Category Archives: Lagos

Guide to Banjul, Gambia

A guest post By @Varyanne

Getting There : I went to Banjul through Lagos, having used Kenya Airways (KQ) to get to Lagos for approx. $900 that was paid by the host organization. I then used Arik Air from Lagos to Banjul which was a three hour flight, and the ticket cost approx. $700, also paid by the host organization.

On Arrival: First, having come from Nairobi, which was cold at the time, walking out of the plane (in Lagos) felt like stepping into a sauna that was pre-heated for too long. I heard there was air conditioning but they might as well have spent the money on some kind of indoor sprinkler system.

I met two other Kenyans who were going to the Africa Commission on Human Rights Conference so I stuck around with them. We got help from one of the immigration officers who collected the passports from all transiting passengers. He didn’t give a reason, but he was the immigration officer so we were in safe hands, we hoped. The officer walked us through what seemed like a maze without telling us where we were going, but he was very friendly so it didn’t matter, and we walked with him through many security check points till we ended up in an office with a big industrial fan that seemed to be blowing more hot air than fanning.

Since our flight from Lagos to Banjul was eight hours away, we went to find ‘VIP’ lounges where we could shower and enjoy proper air conditioning, and Wi-Fi of course. We left the officer filling in our passport details in some kind of register, with the understanding that we were to go back to the office 3 hours before the flight to Banjul. We paid $40 to get into one lounge which offered a plate of food, good Wi-Fi, showers, escape from the sauna and as many drinks as we wanted, soft or otherwise. The immigration officer made the trip easy for us, we didn’t have to pay for anything in Lagos.Banjul airport

We finally got to Banjul at 2 a.m. on 22nd April having left Nairobi on the 21st at 9a.m. At Banjul airport, we had to pay $25 for entry clearance, but residents in the ECOWAS region did not have to pay. Curiously, travelers in our group including Germans, Singaporean, and Americans did not have to pay either.

Getting Around: There are yellow and green taxis (both saloon cars) which are used for public transportation in Gambia. The yellow taxis are more like the public buses or ‘matatus’ in Kenya, while the green taxis are the…cabs, which are costlier. Generally the yellow taxis charge 8 Dalasi (20 Kes) for short distances, while the green cabs charged me 150 Dalasi (350 Kes / ~3.50) to go from the venue of the conference to the hotel where I was staying and back to the conference venue – about 15km total.carving

I saw a group of young people walking leisurely at 11pm on my way back to the hotel, and I imagine it is safe to walk in Banjul than it is to walk in Nairobi.

The official language in Gambia is Wolof, which replaced English in 2014 when President Yahya Jammeh declared English a colonial relic. Most people I met spoke English so communication wasn’t difficult.

I used Gambian Dalasi while there and spent on average 800 Dalasi daily ($20) on food and transportation.

Staying In Touch: While there, I did not make any calls from my phone. I relied on Wi-Fi at the hotel and at the conference venue to send messages and to make calls (on whatsapp). I was only there for three days so I didn’t see the need to get a SIM card, and the most popular telco in Gambia is Airtel.

beach houseWhere to Stay: I stayed at Lemon Creek hotel and the other Kenyans stayed at Kairaba Beach hotel. From the two, it seemed like it costs between $100 to $300 to stay in a slightly above 3-star and slightly below 4-star hotel. Both hotels were right by the beach, and we had no complaints.

There was no power outage during my stay.

Eating Out: Since I didn’t leave the hotel or the conference venue, I didn’t get to find out what the local dishes were. I did however eat more tomato soup than I have in my entire life, on this trip. meal

Odd Points: The policemen (I didn’t see any policewomen) are extremely friendly. At any stop, the policemen would have a quick minute of chitchat with whoever the driver was. They weren’t as stern looking or as up-to-no-good looking as the kind of policemen I’m used to seeing.


Guide to Lagos

Guest post by MVQ

Intro: Lagos is not the most tourist-friendly city in the world but it does provide a good taste of West African culture and is a “must see” destination for anyone looking to do pan-African business. As locals will tell you, there aren’t many sites to see, there are only a few beaches that are tourist-friendly, and the congestion can be quite overwhelming. But if you can get over that, you are in for a cultural treat, an enviable nightlife, and a peek into one of the most dynamic African markets.

Getting There: I took the KQ flight from Nairobi to Lagos and it was actually quite nice and relaxing. Lagos’ airport is a blast from the past, it appeared as if it hadn’t been updated in decades and upon entry the only sign of modernity is a large monitor with adverts near customs.

The customs process though was surprisingly efficient. Mine was the only flight to have arrived at the time and there were 5 customs counters, with 3 for non-citizens that moved fairly swiftly. You need to get a Nigerian visa in advance to get through customs (give yourself 2 weeks to get the visa, as you must hand over your passport, pay ~$100 for US/UK, $50 for other countries, and prove that you have a destination in Nigeria.) You will also need a yellow fever card

To my surprise I was able to get through customs in about ten minutes – and based on the reaction of my friends though, this is a rare occurrence. Apparently customs is a major pain and you must pay for expedited service (there is some rumor that the expediters and the customs agents may be in cahoots.)

Despite not wrapping my luggage, it came out in one piece. Later I was warned by frequent travellers that Lagos airport is one of the more risky destinations for “open” luggage, so my advice is to try to get your luggage shrink-wrapped before flying into Lagos.

Getting Around: When I got out of the airport, the cab drivers were quite aggressive, and I ended up riding in to the city with a friend. My advice is to try to get your contact in town to send a car for you to avoid the aggressive cabbies. If you can’t get a car, then you should expect to pay 5,000 Naira for the 30 minute to an hour long ride into the city.

When in the city the best way to get around is via a car service or taxi. Try to link with a reliable driver, and for newcomers, Red Cab is generally a pretty safe option. Each cab ride should cost you between 2-3,000 Naira ($13-20) if traveling in the Lekki, VI, Ikoyi, or Yaba areas, and you should clarify the price up front.

Do not walk around by yourself at night and take caution during the day, and look out for the Okadas, (“kamikaze moto taxis”) which are the fastest, but most dangerous means of transport around Lagos.

Communications: The best way to communicate is via mobile phone, and you can buy a SIM card for prepaid minutes upon arrival. Most people here have two phones from different carriers as the services are known to go out every now and again. I signed up with MTN and was reasonably happy with it; I plugged it into my Ideos Android phone and used the prepaid airtime for voice, data, and to create a wifi hotspot for my laptop. Other major players are Airtel (Zain), and Etisalat.

Hotels: The hotels in Lagos are very expensive as the mid to high end hotel market is sparse. The Sheraton Four Points, Radisson Blu, Southern Sun, Eko, and Federal Palace are probably the most tourist friendly and range in price from $300 to $600 per night.

Getting Around: The people in Lagos are fairly aggressive, but they all mean very well and are generally quite kind. I found that I received amazing hospitality from friends and colleagues in Lagos. The Nigeria pride is real!

English is the primary language in Lagos, though you do hear Pidgin, Hausa, Yoruba, Ebo, and other languages. The best paper to get while here is “The Punch” – and , though there are about 4 mainstream papers, expect about half the pages to be filled with full page ads and “congratulatory” statements about public officials.

Food & Bars: You must try the local food when in Lagos, and specialities like Fufu, Melon Seed, Okrah Soup, Suya, and Pepper Soup are staples. If you like spicy food then you will love the food in Lagos.

Star beer dominates, and you can get a large bottle for 800 Naira ($5.) I strongly recommend Star over Gulder (the other local favorite), as it has a good taste and is fairly ubiquitous.

Electricity: Be warned – power transmission is very unpredictable in Lagos. Even in the most affluent neighborhoods one power outage a day is not uncommon and some areas will go for weeks without power. After the first two outages you will get used to it – just make sure that your phone, laptop, etc. are always charged up!

Summary: Overall, Lagos is a great experience. The frenzy, the opulence, the fashion, the food, the traffic, the beaches, the hospitality, and the excitement are all palpable. Enjoy your trip!