We recently had a public holiday here in Nigeria so I took the opportunity to go off and explore. I went back to my old stomping grounds in Lagos and then grabbed a friend for a day trip to Abeokuta in Ogun state, with the main attraction being Olumo Rock. What a fantastic idea. So here is a little recap of my journey, as well as tips and suggestions for you when planning your trip.
A little info
Abeokuta is the capital of Ogun state and its largest city. Many notable individuals come from or have lived in Abeokuta such as Fela Kuti, a very famous Nigerian musician, and Obsanjo, who was president of Nigeria from 1999 to 2007. Abeokuta literally means, “the underneath the rock,” but a better translation is “refuge among rocks.” This is a very fitting name given that the city’s main tourist attraction is Olumo Rock. Olumo means “God molded this.” The rock sits 137 meters above sea level and has served as a fortress, providing refuge and a vantage point, for the Agba people who first inhabited the area.
Abeokuta ended up not being that far from Lagos (about 1.5 hours on the road), but we were worried about traffic and the rain so my friend and I set out early in the morning. It was supposed to be 7, but I’m chronically late so it was more like 8. Leaving early ended up being a huge benefit because we were one of the first people to climb Olumo Rock and we had the place to ourselves for almost 45 minutes before we saw other visitors.
So you can eat before you go, but we chose to buy egg rolls and buns to eat on the 1.5hr ride. Unlike longer road trips out of Lagos, the driver never really stopped, so come with your snacks if you are the munch and ride type.
We went to Oshodi to get a minivan to Abeokuta (it’s more of a station wagon). I think buses are also available but I didn’t see them right away. Just ask around. Also, it took us a while to find the specific car park where the station wagons were leaving from, so just ask a few times as you walk from the bus stop to the car park tucked beside the bridge. When we got to Abeokuta, we asked the driver to drop us at Kuto park, that was his final destination anyways. From there, we took a taxi to Olumo Rock. While the first transport fare is fixed (1,000# each at time of writing), the taxi must be negotiated. We ended up paying 500#. The guy said taxi was the only way to get there, but I don’t really believe him. But it’s definitely the most convenient.
Entering the site & Gate Fare
Don’t take out your camera. The fare list is printed somewhere inside with them, so ask to see it before you hand over any money and just use common sense.
They tried to charge us 1,000# because of my DSLR and I flat out refused. This is because all my reading and research about Abeokuta has never mentioned that fee. As I was arguing, it’s then that they brought out the fare list to “prove” to me that the 1,000# was standard. The fare list said “Group Camera 1,000#, Personal Camera 200#.” I went on a rant about how my friend and I, 2 people, do not count as a group. The guy tried to explain, “No it’s a professional camera, and personal camera are those small ones.” We insisted that it’s not what is written and since I was the one handling the camera, it’s in no way professional because my photos suck. We went back and forth and eventually they let us pay the 200# – I would have seriously stood there and argued all day, and I think the guy could tell. You can’t play word games with me and expect to win. I’ll quote the whole dictionary for you, and the thesaurus too. So I think the best bet is just to not bring out your camera until after you have paid because they didn’t check bags.
Tour Guide or No Tour Guide
Personally, I think a tour guide would have been useful because I like hearing about the history and fun facts of places. But we were doing this trip on a budget so any unnecessary expenses were a no for us (you have to tip the tour guide), so we opted out of having one. Instead of flat out saying no, we said we would go check out the gallery. The gallery has some beautiful, albeit pricey, local art. Some were even made from recycled materials and they looked very cool.
We ended up enjoying not having a tour guide because then as we made a fool of ourselves going up the stairs, no one was around to witness it. But a tour guide would have been useful for climbing the face of the rock – I explain below. Also, some historical/fun fact plaques were placed around the rock, so it helped give a little context and history that we might otherwise not have had.
Stairs or Elevator
Dude, definitely stairs. Unless your leg is broken or you can’t walk for some reason, or you have other things keeping you from taking the stairs, just take the stairs. This is a decision you have to make at the gate actually because taking the elevator costs more money. Besides, as you climb, you get to appreciate the view more because you get to the top slowly. Take your time, snap plenty of pictures along the way and the climb will be a breeze.
How to get to the very top
So this isn’t actually very obvious without a guide. If you are climbing the stairs, to get to the very top of the rock, you have two options: take a set of indoor stairs or climb the face of the rock. So we actually saw the entrance for climbing the face of the rock and read the plaque but we thought it was some kind of ancient passage way, so we continued looking. An older man who lived behind the rock (read below), told us that there were stairs on the other side and pointed us in the right direction. We found the door and made our way to the top. (The elevator in that last shaft is actually broken, so if you took the elevator route, you can’t even get all the way to the top).
So climbing the face of the rock – I definitely wouldn’t suggest it without a guide so this is one of the perks of having one. But we’re crazy so we did it without a guide. While we had the top of the rock to ourselves for about 10 minutes, we suddenly heard voices and saw people up and around one edge of the rock. We were so surprised and just couldn’t figure out how they did it. As we made our way down the way we came, we saw a guide leading people through the “center of the rock.” When we had first passed that place, we saw the plaque that read:
“this is the ancient natural route to the belly of the rock, and to the top of the Rock. Mini ladders have been put in place here to facilitate movement.”
But we assumed it was an ‘ancient’ myth type thing. We were so surprised it was a real passage.
We deliberated whether or not we should do it and the next thing I knew we were making our way through the narrow center of Olumo Rock, crossed a bridge and then climbed the face of the rock to get back to the top. To say I was scared is an understatement, especially because the whole rock is very smooth. I almost gave up at the last leg because my leg kept slipping, but there was no way to go back (everyone who climbs up that way returns down via the stairs, even with the guide). I got some encouragement and a pull up from my adrenaline filled friend who had led the way. There were lots of people on top of the rock at this point, and they were looking at us like we were crazy. A guide saw me struggling and rushed to help, but by the time he got there, I was most of the way up and it was more of a hand shake than a pull up by the time we clasped hands. He was surprised we were doing that without a guide and reprimanded us for not having one. And I don’t even blame him. Honestly, I’ve already done it and even I wouldn’t do it again without a guide. But if you have a guide, definitely go that route because it’s really fun!
People live behind (in?) the rock, just keep moving
I honestly don’t know how to explain this, so maybe this is where a guide would have been helpful. But there were a few people who lived beyond the garden. On the other side of the rock, we noticed a red gate leading into town and we were curious. Also there was a sign that said priestesses of Obaluaye (Yoruba deity of karma) lived there, so maybe that’s who they were. We saw an elderly man sitting down on a rock and I greeted him and asked if the red gate was the way out and if there was a way to get to the top. He told us how to get to the top and that we could look around in the other direction is we wanted. This was the direction people lived, but we didn’t know until we were all the way on that side. I greeted the few people I saw (It’s not a whole town, just a few homes built into the rock side and maybe 2 or 3 families, from what I could tell), there was even a cute little baby. One elderly woman asked if we had brought anything for them, I said no sorry and started backing away. Another woman, came and asked the same question but she was very aggressive and repetitive about it. We turned around and walked away quickly. I’m really glad we didn’t take any photos.
That’s most of what you need to know about Olumo Rock itself. The town of Abeokuta is small but bustling. We ended up seeing several sides of it in our quest for food and more adventure. So when I was researching the town, the other two attractions were St. James African church and St. Peter’s Cathedral, an Anglican church. Google said St. James was the first church in Nigeria church but an Olumo Rock plaques says it was St. Peter and made no mention of St. James.
Leaving Olumo, we asked how to get to St. Peter’s – it would be a bike ride away. But we stopped about 3 bikes, and none knew what we were talking about. So we just trekked it. Besides, we had just bought delicious Fan Ice ice cream, and that’s no fun on a bike. It was a bit of a hike, part of it up hill, but it was a great opportunity to see everyday life in Abeokuta and get a sense of the city’s history and make up (see below).
When we got to St. Peter’s it was hard to find the front, and once we went inside, it wasn’t really the tourist attraction I thought it would be. But the shady center grove was nice and we used it to rest and plan our next moves. Plus the gate man was nice and no one bothered us. There was a bookstore that I’m sure would have probably satisfied the curiosity of history buffs.
The town of Abeokuta
So I actually really enjoyed site seeing in this town. The buildings were colorful and all unique in their own way. There was clear evidence of colonial Britain in many of the buildings and I just wish I had had more courage to snap photos. Also, seeing the town from the top with all its red roofs spread about was beautiful. Was I in Florence or Abeokuta? Mmmm? Lol. You could also see the Ogun river from the top as it wound around town.
Down on the ground, when we got to St. Peter’s it was interesting to see the juxtaposition between the developed part of town and the underdeveloped part of town, just across one round about. We ended up eating in an even more bustling part of town that was probably the city center. We just ate at Mr. Biggs, a chain restaurant, so super lame but I had trouble finding notable restaurants during my google search. There is a restaurant at Olumo rock though, but we weren’t hungry yet and it’s probably pricey. Also, the chicken as Mr. Biggs was extra spicy – at least more so than the Mr. Biggs chicken in Lagos – they definitely know they have a Yoruba clientele.
I also liked seeing the rocks throughout town. Olumo Rock isn’t the only rock in Aboeokuta and it was cool to see the way the architecture and been built into the landscape.
What did you think of the pictures? The view is pretty gorgeous right? Have you been to Abeokuta and Olumo Rock? Would love to hear about your experience and tips for others that are going! Also, if you’re planning a trip there, feel free to leave a question or send me an email!
Let me know what you thought of the article! Would love to hear from you.