Agadez, Niger

Photo: L’Auberge d’Azel

Adventure travelers should be flocking to Agadez. The city in central Niger is fascinating. It sits along the edge of the Sahara desert. It’s been an important stop along the Trans-Sahara Highway for centuries. Its mud-brick architecture earned it a place on UNESCO’s World Heritage list a few years ago. One of those buildings, L’Auberge d’Azel, would truly be a unique place in which to stay. But few people are venturing to this part of West Africa these days.

Recent news out of Niger has been far from positive. It’s considered one of the most overpopulated and poorest nations in the world. Tuareg—nomadic Berber people—rebellions against the government cause instability every few years. Terrorist groups sit on both the west and southeastern borders. Droughts and high unemployment rates make many people emigrate. Others turn to smuggling, trafficking, and even jihadism. While two months ago, four soldiers, stationed at a United States airbase, were killed in an ambush.

Agadez was founded in the 11th century along the Trans-Saharan trade route. It’s long been known as the gateway to the desert and the home of a large camel market. Caravans used to transport uranium between West Africa and the Mediterranean coast. The industry declined when France invaded the region and ruled for nearly 60 years. Political instability followed the French. Salt from Bilma, in eastern Niger, still travels along the well-trodden trade route, though.

The Agadez Mosque—built in 1515 and rebuilt in 1884—can be seen long before you reach Agadez. Its minaret is the tallest adobe structure in the world. The center of the city is a maze of mud-brick buildings. There’s always sand in the air and hot sun overhead. Two former palaces—the Kaocen and the Sultan’s—are still among the grandest buildings in the city. While the markets are overflowing with silver, leather goods, and protective Agadez crosses for those not looking to buy a camel. One day, Agadez, one day.

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