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An Insider’s Guide to Lagos, Nigeria

Lagos is a city that first-time visitors and residents love to hate and hate to love. The city is like a meal that one feels revulsion and a longing for at the same time. Lagos is a haven for the strong-willed, an enigma for the globe trotter, a case-study for the behavioral scientist as well as a land of limitless opportunities for the business person.

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In case you did not know, Lagos is Portuguese for Lagoon, referring to the city’s vast shorelines. And if that does not tickle your fancy, maybe these other pieces of information will.

Lagos is Nigeria’s economic/financial powerhouse (generating 10 percent of National GDP). It is arguably the major Information Communications and Telecommunications (ICT) Hub in Africa (think of Computer Village, Ikeja) as well as a cosmopolitan/metropolitan melting pot of some odd 22 million global citizens, who come seeking opportunities, wealth and excitement.

But what makes Lagos tick? Maybe it is because the city graduates from the affluent and wealthy areas on the Island (think Victoria Island, Ikoyi, Lekki Peninsula et al) to the less posh and slum areas on the mainland that house the greater number of the city’s population (think Ikeja, Oshodi, Yaba among others). Lagos Island is home to the headquarters of many banks, telecommunication companies, businesses and other enterprises. Residents of the mainland flock to the island to work and pursue a better life.

Or maybe it is the city’s legendary traffic snarls and congestion. These vehicular jams can stretch for miles at a time and last for several hours. The pattern for the logjam remains the same: the morning rush hour traffic that sees significant numbers from populated areas on the Mainland journey to the business districts on the Island to work. At the close of business, the reverse becomes the case and the migration back to the living areas on the Mainland repeats the problem.

Lagos seems to offer a little of the good, the bad and the ugly to everyone. So if you are here to pique your interest about Lagos, to validate all the tales, myths and legends and to have a lifetime of experiences, then there is no better place to be. But first, here are a few tips that could come handy as you explore the city:

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Avoid Rush Hours

If you are going to have a good time in Lagos, then you should avoid going out during peak traffic hours. These include early in the morning (anywhere between 7 am and 10 am) and the evenings (anywhere from 4 pm to 10 pm).

So your movement should ideally be outside these two extremes (although you could still encounter pockets of traffic due to some other reasons like road accidents et al).

Move Around With a Guide

You can skip this if you have stayed long enough and have sufficient knowledge of the city. Otherwise, it is recommended you visit places of interest with a guide, who will not only take routes that may shorten travel times but also play the dual role of teaching you about the history/stories behind the places you visit.

Decide On Suitable Transportation

This recommendation builds on Tip 1. You should be comfortable moving around the city. You could either use the city’s public transportation system (it is gradually gaining a semblance of organization, after years of being chaotic) or employ any of the new personal taxi services (there is presently stiff competition in this fledgling sector, and you get to travel in style and comfort). You score bonus points if your guide decides to move you around in a private vehicle.

Courtesy of Andi T23 on Flickr

Have a Mix of Funding Sources

What’s a day of fun and adventure in Lagos without making purchases, watching a movie or grabbing a bite of the many local and intercontinental delicacies and gourmet meals on offer in the city? You will do well to have a combination of cash and ATM cards. Remember to stack up on smaller denominations as well.

Now that we have these tips in mind, let us jump right into the fun and interesting places to visit and things to do while in Lagos.

Where to Shop

Courtesy of Seattle Globalist on Flickr

On the Island, you can stop by Oke Arin in Central Lagos for your shopping needs that could range from textiles to household items and provisions. One of the main attractions of this market is the increasing presence of female wheel barrow pushers who take your purchases from the heart of the market to your car.

If you decide to remain on the Mainland, then the famous Tejuosho Market may suit your taste. Here you can buy fabrics, household goods, foodstuffs and other sundry items. We won’t close this section without the mention of Alaba, Idumota and Agbara markets.

Watch a Movie

Lagos is fast turning into a movie-watching hub. Some local and foreign films have premiered in cinemas and movie houses across the city, to resounding success. Films like the Wedding Party come to mind. So if you are up for a movie and you stay on the Island, then head over to Silverbird Galleria. This cinema provides comfortable viewing rooms with top notch technology and equipment. You can keep abreast of the latest movie releases and viewing times via its website.

For our mainland buddies, you are covered. You can enjoy beautiful viewing experiences at the Genesis Cinemas, Maryland and the Ozone Cinemas, Yaba.

Grab a Bite

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You are spoiled for choice in this regard. You could decide to go for delicacies offered by roadsides and feeder streets if you want to feel the vibes of Lagos. Meals like roasted yam and plantain, smoked fish, beans and the peppery sauce will excite to no end. And the icing on the cake is that these meals go for under $2. However, you should insist that the seller observes basic hygiene in preparing and serving your meal.

If you would like a little more privacy and a heavier meal, then one of the many local kitchens or ‘bukas‘ could work for you. These places offer sumptuous local dishes including eba, amala, pounded yam and semolina. You can take these with soups such as Egusi, Ewedu and Okra soups. Other soups can be served on demand. Special mention must be made of one of the local staples, rice. It can be served in various forms including Jollof, fried, coconut, as well as white rice dished with stew.  You can find these locations in areas on the Island and the Mainland.

People Watching

Courtesy of Afromusing on Flickr

Are you a lover of the motions and dynamism of society? Do you draw strength, energy and inspiration from large crowds? Lagos could be our nadir. A good place to set up is at one of the hundreds of pedestrian bridges that dot the city’s landscape. You will have an excellent view of the immediate surroundings from a right height.

Have a camera in hand and be armed with a smile. Expect an ad-hoc mix of responses. You may get a quizzical stare from the odd in-a-hurry Lagosian, a warm smile, a friendly hello or two as well as an offer to have a photograph taken. The pedestrian bridge at Ikeja Bus/Stop is a good place to start.

All things Technology

Lagos is fast assuming the role of Sub-Saharan Africa’s ICT hub. There is no better place to witness this trend other than to pay a visit to Computer Village, Ikeja. It’s arguably the largest marketplace for computers and accessories on the continent.

If you can help it, go with a friend or guide. If not, endeavor to make your purchases from offices and stores that offer receipts as evidence of your purchase in case you return with a complaint.

Weekend Gate-Away

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Are you thinking of getting away from the hustle and bustle of the city to a relaxed and serene atmosphere? With your significant other? The Whispering Palms, Badagry fits the bill. You will be treated to an exciting mix of trees and shade, fun activities as well as luxurious accommodation. If you do decide to head out there, you would have to leave early because of its distance. Oh, while you are at it, you could take out time to explore Badagry in more detail, to have a feel of Nigeria’s ancient history and see the site of the transatlantic slave trade routes.

Sounds of the City

We don’t mean the deafening sounds that emanate from electric generators (signs of the inadequate power supply which you must prepare for).  If you would like to hear music from the comfort of your abode, then tune into any of the top notch local radio stations whose presenters belt both local and foreign songs, including old school and contemporary.

If you are up for the outdoors, then head out to the Freedom Park, located on the Island at Broad Street. There you will be entertained with performances from live bands, buoyed by an eclectic crowd.

For Beach Buffs

Courtesy of kandlestudio on Flickr

How can this exposé be complete without mentioning Lagos’ impressive coastlines? And you want to be one with the waters and also get your fair share of tanning time?  Then do not despair. Head over to any of the beaches on the Island to feed your senses.

There are private and public (government-run) beaches, although the former seems better managed and have lots of activities for visitors like horseback riding, surfing, skiing and much more. The perfect time to enjoy the convivial atmosphere at these beaches is during the weekends.