Nigeria has hundreds of miles of breathtaking coastline, exquisite national parks and fascinating ancient sites. Whilst known for its oil industry, the perceptions of Nigeria are changing. Many people are discovering that the vast majority of the country is welcoming and inspiring. However, don’t be mistaken into thinking that if you’ve been to one part of Africa you’ll be ready for Nigeria. There’s nowhere quite like this country, anywhere else on the continent!
The vibrant population, the largest in Africa, works hard and plays hard, so whether you’re coming for business or pleasure, don’t expect to get much sleep. Lagos, the business capital, is also home for over 10 million people. This metropolis suffers from chronic traffic congestion, but so long as you let someone else suffer the driving, Lagos offers an exciting nightlife. With a superb live music scene and top-class restaurants you can quickly become part of Nigerian life. Lagos may not be to everyone’s taste, but if you’re up for an urban adventure this city is the place to visit.
From Lagos to Abuja, from Kano to Calabar food is an important part of Nigerian life. Seafood, beef, poultry, and goat are the primary sources of protein. Yet, with so many different cultures food varies greatly. In the south a variety of soups containing tomatoes, onions, red pepper, and palm oil are prepared with okra and meat or fish. Rice, beans and root vegetables are eaten everywhere, but in the north millet and wheat are a large part of the diet. Well treated 'goat head' and fish pepper soup are special delicacies. Be aware that many dishes are flavoured with chillies.
Music and dance are integral to Nigerian culture with traditional instruments such as flutes, trumpets, xylophones and drums. Music is used to accompany public assemblies, weddings and funerals, festivals and storytelling. When it comes to sport football is a national obsession, which to the Nigerian’s is more than pure passion, it is utter devotion.
2. What should tourists bring?
- Passport valid for at least a further 6 months, with two blank pages and required visa (see section below)
- Medical insurance documents (see section below)
- Photocopies of the above – separate from the originals, which should be kept with you at all times.
- Travel vaccination certificate
- Casual wear for men - a lightweight suit and tie are only necessary for businesspeople on formal meetings; on most other occasions men will not need to wear a jacket, although a tie might be expected
- Women should dress modestly, and respect local customs regarding dress, particularly in the Muslim north. It is inadvisable for women to wear trousers.
- Rainwear is essential during the rainy season and a warm wrap is for the cooler north
- Nigeria is a cash economy - ensure that you bring enough currency of Pounds Sterling, US Dollars or Euros to cover your costs
- Credit-cards are rarely accepted - because of the prevalence of credit card fraud, their use is ill-advised. Changing traveller's cheques can also be problematic
- An International Driving Permit, accompanied by two passport-size photos are required should you wish to hire a car.
- Insect repellent – mosquitoes and other biting insects are common, even in the cities.
- Suntan cream, sunglasses and a hat – temperatures are typically over 30 degrees and the sun is intense
- Adapter plugs – sockets take the 3 rectangular-pronged, British type plugs or the Indian type 3 round-pin plug. These are different from the sockets of USA, Europe, South Africa & Australia
- Note that the import of Champagne, sparkling wine, beer, mineral water and soft drinks; fruits, vegetables, cereals and eggs, whether fresh or preserved are prohibited.
- The following items can only be brought with you for personal use during a temporary stay, but must be taken with you upon departure: jewellery and precious metals; textile fabrics and mosquito netting.
3. Location & climate
Nigeria is situated in West Africa and has borders with Niger to the north, Chad (across Lake Chad) to the northeast, Cameroon to the east and Benin to the west. To the south is the Gulf of Guinea.
The capital, Abuja, is located in the centre of the country and has a population of about 1.4 million. Lagos, which was the capital until 1991, is in the south-west of the country on the coast. It is the world’s largest urban agglomeration with over 10 million people. Kano, Nigeria’s third largest city and West Africa’s oldest city is situated in the trans-Saharan trade route of the north.
The country’s topography and vegetation vary considerably. The coastal region is a low-lying area of lagoons, sandy beaches and mangrove swamps, which merge into an area of rainforest. Here it is hot and humid with a rainy season from March to November.
Further north the landscape changes to savannah and open woodland, rising to the Central Jos Plateau at 1,800m, near Abuja. The northern part of the country is desert and semi-desert, marking the southern extent of the Sahara. Here the rainy season is from July to September. During the dry season, the Harmattan wind blows from the Sahara and nights can be cold in December and January.
4. Visas and passports
All visitors are required to have a visa to Nigeria except for citizens of countries belonging to Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
The following documentation is required for all visa applications:
- Passport valid for a minimum of six months beyond the date of departure
- Completed application form
- Travel Itinerary - including hotel booking or invitation letter from friends / family
- One passport photo
- Proof of funds, bank statements, credit card statements OR a foreign exchange receipt
In addition to normal visa requirements, application for visa by minors should be accompanied with the following:
- full Birth Certificate
- a photocopy of same showing names of parents
- letter of consent from parents
- photocopies of parents' passports
In addition to normal visa requirements, application for business visas should be accompanied with the following:
- company letter explaining nature of business and category visa required
- invitation letter from host in Nigeria explaining nature of business
- Visa fees vary widely depending on nationality, but some examples are given below:
- Tourist: Single-entry, (3 months): South Africans $58; British $144; Americans $112
- Multiple-entry tourist & business visas: South Africans $103; British $472; Americans $112
- All applications are subject to an additional processing fee.
Visas generally take five to ten days to process.
5. People & language
There are over 250 ethnic groups in Nigeria, speaking over 400 languages. The principal groups are the Hausa in the north, the Igbo in the southeast and the Yoruba in the southwest and the three main Nigerian languages follow from these. Although nearly everyone understands and respects English, picking up a little of the language associated with the region in which you’re in, will earn you some extra smiles. All business, media and indeed education is conducted in English.
Calabar, in the south-east of the country, was a major slave trade port from the late 17th to 19th centuries during British colonial rule, from where approximately 25-30% of all African slaves left the continent. The main ethnic group taken out of Calabar as slaves were the Igbo. Nigeria became independent in 1960 and the fact is proudly celebrated. Nigerians have a very strong sense of their ethnic allegiance.
This ethnic variety has produced a diversity of art, dance, language, music, customs and crafts. The country is roughly divided into a Muslim north and a Christian south with 5% of the population holding traditional beliefs. Whatever the religion, whether urban or rural the family is the central institution and much of Nigerian life (after business) is focused upon family events.
6. Currency and exchange rates
The local currency is the Naira (NGN; symbol ?), divisible by 100 kobo. Notes are in denominations of ?500, 200, 100, 50, 20, 10 and 5. Coins are in denominations of ?1 and kobo 25, 10, 5 and 1.
There are no restrictions on the import and export of local currency or foreign currency but foreign currency amounts must be declared. Trading on the black market is not advisable Only exchange currency at the official rate, at approved exchange facilities, such as your hotel.
Exchange rates are typically:
1GBP = 227 NGN
1USD = 150 NGN
1EUR = 188 NGN
Banking Hours are Mon 0800-1500, Tue-Fri 0800-1330
7. Airports and attractions
Nigeria has three international airports in Lagos, Abuja and Kano. Lagos is the busiest hub, receiving regular flights from all major African and European cities and New York. Abuja has international connections with Ghana, Egypt, Ethiopia, Dubai, Netherlands, Germany, United Kingdom and the USA. Kano also has a few international connections to North and West African cities, Saudi and Amsterdam. There are various daily flights between Lagos, Abuja and Kano and other principle domestic airports such as Calabar in Cross River State.
Lagos Murtala Muhammed International Airport (LOS) is 22km north of Lagos and taxis take about 40 minutes to reach the city centre. Beware of con artists posing as local immigration and other government officials. If you are expecting a greeter or driver to collect you ensure that you obtain proper identification.
From Lagos visit:
- Ibadan market - reputedly one of the biggest in Nigeria
- Jankara Market on Lagos Island - bargain for locally dyed cotton and hand-woven cloth
- National Museum - one of the best in Africa. Marvel at the craftsmanship in Benin bronzes, intricate wooden doorways, tribal masks and decorative house posts
- Tafawa Balewa Square - a huge arena adorned by gargantuan horses
- Iga ldungaran - the official residence of the Oba (King) of Lagos, built during the 18th century. For inspection, call the Secretary (Tel: 656397)
- Tarkwa Bay - sheltered beach with safe swimming along the Lagos harbour. Only accessible by boat from Maroko or under Falomo Bridge on Victoria Island.
- Lekki Beach - down the Lekki Peninsula about 30 miles from Lagos. Peaceful, tranquil and ideal for privacy. The perfect contrast to the hustle and bustle of Victoria Island’s Bar Beach
- Kwara State, north of Lagos – visit the steepest natural waterfall in West Africa, Owu Falls and Imoleboja Rock Shelter - an enormous granite rock with natural alcove
Abuja Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (ABV) is 35km from the city and taxis take about 50 minutes to reach the city centre. From Abuja visit:
- Go rock climbing and hill walking in the Gawa, Gwagwa, Chukuku and Agwai hills
- Aso Rock - a massive granite rock located close to the city. Visit at night to experience this mighty rock at its most mysterious
- International Conference Centre – built in 1991 as Abuja became the capital city
- National Mosque whose architectural design is still one of the best in the Muslim world
- Modern architectural masterpieces
- National Assembly Complex
- Eagle Square
- Ship House
- Federal Secretariat
Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport (KAN) is 8km north of Kano and taxis take 25 minutes to reach the city centre. From Kano visit:
- The festival of Sallah - celebrated three months after the feast of Eid al-Fitr. Festivities last for several days, with horseback processions, musicians and dancers
- The walled old town of Kano - formerly the largest of the ancient Hausa cities & a major crossroads in the Saharan trade routes
Calabar Airport has direct connections to both Abuja and Lagos, with frequent daily flights taking just over an hour. From Calabar visit:
- Calabar Museum – fine colonial architecture, built in Glasgow and erected on Consular Hill in 1884. Learn the history of Calabar, from slavery to the palm oil trade
- Drill Monkey Sanctuary - primate rehabilitation and research
- Calabar Christmas Carnival – join the annual festivities on the 26th of December – an alluring showcase of talents, the performing arts and culture
- Calabar Beach - can only be reached by boat or canoe, lending visitors the luxury of privacy in a beautiful setting off the beaten path
- Nollywood Studios – visit the studios of the second largest film industry in the world
- Calabar Marina Resort – take a speed boat ride or hear the preserved experiences of slaves at the beachside Slave Museum
- Cross River National Park – just an hour away, search for forest elephant, buffalo, Mbe gorilla and leopard within the unique rainforest vegetation
- Obudu Mountain Cable Car – five hours drive from Calabar is Africa’s longest cable car system, taking you to a fabulous water-park and awe-inspiring canopy walkway in the Sankwala Mountains
8. Medical & health
The following vaccines and medications are recommended for travel to Nigeria:
- Yellow Fever vaccine
- Typhoid vaccine
- Hepatitis A vaccine
- Hepatitis B vaccine
- Polio vaccine – check the date of your last vaccination. Boosters are required every 10 years and Polio is still endemic in Nigeria
- Rabies vaccine is recommended for travellers spending a lot of time outdoors, especially in rural areas
- Meningococcal meningitis vaccine is recommended for visits to the north and west of the country during the dry season of December to June, when periodic epidemics occur
- Malaria prevention medicine, but note that Chloroquine is NOT effective in Nigeria
African Sun hotels purify their own water although visitors are advised to take bottled water. Drink only bottled or boiled water, or carbonated (bubbly) drinks in cans or bottles. Avoid tap water, fountain drinks, and ice cubes. Avoid dairy products, unless you know they have been pasteurized.
Bear in mind that not all medication that you have access to at home may be available here. If you are taking regular medication take care to pack efficient supplies. Private healthcare facilities are of a good standard, but often request immediate cash payment, therefore medical insurance is essential.