Tips on travelling to Lagos from Folasade Ope

Fola is a London based teacher, with a great love for Nigeria. Her interest in Lagos began while writing her dissertation at university based on the formation of British Nigerian identities. She travelled to Nigeria for the first time at the age of 21 and spent much of her time exploring her mother's home town in Ondo State. Since then Fola has travelled to Nigeria many times and worked and volunteered in the country.

For more information of travelling to Nigeria, Fola recommends  www.cometonigeria.com

How well do you know Lagos?

Very well, I visit Lagos about four times a year on average.

What do you think is special about Lagos?

Lagos is a city like no other. It truly is the Big Apple of Africa!

I cannot quite put my finger on what it is exactly, but there are a multitude of things that make Lagos special. The people, the ambience, the food, the culture, the hustle and bustle. For me it is the feeling you get as you exit the aircraft, the combination of heat and humidity, the buzz in the atmosphere, the feeling that it is a new place every single time.

What attractions and activities would you recommend for travellers in the city?

There is plenty to see and do in Lagos. I would recommend Lekki Conservation Centre, Nike Art Gallery, and Terra Culture. You can check out the National Museum for a hint of history.

Lagos is a city surrounded by water so it is also perfect for watersports and a visit to Lekki Leisure Lake allows for jet skiing, boating and land activities like quad biking. If you want to visit a beach resort, Inagbe Grand Resort recently opened and has had a lot of positive feedback. Tarkwa Bay is relatively clean for swimming and the beach is accessed via the boat park on Victoria Island.

For a movie and a bite to eat head to the Palms Shopping Mall.

Do you feel safe in Lagos?

Contrary to how Lagos is portrayed internationally it is relatively safe. I have always gone to Nigeria as a lone traveller and have never experienced any major problems or incidents where I felt I may have been in danger. As with any large city you have to be vigilant.

What measures can travellers take to ensure safety in Lagos?

Have all your travel vaccines done before hand, and note that malaria medication is a must. The last thing any traveller wants is to be taken ill on holiday.

Always carry a mini directory with useful contacts including phone numbers for emergency services. Carrying a torch can also be useful after dark.

You have to be streetwise. If you do not feel comfortable with something someone is offering or selling turn them down politely but firmly.  If you are in Lagos for the very first time I would advise going on outings with locals so that they can show you around. The worst thing to do in Lagos is walk around looking clueless. Initially I had my cousins show me around. Now I am confident to go pretty much anywhere in Lagos on my own.

Are there any areas best avoided?

To get an authentic Lagos experience you have to visit the good and the bad. There are rough areas on the mainland and island. Having said that, Lagosians are a very welcoming bunch and they like having tourists around. I would say avoid the mainland at night, partly because police at road blocks can be a pain and keep you held up unnecessarily which is rather frustrating when you want to get home after a night of clubbing. The best of the nightlife can be found on Victoria Island.

What kind of infrastructure can travellers expect in Lagos?

Infrastructure in Lagos is still developing so generally services here do not move as quickly as in other cities. However, things are improving. I remember when I travelled to Lagos in 2011 and purchased a mobile data pack the connection was scant and very slow. Now most places have reliable wifi so I can browse and Skype straight from my iPhone. There can be issues with network at times when trying to contact my friends in Lagos, but having two sim cards works a treat.

Electricity supply is a problem if you stay in accommodation that lacks a generator (which is unlikely for tourists) which is why carrying a torch is always a good idea at night.

How would you recommend getting around Lagos?

There are several reputable taxi companies operating in Lagos now. If you are a thrill seeker you can try a danfo bus or keke maruwa for an authentic Lagos experience, but do not expect comfort!

The safest and most reliable form of transport in Lagos is via Uber or Easy Taxi. You can download the apps on your smartphone. When your location services are turned on you can request a driver which is visible on a map. All journeys use live GPS tracking. The share my ride option allows you to share your location information with friends and family.

The majority of taxi drivers in Lagos inflate fares dramatically as soon as they are aware that their passenger is a foreigner. Uber is cashless and prices are fixed based on distance and time accrued for the journey. Easy Taxi differs from Uber as you pay the driver a cash fare which is fixed based on your location and destination. For example, travelling from Lekki to Victoria Island with Easy Taxi would cost around NGN 1500. So, these apps are better because there is no haggling or inflation of fares.

Is Lagos an expensive travel destination?

It depends on the time of year, where you stay, and the amount of excursions you go on. If you go during the festive period ticket prices are significantly higher along with food and general merchandise. If you are staying on the mainland, transport, food and accommodation is cheaper than on the island.  It is more cost effective to make use of short let accommodation because Lagos hotels are ridiculously overpriced when it comes to meals.

Generally, you can expect the equivalent of London prices on the island, with substantially cheaper rates on the mainland.

On the mainland my hotel was NGN 5000 per night (in 2015). The average meal price in restaurants on the mainland was NGN 1000.

What are your favourite local food specialities?

The best kind of food in Lagos, believe it or not, is street food. My favourite is suya, which is skewered beef or chicken pieces grilled on an open BBQ after which a special blend of herbs and spices are added along with tomatoes and onions. It is sold by street vendors in Lagos from dusk till late and is similar to a shish kebab but tastes better.

Another must try is ofada rice, a locally produced rice served with a spicy tomato or green pepper stew on banana leaves. You will find this dish at most local bukkas. A bukka is an informal roadside eatery that sells a variety of traditional Nigerian cuisine.

 Is Lagos a good shopping destination?

If you want to consume high-end retail brands then Lagos is not the place for shopping. But for cultural pieces and crafts like paintings, ornaments and sculptures the city is great. Lagos is brimming with African art!

In terms of traditional clothing, the textile industry in Lagos is vast. The hardest part is choosing the designs you want. You will seriously have to consider your luggage allowance as I have sometimes been tempted to purchase everything I like. Lagos markets contain unique pieces that you will not find anywhere else in the world.

How long do you think travellers should spend in Lagos?

For me two weeks is perfect. It is long enough for me to be able to visit various tourist attractions and short enough that I do not start to miss home.

Beyond Lagos, where in Nigeria would you recommend travellers explore?

I would say Abuja, not because it is the capital but because it is a model city. The hustle and bustle you find in Lagos does not exist there so it is actually quite a contrast. With beautiful surrounding natural landscapes there are also plenty of excursions to go on when in Abuja. The climate there is also quite different.

I would also recommend Calabar. To experience the city in all its glory I would advise going during the festive period when the famous carnival is held. 

For more information of travelling to Nigeria, Fola recommends www.cometonigeria.com