Elizabeth Agboola: Everything You Need to Know about Kano and Why You Should Visit
Let’s face it. 2023 has shown us travel lovers a fine blend of shege and pepper. Ha! Who would have thought that by September many of our bucket list destinations for 2023 would still remain stuck inside the bucket? My list for this year was so promising but the options reduced exponentially as the dollar increased. Surprisingly, the only wanderlust fulfilment I managed to accomplish was one I didn’t even imagine would give me so much joy and satisfaction: Kano!
Yes, it is the same Kano State in the North of Nigeria. So before you come for my neck with comments like, “Kano? ..God forbid. With all the news about insecurity?” Calm down, let me give you all the gist.
Kano State, located in the northern region of Nigeria, is a vibrant and historically rich state that holds a prominent place within Nigeria. We all know it’s one of the most influential states in Nigeria for various reasons including its historical legacy, economic opportunities, and sizeable population. These are among the greatest assets and strengths of Kano. which makes the state the centre of commerce in the north, the same way Nigeria is the hub of commerce in Africa.
How do you get there?
The easiest and quickest way to get to Kano is via domestic flights. There are daily flights on up to 3 airlines. For those already in various northern states, you’ll find Kano state commutable by road. For example, the journey from Abuja to Kano by road takes 6 hours. While the road between Abuja and Kaduna isn’t the best, the latter part of the journey from Kaduna to Kano is a smooth highway.
A creative way to break the journey and avoid the Abuja/Kaduna road is to hop onto a train (3 hours) from Abuja to Kaduna and continue by road. For international travellers intending to visit Kano, there are flights into Kano on Qatar Airways, Ethiopia Air, Saudi Arabia Air and Egypt Air.
Let’s put it this way, one should treat Kano like Morocco, Jordan, Egypt or any other Muslim country. Dress modestly in order to integrate with the community respectfully. You don’t want to visit people’s cities or countries and make them feel uncomfortable. I totally loved rocking my rich aunty boubous and abayas in Kano, since I couldn’t afford to travel to the Middle East or North Africa to rock them.
You should also expect to see people praying any and everywhere available and this might cause traffic, especially on Fridays. So factor this into your movement to avoid any disruptions.
Where to stay
Because tourism isn’t a big deal yet in Kano, very few hotels benefit from the guests visiting as they are the only ones actively promoting their hotels. Stay in main Kano City and I’ll say maybe one night outside Kano City. They have a really nice resort in Bichi Emirates, 45 minutes away. The high-end hotel in Kano City starts from N75,000 per room/night. Mid, N45,000 and the just above budget hotel, N22,000. The resort on the outskirts has various prices subject to the room of choice.
How can you move around?
Good ol’ Uber and Bolt are very much available. Hardly would you find a driver who doesn’t speak English, so the language barrier would never be a problem.
How much should you budget?
Flight estimates are N100,000 one-way. With the aforementioned accommodation and a few activities here and there, another N100,000 would take you far, especially if there are two of you in a room.
What to eat
Ha, this is the most important part oh! Come with a mouthguard because you will eat suya tire. All versions and flavours. Masa is a big deal too, especially for breakfast, to be washed down with fura de nunu (some kind of millet Yoghurt drink). If you love street food, gurasa and balungu await you. And of course, the good old Tuwo for those who love swallow. Pepper lovers, I must however warn you to carry yours to sprinkle in your food because you might not find your spice level in Kano.
Is it safe?
I say this loudly in most articles that safety is essentially a perception because the whole world is not safe! Of course, the media loves to portray the insecurity of one place more than others in similar or even worse situations. Sadly, Nigeria as a whole and many states within the federation have faced this. So let’s say Kano is as unsafe as other parts of the world. If we can comfortably visit those countries despite the knife attacks, muggings or shootings, then nothing should stop us from visiting Kano State.
What to do?
Visit the Gidda Makama Museum and learn all about the history of Kano. The building is 583 years old and it is so beautiful to see it in its natural form. My highlight of the palace was the “sarauniya”, the Queen’s room. You’ll hear the gist when you visit too.
Visit the Kofar Mata dye pit which is the Abeokuta version of where Adire is made. Having been to the two places, it’s interesting to see the similarities in the way they express their pride in their work. Make sure you support a local artisan by buying even one piece. Go restaurant hopping. The restaurants are not as diverse as in Lagos, but there are several restaurants doing a good job of keeping their locations picturesque while providing amazing dining service.
Just like in the Middle East, tea gatherings are a big deal in Kano and it’s always a good way to catch up with friends after a long day. Visit Minjibr Park. It’s got a resort where you can stay the night or just visit for the day and take on their day activities from go-karting to horse riding to a short boat cruise on the dam.
Visit a palace. Kano is home to 5 different Emirates. This means you can visit to see the well-preserved architecture and traditions. When you visit some palaces on Fridays like Bichi Emirates, you’ll get to experience a whole ceremony from the gunshots warning of the Emir’s arrival to the Emir coming in on a horse and all the musical instruments flowing in rhythm. It’s such a beautiful celebration of pride and culture.
You get to enjoy a day as a Gimbya (Princess) or Yarima (Prince). You must also arrange a photoshoot at the palace. I would recommend the Kano Emirates for this. Dressing up as a Gimbya] or Yarima is totally worth it. You’ll need to get a plug to hire your alkybah and decorated horses and baban riga and have your henna done.
Visit Dala Hills, known as the first settlement of Kano people. A stairway of 120 steps leads to the top of the hill; your perfect hiking experience.
Target visiting the Durbar Festival which happens during the Eid Al Fitr [small Sallah] and Eid Al Ahda [big Sallah]. It can’t be described, you have to experience it. Simply the most beautiful and colourful equestrian display and artistic performances.
You should visit the markets because Kano is not the centre of commerce for nothing. From the largest grain market in Africa in Dawanu to the textile market in Kwari to the cattle market in Wudil. And of course, the good old Kurmi for general and traditional purchases.
Why should you visit?
There are so many reasons to visit Kano state, but let’s consider these ten.
You can live a premium baby girl life in Kano with half of what you’ll spend in Lagos. This is because the cost of living is low- hence things are affordable for people earning above average. For example, a tourist from Lagos earning premium Lagos funds will enjoy their money in Kano!
Lots of amazing food to eat at affordable prices! Even the fanciest restaurants still don’t bring bulls??? that would leave you behind to wash plates. The traditional northern food- is to be experienced in your lifetime.
Culture can’t be bought it can only be experienced, and Kano has been able to preserve its culture and traditions. From the monarchy to the religion and way of life: it’s amazing to see in my lifetime and to also show my children, that Nigeria is not just Lagos or Abuja.
The rich history of Kano is underrated! You will be wowed by the various stories you’ll hear at the museum about Kano and the importance of pre-independence and events including trade across the whole of West Africa.
The warmest people you’ll ever meet. Always ready to help you. They feel very excited about people who are genuinely interested in their ways of life in the most respectful and non-intrusive ways.
Ha, read it again! The wedding vibes in Kano are not from here…if you’ve never been to a Northern wedding then you need to hustle for friends to invite you to one oh! They are the finest blend of the traditional and the modern and are totally indescribable.
The Durbar Festival, held twice a year, is a hit from back to back. I have now experienced two years in a row and it’s now permanently fixed in my calendar.
Fertile ground for trade and investment
As mentioned earlier, the strength of Kano lies in the market size and businesses setting up low-cost- high-volume operations. Entrepreneurs with good ideas would do very well in Kano. Restaurant owners in Lagos, let Lagos breathe. Bring some to Kano and see for yourself how it would do well.
The weather gives Middle Eastern vibes and the right outfits would give you an immediate sense of being outside Nigeria, I must say. Their modest yet fashionable outfits are an experience in itself.
Proximity to other States
This is another strength of Kano. I was able to visit Jigawa (1hr 30mins), Kaduna (2 hours 30minutes), Bauchi (3 hours) Gombe (6 hours) conveniently from Kano.
Kano State boasts a rich cultural heritage and a variety of attractions that make it a unique destination for tourists. While it is not where it needs to be yet, it’s well worth a visit, especially for the affordability it offers. So visit Kano now oh, before it gets too expensive. Whether you’re interested in history, culture or simply enjoying the vibrant atmosphere, Kano state has something to offer every traveller. SANNU DA ZUWA (Welcome).
All photos are courtesy of the author.