Travelling to Benin will offer you a life time opportunity to admire amazing landscapes. Lake dwellings constructed on wooden poles inhabited by thousands of fishermen…… that is a spectacle you will not see nowhere else in West Africa. Visiting the city of Cotonou will bring you a lot of satisfaction because there is a lot to discover if you stay for a long vacation. Benin is a very hospitable country. The traditional culture is very rich and complex and is still very present in the country in particular the voodoo cult and ancestor worship. Benin is a small country but was in the past one of the biggest kingdom of precolonial Africa. Slavery was a common practice: millions of slaves who were intertribal war captives were sold and shipped to the new world mainly in Brazil. Benin has a flourishing economy comparing to neighboring countries
Exchanging cash is quite easy in Benin particularly in Cotonou and Porto-Novo. Bank of Africa rates are the best and they do not take commission. Ecobank-Benin is open on Saturdays. Financial Bank will allow you to withdraw cash with a visa card. If you have to withdraw cash during the night, you must go to the Sheraton hotel close to the airport or try the black market in « Jonquet » neighborhood.
Currency: CFA francs
Daily budget food:
- Economic budget: < 1 USD
- Average Budget: 1-3 USD
- Higher Budget: > 3 USD
Daily budget accommodation:
- Economic budget: < 10.75 USD
- Average Budget: 10, 75-18, 5 USD
- Higher Budget: > 18.5 USD
When to go and climate
The best time to go Benin would be from December to March. Summer period is interesting because you can celebrate the national holiday which is the 1st of august, which is the biggest celebration day in Cotonou and Porto novo
Holidays and festivals: Main holidays are : Day of the martyrs (16 January) which celebrates the day when mercenaries led by Bob Denard failed their military coup attempt against the Marxist government of Mathieu Kérékou ; Independence Day (1 august) ; Army Forces Day (26 October) and the Harvest festival (31 December). Muslim holidays are celebrated in the north of the country particularly in the cities of Parakou and Kandi, whereas Voodoo ceremonies are hosted in Abomey
Climate: Situated in the intercontinental zone, the country has a climate hot and humid. However, there are substantial climatic variations across the country. In the south of the country, the climate is tropical, with temperatures around 28 degrees. The dry season goes from December to April. In the north, closer to Sahel area, temperatures are less humid but very high
How to get there: There are direct flights to Benin from France, Belgium and many other African countries. You can also take a flight to Togo and take a taxi from Lomé to Cotonou (3 hours). Hiring a cab from Niger to Cotonou is easy but the ride will last 14 hours. The country border is open from 7 am to 7.30 pm. From Nigeria, the ride will last only 3 hours. You can drive yourself because the roads are in good condition
How to move around: Minivans and bush-taxis are the two main means of transportation. Transportation prices are cheap. Taxi fare from Cotonou to Abomey (144km) will cost you 4 USD. Minivans will cost 1 USD for the same journey but will last longer. There are in Cotonou four main bus terminals where bush-taxi depart. But it is preferable to hail the taxis when they leave town, because at the bus terminal they will wait until the taxi is full before they depart. Every morning, there are trains connecting Cotonou to Parakou via Bohicon (close to Abomey). There are also night trains with a sleeper compartment which depart every other day (about 9 hour’s journey). Car rental is available at the airport. For 200km/day the price is 120 USD plus gas
Porto-Novo: Even if government and main activities are in Cotonou (32 km west), Porto-Novo (180,000 people) is the official capital of Benin. Porto-Novo is a beautiful city which remains deeply marked by its past. At the market place of Adjara you can buy drums, traditional fabrics, handcrafted baskets and potteries which are the most beautiful of the country. The ethnic museum of Porto-Novo houses a superb collection of Yoruba’s art objects. You can also visit the Brazilian style church superbly decorated, now transformed into a mosque
Cotonou: Cotonou is the real capital of the country even if it is official. The city developed itself after the abolition of slavery when Beninese, Togolese, and Nigerian expats came back to the city. The “Jonquet” neighborhood is full of bars and lively night-clubs which vibrate to American, West African, or Cameroons musical rhythms. There are also a lot of local and international restaurants, but the main attraction of the city is the Dantokpa market place. You will find anything in this market: electronics, food, clothing, voodoo magical objects etc… The lake town of Ganvié is located at the north of Cotonou. Thousands of bamboo houses built on poles on Nokoué Lake are housing 18,000 people. This city was built by Tofinus people, who were running away from Fon Kingdom attacks. Religious beliefs were forbidding warriors to go through the waters. To visit Ganvié you must go early morning or sunset.
Ouidah: Ouidah, voodoo stronghold of Benin, is the most visited city after Cotonou. It was the only seaport of Benin till 1908. Historical and cultural heritage is very important in Ouidah. The main tourist sites are the History Museum of Ouidah called also the Voodoo museum of Ouidah, various museums and temples, a park known as the sacred forest, the slave Route, of great historic, symbolic and sacred importance. This 4km long road followed by the slaves before embarking the slave ships is bordered by fetishes, statues, and small villages and leads to beautiful beaches. Ouidah is 40 km far from Cotonou on the main road going towards Togo.
Abomey: Abomey is the ancient capital of the kingdom of Dahomey. The main attraction of Abomey city is the Royal Palace of the Fons and its museum. Most of these ancient buildings (built since 1645) were destroyed by fire in 1892. However we can still find spectacular and stunning vestiges of these historical buildings. The museum holds voodoo ritual objects, ancient household items, human skulls and Portuguese objects. To go to Abomey, the best option is to hire a cab in Cotonou. Journey time is 2h30mn
Natitingou and the Somba country: Located at an altitude of 400m in the mountains of Atakora, Natitingou is the starting point of excursions in the national park of Pendjari (North) and the Somba country (east and south). The National Museum of Popular Arts and Traditions, will give you a glimpse of Somba culture. They escaped from the catholic and Islamic influences. Known for living in total nudity for very long time and their traditional housing made of tata somba constructions (fortified miniature castles)
Bokoumbé: Bokoumbé is located at the north-east frontier of Togo. Getting to the town of Bokoumbé coming from Natitingou, you will cross the highest mountains of Benin. Once arrived, you will discover the wonders of a West African market village. The market is one of the most colored and lively of Benin. You can buy there rare and authentic sculptures and pipes and very fresh food. The Whipping Festival is very entertaining. Young people from Bokoumbé and neighboring villages run in the streets trying to whip each other. This is a rite of passage from childhood to adulthood. Bokoumbé is situated at 43km south-west of Natitingou and 600km from Cotonou (9 hours car driving)
Geography: Located in West Africa, Benin is one of the smallest country in Africa (110 620 km²), like its neighboring country Togo. The surface area of Benin is a long strip perpendicular to the Gulf of Guinea, bounded in the north by Niger and Burkina Faso, in the east by Nigeria, and in the west by Togo. The southern coast is 124km long.
Fauna and flora: The intensive agricultural activities, destruction of forests, desertification process, intensive poaching and hunting have overturned the ecosystem by diminishing the flora and fauna. However, there are still two national parks in the north of the country (national park of Pendjari and national park of W). In the south, there are vast plantations of palm and coconuts trees bordering the coastline.