Oddities, curiosities and inspiration!

West Africa and the Sahara are both inexhaustible treasure chests when it comes to cultural experiences without forgetting nature. We know that people are interested in various curiosities, weird things and otherwise just unknown destinations and experiences, so we have put together a bunch of them on this page just for you. In random order, not in any order of preference at all!

Some of the destinations are easily accessible, while reaching some requires, for example, days of travel on bumpy roads. However, all places and events can be visited and experienced.

Nigeria

Africa's largest country by population is divided into countless tribes, the largest of which is the 49 million-strong Yoruba people. But there are also tiny tribes, of which the Dukawa and the Koma are just two:

The Dukawa tribe's size is about 70,000-194,000 and they live in Sokoto, Kebbi and Niger states, especially Rijau and Zuru regions. The tribe's homeland is characterized by numerous rivers and rocky hills. What makes the Dukawa tribe special is their culture, which has not allowed the surrounding major religions to nibble on it: the Dukawa are still largely animists and believe in many different gods. When they die, the Dukawas travel to their ancestors, and at night the ghosts wander among the tribe members. Dukawa women walk naked in public, covering only their hips with leaves. Women also wear brass rings in their lips, as well as beautiful earrings. One of the special features of the opposite sex is that a boy becomes a man when he knows how to wrestle! Especially in wrestling matches, girls and boys often meet and the girl chooses the boy she wants by sprinkling flour on his head.

The Koma tribe lives on the opposite side of Nigeria, in Adamawa State, in mountainous Ganye region, near the Cameroon border. The Komas are an ethnic group of about 55 000 people who also live in neighbouring Cameroon. They are divided into dozens of village communities and, to make matters more complicated, each community has its own dialect and culture. What the communities have in common is that the Koma are also predominantly animists and live a Stone Age lifestyle in caves dug out of the mountains - almost naked. Men wear loincloths, while women cover their hips only with leaves. Breasts are allowed to be visible. Men and women become adults between the ages of 11 and 14 when they undergo public circumcision. They are then free to seek their own partners. The Koma are particularly known for their sinister tradition of burying the twins born and the mother who gave birth to them alive, as the twins are considered to represent the devil. Since then, the custom has diminished, but not completely stopped. To this day, the isolated Koma have refused to give up their customs and culture, but still respect the state administration. Even so, they have little or no connection with Nigerian society and care little about who is in charge of Nigeria at any given time.

Lagos is the largest city in Nigeria and Africa, and will be the largest city in the world! One of the most interesting parts of Lagos is Makoko - "Africa's Venice". Makoko is a slum built entirely on stilts in the middle of a lagoon and is only accessible by water.

Tulo Tulo is a piece of the Sahara in Nigeria. With its picturesque oases and sand dunes, it is the land of the Kanuri tribe, where travelling is an adventure in itself, but a safe one.

The Durbar is the king and queen of all festivals in Nigeria! Usually held twice a year across northern Nigeria, Durbar is a parade of men in colourful costumes and turbans riding colourfully dressed horses and camels.

Gombe State is known throughout Nigeria in particular for its large and high-quality onions, but also for its self-defence sport called dambe, which is a form of boxing. The dambe matchs are popular across the state and also in other Hausa states.

Niger

Like big brother Nigeria, little brother Niger is also known for its rich cultural life and many events of interest to tourists:

The Cure Salée and Guérewol ceremonies take place every September in the small village of In-Gall in Sahara. The ceremonies are some of the most important annual gatherings of the Tuareg and Wodaabe people and celebrate the end of the rainy season. In September 2024, we will organise a group trip to the Cure Salée festival.

Festival de l’Aïr We also organise visits to the colourful Cure Salée and Guérewol ceremonies in the village of In-Gall in Sahara every September, some of the most important annual gatherings of the Tuareg and Wodaabe people, celebrating the end of the rainy season. Similarly, the Festival de l'Aïr, a festival of traditional and contemporary Tuareg music in Iférouane, also in the Sahara, presents a line-up of world-renowned Tuareg musicians and bands from Bombino to Tinariwen. Festival de l'Aïr is traditionally held in early December. Both festivals can easily be combined with a week or two of touring the Aïr Mountains behind mythical Agadez, or even further afield – all the way to the dunes of Arakao and the palm-fringed oases of Bilma and Fachi. You probably won't encounter other tourists, but rather the stunning hospitality of the Saharan people!

Lutte Traditionnelle is traditional West African wrestling, practised throughout the region from Mauritania to Niger. The wrestling matches attract huge crowds and the atmosphere is carnival-like - after all, traditional wrestling is the king of the country. Once a year, one of Niger's cities gets the honour of hosting the annual Sabre national festival, where the Nigerian wrestling championships are decided. In December 2023, it was Agadez's turn to host the event.

The Sultan's palaces in both Agadez and Zinder are absolute highlights for visitors to Niger. With luck, you'll even get to meet the Sultan himself, who has a surprising amount of power in his community and at least more respect than the incumbent president.

The only giraffes in West Africa live in Niger! More specifically, they can be found either in Kouré near Niamey or in Gabedji in central Niger. The wild population in the country is around 600 individuals.

Chad

And as we move eastwards from Nigeria and Niger, we are met by the massive Republic of Chad. Few people choose to travel to one of the most beautiful countries in the world.

The Guérewol ceremony takes place every September in the small village of Durbali on the edge of the Sahara. The ceremony is one of the most important annual gatherings of the pastoral Mbororo people and celebrates the end of the rainy season. The Mbororo arrive by camel, donkey and on foot from long distances to dance, eat and race - the most famous part of Guérewol is the young men's attempt to attract women with their colourfully painted faces and hypnotic dancing. Guérewol is easy to combine with a week or two of tour to Ennedi or even the picturesque oasis lakes of Ounianga.

Lakes of Ounianga in northernmost Chad are a miracle: who would have thought a beach holiday in the middle of the driest Sahara would be possible! Take a dip in the refreshing waters of the oasis lakes and then climb the adjacent dunes. Or the other way round.

Desert crocodiles are a speciality of the whole of Chad: on the Ennedi plateau, in the waters of the Guelta d'Archei in the middle of the Sahara, lives a crocodile population that is a relic of a time when the Sahara was not yet a desert. They were long thought to be Nile crocodiles, but recent research has revealed them to be 'West African crocodiles'. Similar desert crocodiles can also be found on the other side of the Sahara: in Mauritania!

Burkina Faso

Nazinga is one of the country's most famous wildlife reserves and one of the best places in West Africa to spot elephants! You probably won't see any other tourists.

Ouagadougou is Burkina Faso's hilariously named capital, located in the middle of the country, where the tourist cannot avoid ending up. Ouagadougou is a city of culture, hosting once every two years the largest and most beautiful film festival in Africa, FESPACO.

Remote Niansogoni village is built like a beehive on a high rocky outcrop to protect it from tribal warfare. Smart villagers inhabited Niansogoni from the 13th century until the 1980s. It takes about an hour to climb up to the village.

Tiébélé village is praised as the most beautiful in Burkina Faso, and for good reason! The tradition here is to paint the houses with colourful decorative symbols. Each symbol has its own meaning and the painting is the work of women. The houses are particularly beautiful in the courtyard of the local royal family, where you can visit.

Benin & Togo

Vodun i.e. Voodoo comes from Benin and Togo and is present wherever the traveller goes. There are small shrines, altars and temples dedicated to the Vodun deities everywhere. Vodun is like any other religion, but with numerous different deities and (ancestral) spirits dominating the living world. Deities and spirits therefore decide what happens to individuals and entire village communities. Vodun practitioners seek to influence spirits and deities by performing and participating in various rituals. The rituals may involve the sacrifice of animals or the use of fetishes - parts of dead animals - obtained from the Akodessewa fetish market in Lomé, for example.

Ganvié is a village built on stilts in the middle of a lake near Cotonou, Benin's largest city. Ganvié was founded when members of the Tofinu tribe sought refuge from the slave traders and never returned to live on dry land. The village is travelled by boat and there are no roads.

Mauritania

The longest and heaviest train in the world runs through the Sahara in Mauritania, from the iron ore mines of Zouérat, along the Western Sahara border, to the Atlantic coast and the coastal city of Nouadhibou. It is not the most comfortable journey in the world, as it takes place on top of a mound of iron ore in an ore wagon and lasts about 24 hours! But it's still an experience with a capital E, even if you do it in a passenger car. It is a way of experiencing the amazing hospitality of the Mauritanians.

Guelta of Matmata is a real oddity, being a small pond in the middle of the Tagant region, in the middle of the driest Sahara. A small population of crocodiles survives in the guelta, a reminder of the days when the Sahara was a lush and green oasis full of life. That was thousands of years ago, so Mauritania's desert crocodiles are true survivors.

en_GB