By the 18th century, European travelers had mapped Africa’s entire coastline in detail. However, the interior of the continent remained largely unexplored. Many Europeans believed that the River Niger led to rich trading opportunities further inland. In 1795, Mungo Park traveled along the River Gambia and reached the River Niger in 1796. He discovered that the Niger flowed eastwards, not westwards as most people believed. He revisited Africa in 1805 and followed the course of the Niger inland.

In 1830, English brothers, Richard and John Lander, set out from Bussa in West Africa to explore the River Niger. The local people kidnapped the Lander brothers, en route to the coast, but they escaped and became the first Europeans to reach the mouth of the river.

In the 1820s, the Geographical Society of Paris offered a price to the first European to survive a trip to the legendary city of Timbuktu (in modern Mali).

In 1827, Frenchman Rene Caillie took up the challenge. He started his journey in West Africa and traveled around 2400 kilometres, mostly on foot, to the mysterious city, which lies on the edge of the Sahara Desert. He was disappointed to find that the city’s inhabitants lived in simple mud huts, not golden palaces as he had expected. On his return home, Caillie was awarded the price of 10,000 francs by the society.

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