Lagos Nigeria: Navigating a Megacity

Lagos' legendary traffic is not for the faint of heart.
Lagos’ legendary traffic is not for the faint of heart.

Survival Tips For Your First Visit to Lagos, Nigeria

By Chinelo Ngere

Shopping stalls in Lagos, Nigeria, one of the world's most crowded cities.
Shopping stalls in Lagos, Nigeria, one of the world’s most crowded cities.

The city of Lagos, Nigeria can take you from a momentary depression to an intense rave in seconds.

It is a city that never sleeps with more than a few good remarks to its name. Most cities have a culture that is unique to them but Lagos is filled with much more than that.

Lagos’ Innate Charm

It is the pride of the people and foreigners soon grow an affection for it as they soak in the city’s effortless beauty and innate charm.

You can’t deny the magnetic pull the city has on everything around it. People come from all over the world to get a piece of its wondrous nightlife, and eccentric traditions. Take a trip to Eko, the center of excellence.

The city is kind to those who know their way around it but for people who are new to its ways, here are a few survival tips from, that will help you get by in this rough and tumble megacity.

Hold On to Your Belongings

Lagos is generally safe when you’re nicely tucked into your home. While touring the city, visiting markets, exploring the zoos and museums, watch your bags and phones. It is not uncommon to have your phone snatched from you while making a call by an open car window.

Street hawkers have been known to connive and steal valuables from slowly moving vehicles. It’s best to travel light but next time you’re in a busy place in Lagos, be on the look-out for suspicious activity.

Mind Your Car in Lagos

Mind your car, it may get stolen in Lagos
Mind your car, it may get stolen in Lagos

“I remember the night I lost my car in Lagos. I had gone out to a club and parked it at a corner right outside. By the time I was ready to return home, my car was gone.

I guess that’s the price you have to pay to really live in this city,” said Godson from Lagos.

Lagos is best explored via your own vehicle as the public transportation system is not very easy to navigate to first-time visitors.

If you are traveling the city with a private vehicle, you might want to take note of a few things others probably wouldn’t be bothered with. Firstly, be mindful of where you park your car, car theft is common in areas of high activity.

Also, when things go wrong, ask around for a trusted mechanic to take a look at your car. You don’t want to be stuck with a car that’s worse off after a visit to the workshop.

See more travel advice for Nigeria here.

All Roads Connect

As the former capital of Nigeria, Lagos is one of those cities with an amazing road network. Even though some of these roads aren’t in tip-top shape, they were designed to provide ease of transportation. With more road construction going on across the city, you don’t have to worry about getting lost.

You will encounter places where every street has a turning and that turning leads to another street which then takes you to the road that leads you home. Miss your turning and in a few minutes you’re back on track.

Traffic Can Be Hellish in Lagos, Leave Early

Can 3,500 square kilometers really contain 20 million people? You’ll find the answer at rush hour when throngs of cars, buses, and commercial motorcycles battle it out on the roads with everyone rushing to be somewhere as quickly as possible.

Some days are good and others, well, not so good. Some of the worst days to deal with traffic are Mondays and Fridays.

Boys playing in a Lagos neighborhood.
Boys playing in a Lagos neighborhood.

Some say the heavy traffic on Mondays is due to the number of people traveling from their homes on the Mainland to their temporary homes on the Island for close proximity to work, while the traffic on Fridays is as a result of the same people heading back to their homes for the weekend.

Unpredictable Traffic

Lagos traffic can be unpredictable; you could find yourself stuck in the worst kind of traffic after a heavy downpour or an accident that occurred 50 kilometers from your route.

To stop your travel plans from getting ruined, leave extra early, and plan your trip with an hour or two as a buffer for any unexpected traffic delays.

“The first day I got to Lagos, I met traffic I had never experienced before. I won’t be caught in that kind of traffic again. I either travel very early in the morning or late in the afternoon,” said Doyin from Lagos.

Oh The Places You’ll Go

Cash comes in very handy in certain situations in Lagos.
Cash comes in very handy in certain situations in Lagos.

Explore the city, visit the malls, tread the unbeaten path, getting lost is a good way to find yourself. The city of Lagos has many avenues for you to get lost in, from adventures at the seaside to Eureka moments at the museum.

You will always have places to go and sometimes you may get caught up in the thrill of it all and venture out into places you really shouldn’t be.

Imagine visiting the most magnificent place you’ve ever seen and only 10 minutes away is a local slum known for nefarious activities.

“Wow! Lagos is beautiful. I wasn’t impressed by what I saw at first coming into the city but then a friend took me to Lekki Conservation Park. It was filled with lots of animals and my friend and I went on a jungle adventure through the bushes. It was so much fun. I will definitely be visiting Lagos again soon,” said David, a visitor to Lagos.

Before you take a road trip around Lagos, make a list of everywhere you want to go and look it up on a map. Google Maps will also help you with directions but just to be sure, ask a Lagosian about the reputation of such places. You have to be extra careful if you want to survive this city.

Carry a Reasonable Amount of Cash

Traveling any major African city has its perks; you get to experience the new wave of African civilization and also get a taste of what’s left of Africa’s past. Lagos is very much like that, as its many spots and historical buildings speak very highly of the city without uttering a word. To get around the city, however, you would need some backup.

Money can get many things done in Lagos. You need it to settle an argument, please your helpers and appease the men at the top. Get out your cash but don’t empty your wallet, Lagos is friendly to both light and heavy spenders.

If you want to have enough control over how your day goes – what you eat, where you stay and where you go – carry a few notes with you, it would save you a ton in the end.

Haggle till the End

Financial transactions of all kinds are conducted at every point in time on the streets of Lagos. What you might call a heated bargain is simply an exercise of sizing the customer up before a sale is made. Many sellers can tell when you’re new to the game.

They might try to extort you with exorbitant prices of goods or services. Don’t let that get to you, we all love a good chat even if it’s with a salesman trying to rip us off. Buyers are also guilty of this misdemeanor as they try to avoid getting ripped off by haggling too low. The only rule you have to remember is this – pay as little as you can and if you’re selling, charge as high as you can. Follow these unspoken rules and you’ll be fine.

Always see what you're buying before you give money in the market.
Always see what you’re buying before you give money in the market.

People Selling Stuff on the Road

“On my way back from work, I had to get some groceries but I didn’t have the time to stop at a local shop. I quickly bought all the things I needed from people selling by the side of the road.

Each seller charged a different price for the same fruit, after several stops I resorted to bargaining my way to the price I wanted,” said Aisha from Lagos.

Take Lessons in Yoruba

People love to get familiar with one another. The moment you mention that you and someone else have a common background a spark lights up and the two of you become best pals.

This natural human instinct has been exploited by salespeople to get on the good side of their prospective customers.

You too can borrow a leaf and use it to your advantage. Getting closer to even the passer-by can earn you traveler points that you would have foregone without an introduction. After establishing a connection with the people you come across, they become friendlier and more willing to help.

You may not always have something in common with the people of Lagos but one thing that brings us together is a common language. Keep your ear down and ask for the meanings of words and phrases, and in no time, you’ll be able to handle a basic conversation in Yoruba, earning you those traveler points that you so desperately want.

“I found it hard to learn Yoruba at first but when I set my mind to it, I got to know the language bit by bit. Now it’s very easy for me to make new friends in Lagos,”
said Gloria from Lagos.

See Before You Pay

Many a great man has been swindled by the appealing words of the average Lagosian. Whenever you make a purchase in Lagos, don’t part with your money until you can see what you’re paying for. Whether it’s a fruit or a house or a bus ticket, check out their sources and their previous business especially when it comes to real estate.

You don’t want to pay rent on an apartment for two years only to find out that it was never for rent in the first place. That can be heartbreaking, so to avoid that, check and double-check your sources, look for customer reviews, and be vigilant.

If you’re just making a small purchase that you cannot extensively research, be sure to collect the goods before you actually pay for them. It’s a Lagos trick few outsiders know.

Travel with a friend through the streets of Lagos.Travel With A Friend

While exploring the city, you will come across places that are just perfect for two – the beach, the clubs, the amusement parks, all couple magnets.

You may not go out with your significant other, but see the city with a companion; one that would stir you in the right direction when you get lost and also help you avoid the lonely look at parties on Victoria Island.

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