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Lagos, Nigeria

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Lagos is the most populous city of Nigeria, and also holds the title of both second fasted growing city in Africa and seventh in the World. When I arrived in Nigeria, I read in the Lonely Planet guide that Nigeria has the same reputation for tourism as England used to have for cuisine. This is not entirely true, however you do need to be quite an adventurous and diligent tourist to discover the hidden gems Nigeria has to offer. Lagos is one of these gems, a giant sprawl of a city, the largest in Nigeria. But beware; Lagos is not for the faint-hearted.

Map Of Lagos

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The Basics

Lagos can be found in Lagos State, one of the thirty six Nigerian States, located to the south-west, on the Atlantic coast in the Gulf of Guinea. The city includes many islands, namely Lagos Island, Ikoyi, Iddo Island and Victoria Island, and the large Lagos Lagoon. The lagoon and the many lakes in Lagos probably gave the city its name, which means "lakes" in Portuguese.

This populous city is home to just over 10 million people (CIA World Factbook). The official language is English, although most Nigerians speak a kind of Pidgin English (see "Useful words and phrases" below). Other spoken languages include Yoruba, Hausa and Igbo (Ibo). There are over 500 indigenous languages spoken in Nigeria, which makes it quite rare for a Nigerian to go to a big city and meet a person who speaks the same language, which is why it is more common for them to speak English to each other.

Although the political capital is Abuja, Lagos is the financial and economic capital of Nigeria. Here you will find First World entertainment and higher standards of living than is the norm. Lagos is famous for it's music and night life, especially on Victoria Island, where many restaurants and night clubs have sprung up. There are also large expatriate communities in Lagos, where large international companies are situated.

Shopping in Lagos

Due to security concerns Lekki Market is not recommended, but that's where you would head to find the more authentic Nigerian goods. Lagos offers visitors many shopping experiences, from the air-conditioned finesse of malls, to the bustling, small alleys of the markets. Depending on what you are looking for (crafts, fashion, textiles, foodstuffs, etc.) ask a local to recommend the best market. The local markets are almost always full of activity, and are quite safe during the day. If you aren't a local, be prepared to attract a lot of attention and soliciting, but it's all part of the fun. The owners of Market stalls are always willing to haggle, so don't accept the given price, as you may find a bargain if you are prepared to haggle.

If you are looking for a less adventurous outing, such as a movie or sitting down for a cup of coffee, try one of these malls:

The Palms Shopping Centre: No 1, British International School Way, Lekki-Epe Expressway, Lekki. The Palms Shopping Mall has a cinema, Game and Shoprite.

The City Mall: Opp Muson Centre, Awolowo Rd, Onikan, Lagos Island.

Mega Plaza: 21st Century Mall, 14, Idowu Martins Street, Victoria Island.

Silverbird Galleria: 133, Ahmadu Bello Way Victoria Island, +23412706361.

King's Plaza: No 80, Adeniran Ogunsanya.Off Bode Thomas, Surulere.

Transport in Lagos

Lagos is home to the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, situated in Ikeja. It has a Domestic and an International Terminal. Although there are buses, the easiest way around Lagos is by taxi (try Red Cab Taxi Service, +234 700 073 3222), or if you are brave, take an Okada. Okadas are motorbike taxis that weave through the endless traffic. It is an affordable but hair raising way to get around.

Transport should always be pre-arranged, as Lagos is not the safest place for tourists after dark. Most hotels have cars available and there are a number of private chauffeur services. Rates start at about R250 for 3 hours.

Local Cuisine

Food in Nigeria requires a bit of getting used it. The local cuisine is rich and quite varied. The dishes are usually oily with palm or groundnut oil, and full of flavour by their use of spices and herbs (the English clearly did not instil much influence in this area). Highly recommended are their street foods, grilled meats on skewers and heavily spiced, called Suya.

If you're not too adventurous, Lagos, and in particular, Victoria Island, offers a great variety of international cuisines. My personal favourite was Indian cuisine from the Sherlaton, just down the road from The Galleria mall. Chinese food and sushi are best avoided. There are also fast food restaurants like Nando's (Palms Centre), Debonair's Pizza (opposite the Park n Shop), and KFC (Palms Centre).

Villa Medici offers continental and French cuisine. Fusion offers fusion Lebanese cuisine and sushi, with a waterfront view.


The Ikoyi Golf Club has a 71-par course that lies on the eastern edge of the Lagos lagoon.


The best beaches are said to be at Tarkwa Bay (only accessible by boat), Eko Tourist Beach Resort and Eleko Beach. Lagos has many beaches, such as Bar Beach and Lekki Beach. A bit out of town, you can find resorts like La Campagne Tropicana, which offer nature walks, picnic spots, barbeques and overnight accommodation in tents and chalets.


Sun International's Federal Palace Hotel, the Protea Hotel and the adjacent Eko Hotel and Suites are of the more popular establishments. There are many hotels and B&Bs all over Lagos, but it is probably best to stay on Victoria Island as it is close to most international offices and nightlife. Popular hotels in Lagos include Protea Hotel, Sun International, Welcome Centre Hotels, Sheraton Hotel and Towers, Federal Palace Hotel, Stop Over Motels, Ikoyi Hotel, Sofitel Lagos, Eko Hotels And Suites, The AHI Residence and The Palmview Manor.


The Nigerian currency is Naira. The exchange rates at time of writing this article are:

US$1.00 = 156.2 Naira

GBP1.00 = 250.8 Naira

ZAR1.00 = 23.2 Naira

You can draw money with your Visa, MasterCard or Maestro Card from ATMs, which are easy to find in Lagos. You can exchange US Dollars, British Pounds or Euros from unofficial exchangers near the big hotels (eg. the crafts market at Eko Hotel). Negotiate the rate, and count the money in front of the exchanger.

A Little Background

Nigeria has a rich archaeological history, with lots of evidence of early kingdoms, some with social structures similar to the Egyptians. When Spanish and Portuguese began trading in Nigeria, Lagos became a major centre of the slave trade (1404-1889), ruled over by Yoruba kings called the Oba of Lagos. Nigeria became a British protectorate in 1901. The slave trade was finally outlawed in northern Nigeria in 1936, and in 1960, Nigeria gained independence from the United Kingdom.

After independence, the Nigerian government consisted of a coalition of conservative parties. Disequilibrium in the government led to several military coups, with brief periods of democracy in between. Umaru Yar-Adua was elected as president in the general elections of 2007, but he was often sick and eventually passed away on 5 May 2010. Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan became Yar-Adua's replacement the next day and he will be Nigeria's 14th Head of State until the next elections.


Nigerians are industrious and boisterous in general. The fact that 419 scams are usually associated with Nigerians has to account for Nigerian ingenuity. Corruption is rife; traffic officials seem to only pull cars over for bribes. Driver's licenses are bought, and available when you buy a car. Nigerians are loud and subtleties are missed. Come across strong and direct with Nigerians and you will earn respect quickly. They are generally happy and helpful, very welcoming and appreciate a good party any night of the week. They take great pride in their appearance, which is why you will find good quality European fashion in the local markets and at very affordable prices (provided you give them a good show of your bargaining skills).

The Nigerian film industry, Nollywood, is the second-largest producer of movies in the world. Although the movie plots are usually predictable and the production standard poor, Nollywood films are popular throughout West Africa and the industry generates a large income for Lagos and Enugu, where many film studios are based.

The music industry is also a booming industry, with styles consisting of native rhythm, with influences from Congo, Brazil, Cuba, American Jazz, Soul and Afrobeat. You can get a good feel of the local hits by buying CDs, available from hawkers showing their wares in slow-moving traffic. MTV hosted the first African music awards in Abuja in 2008.


Lagos has an equatorial climate, which makes it muggy and hot, all year round. The average temperature range is 24.8-30.2 °C (86.3-74.9 °F) Air-conditioning makes life much more pleasant, but be ready to sweat as soon as you step out the door. Opt for light, cotton clothing and sandals. If you are male and are doing business in Nigeria, it is acceptable to wear the local kaftan-like loose cotton outfits on Fridays.

Mobile service

There are four major mobile phone companies, namely Etisalat, Zain, MTN and Glo. Service can be temperamental so Nigerians usually have at least two lines, with different companies, to use when one line does not have reception. Sim cards and airtime can be bought cheaply from vendors on just about every street corner and from hawkers on the roads.

A South African in Lagos

Before I went to Nigeria, I didn't expect it to be any different to South Africa. I thought, "It's Africa, how different can it be?" I was in for quite a culture shock. Nigerians are very different to South Africans. And life in Nigeria as an expat is worlds apart from life in South Africa. I stayed on VI (Victoria Island) in a comfortable air-conditioned two-bedroom apartment. There was 24-7 security at the gate. There was wireless internet, Dstv, backup generators, a tennis court, a pool, maids, house boys, a driver and car, and a private tennis couch. Life was easy, if not a bit isolated.

There are a lot of expat communities. The women from different countries organise social events for the various nationality clubs and life can be very full. There is also a large online community for expats where you can find just about all the information you would need about Nigeria, from the best Lagos markets to political updates and views. Although Lagos would not be on the top of my list of favourite tourist destinations, my time there was an experience I will never forget, and anyone with an opportunity to visit Nigeria should really embrace it with open arms.

A few useful words and phrases

Chop = Can be a verb or noun, used for food. Eg. We go chop food together.

How now = Hello, Good morning / afternoon / evening.

Oga / madam = A polite way to address a man / woman.

Oyibo = White person (note: there's quite little racial tension in Nigeria, so don't be offended if you are greeted with "Hello White!").

Go slow = Traffic jam.

Grass-cutter = A big rat (a local delicacy).

Suya = A common roadside grill.

Hamatan = A dust storm that happens regularly.

Wahalla = Big Trouble.

Mostly written by Alice Kühne