At just over twice the size of California, Nigeria dominates the west African region, while its oil and natural gas reserves make it a player on the global scene. Broadly speaking, the country's physical geography changes from lowlands in the south to hills and higher plateau areas in central Nigeria, with plains to the north and mountains in the southeast.
Nigeria's coastline runs for 530 miles between its international borders with Benin to the west and Cameroon to the south. The country's territorial rights extend more than 200 nautical miles into the Atlantic Ocean. Parts of the coastline have been developed for tourism and include long sandy beaches. Eleko beach is about 30 miles from the capital of Lagos and is a good option if you're looking for a more private getaway, while Tarkwa Bay, close to Lagos Harbor, offers safe swimming. Bar Beach is popular with locals.
Rivers and Wetlands
Nigeria's main river is the Niger, Africa's third-longest river and the main source of Nigeria's water. The Niger drains 817,000 miles of west Africa. It enters the country in the northwest and flows in a southeasterly direction before meeting the Benue River in central Nigeria and flowing south to the coast. The Niger feeds numerous freshwater ecosystems along its length and fills 13 lakes and reservoirs covering an area of up to 853,600 hectares. With the exception of Lake Chad, all of these lakes are man-made. At the Niger delta on the Nigerian coast, the freshwater river meets the saline Atlantic Ocean, creating ideal conditions for mangrove swamps. The mangrove ecosystem is estimated at between 500,000 and 885,000 hectares.
Much of northern Nigeria is taken up by plateaus with an elevation of between 1,960 and 2,300 feet. In the far north, low rainfall makes for very dry conditions and a sparse human and animal population, but biodiversity increases with the rainfall as you move south. Visit Yankari National Park in central Nigeria to get a feel for savanna wildlife; you can expect to see antelopes, elephants, giraffes, baboons and hyenas in a 870-square-mile territory that "Lonely Planet" calls "Nigeria's best national park."
Mountains dominate the southeast of Nigeria and continue across the border into Cameroon. This area takes in the country's highest point, 7,936-foot-high Chappal Waddi, and receives heavy rainfall during spring, when dry air from the African continent meets moist air from the Atlantic Ocean. The climate helps support the mountain's forests and their animal populations, which include fruit bats, hippos and eight species of primates. Overall, the climate is cooler here than on the plains below, making it popular with tourists. Africa's longest cable car system links the Obudu Mountain Resort with the base of the mountain below.