Tuesday, April 29, 2008
Lagos today is regarded as Africa’s largest metropolis, which isn’t surprising considering its close to twenty million population, its rapidly developing structure and its streets flowing with life 24/7.
Lagos, with its African rhythms rising from every corner, the unusual human landscapes that surround you on all sides, and its definitely not-to-be-missed market places, sits on one of the world’s most mysterious continents.
It must be said however that this city differs slightly from the image of Africa most people carry around in their minds. The sheer density of traffic in the street, for example, will shock most newcomers, and seeing traditional market places side by side with giant outdoor shopping strips may strike those who picture an arid and under-developed Africa as strange at first.
But it is precisely this cosmopolitan atmosphere in the heart of the African continent that gives the city its own unique aesthetic.
THE PEOPLE MAKE THE CITY
Lagos has a lot in common with other very big and crowded cities: impossible traffic, large poor neighborhoods and areas where nobody should wander alone at night. When discovering Lagos we therefore recommend, for both safety and comfort, that you hire a private chauffeur through one of the hotels. This way you will also gain a reliable companion.
What’s more, you can tour the city at your leisure without being bound by a hard fast schedule. But to get a real insight into what is the heart of the city you must stroll through the people-packed narrow lanes and markets of Lagos Island, one of Africa’s most frantic and densely packed pedestrian districts and the city’s oldest quarter, and wander through its markets.
At first glance the streets appear to be one massive market. On further inspection, you soon realize that each section is selling one kind of product. The sights here include the Oba’s Palace, the National Museum and a few examples of Brazilian architecture.
Some cities become even more attractive through the people who live there, their outlook and their approach to you. Lagos is one of those cities. From street vendors to bank tellers, just about everyone here is going to be friendly.
WHAT TO SEE
One of the most attractive buildings is the National Museum on Awolowo Avenue, near Tafava Balewa Square, which is open every day. The Museum houses numerous exhibits of Nigeria’s ancient civilizations, including some famous bronze and terracotta sculptures.
Guides are available for a small fee but everything is labelled reasonably clearly so it’s easy enough to wander around by yourself. One of the most important displays is of the Benin bronze plaques that once adorned the royal palace at Benin City. At the back of the museum are a couple of craft huts selling interesting wood carvings. You can find very beautiful gift items here for your friends with a special interest in African culture.
Awolowo Avenue, where the museum is located and where you will also find all the good bookshops, is one of Lagos’s most beautiful areas. This avenue, with its fashionable boutiques and pricey restaurants, also boasts a number of embassies. If you have time, the Musical Society of Nigeria Centre (MUSON), just opposite the museum, in its well-kept gardens laid out in the style unique to West Africa is a must-see.
THE SALT AIR
It wouldn’t be right to speak of Lagos and not mention the sea. Lagos Harbor is the biggest and busiest in Africa, and hundreds of ships and tankers line up out to sea waiting to unload their cargos or be pumped full of oil at the Apapa Docks to the south of Lagos Island.
Of course, Lagos Island is not all there is to Lagos. You couldn’t be regarded as having done the city justice, for example, without seeing Ikoyi and Victoria Island. There is no noticeable border between the Lagos Island and Ikoyi except for a tangle of flyovers. Ikoyi lacks the frantic atmosphere and teeming streets of Lagos Island, but it does offer some shops and restaurants.
And the city’s most expensive and exclusive shops are also located here in southwest Ikoyi. Falomo Bridge connects Ikoyi with Victorian Island (VI for short), which is the location of many hotels, banks, offices, embassies, useful shops, and the best of Lagos’s restaurants.
Unlike Lagos Island or Awolowo Road, there’s little sense in walking around here as everything is spread out. Bar Beach is a very popular strand that runs along the south of Victoria Island parallel to Ahmadu Bello Way. Swimming is not recommended here, but you can walk along the shore and enjoy the view.
The best public beach near the city is Tarkwa Bay, a sheltered coastline where you can swim safely just six kilometers from the city center.
Lagos’s markets are all more colorful than the last. Strolling through Lekki Market, about nine kilometers from Victoria Island, is a favorite pastime in the city on afternoons and weekends. At the same time, you can buy beads, masks, small paintings and various items made of wood as well as fruit, vegetables and fresh fish at Ilasan Market, or Ola Fegushi.
If you bargain hard, this can be a cheaper place than other markets or shops in Lagos to buy such items. It’s actually best to go on a weekday, as prices are higher at the weekends when the tourists come. On the way back from the Market, shop at the recently completed Palms Shopping Mall and Entertainment Center, the start of a new era with its modern, 21st century
A final warning before we conclude. Credit cards are accepted in very few places in Lagos, but you can easily change euros or dollars into ‘naira’, the Nigerian currency, at one of the many exchange dealers.
In short, Lagos is one of the rare African cities that offers visitors both a modern holiday and an experience unique to West Africa, an alternative for those who want to make the acquaintance of a culture that is different from that of the continent’s other regions and from the classical notion of Africa.
Lagos is, most certainly, the business gateway to Nigeria and West Africa, a region rich in natural and cultural resources.