Africa is a continent that I have always dreamed of exploring. The African is a true wonder. Let us be very candid here; Africa has always been given a bad rep, and even when you speak to people, they still refer to African countries as ‘third world countries,’ which truly saddens me. In MBV’s return, I have tasked myself to explore the continent with an open mind and have already seen that I am more welcomed than any other continent I’ve travelled to worldwide.
West Africa is a region in western Africa, encompassing 16 countries along the Atlantic Ocean and the Sahara Desert. In October 2022, I visited Nigeria (Lagos), The Gambia, and Senegal in just over two weeks; it was an absolute dream. Travelling to more than one country is a thing for me – you know what they say, kill two or three birds with one stone.
The region has a rich history of cultural heritage, and the food is diverse and flavoursome with a hint of spice! Spice makes you live longer! It is well known for its various ethnic groups, languages, music, and art. If you are travelling to any of these countries soon, here is what I did, from what I ate to where I stayed. Keep reading, and don’t forget to subscribe:
Nigeria – Lagos
It has been a while since I travelled to Nigeria, Lagos (almost five years – way too long, I blame the COVID-19 pandemic for this). Nigeria is known to be the most populous Black nation on Earth. Lagos is a bustling city in Nigeria that offers a variety of things to do and see, and it is where my heritage is. My mother is Delta Igbo, and my father is Yoruba. I am a mixed ethnic group (let us shy away from tribal wars, please), and I love them dearly. Nigeria also has people with the most vibrant and friendly energy expressed through diverse creative expressions.
The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has directed redesigning and issuing of new N200, N500 and N1’000 Naira notes. There are some discrepancies around when the new notes will be used, so it’s worth checking before your travels.
Travelling to Lagos from London Heathrow
I booked a single flight with AirFrance/KLM, which cost me around £430. I have done a short review of the food and airline, which can be found here. There was a quick stop in Paris for only an hour, which was not bad.
If you are considering travelling to Nigeria from the UK, check the ‘Entry Requirements’ section for Nigeria’s current entry restrictions and requirements.
When I travelled to Lagos last year, I needed to show my COVID-19 certificates and Yellow Fever. This was done before boarding my flights online. I flew with Air France/KLM. I enjoyed the airline as it had free Wi-Fi, and the food was decent. Check out my review here. I arrived in Lagos around 10 pm and picked up a taxi from the airport to Lekki 2 in Lagos, where I stayed with family for five days.
5-Day Lagos Itinerary
Lagos has so much to do; many people go in December when most diasporas visit the city. However, Lagos is buzzing throughout the year. Here is what I did, and you should if you ever visit Lagos:
- Got my hair braided: If you need to get your hair done by a thehaircaretaker – tell her I sent you! I got myself some cute French curl braids.
- Explore Lekki Conservation Centre: This nature reserve is home to various animals, including monkeys, turtles, and birds. You can walk along a canopy walkway for a bird’s-eye forest view. If you could be better with heights, there may be better things to do, and please wear comfortable shoes.
- Visit the Nike Art Gallery: This gallery showcases the works of Nigerian artists and artisans and offers visitors the chance to purchase unique souvenirs.
- Relax on the beaches: Lagos is home to some beautiful beaches, including Tarkwa Bay Beach and Landmark Beach (the newest one). I have been to both and enjoyed both very much. N.B., you have to pay for Landmark Beach.
- Shop at the markets: Lagos has many bustling markets, including Balogun Market. It would be best to go with a local to avoid getting lost.
Other things to do in Lagos
- Visit the Freedom Park Lagos
- Explore the nightlife
- A train from Lagos to Ibadan
I got around Lagos using Uber and Bolt, which was straightforward, providing you have internet. If you need to purchase a sim card, you will need an NIN number. I don’t have that now, so I used Airlo, an e-sim card that can be used worldwide. Click here for here to purchase.
What to eat in Lagos
Nigeria Lagos is rich in food. There are many options rich in flavour, spice and juices, and the restaurants are genuinely impressive. Your tastebuds will be spoilt for choices. In Lagos, I enjoyed my favourite Abula, a Yoruba stew made from yam flour, served with soups and pepper sauce – Ewedu soup, Gbegiri soup and pepper sauce. Try Suya spicy meat grilled over an open flame served with onions and fresh tomatoes, and remember to have some Chapman, a Nigerian cocktail with fanta, sprite and Grenadine and Angostura bitters.
You can also enjoy the following:
- Jollof rice, a prevalent dish in the West of Africa, cooked with tomatoes, onions and spices
- Pounded yam with egusi pounded yam is a starchy vegetable mashed until it becomes smooth and stretchy, and egusi soup is a thick and flavorful soup made with ground melon seeds, vegetables and spices.
- Puff-Puff is a popular fried snack made from deep-fried dough until crispy.
- Efo Riro is a delicious soup from various vegetables, including spinach, peppers, onions, and tomatoes. It is often served with pounded yam or rice.
These are just a few suggestions, but of course, you should know that Lagos has plenty of other delicious dishes to try, so be sure to explore and experiment with the local cuisine. I promise you that you won’t regret it.
The must-include restaurants in Lagos:
Where to stay in Lagos
Fortunately, I have family living in Lagos, so I have always had somewhere to stay when visiting. Still, if you are ever looking for a hotel, I suggest Lagos Continental Hotel or Eko Hotel Suites. Many hotels can be booked via Booking.com, and you can also book accommodation via Airbnb.
The Gambia – Banjul
The Gambia is a small West African country bounded by Senegal, so if you go to one, you may as well go to both countries as they are so close. The country is known for its diverse ecosystems around the central Gambia River. In comparison to Nigeria, Bajul was very reasonable. It was certainly different to the hustle and bustle of Lagos.
The Gambian dalasi (GMD) is the official currency of the Republic of Gambia.
Travelling to The Gambia from Lagos
I travelled to Banjul from Lagos via AirFrance. I couldn’t book a flight directly on their website, so I was lucky to have my cousin use his Nigerian account and book the flight for me, which was cheaper because of the exchange rate for Naira (Nigerian money). If you are seeking to do the same, I suggest booking via a reliable third-party body which is what I would have done had I not had the option to book via a family member.
The flight was only around 3 hours. Please note that there are only a few direct flights to The Gambia from Lagos, so you must be well prepared. You can also fly in quickly via Tap Portugal. There are very few direct flights from the UK to Gambia, and from the US and Canada, there are no direct flights.
5 Day Itinerary in The Gambia
I travelled to The Gambia and Senegal with Ajala Travel Tours. If you are looking for a budget-friendly group trip, this is fantastic! Here is what I got up to all planned by Ajala Travels:
Here are some things to do and see in The Gambia:
- Visited the Kachikally Crocodile Pool: This pool is home to dozens of crocodiles, considered sacred by the locals. Of course, I got up close and personal with the crocodiles – anything to tell the grandkids.
- Kunta Kinteh Island: Formerly called James Island and St Andrew’s Island, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, an island in the Gambia River where enslaved people were captured before trading them to the Western World. I met the family of Kunta Kinteh, which was a very emotional experience for me but allowed me to hear the true stories of our history.
- Visited the Bijilo Forest Park: This reserve is home to various wildlife, including monkeys. Purchase some nuts and bananas to feed the monkeys.
- Relaxed on the beaches: The Gambia has some beautiful beaches, such as Kololi Beach, which offer opportunities for swimming, sunbathing, and water sports.
- Join a Cooking Class: We made Chicken Yassa and Fish Domada, and you can too with @chaamidaa.
What to eat in The Gambia
Gambian cuisine is known for using fresh, local ingredients and flavours. Some popular dishes to try having:
- Benachin (the Gambian version of Jollof rice).
- Domoda (a stew made with meat or fish and peanut butter), and yassa (a dish made with marinated Chicken or fish and onions)
- Fill yourself with some Wonjo (a hibiscus-flavoured drink widely drunk in many West African and Caribbean countries). We made this on A Cooking Travel Talks Live, which you can watch and cook here.
Where to stay in The Gambia
The Gambia has a range of affordable hotels. I arrived in The Gambia earlier than the groups and booked a luxury hotel at The African Princess Hotel via Booking.com. I absolutely loved it and would highly advise if you are going to the Gambia you stay there too. The hotel is directly on Kotu Beach, has several pools, and is truly beautiful. You can see my review here.
The second hotel I stayed in was the Senegambia Beach Hotel, located on the strip of The Gambia. It is a jungle-themed hotel right next to the beach, a very affordable hotel stay.
Another hotel I suggest staying at is the Coco Ocean Resort and Spa. Book this one early, as it gets booked up very quickly – which is what happened to me.
Senegal – Dakar
Senegal is another West African country on the Atlantic Ocean coastline. The city is Dakar. I would say that Senegal has been my favourite out of the West African countries. Senegal is a cultural hub for the continent of Africa. It is a mecca of robust arts, rich traditions, historic landmarks, and remarkable natural landscapes.
Senegal being an ex-colonisation of France, I was very much challenged in Senegal with everyone speaking French, so if you are going learn some essential words, which is what I will be very much doing this year!
Travelling to Senegal from The Gambia
I travelled from The Gambia to Senegal via a private bus which can be booked via Rome2Rio. The journey is around 7 hours max. Take some light snacks and water for your travels.
You can also fly between The Gambia to Senegal or take a private taxi. I can offer a private taxi driver for you. Just send me a DM via IG, and I will be happy to share my contact.
5 Day Itinerary in Senegal
Senegal has so much to offer; I would explore more than just Dakar. Here is what I did do during my stay:
- Visited Goree Island: This small island, located off the coast of Dakar, is another UNESCO World Heritage site and a popular tourist destination. It has a deep history of where the slave trade in the 18th and 19th centuries. Book the tour here.
- Explored Dakar: Senegal’s capital city is a vibrant and bustling metropolis with plenty of things to see and do, including restaurants, museums like the Massalikoul Djinane Mosque and art galleries. I suggest visiting the Sufer Paradise for over the beach pool. Book a tour here.
- Walked with Lions: Senegal is home to several national parks and reserves. Visit the Fathla Wildlife Reserve and see a wide range of wildlife, including lions, elephants, and baboons.
- Visited the Pink Lake: This saltwater lake gets its name from the pink hue of the water caused by algae and bacteria. It’s a beautiful and unique natural wonder. I suggest going from November to June to see its pinkness. Book here.
Other things to do in Senegal:
- Explore Saint-Louis
- Relax on the beaches.
- Visit the Bandia Reserve
- Attend a festival
What to eat in Senegal
Senegalese food varies. The cuisine is full of character. The country is known for its fresh seafood, including grilled or fried fish, lobster, and shrimp. Senegalese cuisine is often semi-spicy and flavorful, with a wide range of herbs and spices used in cooking.
- I was first introduced to Thiéboudienne, which again is their own version of Jollof rice and is where it originated. It has been dubbed the country’s national dish.
- Yassa is always widely eaten in Senegal, a famous chicken or fish dish marinated in lemon and onions and served with rice.
- Ice cream at Mammamia Gelato Rufisque has to be the best cream I have ever tasted! Honestly, I had it every day while in Senegal. I also got a burger from the next-door restaurant, which was DELICIOUS!
- Bissap is similar to Wonjo and is a refreshing drink made with hibiscus flowers and sugar.
- Like suya or kebab, Dibi is a grilled lamb chop or skewered meat with spicy mustard sauce.
Where to Stay in Senegal
There are lots of accommodation options in Senegal. I was not a huge fan of where we stayed in Senegal, so I wouldn’t advise you to stay there. If I was going back to Senegal, I would remain in Résidence Blue hôtel. Check out Booking.com for more options.
Some helpful resources for your travels in Africa:
- My Instagram page has detailed reels and guides on visiting Nigeria, Senegal and The Gambia. I share tips on travelling to Africa here.
- I mentioned that I travelled with Ajala Travel Tours, so I recommend going with them if you are considering a group trip within Africa.
- Before going to any of these countries, I recommend visiting the Foreign Advice Page for UK travellers.
- Book with Viator or Get Your Guide if you want specific tours.
- I hired a photographer/video for the whole of my trip. You can also book with Ray. Tell him I sent you!
My final days in West Africa
I thoroughly enjoyed being back in Nigeria and travelling through West Africa. It is now my mission to explore and see more of Africa. I want to change the narrative of Africa and show you how beautiful the continent is. I can’t wait for the next time I am in Africa, and this time, I’d love to visit Seychelles, Tanzania and maybe Mauritius. Until then, I hope this guide makes you want to travel to West Africa.
As always, if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to drop them in the comments, and I’ll be happy to answer them.
I have a question: Would you be interested in group tours? If I considered group tours, would you be interested? Let me know.
Safe Travels. Love MBV X