The birthplace of voodoo and a pivotal platform of the slave trade for nearly three centuries, Benin is steeped in a rich and complex history still very much in evidence across the country. A visit to this small, club-shaped nation could therefore not be complete without exploring the Afro-Brazilian heritage of Ouidah, Abomey and Porto Novo, learning about spirits and fetishes.
But Benin will also wow visitors with its natural beauty, from the palm-fringed beach idyll of the Atlantic coast to the rugged scenery of the north. The Parc National de la Pendjari is one of the best wildlife parks in West Africa. Lions, cheetahs, leopards, elephants and hundreds of other species thrive here.
In fact, Benin is wonderfully tourist friendly. There are good roads, a wide range of accommodation options and ecotourism initiatives that offer travellers the chance to delve deeper into Beninese life. Now is an ideal time to go because the country sits on the cusp of discovery.
Official name. Republic of Benin
Largest city. Cotonou
Languages. Official language French. Vernacular languages Fon Yoruba
Ethnic groups. 39.2% Fon, 17.6% Yoruba, 15.2% Adja, 9.2% Bariba, 6.9% Fula, 6.1% Ottamari, 4.0% Yoa-Lokpa, 2.5% Dendi
Government. Presidential republic. President Patrice Talon
Independence from France. 1 August 1960
Area. ddTotal 114,763 km2 (100th)
Population. July 2015 estimate 10,879,829 (82nd), 2013 census 10,008,749. Density 94.8/km2 (120th)
GDP (PPP) 2016 estimate Total $22.542 billion Per capita $2,025
GDP (nominal) 2016 estimate Total $8.302 billion. Per capita $745
Tourism Information. Office de Tourisme d’Abomey et Région – Official site of the tourist information of Abomey and the region with much info about. history, vodun, thematical city tours, excursions, hotels, etc., plus the possibility to make online-reservations of all products.
Office de Tourisme de Ouidah – Official site of the tourist information of the old coastal town of Ouidah.
Parc National de la Pendjari and Maison Pendjari – Information about the Pandjari National Parc and possibility of online-reservations via the Maison Pendjari, the tourist information based in Tanguiéta.
Bénin Découverte – Local tour operator hotelier who offers also measured tours through the neighbouring countries.
When to Go. Nov–Feb Warm and dry weather. Prime wildlife watching. Harmattan can produce hazy skies. Mar–May The hottest period, after the harmattan lifts. Clear skies and some rain in the south. Jun–Oct Usually downright wet and humid; a dry spell mid-July to mid-September in the south.
MONEY. West African CFA franc (XOF). Has a fixed exchange rate to the euro. Most banks have cash machines. As in all the CFA Franc economies, Visa is much more popular than Master Card. The only bank to accept MasterCard is Banque Atlantique (in Cotonou onl). Many businesses and offices, including banks, close for several hours in the middle of the day. Credit cards are accepted at some upmarket hotels and shops. Some places levy a commission of about 5% for credit-card payment.
The best foreign currency to carry is euros, easily exchanged at any bank, hotel or bureau de change. Travellers cheques cannot be exchanged in Benin.
VISAS. One-month single-entry visas are required for all travellers except nationals of the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas): Algeria, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Republic of the Congo, Côte D’Ivoire, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Hong Kong, Liberia, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Taiwan, and Togo..
Visas 30 daya. Not obtainable at the border or upon arrival at the airport. Be sure to get your visa from a Beninese embassy before travelling.
Need proof of a yellow fever shot.
Visas for Onward Travel
Burkina Faso – No diplomatic representation in Benin – contact the French consulate.
Niger – The embassy in Cotonou issues 30-day visas. Need two photos. Allow three to four working days. You cannot get visas at the border.
Nigeria – The Nigerian embassy only issues transit visas to travellers with a Nigerian embassy in their home country. You need two photos, along with photocopies of your passport and, if you have one, your ticket for onward travel from Nigeria. Fees vary according to nationality. Visas are normally issued on the same day.
Togo – Seven-day visas are issued at the border. If crossing the border at Nadoba coming from Boukombé, head to Kara where the Direction Régionale de la Documentation Nationale issues 30-day multiple-entry visas (four photos).
Benin formerly Dahomey, is a country in West Africa. It is bordered by Togo to the west, Nigeria to the east, and Burkina Faso and Niger to the north. A majority of the population live on its small southern coastline on the Bight of Benin, part of the Gulf of Guinea in the northernmost tropical portion of the Atlantic Ocean. The capital of Benin is Porto-Novo, but the seat of government is in Cotonou, the country’s largest city and economic capital. Benin covers an area of 114,763 square kilometers and its population in 2015 was estimated to be approximately 10.88 million. Benin is a tropical, sub-Saharan nation, highly dependent on agriculture, with substantial employment and income arising from subsistence farming.
The official language of Benin is French. However, indigenous languages such as Fon and Yoruba are commonly spoken. The largest religious group in Benin is Roman Catholicism, followed closely by Islam, Vodun and Protestantism. Benin is a member of the United Nations, the African Union, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, the South Atlantic Peace and Cooperation Zone, La Francophonie, the Community of Sahel-Saharan States, the African Petroleum Producers Association and the Niger Basin Authority.
From the 17th to the 19th century, the main political entities in the area were the Kingdom of Dahomey along with the city-state of Porto-Novo and a large area with many different tribes to the north. This region was referred to as the Slave Coast from as early as the 17th century due to the large number of slaves shipped to the New World during the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. After slavery was abolished, France took over the country and renamed it French Dahomey. In 1960, Dahomey gained full independence from France, and had a tumultuous period with many different democratic governments, many military coups and military governments.
A Marxist–Leninist state called the People’s Republic of Benin existed between 1975 and 1990. In 1991, it was replaced by the current multi-party Republic of Benin.
Etymology. During the colonial period and at independence, the country was known as Dahomey. On 30 November 1975 it was renamed to Benin, after the body of water on which the country lies — the Bight of Benin — which, in turn, had been named after the Benin Empire (nowadays Nigeria). The country of Benin has no connection to Benin City in modern Nigeria, nor to the Benin bronzes.
The new name, Benin, was chosen for its neutrality. Dahomey was the name of the former Kingdom of Dahomey, which covered only most of the southern third of the present country and therefore did not represent Porto-Novo (a rival state in the south), the northwestern sector Atakora, nor the kingdom of Borgu, which covered the northeastern third.
The current country of Benin combines three areas which had different political and ethnic systems prior to French colonial control. Before 1700, there were a few important city states along the coast (primarily of the Aja ethnic group, but also including Yoruba and Gbe peoples) and a mass of tribal regions inland (composed of Bariba, Mahi, Gedevi, and Kabye peoples). The Oyo Empire, located primarily to the east of modern Benin, was the most significant large-scale military force in the region and it would regularly conduct raids and exact tribute from the coastal kingdoms and the tribal regions. The situation changed in the 1600s and early 1700s as the Kingdom of Dahomey, which was of Fon ethnicity, was founded on the Abomey plateau and began taking over areas along the coast. By 1727, king Agaja of the Kingdom of Dahomey had conquered the coastal cities of Allada and Whydah, but it had become a tributary of the Oyo empire and did not directly attack the Oyo allied city-state of Porto-Novo. The rise of the kingdom of Dahomey, the rivalry between the kingdom and the city of Porto-Novo, and the continued tribal politics of the northern region, persisted into the colonial and post-colonial periods.
The Dahomey Kingdom was known for its culture and traditions. Young boys were often apprenticed to older soldiers, and taught the kingdom’s military customs until they were old enough to join the army. Dahomey was also famous for instituting an elite female soldier corps, called Ahosi i.e. the king’s wives or Mino, “our mothers” in the Fon language Fongbe, and known by many Europeans as the Dahomean Amazons. This emphasis on military preparation and achievement earned Dahomey the nickname of “black Sparta” from European observers and 19th century explorers like Sir Richard Burton.
Portuguese Empire. The kings of Dahomey sold their war captives into transatlantic slavery; otherwise the captives would have been killed in a ceremony known as the Annual Customs. By about 1750, the King of Dahomey was earning an estimated £250,000 per year by selling Africans to the European slave-traders. Though the leaders of Dahomey appeared initially to resist the slave trade, it flourished in the region of Dahomey for almost three hundred years, beginning in 1472 with a trade agreement with Portuguese merchants, leading to the area’s being named “the Slave Coast”. Court protocols, which demanded that a portion of war captives from the kingdom’s many battles be decapitated, decreased the number of enslaved people exported from the area. The number went from 102,000 people per decade in the 1780s to 24,000 per decade by the 1860s.
The decline was partly due to the banning of the trans-Atlantic slave trade by Britain and other countries. This decline continued until 1885, when the last slave ship departed from the coast of the present-day Benin Republic bound for Brazil, a former Portuguese colony that had yet to abolish slavery.
The capital’s name Porto-Novo is of Portuguese origin, meaning “New Port”. It was originally developed as a port for the slave trade.
Colonial period and Independence (1900 until 1958). By the middle of the nineteenth century, Dahomey had begun to lose its status as the regional power. This enabled the French to take over the area in 1892. In 1899, the French included the land called French Dahomey within the larger French West Africa colonial region. In 1958, France granted autonomy to the Republic of Dahomey, and full independence on 1 August 1960. The president who led them to independence was Hubert Maga.
Post-colonial period. For the next twelve years after 1960, ethnic strife contributed to a period of turbulence. There were several coups and regime changes, with the figures of Hubert Maga, Sourou Apithy, Justin Ahomadegbé, and Emile Derlin Zinsou dominating; the first three each represented a different area and ethnicity of the country. These three agreed to form a Presidential Council after violence marred the 1970 elections.
In May 1972, Maga ceded power to Ahomadegbe. In October 1972, Lt. Col. Mathieu Kérékou overthrew the ruling triumvirate, becoming president and stating that the country would not “burden itself by copying foreign ideology, and wants neither Capitalism, Communism, nor Socialism”. In November 1974, he announced that the country was officially Marxist, under control of the Military Council of the Revolution (CNR), which nationalized the petroleum industry and banks. In November 1975, he renamed the country to the People’s Republic of Benin.
The CNR was dissolved in 1979, and Kérékou arranged show elections where he was the only allowed candidate. Establishing relations with China, North Korea, and Libya, he put nearly all businesses and economic activities under state control, causing foreign investment in Benin to dry up. Kérékou attempted to reorganize education, pushing his own aphorisms such as “Poverty is not a fatality”, resulting in a mass exodus of teachers, along with a large number of other professionals. The regime financed itself by contracting to take nuclear waste first from the Soviet Union and later from France. In 1980, Kérékou converted to Islam and changed his first name to Ahmed, then changed his name back after claiming to be a born-again Christian. In 1989, riots broke out after the regime did not have money to pay its army. The banking system collapsed. Eventually Kérékou renounced Marxism and a convention forced Kérékou to release political prisoners and arrange elections.
In THE 1991 election, Kérékou lost to Nicéphore Soglo but returned to power after the 1996 and 2001, but opponents claimed election irregularities.
Kérékou and Soglo were barred by the constitution’s restrictions on age and total terms and did not run in the 2006 elections.
The 2006 election was considered free and fair won by Boni, again in 2011 with 53% of the vote to avoid a runoff election, becoming the first without a runoff since the restoration of democracy in 1991.
In the 2016 elections, Boni was barred by the constitution from running for a third term and businessman Patrice Talon won the second round with 65.37% of the vote.
Politics. A presidential representative democratic republic, where the President of Benin is both head of state and head of government, within a multi-party system. Benin scored highly in the 2013 Ibrahim Index of African Governance: 18th out of 52 African countries, and scored best in the categories of Safety & Rule of Law and Participation & Human Rights.
In its 2007 Worldwide Press Freedom Index, Reporters Without Borders ranked Benin 53rd out of 169 countries and 88th out of 159 countries in a 2005 analysis of police, business and political corruption.
Benin, a narrow, north–south strip of land in West Africa, lies between latitudes 6° and 13°N, and longitudes 0° and 4°E. Benin is bounded by Togo to the west, Burkina Faso and Niger to the north, Nigeria to the east, and the Bight of Benin to the south. The distance from the Niger River in the north to the Atlantic Ocean in the south is about 650 km. Although the coastline measures 121 km (75 mi) the country measures about 325 km (202 mi) at its widest point.
Benin shows little variation in elevation. Most of the coastal plain is a sand bar that blocks the seaward flow of several rivers. As a result, there are lagoons a few kilometres inland all along the coast, which is being eroded by the strong ocean currents (highest elevation 10 m (32.8 ft)). Behind the coast lies the Guinean forest-savanna mosaic-covered plateaus (altitude between 20 and 200 m (66 and 656 ft)), which are split by valleys running north to south along the Couffo, Zou, and Oueme Rivers. Then an area of flat lands dotted with rocky hills whose altitude seldom reaches 400 m (1,312 ft) extends around Nikki and Save. Finally, a range of mountains extends along the northwest border and into Togo; this is the Atacora, with the highest point, Mont Sokbaro, at 658 m (2,159 ft).
Benin has fields of lying fallow, mangroves, and remnants of large sacred forests. In the rest of the country, the savanna is covered with thorny scrubs and dotted with huge baobab trees. Some forests line the banks of rivers. In the north and the northwest of Benin the Reserve du W du Niger and Pendjari National Park attractS tourists eager to see one of the most important reserves for large animals of West Africa especially the West African lion. Also elephants, antelopes, hippos, and monkeys. Pendjari National Park together with the bordering Parks Arli and W in Burkina Faso and Niger are among the most important strongholds for the endangered West African lion. With an estimated 356 (range: 246–466) lions, W-Arli-Pendjari harbours the largest remaining population of lions in West Africa. Historically Benin has served as habitat for the endangered painted hunting dog, Lycaon pictus; however, this canid is thought to have been locally extirpated.
Climate. Hot and humid. Annual rainfall in the coastal area averages 1300 mm or about 51 inches. Benin has two rainy and two dry seasons per year. The principal rainy season is from April to late July, with a shorter less intense rainy period from late September to November. The main dry season is from December to April, with a short cooler dry season from late July to early September. Temperatures and humidity are high along the tropical coast. In Cotonou, the average maximum temperature is 31 °C (87.8 °F); the minimum is 24 °C (75.2 °F).
Variations in temperature increase when moving north through a savanna and plateau toward the Sahel. A dry wind from the Sahara called the Harmattan blows from December to March, during which grass dries up, the vegetation turns reddish brown, and a veil of fine dust hangs over the country, causing the skies to be overcast. It also is the season when farmers burn brush in the fields.
Environment. Wildlife thrives in Parc National de la Pendjari, with elephants and several feline species. Deforestation and desertification are major issues because of the logging of valuable wood, such as teak.
The economy of Benin is dependent on subsistence agriculture, cotton production, and regional trade. Cotton accounts for 40% of GDP and roughly 80% of official export receipts. Growth in real output has averaged around 5% in the past seven years, but rapid population growth has offset much of this increase. Inflation has subsided over the past several years. Benin uses the CFA franc, which is pegged to the euro.
Benin’s economy has continued to strengthen over the past years, with real GDP growth 5.7% in 2009. Services continue to contribute the largest part of GDP largely because of Benin’s geographical location, enabling trade, transportation, transit and tourism activities with its neighbouring states.
Foreign investment, tourism, new food processing systems and agricultural products, and information and communication technology are goals. Improving the business climate, reforms to the land tenure system, the commercial justice system, and the financial sector were included in Benin’s US$307 million Millennium Challenge Account grant signed in 2006. An insufficient electrical supply continues to adversely affect Benin’s economic growth. Ongoing labour problems include women’s wage equality, child labour, and forced labour.
Cotonou has the country’s only seaport and international airport. A new port is currently under construction between Cotonou and Porto Novo. Benin is connected by two-lane asphalted roads to its neighboring countries (Togo, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Nigeria). Mobile telephone service is available across the country through various operators. ADSL connections are available in some areas. Benin was connected to the Internet by way of satellite and a single submarine cable since 2001, keeping the price of data extremely high. The Africa Coast to Europe cable was added in 2011.
In 2006, a third of the population live below the international poverty line of US$1.25 per day.
Transport. Benin possesses has 6,787 km of highway, of which 1,357 km are paved. The Trans–West African Coastal Highway crosses Benin, connects it to Nigeria to the east, and Togo, Ghana and Ivory Coast and eventually west to Liberia, Sierra Leone and seven other Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) nations. A paved highway also connects Benin northwards to Niger and onwards to Burkina Faso.
Rail transport consists of 578 km of single track, 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 3⁄8 in) metre gauge railway. Benin does not, at this time, share railway links with adjacent countries – Niger possesses no railways to connect to.
Cadjehoun Airport in Cotonou has direct international jet service to Accra, Niamey, Monrovia, Lagos, Ouagadougou, Lomé, Douala, Paris, Brussels and Istanbul.
The majority of Benin’s population lives in the south. The population is young, with a life expectancy of 59 years. About 42 African ethnic groups live in this country; these various groups settled in Benin at different times and also migrated within the country: three of them account for nearly 60% of the population: Fon, Adja and Yoruba. The Fon (originally from Nigeria, around Abomey in the South Central) and Yoruba (south east, from Nigeria in the 12th century). Mina, Xueda, and Aja (who came from Togo) on the coast. Dendi (who came from Mali in the 16th century) in the north-central area. The Bariba (8%) and nomadic Fula (9%) in the northeast, the Betamaribé and Somba in the Atacora Range have traditionally been very protective of their cultures and distant towards southern people.
Recent migrations have brought other African nationals: Nigerians, Togolese, and Malians. The foreign community includes many Lebanese and Indians involved in trade and commerce. The personnel of the many European embassies and foreign aid missions and of nongovernmental organizations and various missionary groups account for a large part of the 5500 European population. A small part of the European population consists of Beninese citizens of French ancestry, whose ancestors ruled Benin and left after independence.
Health. The HIV/AIDS rate in Benin was estimated in 2013 at 1.13% of adults aged 15–49 years. Malaria is a leading cause of morbidity and mortality among Children younger than five years.
During the 1980s, less than 30% of the country’s population had access to primary health care services. Benin had one of the highest death rates for children under the age of five in the world at 203 deaths for every 1000 live births. Only one in three mothers had access to child health care services. The Bamako Initiative introduced community-based health care reform, resulting in more efficient and equitable provision of services. In 2010, Benin had the 34th highest rate of maternal mortality in the world. To 2013, 13% of women had undergone female genital mutilation.
Beninese literature had a strong oral tradition long before French became the dominant language. A vibrant and innovative music scene combines native folk music with Ghanaian highlife, French cabaret, American rock, funk and soul, and Congolese rumba. Singer Angélique Kidjo and actor Djimon Hounsou were born in Cotonou, Benin. Composer Wally Badarou and singer Gnonnas Pedro are also of Beninese descent.
Customary names. Many Beninese in the south of the country have Akan-based names indicating the day of the week on which they were born.
Language. Local languages are the languages of instruction in elementary schools, with French only introduced after several years. Beninese languages are generally transcribed with a separate letter for each speech sound (phoneme),
Religion. Christian – 42.8% (south and center of Benin and in Otammari country in the Atakora – 27.1% Roman Catholic, 5% Celestial Church of Christ, 3.2% Methodist, 7.5% other Christian denominations), 24.4% were Muslim (introduced by the Songhai Empire and Hausa merchants, followed throughout Alibori, Borgou and Donga provinces, as well as among the Yoruba), 17.3% practiced Vodun, 6% practiced other local traditional religions, 1.9% practiced other religions, and 6.5% claimed no religious affiliation. Traditional religions include local animistic religions in Atakora and Donga provinces, and Vodun and Orisha among the Yoruba and Tado peoples in the center and south. Ouidah on the central coast is the spiritual centre of Beninese Vodun
Education. The literacy rate in Benin is among the lowest in the world: in 2006 it was estimated to be 28.7% (40.6% for males and 18.4% for females). Although at one time the education system was not free, Benin has abolished school fees and is carrying out the recommendations of its 2007 Educational Forum.
Sports. Football) is the most popular sport.
Air. The main airport is in Cotonou. From here you can connect to Paris, Amsterdam, Moscow, and a variety of cities in West Africa.
Train. No international train services to Benin.
Car. There are land crossings with all bordering countries, but due to conflict, it is only recommended to cross the two coastal borders with Togo and Nigeria.
Bus. Timely and reliable bus system with tour-style bus through every major city in Benin everyday, and some in and out of Benin. The main systems are Confort Lines and Benin-Routes.
Bush taxi. Possible in and between most cities and periodically for the more remote ones. Comfort and security are significantly lower than busesd. Drivers maximize the number of people in the car. Offer flexibility that the bus systems do not. Can buy up all the seats or in one row to avoid having to wait until filled and it’s much more comfortable.
Car. Traffic is insane and the rules on the road are almost never enforced. An International Driver’s license is required. Hiring a local guide is recommended. Police roadblocks at night occur regularly and traveling alone with a driver (especially if you are a woman) may put the driver in an awkward position explaining and/or bribing the police.
Traveling by car is recommended only between major cities: Cotonou to Porto Novo or Cotonou to Abomey etc. as otherwise the roads are hard-packed sand. Within the city is not recommended at all as it is unnecessary and uneconomical and motorcycle taxi is the best way. d, with a few paved main roads in the cities and on the highways between the major cities.
Moto. The cheapest way to travel within a city or village is by motorcycle taxi (moto, zemidjan or zem). Drivers usually know the city well. They are easily recognizable by their matching coloured shirts with ID numbers. Motos have colours for different cities: Cotonou: yellow; Natitingou: green with yellow shoulders or light blue with yellow shoulders; Kandi: light blue with yellow shoulders; Parakou: yellow with green shoulders; Kérou: green with yellow shoulders. Prices must be discussed beforehand. Remember the driver’s ID number. Choose your driver carefully, drinking and driving in Benin is very common and moto drivers are sometimes involved in crime rings in major cities.
Boat. There are many pirogues (kayak/canoe) used for the fishing industry. Normally one can use a pirogue to visit the lake villages.
Train. A route goes halfway up the country, from Cotonou to Parakou (leaves Cotonou three times a week (Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday) at 8AM and returns the next day.
Voodoo. Benin is perhaps best known to the world as the birthplace of the Vodun religion—voodoo. Voodoo temples, roadside fetishes, and fetish markets are found throughout the country, but the best known is the skull and skin-filled fetish market in the Grande Marche du Dantopka—Cotonou’s overwhelmingly busy, enormous, and hectic grand market. The most important fetish in the country is the monstruous Dankoli fetish, on the northerly road near Savalou, which is a pretty good spot for beseeching gods.
Slave Trade. Benin under the rule of the Dahomey kings was a major centre of the slave trade, and the Route des Esclaves in Ouidah, terminating at the beachside Point of No Return monument is a memorial. Ouidah’s local museum, housed in a Portuguese fort focuses on the slave trade.
Dahomey Empire. Abomey was the capital of the Dahomey Empire, and its ruined temples and royal palaces, now a UNESCO World Heritage site, are one of the country’s top attractions. The ruins, their bas-reliefs, and the Abomey Historical Museum in the royal palace (which contains all sorts of macabre tapestries and even a throne of human skulls) are a testament to the wealth brought to the Dahomey kings from the slave trade, and brutality with which they oppressed their enemies, fodder for human sacrifice and bondage.
Ganvie, home to 30,000 whose ancestors fled the brutal Dahomey kings by building their town on stilts in the centre of Lake Nokoué, is a fascinating and naturally beautiful locale, and a popular stop as one of the largest of West Africa’s lake towns. (Ghana may have much more rewarding experiences for travellers interested in West African lake towns.)
Porto Novo, the capital, is small and one of West Africa’s more pleasant capitals. Most of the country’s major museums are located here amidst the crumbling architectural legacy of French colonial rule.
Grand Popo is popular city for tourists to relax on the beaches.
North. A very different sort of Benin from the crowded, polluted cities of the south, of which Cotonou is such a prominent example. Pendjari National Park and W National Park (which Benin shares with Burkina Faso and Niger), is considered West Africa’s best for wildlife viewing, and are set in beautiful, hilly highlands.
Tata. The unique and eccentric mud and clay tower-houses, known as tata, of the Somba people in the north, west of Djougou near the Togolese border, are a little-known extension into Benin of the types of dwellings used by the Batammariba people of Togo just west. Virtually all tourists to this area flock to the UNESCO-designated Koutammakou Valley across the border; the Benin side has the advantage of being even off the beaten path.
Grand Popo — Beach resort town close to the Togolese border
Parakou — Largest city in the central region
Malanville — Largest city in the far north, lies on the Niger border
Natitingou — Largest city on the way to northern Togo or Burkina Faso.
Buy. Prices for goods purchased in a store, restaurant, hotel, bus tickets, etc. are non-negotiable, but almost everything else is. Depending on the item, it’s not uncommon for foreigners to be quoted a price that is double the final purchase price.
If you have been on the road a long time and are looking for a nice, cool and well stocked shop, try Erevan hypermarket very close to Cotonou Airport. It is reputed to be the biggest hypermarket in all of West Africa, selling all the nicest imported French goodies, as well as having a nice hardware department. Dantokpa Market in Cotonou is the biggest local market in West Africa.
Opening hours. Banks – 8am to 12.30pm and 3pm to 6.30pm Monday to Friday, plus 9am to 1pm Saturday. Bars Normally serve from late morning until the last customers leave (late); nightclubs generally go from 10pm into the wee hours. Restaurants Lunch is usually from 11.30am to 2.30pm, dinner 6.30pm to 10.30pm. Shops & Businesses Open 8am to noon and 3pm to 7pm Monday to Saturday.
Beninese grub is unquestionably among the best in West Africa and is very similar to Togolese food, the main differences being the names: fufu is generally called igname pilé, and djenkoumé is called pâte rouge. In southern Benin, fish is a highlight of local cuisine. It’s usually barracuda, dorado or grouper, and is usually served grilled or fried.
Beninese cuisine is known in Africa for its exotic ingredients and flavourful dishes with sauces. In the southern Benin cuisine, corn is used to prepare dough which is mainly served with peanut – or tomato-based sauces. Fish and chicken are the most common meats but beef, goat, and bush rat are also consumed. The main staple in northern Benin is yams often served with sauces and beef and pork. Also couscous, rice, and beans along with mangoes, oranges, avocados, bananas, kiwi fruit, and pineapples.
Meat is quite expensive, and meals are generally light it and generous on vegetable fat. Frying in palm or peanut oil is the most common meat preparation, and smoked fish is common. “Chicken on the spit” is traditional chicken roasted over fire on wooden sticks. Palm roots are sometimes soaked in a jar with saltwater and sliced garlic to tenderize them, then used in dishes. Many people have outdoor mud stoves for cooking.
Street vendors sell anything from beans and rice to grilled chicken, goat and/or turkey. Prices are nominal. Choose hot food for safety.
The adventurous could try the.”
Drink. The beer is cheap and good! Local pubs (buvettes) are on every corner in every neighbourhood. You can get a bottle of local beer “La Béninoise”, Heineken, Guinness, Castel and others depending on the bar. In nightclubs beer is excessively expensive. Local whiskey (moonshine) is also available, and it is VERY strong stuff (sodabe) or tchoukoutou, a millet-based brew or vin de palme (palm wine) made from from sap of the palm tree.
Benin has accommodation to suit every budget – from beach resorts to guesthouses. Swanky hotels are confined to Cotonou and, to a lesser extent, Ouidah and Natitingou. Most have restaurants and bars, and offer wi-fi service and have air-con. Basic hotels can be found in most cities, bargaining may reduce that substantially. Camping is possible in only a few places.
The best way to stay safe in Benin is to always be in the presence of a local person whom you can trust – a friend or hired tourist guide. They know which areas are safe, prices, speak the native languages, and which venues sell good food that is safe for westerners. For women, avoid travelling alone, try to be in the company of other people as much as possible. Do not travel at night alone, attacks along the beaches are frequent, and of course near hotels, nightclubs and other venues. Ignore any person who whistles at you during the night if you are alone. Benin is a peaceful country and the people are very kind and generous, but that being said muggings and robberies occur everywhere.
Women travellers. Beninese men can be sleazy and women travellers will get a lot of unwanted attention. Particularly unnerving are military and other officials using their power to get more of your company than is strictly necessary. Always stay polite but firm and make sure you have a good ‘husband story’.
Eat street food served very very hot as e.coli bacteria is in undercooked meat. Drinking water is readily available, in Cotonou, the tap water is safe to drink.
Malaria is a reality in Benin. Mosquitoes appear from dusk to dawn
Yellow Fever is the only compulsory vaccination needed to enter the country. Vaccines against polio, hepatitis A and B, Measles, Mumps, Rubella, tetanus, Rabies are encouraged.
AIDS is an issue in Benin as in all sub-Saharan African countries; use of a condom is highly recommended if entering into a sexual relationship with a Beninese partner. Also Syphilis, Chlamydia, HPV, etc. If traveling to Benin it is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED that you speak to a doctor who specializes in travel.
Internet. In towns and cities, complimentary wi-fi is available in almost every midrange and top-end hotel. Internet cafes are plentiful in towns and cities. Rates are CFA300 per hour. Connection speeds vary from pretty good to acceptable.
Telephone. Phone numbers have eight digits. Landline numbers start with 21, mobile numbers with 9 or 6.
Mobile-phone coverage is excellent and fairly cheap. Local networks include Moov and MTN. Depending on which mobile network you use at home, your phone may or may not work while in Cotonou – ask your mobile network provider. You can also bring your phone and buy a local SIM card. Top-up vouchers are readily available.