Lagos, Nigeria. Two words that evoke polarized emotions! Some people who have lived here for decades think it is great. Others, mostly short-term expatriates and business visitors, can’t wait to leave. After 13 years here, travelling in and out of the country sometimes three of four times a month, I can understand both points of view, but must stress that it is just not as bad as many make out! Security concerns are, I reckon, overblown – which doesn’t mean you throw caution to the winds and walk through Mushin at night with your new Rolex on display! Be aware, as they say.
Arriving on an international flight at Lagos airport can be a real test of one’s sense of humour/patience/sanity, but not necessarily in that order. Whatever they do to “improve” the place seems to backfire, and as one queues for ages for immigration, one has more than enough time to figure out how they could do it differently to make it easier for passengers. Just don’t ask “why didn’t they…..?”, it’s not worth it. And don’t point out the problems to any of the immigration facilities, nothing you can say will improve matters, and you might find you have committed some felony by opening your mouth.
Grin and bear it. Most flights from Europe, plus SAA, arrive in Lagos in the early evening, and the airport is hot and chaotic – for that reason don’t wear thick clothes (you don’t need them in Lagos anyway, at any time), and take a good book to read in the queue.
Through immigration, take a car hire (with driver, don’t even think of driving yourself, you’ll soon find out why) from one of the big names in the arrivals hall. There are dozens of touts offering taxis, ignore the lot of them, their cars are rubbish. And you never do know whether they are safe (be aware….). Keep your car doors locked at all time. You can also exchange money at the Bureau de Change in the airport – touts are, again, outside, and to be avoided, for fear of fake notes, not to mention the police.
On the road in your taxi, you’ll see why driving itself is not recommended! The roads are incredibly congested for most of the time. And it is to be doubted whether the driving test (Ed. You think they took a driving test?!) included anything about lane discipline, or consideration for other road users. So, sit back, with that good book you brought, and let the driver fight it out. The airport is in the north of the city, where there are a lot of businesses, industrial concerns, all the airlines and the Lagos State government – if that’s where you need to be, it is a 20 minute drive from the international terminal – or make that an hour in heavy traffic!
Hotels in Ikeja include the Sheraton, currently undergoing a complete face lift, 3 Protea hotels and a couple of Best Westerns, plus a brace of Ibis hotels. Under construction are a Renaissance, possibly opening in 2016, and a Marriott, slated for 2018.
Downtown Lagos, which is Victoria Island (VI), Ikoyi, Lagos Island and Lekki, is where most of the business activity is located, and consequently the main hotels, restaurants, bars and other leisure spaces. To get there, your driver will take you across the Third Mainland Bridge, an awesome piece of engineering, from which you will see the lagoon that characterizes Lagos – wherever you look, you see water. It was once a very beautiful city, of which you sometimes see glimpses.
The trouble with Third Mainland is that it is one of only two routes from the airport to the south of the city, and although it is the best of the two, it is quite incredibly congested during peak hours. Even at 5.30am the Bridge is clogged going south, and in the afternoon the traffic starts building up from 4pm (got another book with you?!). Outside of those periods, it is terrific.
Down in the south of the city, there are many hotels from which to choose, from the gigantic Eko Hotel in Victoria Island to the small boutique-style Wheatbaker and George hotels in Ikoyi. Best to choose a hotel within easy reach of where you are doing business, because of traffic. Global and regional brands such as Radisson Blu, InterContinental, Best Western, Southern Sun and Four Points all have a presence in VI and Ikoyi, and expect to pay anything from US$300 upwards per night, breakfast extra. Yes, Lagos is an expensive city. There are also several very good small, independent hotels, such as La Cour and Bogobiri, which offer value for money, but not the extensive facilities available in the big boys.
All the big hotels have a variety of dining experiences – both the InterContinental and the Eko have Chinese restaurants, and buffets serving Nigerian and “foreign” dishes are popular – try the one at the Southern Sun. Eating out is expensive, but the portions tend to be large, something to remember when ordering in a Chinese restaurant! Try Talindos for great steak, Ocean Blue for fish, ChinaVille for Chinese, and Lagoon for Lebanese and for a Brazilian Churrasco. For more casual eating and drinking, try Shades (a new Sports Bar, with a big screen) and Crust and Cream. The latter is a patisserie, with a great ambience and good food, but the service is slow. But then, with the traffic and all that, you can never do anything in Lagos in a hurry!
To get around the city, take an air-conditioned car hire from your hotel – there are yellow taxis cruising the streets, but whilst cheap, their cars are pretty dreadful, without air-conditioning, so I advise against it. Whether in a car hire or a taxi, you have to know how to get where you are going, as most of the drivers don’t know street or place names. The concierge desks in the hotels are there to help, and Google maps has good coverage of the city.
If you have time for souvenir shopping, try Lekki market, about 30 minutes from VI, and whilst on the way there, drop into Nike’s Art gallery, which is just off the Lekki-Epe Expressway.
On the way out of Lagos, leave 5 hours before your flight’s scheduled departure time. Yes, that’s right, 5 hours. You just cannot be sure of the traffic! A journey which would take you 30 minutes with no traffic, could take 3 hours at peak periods.
At the airport, it is all fairly normal, well, as normal as it was coming in. queues to check in for the USA and European flights can be lengthy, but if you only have hand baggage you can normally “prioritise yourself”, if you know what I mean. There are lots of business class lounges airside, most of which take Priority Pass, I like the SDS one on the ground floor, and the ASL one upstairs. If you can’t get into any of them, the Heineken lounge (the big green one!) is nice, and has free Wi-Fi (and coffee, and beer, of course, but you have to pay for that).
So, when are we seeing you back here??!!
W Hospitality Group, Lagos