There’s no denying it: Nigeria is massive. And, despite the cynics’ claims that size doesn’t matter, you realize that in West Africa, where just a few kilometers separate one intriguing ethnic group from another, or when crossing the Obudu Plateau separates Guinean savannah grasses from luscious tropical rainforest, it does! The idea is that Nigeria is a multi-colored and multi-religious country.
Its personality alters and transforms almost as gracefully as a white-throated monkey swings between the jungle’s branches. It has Abuja’s massive sprawl, which is one of the world’s fastest-growing urban centers. Then there’s Lagos, with a population of 17.5 million people who have yet to find time to relax on the Atlantic beaches.
Nigeria’s multiple faces continue as you move out from the cities and into the countryside. This time they peer like humans in the form of chimpanzees from the forest-clad gorges of the Gashaka Gumti. Or, they are plumed in pink like the black cranes of the Bade-Nguru Wetlands. It’s all extremely interesting.
Lets explore the best places to visit in Nigeria:
Calabar is a well-honed tourist stop-off on the way through to Cameroon or the southern Nigerian coast. Serving as a gateway to the reserves of the Cross River (the state of which Calabar is the capital) and the further-flung rainforests of the Afi Mountains (home to gorillas, chimps, rare rockfowl, and craggy peaks of stone).
Before heading out to the beautiful monkey sanctuaries outside of town, stop by the Calabar Museum to learn about the city’s darker past – Calabar was once one of the most important slave-trading ports in West Africa.
The Duke Town Chapel, one of Nigeria’s oldest Christian worshiping institutions, is also worth a visit.
Frenetic and packed, Lagos is not only the largest city in Nigeria, but also the single largest on the entire African continent.
Yep, nearly 18 million people call this one home, and boy does it show! Throbbing streets of beer bars and clubs pepper the districts of Ikeja and Victoria Island, where ex-pats and sailors and locals alike chat over frothy brews.
There are also salt-washed promenades on the coast, and the beautiful reaches of Lagos Bar Beach – a sloping stretch of golden sand that meets the waves of the Atlantic Ocean in style.
Meanwhile, jet skis purr across Tarkwa Bay, and the sobering histories of the slave trade continue to move at the Point of No Return.
The regional capital of the Ogun State is nestled inland, straight north of bustling Lagos, surrounded by vast swaths of yam fields and maize farms, swaying forested savanna, and palm oil plantations.
Because of its strategic location on major trade routes connecting the coast and West Africa’s interior, previous residents built adobe defenses around the ancient town, many of which may still be seen today.
The bulbous rises of the Olumo Rock, which climbs atop the town, draw the eye the most.
This historic natural fort is home to a fantastic cultural museum, a craft market offering local artwork, and caves that depict the Ogun region’s human past in general.
Yankari National Park
This well-maintained national park will not let you down, regardless of whether you travel from Abuja east to the Yankari or from Gombe south to the Yankari in search of the roaming herds of African elephants (which are said to be the most numerous on the continent) or the intriguing relics of earlier peoples in the caves.
Because more than 20,000 people come here each year for ecotourism, the area is well-served by hotels and tour companies.
Don’t forget to climb Kalban Hill’s lookouts or marvel at Tonlong Gorge’s sculpted rocks before you go.
Abuja isn’t the same as Lagos. There’s no grit or grime in this purpose-built community encircled by the gentle topography of the inland hills and divided into clearly defined districts that house businessmen in suits and politicians. The capital is a nice place to unwind after being in the middle of all the action and vigor of the coastal megalopolis, so that’s good news.
There are also interesting sights like the Abuja Millennium Park and the beautiful Abuja National Mosque’s four spear-like minarets that herald it.
Wuse Market is a great place to go shopping, while the National Assembly Complex gives visitors a look at how the country’s political system has evolved.
Ibadan, the state capital and former bastion of the Oyo Empire, has a rich historical and cultural heritage that can be found all over the city.
Although those streets do stretch forever (some estimate that Ibadan is Africa’s single largest metropolis by geographic extent), finding the intriguing portions can be a real challenge. Traditional Egungun robes meet tribal war drums and more in the National Museum of Ibadan exhibit rooms, a fantastic place to start.
Try to find the Bower Memorial Tower after that, and then explore Mapo Hall’s colonial-style facades.
Kainji Lake National Park
Nigeria’s north-western region is home to several natural wonders, but one of them isn’t really natural.
Yes, the Kainji Lake in the Kainji Lake National Park is actually a reservoir that was built in 1968 and is currently surrounded by game reserves that have been designated as conservation areas for the local wildlife.
The Borgu region, located on the river’s western bank, is home to a smattering of Guinean woods and grasslands, as well as hippopotami, roan antelopes, and baboons that swing from tree to tree.
Finally, the reservoir appears, with ancient jungles descending to the croc-spotted waters below.
Gashaka Gumti National Park
The Gashaka Gumti National Park, in the country’s extreme southeast, is approximately 6,000 square kilometers in size and offers stunning views around every corner.
There are twisting rivers, riparian habitats, and uncommon avian species like the red-faced lovebird in this Nigerian game reserve, which was formed in 1991 after the merger of two famous game reserves in Nigeria.
Elephants and African golden cats will be your traveling companions while in the field.
Chimps can be found swinging from the trees in the forests, while buffalos can be found around watering holes everywhere.
A green and leafy town that’s nestled almost equidistance between the Cross River National Park (the home of Nigeria’s gorillas) and the delta of the River Niger (where the Bayelsa National Forest has baby chimps), Enugu certainly doesn’t want for natural attractions.
In fact, that prime location close to some of the best natural draws of the Nigerian south-east is one of the main reasons tourists come here.
Others will enjoy the tidy streets and the low-rise buildings, the down-to-earth locals (the lifeblood of the small bottling and movie industries that have germinated here), and the gushing waterfalls and caves of the Ezeagu Tourist Complex – just on the edge of the city.
Okay, so it’s hardly a secret that industry comes first in the rambunctious oil boomtown of Port Harcourt.
A soaring population, endless developments of cookie-cutter tenements and the logos of major oil companies are just a few of the things this throbbing petroleum town wears on its sleeve.
And while the frenetic buzz of depots, trucks and tankers here certainly isn’t for everyone, the down-to-earth character of the place, mixed with a particularly raucous nightlife scene means that some will love the earthy, raw and unpretentious nature of it all
The tiny town of Erin-Ijesha is really only known for one thing and one thing only: it’s eponymous waterfall that crashes through the southern Nigerian jungles, spans two individual states, and counts as many as seven tiers in total! The beautiful water feature draws oodles of people to this tiny speck on the map a little way from the historic city of Ilesa.
The journey’s worth it though.
You’ll get to climb through the verdant woods and bathe in the cataracts as they crash over the cliffs.
You’ll learn about the forest spirits, and even discover the nearby hot springs at Ikogosi – a little to the east, and a great place for soothing those tired hiking muscles.
The town of Uyo is a clean and efficient urban center with a lively nightlife scene of music bars and beer haunts. It’s also a great gateway to the trans-border Cross River National Park.
The city’s famed golf resort (managed by the distinguished name of Le Méridien no less) pokes out of the mangrove vegetation that surrounds it. Additionally, the Ibom Plaza in town is home to countless boutiques and fashion stores where Nigerian celebrities regularly show off their wares.
In addition, if the city becomes overwhelming, head for the coast.
Ibeno Beach has among the longest footprint-strewn beaches in West Africa, making it a favored pick.
Okomu National Park
The Okomu National Park is tucked between the Atlantic Ocean’s crashing waves and Benin City’s sprawling mangroves, making it one of the last remaining enclaves of southern Nigeria’s virgin rainforest.
Untouched and undeveloped, the spot’s remoteness has allowed it to become a refuge for some of the country’s rarer creatures, like the pangolin, chimpanzees, leopards, and even forest elephants.
There are also a few rural tribal settlements still in the area, where tourists can see how Nigerians have lived for centuries.
Benin City, located just east of the Okomu National Park’s reserves, is a perfect starting point for exploring southern Nigeria’s wilderness. Still, it’s also a lively, lived-in industrial town with a rich history of its own.
The town was once the middle of the Benin Empire, back when it was called Edo, and thrived by creating architectural feats like the old Oba Palace – still visible in the center.
Along busy Igun Street, you’ll find amazing open-air bronze workshops as well as a branch of the National Museum.
Edumanom National Forest
The great mass of greenery that caps the very end of the Niger River, this delta forest plays host to one of Nigeria’s most amazing displays of biodiversity.
It’s headed by the presence of some of the largest remaining chimpanzee colonies in the world, who patrol the freshwater swamps and the verdant canopies, casting howls through the wilderness as they go.
It’s also a home to the rare Niger Delta colobus and other primates worth seeing.
Thanks to its far-flung location, travel here won’t be easy, but the untrodden undergrowth and untamed wilds might just be worth it!