Me and Travis had heard that the last remaining wild giraffes in West Africa were just outside of the Nigerien capital Niamey, but since Niger is a country that hardly receives tourists at all it was hard to find any information about it online at all. From what we read online people had been paying a hundred dollars for a private driver taking them to and from Kouré village (2 hrs drive from Niamey) plus park fees, but by just asking a bit around we found out that it was possible to get there for only 1800CFA (3€*) in an airconditioned bus with a company called Africa Assalam and it would have been just 1000CFA if we would have gone in a cramped tro tro minivan.
Even park fees where negotiable by explaining that we were students on low budget so we ended up paying the following:
Entry permit for tourists
10 000 4000CFA
Guide per person 2500CFA
Camera fee 500CFA
Motorbike with driver
15 000 10 000CFA
Total per person was negotiated down from 28000CFA to 16500CFA per person. Including transport, we paid just over 20 euros. That is quite a lot less than we initially had thought it would cost!
The experience was definitely well worth it. From Kouré village we climbed on the motorbikes with our guides who took us about 30 kilometers to the nearest village where they had been spotted and then another few kms on loose dirt roads. When we finally saw a couple of giraffe heads peaking up over the trees we slowed down and parked the bikes pretty close to them. We had found a family of eight giraffes nibbling peacefully on the tall trees.
The guides let us walk as close as we wanted until the giraffes started walking away from us. They spoke some English and explained to us that the difference between a male and female is that the male has extra horns. They said there were 452 remaining giraffes in Niger and that the highest was between five and six meters being 25 years old. The whole trip was definitely worthwhile and being east of Niamey it was easily doable on our way to Benin.
* 656CFA equals 1€ at a fixed rate
Before booking my last minute flight to Niamey I did not know much about the city. After an evening of searching online I had found out that it was a fairly new city, founded by the French as a strategic capital for military purposes. Before the nineteenth century it was just a tiny village on the Niger River, and that is probably the reason why it looks and feels the way it does today. The city is described as the calmest capital in Western Africa and the city is a good blend of brand new office buildings and traditional mudbrick buildings that would usually only be found in villages.
It was hard to find information about budget accommodation so when we got there we spent our first day walking around looking for something reasonable. At the end we ended up with the cheapest option called “Hotel Mustache” for just ten euros per room, but it was literally the worst hotel you can possibly imagine. The entrance was full of hookers, all walls full of mold, the bathroom only had a pipe through the wall as a shower and a seatless toilet that wouldn’t flush, condoms were laying everywhere and it rieked of urine in the whole building. Even us ultra budget travelers only managed to stay there for one night and afterwards we had to upgrade to the second cheapest option in town that was more than three times more expensive but well worth it to wash off bedbugs and catch up on some sleep.
During the day we went to the National Museum which had some really good exhibitions of clothing, history and culture in Niger, but also some cages with monkeys, lions and other animals that were way too small.
Down at the Niger River we got in touch with a local fisherman who offered to take us on a pirogue trip for just 2000CFA (3€)- seeing a hippo included! In the early evening we went to see the Grande Mosque and then to the hippodrome to watch a horse race for free and had some Biere Niger– the best beer we have tasted so far in West Africa. We only wish that the other sights in Niger like Agadez and Zinder were safe and not hundreds of kilometers away so that we could have experienced more of the country, but there is always hope for peace in the World so that we one day can see more of the country.