I fell in love with Lagos, Nigeria - INDIKATE
My passion for travelling Africa has once again been stoked: Visiting Lagos, Nigeria, was one of the most incredible experiences. A city alive with creativity, arts and culture, and the largest prawns I’ve ever seen…
I’ve just managed to take a breath after a month of travel. I’ve been between Nigeria, Cape Town, Seychelles and Durban and I’m only now getting the opportunity to review my photos, experiences and think about what I want to pen down about all of these trips. I don’t know where to start, so I’m starting with Lagos because so many friends have asked me about my experience. Warning, this post is long, but there are LOTS of pictures to make up for the long read!
Looking out over Ikoyi, Lagos
Reactions weren’t all positive when I said I was visiting Nigeria. While a lot of people said that Lagos is an incredible city – vibrant, colourful, creative – there were others that in essence told me to fear for my life, that I was bound to get goaded into a bribe at some point, and that it was extremely costly to even eat terrible food.
I decided to ignore the negative comments, after all, I live in Johannesburg which gets equally negative reactions when I mention it overseas!
Nigerians are absolutely MAD about chilli. This is called a Cameroon Pepper, similar to habanero and in almost every dish.
Arriving in Lagos
To be honest, my arrival at the airport was by far the part I was most nervous about. If you Google info on Murtala Muhammed International Airport (the Lagos airport), you’ll be horrified when you delve into the stories and reviews people have posted online. They gave me the impression that I was going to be dumped in the middle of nowhere and left to fend for myself amongst 100 shouting military soldiers while clutching onto my belongings.
Turns out that not only was the airport pretty organised when I landed, it was also fairly pleasant. The first thing you will find out is that Nigerians are by nature ‘shouty’. It’s not angry shouting, or even indicates any modicum of distress, it’s just how people communicate with each other. So yes, it’s loud, but as thousands before me, I survived it.
If I can dish out any advice though: Just smile and be polite, things will take time, but you will eventually find yourself on the other side of customs. You’ll need to fill in a little yellow form, and you’ll be bossed about a bit when you get to the front of the line, but YOU WILL SURVIVE!
Another view over Ikoyi, Lagos.
Driving in Lagos
So this was an experience! I can’t tell you how true this is, but a colleague told me that when you go for your driver’s license in Nigeria, the evaluator will ask you if you know how to use your hooter. Reason being? It is the most utilised piece of equipment on the road in Nigeria.
If you want to push into the horrendous traffic, or change lanes, or even if you’re turning, you have to hoot. Otherwise, you just get nowhere. It’s not aggressive or offensive, it’s just what it is. So we have ‘shouty’ and loud all at once. It’s a trip.
I loved the little yellow tuk-tuks that zipped around everywhere.
If you did very little research on the city itself before arriving, you’ll soon discover too that Lagos has a mainland and then various islands that are connected via bridges. Until recent years, Lagos’ Third Mainland Bridge was the longest bridge in Africa, connecting mainland Lagos to Lagos island.
Sit back and try enjoy it. Maybe buy some Agege Bread or a Bun from a street vendor while you wait.
Agege bread is sweet, similar to brioche, and only costs about R4 for a loaf.
An egg bun, stuffed with hardboiled egg. I was hoping for a sweet one, but alas…
Eating in Lagos
I was not expecting great food in Lagos (another warning prior to departure), and I think the reason why a lot of the people I know have experienced terrible food in Lagos is that they were either looking for something familiar, or something universal, like fast food.
If you opt to abandon the idea of eating anything you know when in Nigeria, you’ll be sorted. I tried a couple of things that I loved, and a few that I wasn’t wild about, but for your dear reader, I tried it all. My best was the seafood, but my worst had to be local stews that included a very pungent shrimp paste that you can smell from a mile off.
When it came to restaurants, there are three I can recommend:
This was the first restaurant I tried in Lagos and absolutely loved it! Terra Kulture serves authentic Nigerian fare, and is housed inside an art gallery. It’s just a really lovely space, it didn’t feel touristy, and the art was really fantastic to view while waiting for our food.
Our table ordered prawns (they are massive by the way), Terra Africana – a stew with kpomo, chicken, goat meat, gizzards and a palm oil sauce, Croaker (a white meat fish), Ofado rice and the star of the meal: Spicy Peppered Snails.
This is the grilled Croaker fish, similar to hake actually.
The monster prawns were absolutely delish!
These are the Spicy Peppered Snails – served in a sauce, butterflied and fried. They were rubbery, but otherwise didn’t have much of a flavour other than the sauce. I did have to cut it into three pieces to eat it.
Luckily we had a Nigerian host to explain everything to us, but the gist of the above is: prawns are served as we would make them on the grill, the stew’s ingredients are identifiable except for kpomo which turns out is bits of leathery cow hide (not too keen), and Ofado rice is a grain that is fat, fluffy and much better than Tastic.
Afado rice and the Terra Afrikana.
What I wasn’t expecting from Lagos was how prominent seafood is, and how enormous and delicious the portions are!
Terra Kulture can be found at Plot 1376, Tiamiyu Savage, Off Ahmadu Bello Way, Victoria Island, Lagos.
The interior of Terra Kulture, the ramp leads up to the gallery section.
My favourite artwork at Terra Kulture – Somewhere in Lagos by Damola Adepoju
Another great restaurant serving local fare, Yellow Chilli is popular amongst expats on Victoria Island. Here we ordered Seafood Okro, Jollof Rice Fiesta and more prawns. The Okro is a spicy stew with okra or lady fingers, various bits of seafood and deshelled prawns.
Seafood Okro. At first we thought the green bits were chilli, but they were okra bits in all their slimy glory.
Jollof Rice Fiesta, looks rather plain but packs such flavour!
The Jollof Rice was what I was most looking forward to as I had read about it before going. This tasty dish is a spicy rice dish, with tons of flavour, small shrimps and some prawns served on top – it served up to the expectation and I would definitely recommend this to somebody who enjoys spice and isn’t too adventurous.
Yellow Chilli has two locations, I visited the one on Victoria Island at 27, Oju Olobun Close, Off Bishop Oluwole Street, Victoria Island, Lagos.
In terms of westernised food, I thought this was a fantastic option. The menu consists of about a thousand dishes including pizzas, Indian, Lebanese, American, and some local dishes. The array of food is overwhelming, but if you’re looking for something you know then this is the place.
Typical chicken tandoor skewers served at the table.
I ordered a curry and we had some tandoor chicken kebabs as starters and it was delicious. I didn’t try one, but my colleagues love the pizzas.
Plus, this place is right on the lagoon and has a pretty impressive waterside view. If you’re dying of the heat and humidity though (Lagos is hot!), there is also an inside section with polar airconditioning (it was rather nice to step into this when I went to the loo).
I always have to try a local beer – Star was pretty good!
Lagoon is confusing because it seems to also be named Churrasco and Fusion. I couldn’t figure it out exactly, but I think perhaps the names apply to difference sections of this massive establishment. There’s no website for Lagoon, but you can locate the restaurant at 1C Ozumba Mbadiwe Street, Lagos.
Sadly, Lagos as a destination has hardly been covered by major websites and guide books. What this means is that’s almost impossible to find any good guide to what to see and do in the city. I was even upset when having a look for a guide book for Nigeria to discover that the country has been lumped into one book about West Africa, and that Lagos didn’t have more than two pages’ worth of coverage – how’s that for astounding for what is the LARGEST city in Africa?
I can’t lie here, Lagos is not geared for tourists in any way. It’s difficult to get around, you can’t do it without the help of a local driver and there are security concerns that hang over you like a cloud when you’re there. Visas are expensive too, with mine costing in the region of R5 000, plus an additional R3 000 for expediting the process and the assistance of a visa specialist company.
All of that being said, there is a lot to see.
Almost everybody I know who has been to Lagos has gone for the purpose of work. So while this list is almost a wishlist of things to see in between everything you have going on while in the country, there are some cool sights to take in if you have a few spare hours.
We cruised in style from Fiki Marine around Lagos and its islands, it was a great way to see the sprawl of it all.
The Lagos Yacht Club is one of the city’s renowned landmarks and was established in 1932.
At Fiki Marine, there’s a small local market brimming with interesting, local ingredients.
Fruit and veg on sale at the market at Fiki Marine.
What used to be the Ozumba Fish Market near Fikki Marine. The livelihood of many fishermen have been affected in this part of Lagos as the bustling fish market that was once here has been removed and is supposedly being relocated.
Even though the market is in essence gone at Ozumba, fishermen still hang around in the hopes of a sale. This eager man showed off his impressive catch of lobster and prawn.
The Lekki-Ikoyi Link Bridge connects two of Lagos’ islands.
The Old Ikoyi Hotel Suya Spot – suya is a street food consisting of deep fried, spiced meat. We had livers at this famous spot, but you can get a whole chicken if that takes your fancy. The taste is okay, the meat is super tough after being fried.
Our livers being spiced after frying.
A stall at the Lekki Arts & Craft Market. A great place to get a souvenir of your trip, with some beautiful handmade bags, shoes and furniture available.
Cathedral Church of Christ, Marina, Lagos
The National Theatre of Lagos is a national landmark and is at the heart of arts in culture in Lagos, sadly I never got any closer than this on my trip.
Other sights that I never got to, but apparently are worth a visit, include:
- Nike Art Gallery
- Conservation Centre Lekki
- Elegushi Beach
- National Museum
- MUSON Centre
- Freedom Park
- New Afrika Shrine
- Kalakuta Republic Museum
Staying in Lagos
The reason I got the opportunity to visit Nigeria is that I am currently working with the marketing team for Southern Sun Ikoyi in Lagos. I’ve been working with the hotel for a few months, and I was pretty excited to meet the people behind the emails and also get the chance to see the hotel in person, get some fresh photos and learn some local customs.
Naturally, this is where I stayed during my visit too. The staff were absolutely lovely, and so friendly, and as a South African I’ve always known and been assured by the Southern Sun brand so there weren’t any major surprises for me.
Ezekiel is the friendly face who greets you each day at the hot buffet section.
It’s hard not to be bias about a hotel when I get paid to work on their marketing, but I will say that I found Southern Sun Ikoyi to be comfy, friendly and it had FANTASTIC food, which is always a plus when travelling for business!
Rose, the hostess at Southern Sun Ikoyi’s restaurant
A view from the roof of Southern Sun Ikoyi overlooking the pool.