The highlight of travelling in Nigeria is meeting these culturally rich people; practically any person in any corner of Nigeria will offer a moment of their time to say ‘Welcome’.

Lizzie Williams, author of Nigeria: the Bradt Guide

Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, is often dominated by impressions of Lagos, a chaotic and traffic-heavy city. Yet look deeper within and beyond this metropolis and you’ll discover a vibrant country of generous people, ancient cultures and an impressive natural heritage. From roadblocks where policemen wear bandanas and mirrored sunglasses, to ladies going to church in the most beautiful dresses you’ve ever seen; from plane-loads of wealthy Nigerians going to Dubai on shopping trips, to people so poor they resort to eating rats and maggots; from black-magic markets full of weird charms, to more cell phones than perhaps anywhere else in the world.

In the waterlogged south of the country are deltas and lagoons where people’s lives haven’t changed for hundreds of years, and in the north are ancient kingdoms and walled cities, even today ruled by sultans and emirs. Love it or hate it, Lagos does have to be seen to be believed and nowhere on earth will you experience such mind-boggling, vibrant chaos as in this mass of humanity; explore the colonial town of Calabar and the primate sanctuaries of the Cross River forests; walk through the mysterious Oshogbo Sacred Forest of Yorubaland, a World Heritage Site; relax in Yankari National Park’s startlingly beautiful Wiki Warm Spring;  journey to ancient Islamic cities such as Kano to experience the centuries-old Kurmi Market – and you’ll see there’s much more to Nigeria than its headline notoriety.

Food and drink in Nigeria


Although typical of what is found throughout west Africa, traditional Nigerian food is more diverse because of the number of ethnic groups in the country. It differs between the south and north depending on what food products are available.


As a general rule of thumb, Nigerians are fond of some kind of starchy staple accompanied by an (often spicy) soup – this is actually more like a sauce or relish and is not runny like a soup. They use a lot of palm oil, a reddish coloured oil made from ground palm kernels, and a lot of chillies ground into a red powder (known in Nigeria simply as pepper). The starches include pounded yam, which is boiled yams literally pounded in a giant mortar until the consistency is light and fluffy; it looks a bit like mashed potato.

Others are eba or garri, porridges made from pounded cassava; amala, ground yam peels, which are boiled into a stiff paste and have a darker brown colour; and semovita, made from maize flour, another mashed-potato-looking concoction and similar to mealie meal or pap eaten all over eastern and southern Africa. Most of these starch-based staples have little taste and are very bland, and some have a fairly slimy texture, but they are cheap and filling and soak up the flavour of the sauce that comes with them. Alternatively you can opt for rice, which is served plain or cooked with peppers and palm oil; the latter is called jollof rice, which is bright orange, fairly hot and very tasty.


Most of the soups are made with lots of palm oil and some meat-based stock, and a few pieces of your chosen meat are plonked on top. Nigeria is renowned for its fiery obe ata (pepper soup), which effectively is the country’s national dish; it’s a thick sauce made by boiling tomatoes, ground pepper, meat or fish broth, onions, palm oil and other spices. A Nigerian must-do is to try dried fish, beef or chicken pepper soup with your choice of starch and be prepared for your eyeballs to melt and your nose to explode, though you may choose to pass on the hugely popular isiewu (goat’s head pepper soup) – every part of the goat’s head is swimming around in it.

Other soups include the tasty egusi soup, made from ground melon seeds and bitter leaf (a sort of spinach); okra soup, made from okra, also known as ladies’ fingers; draw soup, made from palm nuts, which is horribly slimy and viciously hot and is so called because the spices are ‘drawn’ out; and groundnut soup, which is made from peanuts and lends a slight satay flavour to the sauce.

You can add additional meat to these meals, which usually consists of a few pieces of very tough beef or goat, cooked dried fish with its head still intact, or a piece of chicken; the last ranges from delicious KFC-styled fried chicken to a piece of bone with hardly any flesh on that has been boiled dry. It’s worth remembering that you’ll get very good or very bad versions of these meals; there is often no way of telling which it’s going to be. Nevertheless, if you’re lucky you’ll get a big plate of steaming starch, tasty soup and tender meat. If there’s also dodo on the menu add this – it’s a delicious dish of fried plantains.

Fish, meat, vegetables

Because of the prevalence of tsetse fly, cattle are scarce in the coastal regions, so consequently more fish are eaten in the south, while meat is more popular in the north. Look out for suya, which is delicious barbecued beef on sticks, though you can also get offal and goat suya, and kilishi, spiced dried meat that is very thinly sliced and dried outside in the sun. You’ll often see bushmeat on the menu, which is considered a delicacy. Sometimes it’s antelope that’s unfortunately been poached out of the countryside, but more often than not it’s grasscutters (cane rats) or giant rubbery snails called igbin.

Vegetables such as onions, tomatoes, bitter leaf and yam are plentiful throughout Nigeria, though more exotic vegetables can be found in Lagos and the markets of the bigger cities. Outside Lagos we only really saw potatoes (and chips) on the menu in the north. Strangely given the dry climate, we also found more salads in the north, and they were surprisingly delicious, with lettuce, onions and tomatoes, a spattering of tinned baked beans, hard-boiled eggs and a big dollop of mayonnaise.

Fruit is plentiful and bananas, mangos and slices of fresh pineapple, or even coconut, are often seen on the side of the road, as are imported apples and sometimes pears from South Africa. Dairy products are scarce and you are unlikely to see cheese apart from in the posh restaurants on Victoria Island, though tinned condensed milk, milk powder and canned margarine are available. One brand of margarine that’s popular is Blue Band, about which one reader said, ‘I didn’t entirely trust a food product that doesn’t go off when kept in a warm cupboard for a year. My suspicion is that Blue Band is actually a form of spreadable plastic.’

Vegetarian food

Nigerians are largely meat eaters, and there are very few specific vegetarian dishes on restaurant menus. However, there are some exceptions. In the southeastern regions where meat is rare, beans are used to supplement protein in soups, and throughout the country moin-moin, or bean cakes with a slightly gelatinous texture about them, are popular snacks and are usually wrapped up in banana leaves. Vegetarians must be aware that while most soups are made with palm oil and vegetables (with the selected piece of meat added afterwards), the stock is often still meat-based, so ensure you ask first. This is even the case of efo, a wholly vegetable soup, which sometimes also has a meat-based gravy.


Starting with the obvious, international branded soft drinks such as Coca-Cola, Fanta, Sprite and Schweppes lemon are available everywhere, from roadside stalls to buckets on top of people’s heads, and in all the country’s restaurants and bars. They’re not always cold so check first before handing over the N50 or so it costs for a 350ml bottle – you give the bottle back as soon as you have finished. Occasionally you’ll see disposable cans but these are quadruple the price of a bottle.

There are several brands of locally produced and hugely popular malt drinks in brown bottles; one such drink is brewed by Guinness, and is served very cold. It tastes like a thick, non-alcoholic Guinness. They’re advertised as being very good for you and it’s common to see a couple in a bar with the man drinking a beer and a woman drinking a malt drink.

A drink called Chapmans is hard to find except in the more upmarket restaurants, and is expensive at about N250 for a glass, but is very refreshing; it’s a deep red berry colour and tastes a bit like a non-alcoholic Pimm’s and is made with a good dose of Angostura bitters and either tonic or lemonade with ice and a slice – like lemon or lime bitters. At most motor parks you’ll see men trundling around on bicycles selling chilled, flavoured yoghurt drinks. These taste nice, but I’d give them a wide berth as, despite them being served out of cooler boxes, you have no idea how many times they’ve warmed up in the sun. You’re better off buying these from a supermarket.

Lipton tea bags are readily available, as are small tins of condensed milk, small packets of milk powder and small tins of Nescafé. When ordering tea and coffee in a restaurant, this is what you get, and it invariably comes with bread. If you are unable to speak to anyone in the morning before a caffeine fix, I suggest you bring one of those electric elements you heat water with and a plastic or Thermos mug, as all the ingredients are available in Nigeria.

In a hotel, you may wait for an hour before a simple cup of tea emerges from the hotel kitchen. All over Nigeria in the mornings, on the side of the road and in the motor parks, you’ll see tea-and-bread sellers who serve huge plastic mugs of tea and a hunk of bread, but as they boil the sugar in the water, the tea is exceptionally sweet.

Bottled water is available, though sporadically, so try and buy it when you see it. Expect to pay around N100 for a half-litre bottle. Much more common and sold literally everywhere are half-litre plastic packets of what is known as pure water. Not everyone trusts the purity of pure water and it’s generally believed to be tap water, neatly packaged by pure water packaging machines that are freely advertised in the newspapers for anyone to buy and set up their own pure water business. (One Lebanese businessman I spoke to told me that this is exactly what happens.) Always presume that you are drinking ordinary tap water and not any kind of special mineral water. For this reason I would probably avoid them in Lagos and the bigger cities, where tap water is more likely to be contaminated. One pure water brand I saw in Sokoto was called ‘Acceptable Water’, which says it all.

Except in the northern cities, you won’t have a problem finding alcohol, and there are many excellent brands of locally brewed beer, which are sold in big half-litre re-usable bottles for about N150. The most popular are Star and Gulder; the former has the lighter taste. Big bottles of Guinness are hugely popular, but it’s not served in quite the same way as it is in the emerald isle; you’ll get it very cold and, quite bizarrely, it usually comes with a straw.

It’s brewed to a recipe that keeps the tropical heat from spoiling it, so it’s more strong and bitter than the Irish original. You’ll need to ask for a glass. As Nigerian Breweries is under licence to the Heineken label, you’ll sometimes see cans of Heineken but, as it comes in cans and not re-usable bottles, they are more expensive at around N400–500.

Local drinks include emu, or palm wine, the favourite drink in southern Nigeria, which is a natural sweet, frothy juice with a foul smell. It has to be drunk fresh and is potently alcoholic, and gets more so as the day wears on; administer with care. The distilled version of palm wine is ogogoro, a strong local gin, but it’s very discreetly sold. You’ll sometimes see Gordon’s Spark, which is a Nigerian version of an alcopop made with gin. Imported spirits and wines are expensive and can only be found in upmarket restaurants and hotels, and the few supermarkets dealing in imported goods, and are very rarely seen outside Lagos, Abuja or Port Harcourt.

Health and safety in Nigeria


Nigeria’s poor infrastructure, colossal population, poverty, terrible roads and high crime rate combine to create what can only be described as not a very healthy or safe place to visit. Travelling in tropical Africa exposes us to diseases caused by parasites, bacteria and viruses, some so bizarre we may never have heard of them before. Illnesses are passed around in food and water, or by insects and bugs, and can even be contracted from passing an infected person on the street. Added to this is the high crime rate and manic, highly publicised congestion on the roads.

However, remember that with the right precautions and a sensible attitude, the following events or illnesses are unlikely to trouble you. Getting fully acquainted with them in the first place, and knowing what to do if something goes wrong when you get there, can minimise all Nigeria’s health and safety risks. Prevention is the best way to stay healthy and safe. To put things in perspective, after malaria, which can be prevented by taking the right precautions, the biggest danger for a traveller in Nigeria is being involved in a road accident


Immunisation against yellow fever is essential and proof may be required on entry, and always if you are coming from another yellow fever infected area. There is a real risk of contracting yellow fever so the vaccine would be recommended unless there is a contraindication against having this live vaccine. Most travel clinic experts would then advise against travelling, as the risk of disease is high. Cholera is a risk in high-density urban areas, so if you have time then consider having the oral cholera vaccine (Dukoral), now available in the UK, especially if you have any underlying medical condition or are planning to work in unsanitary conditions.

This palatable berry-flavoured drink is said to offer about 75% protection against the more common strains of cholera. For adults and children six years and over, two doses are needed, taken at least one week but no more than six weeks apart. Ideally the second dose should be taken at least one week before entering an infected area. Two doses of vaccine will provide cover for two years. For children aged two to five, three doses are needed for the same efficacy, but protection lasts only for six months.

Typhoid and hepatitis A and B are present in Nigeria and immunisations are highly recommended. Meningitis and rabies immunisations should also be seriously considered. Routine immunisations, such as for tetanus, diphtheria and polio, should be reviewed and updated. If you do decide to have an armful of jabs, start organising them at least six weeks before departure, and remember that a yellow fever certificate becomes valid only ten days after you’ve had the vaccination.

Travel clinics and health information

A full list of current travel clinic websites worldwide is available on For other journey preparation information, consult (UK) or (US). Information about various medications may be found on All advice found online should be used in conjunction with expert advice received prior to or during travel.


Road accidents

Bugs, bowel movements and tropical diseases aside, your safety during any trip to Nigeria is most likely to be endangered by getting around by road. Traffic everywhere, and most infamously in Lagos, is one big aggressive snarl-up. The city roads are choked and congested beyond belief, while the highways and expressways between the cities are poorly maintained, and used by manic drivers who have no respect for oncoming traffic.

Road accidents are common, as attested to by the millions of battered vehicles in the country, and by the thousands of mangled buses and cars on the sides of the road. If you are travelling around in a chauffeur-driven car, by overland vehicle or by overcrowded public transport, always exercise caution on the roads. Always be aware of your driver’s road sense as soon as you get in a vehicle – which you should be able to judge pretty quickly. If you are very uncomfortable with his method of driving then stop him, get out of the vehicle and find an alternative one.

Always avoid driving, or being driven, after dark. There are very few street lights, many vehicles do not have headlights, and there’s the added problem of pedestrians and domestic animals on the road. Additionally, though there are countless police roadblocks during the day, there are far fewer at night on the roads and this is when armed robberies of vehicles tend to take place. If you are taking public transport over quite some distance, set off early in the day as you will inevitably have to wait for some time in the motor park for a vehicle that goes-when-full, and you will want to ensure that you reach your destination before dark. I would also not advise you to travel on the so-called ‘luxury’ buses simply because they nearly always travel at night.

Crime and corruption

Nigeria has a reputation for crime and corruption and has more than its fair share of challenges to safety and security – it is advisable always to be security conscious. Things do happen – armed robberies and carjackings are prevalent in Lagos and there is a threat of mugging. More disturbing are the huge numbers of guns in private possession and in the police and armed forces; all are susceptible to bribery and corruption, and thus could provide arms to civilians at the right price. There have also been incidents when the police themselves have been the perpetrators of crime.

Some of the more outlandish crime that occurs in Nigeria is piracy, or armed robbery on ships anchored in Nigerian waters, or the illegal ‘bunkering’ of oil onto ships belonging to other nationalities. It’s also not uncommon for gangs to hijack oilrigs off the coast to extort money from the oil companies. Also be aware that there have been many recent incidents of hostage-taking for ransom, particularly in the Niger Delta, because of local community problems with the oil companies. People working in Nigeria for these companies should be especially vigilant and follow their employer’s security guidelines.

Although it doesn’t produce any drugs of its own, Nigeria is known as a major drug-trafficking country for Asian heroin smuggled to Europe and the USA, and for South American cocaine trafficked to Europe. Nigerian drug organisations are also heavily involved in other criminal activities such as document fabrication, illegal immigration and financial fraud. But Nigerians in Nigeria are generally not drug users.

I live in Cape Town and at the end of my road is a large Nigerian community (a reported one million Nigerians live in South Africa, and three million in the USA, with other large communities in Europe and elsewhere in the world). Some of Cape Town’s Nigerian community, as well as many Capetonians, sell drugs on the street for a living. We never once got offered drugs on the street by a Nigerian in Nigeria.

Many Nigerians complain that the illegal activities of the offending minority have damaged the whole nation’s image. It was also explained to me that most of Nigeria’s criminals were not in Nigeria at all, and made up the huge populations of Nigerians living overseas. These were the people who were capable of forging, stealing or bribing to get passports and visas, and, as illegal immigrants in other countries, resorting to criminal activity to make a living. Despite all this, Nigeria’s awful reputation for crime is largely exaggerated, especially outside Lagos where you will rarely feel threatened or be a victim of crime. Even in Lagos, long-term visitors may never see an ‘Area Boy’ (hoodlum, thief) or someone out of uniform carrying a gun. But always remember that there is a criminal element in Nigeria and keep up your guard.

Petty theft

The culture of cheating is alive and kicking in Nigeria and you are more likely to be cheated out of something than having it simply stolen off you. This was one of the biggest surprises I had in Nigeria. As a seasoned traveller in eastern and southern Africa, where you guard your bags and possessions fiercely, I didn’t feel the need to do this so attentively in Nigeria. Not once did we have anything stolen out of a hotel room, and after the first few outings on public transport when we crouched over our bags jealously, we would quite willingly throw them into the open back of a vehicle surrounded by hundreds of people and go for a wander around a motor park while waiting for the vehicle to go-when-full.

Political risks

There is no doubt that political and religious tensions in Nigeria are high, and there has been a catalogue of riots and violent incidents since the country gained independence in 1960. There is no real science of assessing political risk, though it’s a good idea to check your nationality’s foreign office advice before you leave home and keep a close eye on Nigerian news. Outbreaks of localised civil unrest and violence can occur all over Nigeria without warning. If something does occur while you are in Nigeria, it is unlikely that a traveller will be targeted or involved, and most violent eruptions are based on local ethnic or religious spats.

Potential trouble spots are in the northern cities, and in the Niger Delta where the local communities resent the presence of the multi-national oil companies. Here is the one place where foreigners could be specifically targeted if they are identified (mistakenly or not) as oil employees and at the time of writing the region was pretty much off-limits to foreigners because of a continual spate of kidnappings.

Female travellers

Nigerian women all over the country travel on their own, be it on long journeys by bus or for a short hop on the back of an okada. Every time I jumped on the back of an okada, however, everyone stopped and stared incredulously. But the attention you get stops there, and you will soon get used to having a million pairs of eyes on you. The most prevalent attitude you are going to meet is complete bemusement. Nigerian society is conducted on the street and Nigerians are by character great socialisers and talkers, and they’ll often approach you for a chat.

Almost all of the time it is just out of inquisitiveness and simply just to say ‘Welcome’. Not once did I receive any rude or suggestive comments, and (only!) once was I approached in a bar environment to ask if I wanted company – as happens anywhere in the world. The guy in question left when I declined. But remember to turn down unwanted attention very politely – pride is important for Nigerian men.

One word of advice for women travellers (at least for anyone over the age of 21!) is to say that you are married even if you’re not. This is not for any practical reason; you certainly won’t be asked if you are married to get a hotel room, even in the Muslim north. But if you are over 21 and not married, Nigerians – male and female – will not get it, and you’ll be embroiled in a lengthy and analytical conversation about why you’re not married. Believe me, it’s just easier to say you are. Although there have been occasions in Nigerian history where rape and sexual assault have been prevalent, they have only really occurred during war times when the army has used rape as a weapon against women. Other than that, sexual crime is not common in Nigerian society. Hopefully this is because it doesn’t happen rather than because it’s not being reported.

The most important thing for a woman to consider is to dress modestly, especially in the Muslim north, though despite the strict sharia code, Western women are not expected to cover their hair. This is because many Christians live in the northern cities and wear what they like, though as a visitor it’s always sensible to respect the local customs.

There are other Islamic considerations to take into account: women are generally not welcome at mosques, particularly at prayer times, and as prayers often happen outside mosques or in open prayer compounds at the side of the road or in markets, it is a good idea not to get too close, and under no circumstances should you stop and stare. In the northern cities, my male fellow traveller went to the main Friday prayers to see several thousand men praying in and around the main mosque. It wasn’t appropriate for me to go and he says that all the women in the area simply melted away during prayer time.

Travellers with a disability

Nigeria, like many other African countries, does not cater for the needs of disabled travellers – or even those of its own disabled population. Unfortunately, few establishments, except perhaps the international hotels in larger cities (about three or four at most), have made any considerations for wheelchair users. Even an able-bodied person would have difficulty finding any space at all on public transport, never mind an actual seat, and getting around the congested streets is virtually impossible.

LGBTQ+ travellers

In early 2007, the national assembly deemed homosexual activity illegal in Nigeria. It’s now punishable by up to five years in prison in the south and, under sharia law in the north, possibly by death.

Travel and visas in Nigeria


A passport (valid for at least six months and preferably with several blank pages) and a Nigerian visa are required for entry into the country. Visa exemptions are granted only to citizens of some of Nigeria’s neighbouring west African countries. Nigerian embassies or consulates are located in the capitals of most European, North American and African countries together with Hong Kong, Tokyo and Canberra.

Some countries may have several visa offices (for example Washington, New York and San Francisco in the USA). British consulates often represent Nigerian overseas missions if there is no Nigerian embassy in the country. The two visas visitors are likely to apply for are the short-term tourist visa, valid for a stay of not more than one month (though they are generally extendible to a maximum of three months in-country), or, for those going to work, a business visa, issued to expatriate ‘experts’ to work on specific projects, which is initially valid for three months but can be extended for up to a maximum of six months (if the expat stays long term it can be changed into a long-term residency visa).

When applying for a tourist visa, you need to produce (along with your passport) your return airline ticket, evidence of funds that you will spend in Nigeria (bank or credit card statements), one passport picture, evidence of a hotel booking or a letter from friends or family in Nigeria, a return or onward air ticket if flying on, and the non-refundable fee. The amount differs greatly depending on nationality, but at the time of writing it was US$144 for UK citizens and US$112 for US citizens and it also varies among the issuing authorities.

In most countries you are required to attend the embassy or high commission in person as part of the application for a visa. You also now need to make your application and visa fee payment online to the Nigerian Immigration Service ( prior to going to the embassy. You will need to take both your printed online application and payment confirmation page as this has your unique ID number. Applications will only be processed with these documents. For business visas you will also need to produce a supporting letter from your employer stating the nature of your business and guaranteeing sufficient financial support for the visit, or alternatively have an invitation letter from the business you are dealing with in Nigeria.

For both visas, some embassies may also require to see your return airline ticket. Generally, visa turnaround is three to seven days but in many countries there’s now an express 24-hour service for an additional fee.

Once you have a visa, ensure that you make a photocopy of it and the passport page with your photograph on it. Some travellers choose to scan and store them at their email address so you can always access your documentation and print it out. For security reasons it is advisable to detail all your important information on one document, photocopy it, leave a copy with family or friends at home and distribute copies through your luggage.

Details might include things like passport and visa number, travel insurance policy details, a 24-hour emergency contact number, and details of relatives or friends to be contacted in case of an emergency. Other guidebooks recommend that you also put credit card details and travellers’ cheque numbers on this document, but this is not the case for Nigeria – not because you aren’t going to be able to use either travellers’ cheques or credit cards anyway, but because of the prevalence of fraud.

Getting there and away

By air

Nigeria’s international airports are Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos; Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano; Port Harcourt International Airport, Port Harcourt; and Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja. Many international airlines operate to and from Nigeria and there are a huge number of flights – not, unfortunately, because lots of tourists are visiting the country, but because many millions of Nigerians want to live anywhere else in the world but Nigeria.

Established airlines serving Nigeria include Air France, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Egypt Air, Emirates, Ethiopian Airlines, Kenya Airways, KLM, Lufthansa, South African Airways and Swiss (formerly Swissair), variously offering good connections with London, Paris and Dubai, and a number of Dutch and German cities, as well as with Addis Ababa, Nairobi and Johannesburg in east and southern Africa. From Lagos to London, it’s a six-hour flight. Most airlines fly to Lagos, but British Airways also flies to Abuja, KLM flies between Amsterdam and Abuja and Kano, and Air France flies between Paris and Port Harcourt. Travellers from North America have the option of going via Europe or Delta Air Lines offers a direct service between Atlanta and Lagos while United Airlines has just started direct flights between Houston, Washington DC and Lagos.

By sea

You can get to Nigeria by boat or ferry from Cameroon, but this trip is not for the faint-hearted and I have heard stories about both ferries and motorboats packed full of people simply disappearing. I’ve had recent feedback that ferry trips have been running smoothly with attention given to passenger numbers, but you should still be very wary of potentially overloaded vessels. Ferries arrive and depart from Calabar while motorboats go from nearby Oron in Cross River State.


The major overland route from Europe through west Africa roughly runs through Morocco, Mauritania, Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Nigeria and Cameroon. From Cameroon it’s sometimes possible to cross into east Africa via Chad and Sudan but this route is routinely closed because of the unrest in these countries. You can do all or part of this epic journey with an overland company or in your own vehicle, though of course you will have to be fully kitted out and self-sufficient, with a 4×4 and all the gear.

For inspiration to start your own overland, check out the Africa Overland Network, who have lots of useful information and links to over 200 websites of people’s individual trips by land, bicycle and motorbike. Also pick up a copy of Bradt’s Africa Overland for lots of practical advice.

You can enter Nigeria by road from Benin, Cameroon and Niger. The easiest and quickest route is from Zinder in Niger through to Kano, then west to Maiduguri, and into Cameroon at Mora. But it’s much more interesting to continue south to Jos and then on down to Calabar via perhaps Yankari National Park. The alternative overland route is from Benin along Nigeria’s coastal highway, the fastest route between Lagos and Cameroon. When crossing into Nigeria get rid of all money from the previous country as it’s hard to change once across the border. Also fill up with diesel, as diesel is not always available everywhere in Nigeria. Once in Nigeria fill jerrycans or water tanks whenever you can, as water is also hard to get (for a small fee you can fill up from public taps). Finally, if you’re not in your own vehicle, public transport links the closest cities in the neighbouring countries with the closest cities in Nigeria, so feasibly backpackers can move about from country to country.

Getting around

By air

There are 22 paved runways around the country and most of Nigeria’s state capitals have their own airports. Until a few years ago there used to be many more airlines, 30 or so, but following two fatal air crashes in Nigeria in 2005, the government got tougher with airline operators. The airlines were required to meet stricter standards of safety but many of them failed and their licences were revoked by the Ministry of Aviation. Unfortunately, despite this move, another fatal crash occurred in 2006, which killed the Sultan of Sokoto among many others. Nevertheless, despite this appalling aviation record, conditions in safety have improved overall lately and, to put it in perspective, it’s worth remembering that between seven and eight million Nigerians take domestic flights annually.

At the bigger airports such as Lagos and Abuja, you can just pitch up for a ticket at the airport, though in many cities some of the airlines have desks in local hotels where you can purchase a ticket. Domestic airfares vary slightly between the various airlines. Expect to pay roughly the following prices: Lagos–Abuja, US$100; Lagos–Warri, US$160; Lagos–Benin City, US$120; Lagos–Calabar, US$120; Lagos–Kano, US$160; Lagos–Sokoto, US$150; and Lagos–Enugu, US$110. There are scores of additional fares from Abuja to these destinations and between the other cities, but you can get an idea of price versus distance from the above. All domestic airlines now have websites listing full schedules. Several airlines now offer fares that are significantly cheaper if the ticket is booked and paid for in advance. Most operators offer online booking with several methods of payment, including local debit cards and cash transactions at certain banks.

By train

Nigeria has over 3,500km of railways and the two main railways are from Lagos to Kano (via Ibadan–Oyo–Ogbombosho–Kaduna); and from Port Harcourt to Maiduguri (via Aba–Enugu–Makurdi–Jos). The railways are run by the Nigeria Railway Corporation (, which has been in and out of bankruptcy for the last 20 years. After a few years without a service, the Lagos–Kano line has been upgraded and it’s now possible to take a train from Lagos to Ilorin and from Minna through Kaduna to Kano. The full track between Lagos and Kano has reopened to varying reviews and more services will become available again, possibly including the Port Harcourt–Jos–Maiduguri line. There is a ‘light’ railway system being built in Lagos with seven lines proposed, mainly to serve the suburbs, which should be completed by 2015.

By car

The national road system links all the main centres, and traffic drives on the right. Roads in Nigeria are generally very poor, causing damage to vehicles and contributing to hazardous driving conditions. Of Nigeria’s 200,000km of roads, only about 60,000km are paved, but many of these are in very bad shape and have been decaying for years. Some have lost their asphalt surface or have reverted to being gravel roads; many are barely usable, especially in high rainfall areas of the south. Excessive speed, unpredictable driving habits, and the lack of basic maintenance on many vehicles are additional hazards (as burnt-out wrecks and mangled vehicles along the road will attest). The rainy season from May to October is especially dangerous because of flooded roads. The worst roads are in the southeast of the country. There are few traffic lights or stop signs, and drivers seldom yield the right of way or give consideration to pedestrians and cyclists.

Road travel in Africa is generally erratic, but in Nigeria you will also have to get used to the whole ethos of ‘me first’ – each motorist has absolute power and authority over the road, regardless of whether a pedestrian is walking in front of his vehicle, whether he is on the wrong side of the road and a truck is heading down a hill towards him, or whether he wants to get from point A to point B via an embankment, a pavement or a central reservation. There is a good reason why hire cars come with a driver in Nigeria, and why the more comfortable front seats of a go-when-full minibus are often the last to fill – the views through the eyes of the driver can be very unnerving! Finally, driving without honking the horn is considered discourteous and dangerous.

By minibus and bush taxi

Except for the smallest of villages, every settlement in Nigeria has a motor park, and some of the larger cities have several. All public transport goes from these and you will inevitably spend a great deal of time hanging around them waiting for vehicles to go-when-full.

Sometimes you may be lucky and arrive at a motor park and find a vehicle with only a couple of seats left and depart almost immediately; at other times you may be the first to arrive and have to hang around for another 16 or so people who want to go in the same direction as you.

It’s best to go to a motor park early as the first vehicles of the day fill quickly. The exception is Sunday in the Christian cities, where nothing moves until church finishes about 13.00. Although they seem completely chaotic at first, motor parks are fairly organised and someone will point you in the right direction of the vehicle you want. Always look out for the men in the green and white uniform of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), who patrol the motor parks and take the fee paid by the drivers for the use of the motor park. One will take you straight to the right bus. There are queues of vehicles and the one that is filling up first will have a wooden pyramid sign on top with the first three letters of the town or city it’s going to. When the vehicle departs, this is simply plonked onto the top of the next one. In nearly all of the motor parks you can hire a porter with a wheelbarrow to carry your luggage.

By okadas and city transport

There must be hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of motorcycle taxis in Nigeria. In the south they are generally called okadas (after a defunct airline); in the north they are known as achabas. If you get stuck, just simply say ‘machine’. You’ll see the odd meaty Suzuki, but the majority of Nigerian okadas are Jinchengs imported from China. Millions of young men make a living as okada drivers and, if they are successful, as they get older and when they can afford to buy a car, they become taxi drivers. They usually carry one person on the back but it’s not uncommon to see two or more people plus an assortment of luggage. In the cities they are faster than regular taxis but are not for the faint-hearted, though you can always tell your driver to slow down.

You will always have to negotiate a ride, which will be as little as N30 for a short hop outside of Lagos, and N50 in Lagos, while a journey of a kilometre or two will cost upwards of N150. In Lagos okada drivers by law now have to wear a helmet and most should offer a passenger helmet too, which may or may not fit or have a working chinstrap.

Given that you might not have a crash helmet (which is already taking a real risk in Lagos traffic), it’s not a good idea to take okadas on busy expressways where the traffic is moving fast. Accidents are common and in the large cities in particular okadas are driven very aggressively. Finally, if you ask an okada driver to take you somewhere and they hesitate at all it means that they don’t know the place. Rather than admitting this, they will drive around randomly until you catch on.

When to visit Nigeria

Nigeria is consistently hot all year round with very little change in temperature, and in the south there is a constant uncomfortable humidity. Temperatures are highest from February to April in the south and from March to June in the north, and lowest from October to January over most of the country. This is the dry season, when there are cooler temperatures but a chaotic dry northeast wind, referred to locally as the harmattan, which carries fine sand across the country from the Sahara. The dust-filled air during this time can be irritating and uncomfortable and appears as a dense fog. The harmattan is more common in the north but affects the entire country except for a narrow strip along the southwest coast.

However, the dry season is still the best time to go, as heavy rains during the rainy season (April–August) severely hamper travel when roads are flooded, motor parks become quagmires, and streets in Lagos turn into rivers of rubbish. On the coast, the rainy season kicks in earlier than in the rest of the country and starts in February or March, continuing until August. It’s best to avoid travel in the south during this time – the sky is continually overcast, it’s hot, humid and wet and, if travelling by public transport, you’ll need gumboots to wade through the mud in the motor parks.


Although Nigeria is wholly within the tropics, its climate varies from tropical at the coast, to sub-tropical further inland, to arid in the north. It experiences two distinct climates – dry and wet. The length of each season varies around the country depending on elevation and latitude but generally the dry season is November–March and the rainy season April to August, with shorter rains in September and October. However, on the coast the rainy season kicks in during February or March when a moist Atlantic air mass, known as the southwest monsoon, routinely batters the coast.

The coast, and predominantly the Niger Delta, receives more rain annually than the rest of the country – up to 4,000mm per year, approximately five times that of London. In contrast, the semi-arid Sahel in the northernmost part of the country receives the least rainfall – about 500mm annually. The peak of the rainy season here is in August, when air from the Atlantic covers the entire country.

However, Nigeria has suffered from a number of droughts over recent years, particularly in the Sahel, and the 20th century is considered among the driest periods of the last several centuries, with well-publicised droughts during the 1970s and 1980s. These drought periods indicate the great variability of climate across tropical Africa.

Nigeria’s temperature is high year-round, and is frequently accompanied by high humidity in low-lying and coastal areas where temperatures average around 32°C. In the north, temperatures generally average 37°C, with extreme northern desert regions averaging 45°C during the day and 6°C at night. Temperatures are highest from February to April in the south and from March to June in the north, and lowest from October to January over most of the country.

The dry season brings cooler temperatures and chaotic dry northeast winds, referred to locally as the harmattan, which carries fine sand from the Sahara across the country. The dust-filled air during this time can be irritating and uncomfortable and appears as a dense fog. The harmattan is more common in the north but affects the entire country except for a narrow strip along the southwest coast. However, an occasional strong harmattan can sweep as far south as Lagos, pushing clouds of dust out to sea and providing relief from high humidity in the capital.

What to see and do in Nigeria


The capital of Cross Rivers State in the extreme southeastern corner of Nigeria, Calabar is a pleasant town in a beautiful setting high on a hill above a curve in the Calabar River. It was originally called Old Calabar to distinguish it from another town called Kalabari. It has a long history of being Nigeria’s eastern port on an estuary of the Gulf of Guinea, and an estimated third of the slaves who left Nigeria were transported through Calabar. The town is also the cultural centre for the Efik people who dabbled in the slave trade as middlemen. It’s made up of the old Efik settlements of Creek Town (Obio Oko), Duke Town (Atakpa), Old Town (Obutong) and Henshaw Town (Nsidung).

Calabar is well known as the home of the Scottish missionary Mary Slessor, who arrived in 1878 from the United Free Church of Scotland. It grew as an important Niger Delta trading state in the 19th century, thanks to the lucrative palm oil trade, and today rubber and timber pass through Calabar’s port; tyre manufacturer Dunlop has rubber plantations around Calabar. It’s surrounded by saltwater swamps and dense tropical forest, and the markets are full of fish, pineapples, bananas, plantains, cassava and palm oil. For a short time (1893–1906) it was the capital of the British Protectorate of Southern Nigeria, before the capital was moved to Lagos, and was the region’s principal port during the early colonial days before it was eclipsed by Port Harcourt.

The older part of town along the Calabar River has some beautiful colonial buildings but they are in various stages of decay. These were shipped from Liverpool frame by frame, with the carpenters, and were not only used by the colonial offices; many of the local chiefs liked the British architecture so much that they ordered their own houses and period furniture from England and this architecture became the hallmark of Old Calabar. These chiefs even took British names: there were the Dukes, the Jameses, and the Henshaws. The best place to explore Calabar’s history is in the excellent museum.

By contrast, Calabar today is also home to two interesting conservation organisations (Pandrillus and Cercopan) that are doing something worthwhile to help Nigeria’s primates in the nearby Cross River forests. In 2007 okadas were banned from the centre of the city. This was initially a temporary measure following disturbances due to motorcycle operators in disagreement with the state government’s introduction of a mandatory motorbike registration fee. However, the ban was never lifted. Whilst this makes for a pleasant reduction in noise in much of the city, it does reduce the available transport options around town.

Cross River Forests & Mountains

Cross River National Park is the largest area of undisturbed rainforest in the country, and has been described as the Amazon of Nigeria; it seemingly goes on forever, over into Cameroon. The park is spectacularly beautiful, with green, rainforest-cloaked mountains and enormous trees. It is split into two parts, the Oban Division and the Okwangwo Division (that also includes parts of the Obudu Plateau), which are approximately 40km apart on either side of the Cross River to the north of Calabar.  The park covers approximately 4,000km² of Cross River State and the terrain is tough, with hilly escarpments, steep valleys and peaks that generally rise higher than the surrounding deep forest, some of which reach nearly 1,000m.

These rainforests are some of the oldest and richest in the whole of Africa, and many reports written by biologists, going as far back as the 1920s, emphasise the extreme biological richness of the area, their relatively intact status and the increasing threat from uncontrolled farming, logging and hunting.

The Oban Division has an estimated 1,558 plant species, while the Okwangwo has 1,545 species, 77 of which are endemic to Nigeria. The unique nature of Cross River State tropical forest is due in part to its high annual rainfall of over 4,000mm, and its relatively short dry season. Consequently, this forest, together with that immediately adjacent in southwest Cameroon, is classified as the only true evergreen rainforest in Africa. Over 60% of Nigeria’s endangered plant and animal species are found only within these forests. These include 132 tree species listed by the World Conservation Monitoring Centre as globally threatened. As many as 200 species have been recorded from a single 0.05ha plot, a diversity matched only in exceptionally rich sites in South America. These trees also attract butterflies, and the forests are richer in butterflies than any other part of Africa.

The Okwangwo Division, home to about 80% of all wild primate species in Nigeria, is where Cross River gorillas share the same habitat with other primates, including chimpanzees and drills. Other rare species include leopard, small antelope, a variety of monkeys, as well as buffalo and forest elephants. The gorilla, which had been declared extinct in Nigeria 40 years earlier, was rediscovered in 1987, and the huge amount of international publicity that this generated helped to persuade the government to gazette Cross River National Park in 1988.

Nevertheless, as in Nigeria’s other parks, mismanagement and neglect have taken their toll and, although the forests of the park are largely intact, they have been subjected to recent small-scale logging in some areas, and hunting continues to be practised throughout, endangering many species, notably the drill, chimpanzee, some of the monkeys such as Preuss’s and Sclater’s guenons, and the forest elephant.


Kano is the oldest city in west Africa, and today is the capital of Kano State. It is a teeming and vibrant city with a variety of interesting things to see. Rather surprisingly, in the 2006 census, the population of Kano State was put at 9,383,682, which was just over 370,000 more than Lagos State. This has been highly disputed and Lagos is generally considered to be far bigger.

Nevertheless, Kano is a huge commercial city founded on the trade of the ancient Sahara routes, and it’s in the centre of a major agricultural region where cotton, cattle and about half of Nigeria’s peanuts are raised. The traffic is especially chaotic here, and the pollution in the city is palpable, especially at the end of the dry season from April to May, when hot fumes scorch your throat. Kano has several districts, including the old city, which is walled and contains many clay houses, giving Kano a medieval atmosphere. The parts of the wall that can still be seen today were built in the 15th century, though as in other northern cities, most of it is seriously dilapidated and eroded.

Kano is popular for its traditional arts and crafts, including weaving and indigo cloth dyeing, and it has long been known for its leatherwork; its tanned goatskins were sent to north Africa from about the 15th century, and were known in Europe as morocco leather. The city is also recognised as a centre of learning – being the seat of Bayero University and the Kano State Institute for Higher Education – and the British Council Library and the Kano State Library are also located in the city. If you are in town at the end of Ramadan, then the traditional horseriding celebrations are not to be missed.

The emirs of Kano and Katsina both hold colourful durbars during the Muslim festival of Eid-el-Kabir and Id-el-Maulud. Performances include charges on horseback, knife swallowers, camels, acrobats, snake charmers, drummers and horn blowers. The city has many good restaurants and accommodation options, and you’ll welcome the coffee and cake shops and Western food.


Although Nigeria’s capital city is Abuja, with a population of just under 1.5 million, it took over from Lagos as the country’s official capital only in 1991, and Lagos remains Nigeria’s largest and most overwhelmingly principal city. The city is the capital of Lagos State, lying in the southwestern corner of the country. It’s the smallest state in the federation, and occupies an area of just 3,577km², 22% (or 787km²) of which consists of lagoons and creeks. This is not much bigger than a British county, but with a vastly higher population density. It shares its boundaries with Ogun State in the north and east, the Republic of Benin to the west, and has 180km of Atlantic coastline to the south. The Nigerian name for Lagos is Eko. It wasn’t until the 17th century that the Portuguese renamed it Lagos, meaning ‘lagoons’.

Lagos is situated in one of the few gaps in the 200km-long sandbar that stretches from Benin to the eastern side of Lagos State. It lies in a swampy mangrove zone and is entirely flat, with no natural point being any higher than a metre or so above sea level. The metropolitan area covers three main islands and an ever-increasing section of the mainland spreading out in all directions. The waters of Lagos’s lagoons stretch from a few hundred metres to 15km across, and in recent years landfills in the lagoons have been used for urbanisation. The city is basically a collection of islands that are connected together and to the mainland by long bridges – similar to Manhattan in New York City, though the comparison stops there.

Sacred Groves of Oshogbo

Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its cultural significance, the forested sacred groves are Oshogbo’s main attraction, if not one of the biggest attractions in Nigeria (all the signs for them say ‘Sacred Grooves’). In the traditional Yoruba religion groves are sacred places reserved for rituals or shrines and Osun is today believed to be the last remaining one in the Yoruba culture – hence its inclusion as a World Heritage Site. The forest is a 75ha patch of delightful, butterfly-filled greenery that was once inhabited by the early settlers and founders of Oshogbo some 400 years ago.

Despite being completely surrounded by Oshogbo, the forest supports a remarkable diversity of monkeys, birds, snakes, forest antelopes and other fauna. The sacred nature of the forest means that it is protected, and none of the animals are hunted because they are regarded as physical manifestations of the goddess Osun. This is a rare example of protected rainforest in Nigeria, and an example of conservation as a local initiative, where indigenous people have endeavoured to protect their culture and their environment. Many of the animals in the groves, particularly the monkeys, are fairly tame and easy to see as they jump around overhead in the trees.

Yankari National Park

Yankari National Park and its Wikki Warm Spring is probably Nigeria’s best- known tourist attraction. It was upgraded to its present status as a national park by the government in 1991 and covers an area of 2,244km². Most of the park is made up of rolling hills of woodland savanna and is dominated by two rivers, the Gaji and the seasonal Yashi, that flow through the middle of the reserve, providing the main source of water for the wildlife.

The park was established in 1950 after the then Minister of Animal and Forest Resources went to Sudan and visited the White Nile Game Reserve, saw herds of elephant, antelope and buffalo, and decided that game reserves should be created in Nigeria. On his return he gazetted Yankari, which was a region already rich in game. Between 1955 and 1962, local hunters and farmers were moved out of the area, jeep tracks were ploughed through the forest to allow visitors to go on game drives, and a base camp was built close to Wikki Warm Spring. But in the 1970s and 1980s, wildlife populations declined dramatically due to a rinderpest epidemic and extensive and well-organised poaching by nomadic herdsmen. Marauding cattle were also sometimes killed by the lions, leading to retaliation by herdsmen.

Related books

For more information, see our guide to Nigeria: