learn to play the djembe. Le Centre pour la formation et promotion musicale (CFPM) has every type of traditional Nigerien instrument on display and an excellent video library of music. If you have time, sign up for a drum class.
3 – Get creative with the local cloth. Off-the-rack clothing is not as popular as shopping for your own pagne and designing an outfit with the help of a tailor. It takes about a week to finish your order and costs up to 10,000 CFA total (cloth plus labor).
4 – Observe hippos from your taxi. When crossing the Kennedy Bridge, keep your eyes open for hippos. They like to hang out near the sandbar on the eastern side. If you want to see them up-close, hire a pirogue (pictured) from the restaurant below the Grand Hotel and get a better look at life on the river, too.
5 – Spot numerous bird and bat species year-round. Colonies of fruit bats inhabit the mango trees around town. Look for Abyssinian Rollers, Red-billed Hornbills, Bee-eaters, Kingfishers, and many other colorful birds along the river.
6 – Put that Tuareg scarf to use in a real sand storm. Find Tuareg turban cloth, known as shesh, at the Grand Marché. When the rains arrive in June, Niamey is slammed by sand storms that engulf the sun and plunge the city into night-time darkness. Your ears, nose, and mouth will thank you for your purchase.
7 – Challenge your inner-chef with local ingredients. Every neighborhood has its own lively market. Look for tchapata – a leaf eaten in sauces, soumbala – a pungent seasoning made of crushed néré seeds, and baobab powder – the pinkish flesh of the baobab fruit used in drinks.
8 – Watch blacksmiths at work in the market. Visit Katako Marché where scrap metal is turned into shiny new pots, spoons, bar-b-q grills, sling-shots, and many other household items. Pop over to the traditional medicine section nearby to buy some protective gris-gris while you’re at it.
9 – Brake for giraffes crossing the road. Just 45 minutes southeast of town, dive into the bush with a certified guide to look for West Africa’s only giraffe herds. The Kouré reserve fee helps improve life for villagers in the area and also funds giraffe conservation efforts. If you’re lucky, you’ll see them crossing the main road.
10 – Chill out to the sounds of Etran Finatawa. The Tuareg – Wodaabe band is world famous for its nomad blues, mixing ethnic styles and languages. Catch a concert at a bar or cultural center around town. Go to the CFPM (see #2 above) for a current schedule.