Owerri, Capital city of Imo state, remains largely undiscovered yet full of life for those out for recreation, hospitality and wellness. Guy Stehlik reports.
When you mention Nigeria, most tourists think of big cities like Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt. But there is another destination with a huge heart and plenty to do and see – and best of all, it’s still waiting to be discovered.
Situated in Eastern Nigeria, Owerri is the capital of Imo state and home to the Igbo people. It’s well known for its plethora of hotels, bars, restaurants and nightclubs, which has earned it a reputation as Nigeria’s entertainment centre.
But it still eschews a touristy feel, which is part of the reason why so many visitors find Owerri appealing. Plus you’re spoiled for choice in terms of hotels and local eateries, all of which won’t blow your budget. With entry-level hotel stays coming in at less than 10 000 Nigerian nairas per night, restaurant fare at less than NGN 500 a plate and cheap transport options (think motorcycle and Tuk Tuk taxis), your holiday will end up costing you very little.
Where to stay
Hotels still make the best choice for places to stay in Owerri. They range from basic and budget, to ultra-luxurious. One of the most stylish hotels on offer is BON Hotel Tripod Owerri, which boasts 66 rooms, two of which are presidential suites. It is conveniently situated close to the Imo State Trade Investment Centre and the Imo State House of Assembly, making it ideal for business and leisure travellers.
Owerri is a favourite destination for Nigerians looking for a relaxed weekend away, asserts Guy Stehlik, CEO of BON Hotels. “We mostly have locals visiting the hotel, with some overseas travellers,” he says. “They mainly come for food and beverage on the roof bar, which is the only one of its kind in the city.”
What to do
Owerri never sleeps, so there’s plenty to do, whether you’re on holiday with your family or wanting to find the city’s best restaurants or nightspots. Owerri Zoo, also known as Nekede Zoo, is well worth a visit, where animals as diverse as lions, gorillas, pythons, monkeys, crocodiles and many different bird species are on display.
If culture’s your thing, be sure to pop by the Mbari Cultural and Art Centre, an open-air museum where you can view several monumental art works celebrating Igbo culture. Lovers of architecture should visit the Assumpta Cathedral, one of the largest Catholic cathedrals in Nigeria. There is also Oguta Lake, the perfect setting for a boat cruise or a relaxed game of golf. Families will want to visit Owerri Amusement Park, which has something for the whole family.
Where to eat and party
You can’t leave the city without trying its tastiest dish – ofe owerri, so popular that it has had songs written about it. Also known as the “king of soup”, it’s so famous that beautiful Igbo women are compared to it. Want to know what’s in it? It can contain anything from snails, ponmo (cow skin), goat meat, okporoko (dried hake fish), pumpkin leaves and oporo (smoked prawns), with plenty of spices added for flavour.
The best restaurants in town are Sunic Foods, Jevinik Restaurant, where the portions are large, but be aware that you pay extra for rice or yam with your stew, and Hungry Man, which has a cosmopolitan ambiance. These are all located in the city centre.
In terms of night life, the best places to go are NV Lounge and Night Club,
Pizzano Night Club and Cubano Lounge, where the party goes on well on into the night.
“For those who prefer to stay in their hotel, there’s lots on offer, too,” says Stehlik. “Many hotels have their own restaurants and bars, where locals and tourists can mingle and you don’t have to think about organizing transport late at night. At the BON Hotel Tripod Owerri, for example, the rooftop bar is extremely popular and is the ideal spot for stand-up comedy, karaoke nights and live performances.”