Around Lagos in 24 hours: Africa’s giant should actually be in your bucket list
Saturday, February 15th, 2020
Fellow third-world cities, especially populous ones, rarely feature in our bucket lists of places to visit, but as HARRIET JAMES found out, the giant of Africa, Lagos, is a fascinating destination that will make a memorable trip, and even a 24-hour visit is worth the while
Before travelling to Lagos, Nigeria, I had my reservations, based on a number of things I had read, watched or heard about this populous city.
So, my mission was to find out for myself the reality of this famous capital. First thing first, if you are planning to travel to Nigeria, it is best to get your visa before your trip.
While getting a visa online seems like a faster way to go about it, one can stay for hours at the airport just undertaking this process.
That’s what my colleague was treated to when we landed. I had applied for mine while at home, but had to wait for my colleague when we arrived, as there were long, slow queues at immigration.
The Murtala Muhammed International Airport, the major airport serving the entire Lagos state, is one of not just Nigeria’s, but Africa’s busiest airports, and I witnessed this first-hand.
Lagos is two hours behind Nairobi, and even though we had lost a lot of time at the airport, we still had considerable time in our hands once we arrived at the hotel.
Unlike my trip to Durban, where I had not only just gained one hour on arrival, but also experienced a shorter day (it became dark at 5.30pm), in this situation, it wasn’t so much a loss.
Something to note when travelling with limited time, is to ensure you plan in advance on things to do and places to visit.
Also, ensure you find a hotel near these sites, to save on time. We stayed at Southern Sun Ikoyi, which is favourably located from several attractions, although the traffic while trying to access them was a nightmare.
So many okada and keke (synonymous to our tuktuks and boda bodas) on the highway, and at the time we were there, the government was planning to ban them off the roads.
Just like in our case, while these means of transport assist in maneuvering traffic, they are a nuisance and cause a lot of accidents.
The trick is to plan way ahead of time with Uber or Bolt taxis to get to wherever you are going on time.
For public transport, it is the only state of the 36 in Nigeria that has yellow buses – danfo (16-18 passengers) and molue.
Lagos is the largest city in the Nigerian state of the same name and the most populous in Africa.
Also the 16th largest city in the world by city population, its name translates to lakes or calm waters in Portuguese, and is a major financial hub in the continent, with the fourth highest GDP.
In addition, it houses the largest as well as the busiest seaports in Africa. It began as a port city that was started on a collection of islands separated by creeks, but has since expanded some 50-plus kilometers inland.
With a population of 14 million today, the rapid urbanisation led to the expansion of the city to the west of the lagoon and now it’s classified into the island and the mainland.
Like many major cities around the world described as concrete jungles, it is known as the city with endless possibilities.
There’s a lot you can do in this great city in 24 hours, and below are some of the places you can tour and things to do:
Nike Art Center
From the hotel, Goggle indicated that the centre was around 20 minutes away, but it took us two hours to get there, thanks to the traffic.
This artistic spot should feature on your list, should you find yourself in Lagos, whether you love art or not. It was founded by the legendary textile designer Oyenike Monica Okundaye, and is home to plenty of West African artists’ work.
The collection of several sculptors, artists and craftsmens’ displays in just one building was quite impressive.
There is no entrance fee, but you are not allowed to take photos, only those of yourself with the artworks. Make sure to purchase some art, support African artists.
Ride in a keke
As much as we have many here, its always an interesting feeling to ride one in a foreign place with a foreign driver with a local accent – in this case, pidgin.
Take a short ride anywhere in those yellow contraptions and let them take you on a tour around Lagos. Just make sure you bargain the cost so that you’re not overcharged.
Take a photo at Tafawa Balewa Square
This historic site was named after Nigeria’s first prime minister and it’s at the heart of Lagos commercial centre.
Its an awesome place to take photos, with its statues of gargantuan horses, the Remembrance Arcade - with memorials to WWI, WWII and civil-war victims - as well as the 26-storey Independence House, all constructed in 1963.
In 1960, the late Abubakar Tafawa Balewa gave his first independence speech at the same spot when it was a sports field, and presently, the stadium hosts religious and official functions.
Try Nigerian food
Though you should be careful where you dine, ensure you try out one of Nigeria’s famous dishes such as jollof rice and fufu. If you are not a fan of pepper like yours truly, remember to request that they watch out for this, as many restaurants make it a bit spicy.
There are plenty of open air markets in Lagos selling all the things Nigeria is famous for such as Ankara fabric, and just about everything else. I toured the Lekki market and I wish I was loaded, as I was spoilt for choice on what to buy as souvenirs.
As is the case here too for tourists, expectedly, always go with a local who will assist you in negotiating prices as they can smell a visitor from afar and can take advantage. Also, though the markets are safe, be alert and watch your belongings.
The National Museum
This should actually be the first place to tour if you desire to understand a country with its customs.
I love history and culture and always get fascinated visiting such places and learning. Again, like in many museums, they don’t allow photography, and have CCTV cameras everywhere.
There was so much to learn, marvel about and document, fascinating history, but, I just had to abide.
The museum has all the artefacts from the over 250 tribes in Nigeria. I was amazed to learn that. We only have around 45 and can barely keep up, now imagine quarter a thousand!
Last but not least, the beach!
There are dozens of beaches in Lagos, and we managed to visit one; Elegushi Beach. Known for its nightlife, this private beach is lined with restaurants, bars and cafes.
The entrance fee converts to about Sh300, and in there you can purchase food and drinks from any of the restaurants, and also rent a chair and table to bask in the sun. You can also ride a horse with the view of the Atlantic, as well as buy souvenirs.
I was shocked by the large number of marketers outside the restaurants, trying to woo customers.
Also, I noted with keen interest that they had signs of ‘no drug taking here’, meaning it is a problem here.