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Top Benin Tourist Attractions: An Overland Travel Itinerary

Last modified on November 3rd, 2020 at 10:32

West Africa is one of the world’s last frontiers. Long plagued by disease, civil strife and ethnic tension, it is one of the only regions of the world where tourism has yet to gain a foothold. Bad roads, lack of tourist infrastructure and minimal information on travel to the area, have all played their part in solidifying West Africa’s reputation as the world’s most challenging destination.

Yet those willing to step out of their comfort zones, will find an area of the world that is authentic, musical and full of color. For first-time travelers to West Africa, Benin offers an easy introduction. The country has a nascent eco-tourism industry, comparatively decent infrastructure and a wide selection of tourist attractions—from ancient palaces, to wildlife-rich parks, to sweeping beaches.

A BENIN TRAVEL ITINERARY

I traveled to Benin as part of a West Africa overland tour with Dragoman. The tour’s ten day itinerary brought me to Benin’s top tourist attractions—starting at the remote Tata Somba area in the country’s northern reaches and ending along the golden sands of Grand Popo Beach in southern Benin.

Voodoo Ceremony Performance Heve Benin

Our ten day Benin itinerary included a diverse array of places to see. In the Tata Somba area, we admired the unique two-story mud houses that constitute one of West Africa’s premier cultural landscapes. From there, we continued to the wildlife-rich Pendjari National Park and the historically significant Abomey Palaces. Finally, we finished our tour in southern Benin, where we visited the country’s Voodoo monuments and retraced the harrowing Route des Esclaves.

TATA SOMBA AREA, NORTHERN BENIN

The Tata Somba houses of Benin are part of the greater Koutammakou World Heritage Site that spans parts of northern Togo and Benin. We entered Benin from northern Togo at a small border post near Natitingou, in the Koutammakou/Tata Somba heritage area.

Entering Benin at this remote border crossing was an adventure in its own right. Roads crisscross through Koutammakou and the adjacent Tata Somba without passing by an official border post. The porous delineation between the two countries facilitates the unification of families that lie on either side of the border. It also means that we drove across the imaginary demarcation a number of times before we were able track down an official border guard that could give us our Benin entry stamp.

When we finally found the immigration ‘office,’ we realized that it consisted of nothing more than a man sitting on a log near a dusty village road, stamp in hand.

Togo Benin Border

From the border, we headed toward our accommodation—a no-frills eco-lodge constructed to resemble a Tata Somba homestead. The eco-lodge was the base from which we explored the surrounding villages and familiarized ourselves with the unique cultural landscape.

We spent two days exploring the Tata Somba villages of Benin. The area—a baobab-speckled expanse of undulating hills—showcases two-story mud houses that have been preserved for generations.

The Tata Somba houses are unique for their layout and architecture. The traditional Tata Somba houses consist of two floors connected by an interior stairway. The bottom floors of the structures typically house the cooking area and the animal quarters. On the top floor, elevated thatched rooms contain granaries and sleeping quarters.

Tata Somba Houses Benin Attractions

During our two days in the Tata Somba region, we enjoyed learning about the local area. We participated in guided village walks, toured the traditional Tata Somba houses and soaked in the simplicity of life in rural Benin.

PENDJARI NATIONAL PARK

Heading north from the Tata Somba area, we found ourselves in the vast Pendjari National Park —one of West Africa’s premier wildlife destinations and the best place to see the maneless West African lions. The park is the largest remaining ecosystem in West Africa and a refuge for the region’s endangered elephants and lions.  It is estimated that there are fewer than 400 West African lions left, and approximately 100 reside in the park.

Our two days in Pendjari were both rewarding and frustrating. Our intimate encounter with West Africa’s endangered wildlife was cut short by a horrible misunderstanding that resulted in a standoff between our tour group and the park’s management.

Elephants in Pendjari National Park

Nevertheless, I have fond memories of my visit to Pendjari. Over the course of our two days in the park, we witnessed countless colorful birds, admired some of Africa’s most beloved animals and fell asleep to the sounds of the wild. It was an off-the-beaten-path safari experience that rivaled the grandeur of some of Africa’s most coveted wildlife destinations.

Despite the unfortunate ending to our visit, there is no doubt that Pendjari National Park is one of the top tourist attractions in Benin and an essential stop on any West Africa itinerary.

ROYAL PALACES OF ABOMEY

Abomey is the former capital of the Dahomey Kingdom and one of Benin’s top historical attractions. Established in 1625 by the Fon people, the Royal Palaces in Abomey have been designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites for their unparalleled importance in Benin’s history.

Dahomey Palace in Abomey

Abomey, formerly known as Dahomey, was once one of the most powerful and brutal kingdoms in West Africa. The Kings of Dahomey were despotic and bloody sovereigns who were known for human sacrifices and for using blood to paint the walls of their palaces.

The Dahomey Kingdom flourished in the 18th and 19th centuries and was a central facilitator in the West African slave trade. The kings of Dahomey ordered the capture of men, women and children in wars and raids.  They then sold their captives to the slave traders in return for weapons.

The Royal Abomey Palace complex is one of the most interesting tourist attractions in Benin. Today, the palaces house a museum that showcases relics of Dahomey art. The museum’s exhibits include decorations made with human skulls, Voodoo fetish items and paraphernalia belonging to a succession of Dahomey kings.

Dahomey Bas Reliefs

Tours of the Royal Abomey Palace cost CFA3000 for foreigners. Photography is prohibited in the palace and its museums, though our guide gave us the go-ahead to take photos regardless.

The Royal Palaces of Abomey are among the most remarkable buildings in Sub-Saharan Africa. They are a top Benin tourist attraction and a testament to the continent’s historical and cultural relics.

GANVIE: THE VENICE OF AFRICA

There is no doubt that Benin is blessed with a plethora of things to see. But there is also no doubt that Ganvie is the country’s most popular attraction. Ganvie has been lovingly named the ‘ Venice of Africa’ for its waterways and lack of cars. Perhaps the Inle Lake of Africa would be a more apt description, however, because the stilt village in the middle of Lake Nokoué shares a striking resemblance with the the communities that sprinkle the waters of Myanmar’s Inle Lake.

Ganvie Stilt Village--one of Benin's Top attractions

Ganvié was founded by the Tofinu people in the seventeenth century. The Tofinu—desperate to evade capture and enslavement by the ruthless Fon soldiers—escaped to the middle of Lake Nakoué. Religious beliefs prevented the Fon from fighting on the lake, so the sacred body of water became a safe haven for the Tofinu.

Today, the stilt village of Ganvie is home to approximately 40,000 people.  The original collection of stilt houses has expanded to include floating markets, schools, hospitals, mosques and churches.  Some of the larger structures have been built on islands made from reclaimed soil.

Boats in the Ganvie Stilt VIllage

Our visit to Ganvie was a prime example of West Africa’s cultural vibrancy. We spent two days exploring the laketop attraction and observing its intoxicating display of colors, sights and sounds. From the port of Abomey-Calavi, a boat brought us to the basic, yet centrally-located Chez M Hotel located in one of Nakoue’s stilt communities.

Our Ganvie itinerary was supposed to consist of an afternoon lake tour and an evening of relaxing at Chez M’s waterview restaurant.

When our boat broke down merely minutes after our departure, however, Ganvie had an alternative plan in store for us.

On the day we visited Ganvie, the floating village was hosting a jazz festival. Our guide—evidently sorry about our boat’s faulty engine—decided to make up for our interrupted tour by taking us on a remarkable adventure. Once our engine troubles were fixed (thanks to a group of young children who rowed off to find us help), our guide brought us to a family reunion for an inside look at Benin’s modern-day culture.

Beninese Children

The reunion consisted of over three hundred family members adorned in colorful dress. Before we knew it, we were swept away in a whirl of dancing, food, beer and limitless curiosity. We met the family king, played with the village children and were the subjects in countless photographs.

When the sun went down, our guide brought us to the local jazz festival, where—surrounded by local musicians and villagers— we danced the night away to a soundtrack of contemporary Beninese sounds.

It was the kind of day that is only possible in places that have not yet been jaded by tourists and the troubles that they often bring.

OUIDAH: WEST AFRICA’S VOODOO HEART

Our Benin itinerary continued southward, to Ouidah—Africa’s Voodoo heartland and one of the most culturally dynamic places to visit in Benin.

In the West, the word Voodoo conjures images of black magic, witchcraft and beaded dolls. Yet Voodoo is one of the world’s oldest religions and a central pillar of Benin’s culture. Religion in Benin is fluid, with people adhering to a fusion of old practices and new religious ideas. Approximately 35% of Benin’s population practices Voodoo, while nearly 70%  of the country’s population combines elements of Voodoo with Christianity and Islam.

Voodoo talismans, called fetishes, are often used in the construction of temples and altars. These fetishes adorn shrines and entryways and are believed to have supernatural powers. They ooze with blood, feathers and the pelts of sacrificed animals.

For those interested in Voodoo statues and fetishes, Ouidah’s Sacred Forest and Python Temple are must-sees.

THE VOODOO PYTHON TEMPLE

The serpent deity, Dangbé, has been a revered figure in Benin for centuries. As such, the deity’s ancestors are protected and honored in the city’s Voodoo Python Temple. The temple—directly facing a Christian Basilica—is a painted hut that contains over fifty lazy pythons.

Voodoo Python Temple in Ouidah, Benin

Entrance to the temple costs CFA1000 and includes a short guided tour.

THE SACRED FOREST

Down the road from the Python Temple, Ouidah’s Sacred Forest is the location at which King Kpasse (founder of Ouidah) allegedly turned into a tree to escape his enemies.

Sacred Forest in Ouidah, Benin

A short walk through the forest introduces visitors to shrines and statues of the Voodoo deities.

THE ROUTE DES ESCLAVES

In addition to being the center of Voodoo in Benin, Ouidah is historically significant for being one of the primary centers of West Africa’s slave trade.

UNESCO’s flagship Slave Route Project is a walk that brings visitors from the slave auction plaza in Ouidah, to the Gate of No Return. It was constructed to bring light to the plight of the 12 million slaves that were forced across the Atlantic.

We walked the Route des Esclaves on our second day in Ouidah. The route takes visitors past the slave auction plaza, the Tree of Forgetfulness (at which slaves were forced to walk in circles to forget where they came from) and the Tree of Return (a tree that slaves circled with the belief that their souls would return home after death). Along the route, plaques and statues commemorate the horrors of the West African slave trade.

At the end of the walk, we reached the Gate of No Return—a powerful memorial that represents the place where slaves were forcefully ripped from their homelands and brought to the Americas.

Route des Esclaves, Ouidah, Benin

Even my visit to Goree Island in Senegal did little to prepare me emotionally for my visit to Benin’s sobering monument.

GRAND POPO BEACH

Located between Ouidah and the Togo border, Grand Popo offers a windswept stretch of golden sand that is perfect for a few relaxing days of hammock-swinging and beach-lounging.

Grand Popo Beach, Benin

My travel companions and I spent the remaining days of our Benin overland tour at the lovely beachfront Auberge de Gand-Popo. There, we took walks along the ocean, swam in the hotel’s fresh-water swimming pool and relished the tranquility of Benin’s most popular (yet remarkably uncrowded) beach escape.

Benin is an unsung highlight of West Africa’s virtually non-existent tourist trail. Like nearby Ghana , the country is replete with things to see—including the most diverse array of wildlife in West Africa and some of the best-preserved architectural gems south of the Sahara.

Benin has the potential to become a top eco-tourist destination. When compared to some of West Africa’s other countries, Benin is relatively safe and tourist friendly. The country showcases a diverse array of tourist attractions, its roads and accommodation options are continually improving, and a budding eco-tourism industry offers unparalleled opportunities to delve into local Beninese culture.

The best time to travel to Benin is now, before the rest of the world finds out.

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benin tourism places

20 Best Places to Visit in Benin

Benin

Posted on September 14, 2022 |

Benin is an amazing country to visit. It is a tropical country in West Africa . Benin was once a major power in West Africa and still has a very strong culture today. Benin has some of the best beaches in Africa, such as Porto Novo Beach and Grand Popo. Benin also has many beautiful waterfalls, including Pendjari Falls and Oued Zoun.

The country has many national parks and nature reserves, such as Pendjari National Park, Pendjari Reserve, and Bossou Forest Reserve. Benin also has many endangered species, such as manatees, sea turtles, and pygmy hippos. Benin is also one of the safest places to visit in Africa.

If you’re considering a trip to Benin, you can find plenty of places to see and things to do in this West African country. Benin is a French-speaking nation and is home to the vodun religion. It was also the birthplace of the Dahomey Kingdom, which ruled from about 1600 to 1900.

While it’s still relatively unknown to most travelers, Benin is quickly becoming one of the best destinations for eco-tourists. The country is developing its infrastructure and has plenty of great places to visit. There’s an abundance of tour operators who can arrange nice tours of the various tourist attractions.

What makes Benin such a wonderful destination? Let’s find out.

Cotonou source wikipedia

Located on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, Cotonou is the capital and the largest city of Benin. You can experience a taste of African life here with its diverse ethnic groups. You can also shop for fresh fruits and vegetables in the city’s market, which spans 20 acres. Cotonou is also the home to the National University, which has six campuses and 19 institutions.

The city enjoys a tropical wet and dry climate. The best times to visit Cotonou are January, February, and August.

The city center is home to the Dantokpa Market, the largest local market in West Africa. You can find handicrafts and clothing from local and French artisans here. If you are in the mood for some natural beauty, you can visit Lake Nokoue, a lake eleven kilometers long and 20 kilometers wide.

The area also includes the water town of Ganvie, which is listed on the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List. Another tourist attraction in Cotonou is the Ancien Pont Bridge, a grand construction that resembles a medieval bridge.

Porto-Novo-Lagoon

Porto-Novo is the capital city of Benin; it’s well known for its colonial buildings. You can check out the cathedral, which was formerly a church, and the Ethnographic Museum, which features musical instruments and costumes from the region.

The Musée da Silva, which tells the history of Benin, is another great place to visit. Also, don’t miss the Honmé Museum, which is housed in King Toffa’s 19th-century royal palace.

The best time to visit Porto-Novo is from May to November. During this time, temperatures are warm with little rainfall. The highest average temperature in Porto-Novo is 93 degrees Fahrenheit in January, and the lowest temperature is 84 degrees in July. The average climate data is based on the past 30 years.

If you have the time, you can visit the Adjarra Market, which is located about 10km north of the city. Here, you can find unique items and mainstream items at discounted prices.

Ouidah - Architecture arch Door of No Return - Ouidah - Benin

When visiting Benin, you should make sure to visit Ouidah, a city in the south of the country. The city is historically important for its role in the 17th to 19th-century Atlantic slave trade. The town is also the home of the Door of No Return, a memorial arch on the waterfront.

The city also has a museum of history based in an 18th-century Portuguese fort, where you can learn about the city’s past as a slave-trading city.

Ouidah is the spiritual capital of the Vodun religion and is the site of the International Vodun Conference. While there, you should also visit the Market of Ouidah, where you can buy a variety of goods at reasonable prices. You can sample local foods such as roasted turkey, chicken, and salad. Another place to get a great meal is Le Jardin Secret, a renowned food corner.

Ouidah is one of the newest tourist destinations in Benin. Though smaller than the other Benin cities, this city offers a number of unique places and activities.

Ouidah Museum of History

Ouidah Museum of History source wikipedia

The Ouidah Museum of History is located in the Old Portuguese Fort in Ouidah. Built in 1721, the fort was used to hold enslaved Africans, but it also served as a diplomatic presence for Portugal. In 1961, the Dahomean government took control of the fort and transformed it into a museum. Now, the museum is managed by the Department of Cultural Patrimony.

The Ouidah Museum of History explains the history of slavery and Voodoo in Benin. The beach in the town is also worth a visit. Dahomey, which is located in present-day Benin, was once a kingdom that lasted about 300 years before being colonized by the French in the early 20th century. The ruins of the former royal palaces in Abomey are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Ouidah is not only the home of Voodoo, but it was also the primary site of the slave trade in West Africa. You can visit UNESCO’s flagship Slave Route Project in Ouidah, which traces the history of the transatlantic slave trade.

Pythons Temple

Pythons Temple source wikipedia

In Benin, pythons are highly revered and worshipped. They are even regarded as a totem. They are not considered dangerous and are often left roaming the city, where they feed on mice and chickens. Locals also encourage visitors to hold the snakes and take photos with them.

The Pythons Temple in Ouidah is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Benin, and it is open to the public daily. The temple is dedicated to the serpent deity Dangbe and contains dozens of pythons. You can even have a picture taken with a snake draped around your neck!

The sanctuary is connected to a large sacred forest, where you can view statues and shrines. While you cannot enter during initiation rites, a guide will give you an insider’s view. In this way, you can discover more about this mysterious religion in Benin.

Dantokpa Market

Dantokpa Market source wikipedia

If you are looking for a unique place to visit in Benin, the Dantokpa Market is the place for you. This market is the largest open-air market in West Africa, covering over 20 hectares. It is very important to the economy of Benin. It is reported to generate a daily commercial turnover of over 1 billion CFA Francs.

The bustling market is a place to buy and sell a wide variety of products. It is not a planned activity, with vendors wandering the streets, and calling out to prospective buyers. The market is both interior and exterior and features numerous vendors selling everything from food to clothing to grains and meats. The atmosphere is very bustling and makes it easy to get lost. It will overwhelm your senses with its many smells and colors.

Visiting the Dantokpa Market is a fun way to learn about the local lifestyle. You can try the local cuisine and buy souvenirs at reasonable prices. Although prices are usually higher than you would expect, it’s important to remember to bargain. Be polite and respectful of the locals.

Royal Palaces of Abomey

Royal Palaces of Abomey

Located in southern Benin, the city of Abomey was the capital of the Kingdom of Dahomey from the 17th to the 19th centuries. It has 12 royal palaces from that time, most of which are in ruins.

The two surviving palaces, Ghézo and Glélé, are now part of the Historical Museum of Abomey. There you can see royal portraits, bas-reliefs, and a throne mounted on human skulls. You can also shop for traditional crafts in a nearby artisan center.

Today, the Royal Palaces of Abomey are being used to host traditional ceremonies and religious rituals. You can visit these palaces and hear traditional music and drumming. The Royal Palaces of Abomey are a wonderful reminder of an era long gone. In 2007, the palaces were removed from the list of World Heritage Sites in Danger.

The first phase of the restoration project aims to drain the site, construct terraces, and better manage the terrain. The second phase of the project will involve the installation of a permanent historical exhibition and an archive of intangible heritage.

In 2007, the World Heritage Committee removed the Abomey Palaces from its list of World Heritage in Danger after international agencies helped restore them.

Cathedral De Notre Dame

Cathedral De Notre Dame source wikipedia

The Cathedral De Notre Dame is the largest Catholic church in Benin and is the main place to celebrate Mass. The building has many features, including a beautiful hall that is used for Sunday services.

The interior also includes areas for the clergy and Sunday school. Nearly half of the population is Christian, although there are also followers of Islam, Voodoo, and other religious beliefs. While the interior is relatively bland, the exterior is remarkably striking.

Visitors can enjoy the bright red and white stripes of the cathedral. The church also has a bookshop that sells local and international literature, as well as Beninese schoolbooks. It is a tranquil and peaceful place to visit. It has plenty of space for quiet reflection.

Etoile Rouge

Etoile Rouge source wikipedia

One of the top places to visit in Benin is the Etoile Rouge (Red Star) monument. This monument was built during the socialist era and symbolizes local resistance. Its name translates as “red star.” The monument depicts a man carrying three items: a peasant rifle, a drum, and a sword. Each item symbolizes a different aspect of Benin’s history, culture, and mindset. It’s located near shops, cafes, and markets.

The Etoile Rouge is a vibrant place. The streets here are cobblestoned and have colorful plazas. There are shops selling everything from clothes to food. There are also several places to purchase alcoholic drinks. It’s also an ideal spot for doing business in Benin.

The Place des Martyrs is another place to visit in Benin. It’s a tribute to Benin’s 20th-century history, and it features a memorial to seven Beninese killed in a failed coup dictatorship attempt in 1977. There are three statues of weapons, as well as a stairway that leads to the memorial.

Pendjari National Park

Pendjari National Park source wikipedia

Benin’s Pendjari National Park is known as one of the best places to see wild animals in West Africa. Although not as diverse or dense as other wild parks on the continent, Pendjari boasts a large variety of animals. Visitors can view a range of antelopes, baboons, warthogs, birds, and elephants. Hippos are also a common sighting here.

If you’re planning a trip to the park, you’ll want to hire a professional guide. Kounta N’tcha is a licensed national guide with many years of experience. She is well-versed in the fauna and flora of Pendjari National Park and speaks excellent English.

During the rainy season, you may encounter tsetse flies in parts of the park. While they are generally harmless, their bite is extremely irritating. Although the flies are mostly harmless, they can spread malaria and sleeping sickness. It is important to drink plenty of water while you’re in the park to avoid dehydration.

Fidjrosse Beach

Fidjrosse Beach

Fidjrosse Beach is located in Benin, West Africa. It is a popular tourist destination for those who love the ocean and want to experience the pristine beaches. However, Benin has so much more to offer than beaches. You can visit Benin’s cultural center and learn about its history.

The center includes a small museum, an exhibition hall, a library, a sculpture garden, and a cafe. It’s also a popular location for tourists who want to take pictures of Benin’s culture.

You can also visit Tchaourou, a lively town with a bustling market. This town is a great base to visit Mount Koussou-Kovangou, which is the highest mountain in Benin. The town also has tata sombas, which are traditional two-story castle-like buildings. They were originally built by the Dita Mari people for livestock and were then converted to house families.

Today, tourists can rent the top floors of these structures to stay at night.

The capital city of Benin, Cotonou, is also a top place to visit. It is a major electricity producer and has a quaint African atmosphere. Besides its many beaches and landmarks, visitors can also enjoy the open-air public spaces in the area. In addition to beachside cafes and restaurants, Fidjrosse Beach also has many water sports and is popular with families.

Grand Popo - Mono river lagoon - source wikipedia

If you’re looking for a natural environment, Benin is an excellent place to visit. This West African country is filled with stunning scenery and a laid-back atmosphere. The country also has plenty of opportunities for adventure.

Visitors can go on a wildlife safari, which is an authentic African experience. You can also partake in water sports, which are popular in Grand Popo and Ouidah. Visitors can also sample some of the local fermented drinks.

Grand Popo Beach is considered one of the best beaches in Benin. The town is located near Mono, which is about two hours away from the capital Cotonou. Grand Popo is a good place to take a break from the hustle and bustle of the city, as the scenery is remarkably beautiful.

Visiting the area will allow you to see the beautiful landscape, pristine streets, and exotic birdlife.

For a romantic weekend away from the hustle and bustle of the city, Grand Popo is a great place to spend a few days with your significant other. It is home to several hotels and resorts and is the perfect gateway to a romantic weekend. The beaches are gorgeous and the sand is soft and inviting.

Tanguieta source wikipedia

One of the best places to start when visiting Benin is Tanguieta, a small town with a vibrant market and a population of 20,000 people. Its lush mountains and abundant nature make it a popular destination for photographers. The town is also close to the Pendjari National Park, home to some of Africa’s most majestic animals.

If you’re a history buff, be sure to visit the museum in the former palace of King Toffa. The museum contains many fascinating items from Benin’s regal past, including mystical masks and Fa trays. Among the most important pieces on display here is the huge statue of the giant man, Yakub.

The town’s bazaar is especially popular with visitors. If you’re looking for souvenirs, try visiting the local market, which is held on a Monday. You’ll also find a cashew factory here, where you can buy a wide selection of cashews. The factory is free to visit, but take care to remember that photography is not allowed inside.

Parakou source wikipedia

Parakou is one of the newest tourist destinations in Benin. It is smaller than many other cities in the country, but it offers plenty of unique activities and places to visit. Below are some of the most interesting attractions you can find in this northern city. If you’re looking for a unique way to enjoy Benin’s rich culture, Parakou is the place for you.

The Grand Marche Azeke is a famous market where more than a thousand vendors sell everything from fake DVDs to fine rugs. While you’re shopping, enjoy the delicious food and get a feel for local life at this bustling marketplace. This is a great place to spend a day in Parakou!

The central part of the town is full of government buildings, including the Bank of Parakou, Ministry of Culture, and Library. The town also has a large Roman Catholic population, so you’ll be able to see numerous churches and other places of worship. Parakou is also home to a large zoo and a wonderful gift shop.

Natitingou - Front view of the KABA statue of Natitingou - source wikipedia

Natitingou is a city in northwestern Benin. It is a commune of the Atakora Department and has a population of 104,010 inhabitants. The air is generally similar throughout the year, with only slight variations in the length of days. Natitingou is also a good place to enjoy the local cuisine and culture.

The city is home to a number of fascinating historical sites. The old mansion of Tchaourou, the Palais de Gouverneur, and the bustling city center are all worth a look. If you have the time, you may even wish to visit the city’s cathedral.

The city has a great market, and you can explore this market every day. You’ll find a variety of items for sale, including grigri beauties and crockery. You can also observe blacksmiths at work. The market is also home to a small bookstore. It offers a relaxing respite from the hustle and bustle of the city.

W National Park

W National Park - Mekrou river - source wikipedia

W National Park is the largest park in Benin and is a must-visit place for nature lovers. It has several waterfalls, lush rainforest, and a large zoo. It is also the site of the Fete de la Gani, an annual horseriding festival.

The town of Possotome is a muddy place, but worth a visit if you want to get a feel for life in a village. You may even be lucky enough to stumble upon a Voodoo celebration.

W Park is also located near the Pendjari wildlife reserve, which is home to several rare and endangered species. Visitors can see West African giraffes and Painted Hunting Dogs, as well as wild African elephants.

The park is well-known for its diverse landscape, and admission is affordable – only $20 for one day, and a half off for subsequent days.

Route des Esclaves

The Route des Esclaves is one of Benin’s most beautiful landscapes. Its rocky ridges and mountains make it a great place to hike and explore, and the small towns that line the route are full of character and history. It’s also a great place to shop for local crafts.

The Route des Esclaves is an amazing journey through the countryside of Benin. The road passes through the capital of Ouidah, which is a traditional fishing town. You can also get a feel for life in a typical village, and you’re likely to stumble upon a Voodoo celebration as you travel through the area.

Another fascinating part of the Route des Esclaves is the historical monument in Ouidah. You’ll find many sculptures of slaves, including those created during the country’s first voodoo festival in 1992. While you’re here, you should take some time to stop and eat a fresh coconut, which is a welcome treat.

The Museum of the Zinsou

The Museum of the Zinsou is one place that is worth visiting if you’re traveling to Benin. The building is a colonial mansion that has been turned into an art museum. It’s a great place to see contemporary African art, and it also features free guided tours.

This museum is also an excellent place to learn about the culture of Benin and its people. It also has a cafe and gift shop where you can purchase handmade items.

The Museum of the Zinsou is a modern art gallery that is housed in a two-story colonial mansion. It is run by the daughter of a former Beninese prime minister. The museum features work by a variety of artists from all over Africa. It also offers an educational program for children and youth.

The museum contains an extensive collection of African artifacts and is based on African standards. The exhibits include artifacts of the Yoruba ethnic group and other artifacts from the past. It also houses original photos of Porto-Novo royal families and their carriages.

Musée Honmé

Musée Honmé source wikipedia

Musée Honmé is a place in the city of Benin to admire the local art and culture. The museum’s name derives from its red star, which symbolizes the local resistance during the socialist era. The museum is surrounded by a beautiful villa and contains several pieces of African art.

You can also check out the Sun Museum, which is located nearby. The museum also organizes regular exhibitions of items from the family’s collection. These items are important to Benin’s national history.

The Musée Honmé is located in a historic mansion and offers a unique look at Benin’s rich culture. Visitors can also buy handmade pieces, such as puppets, carved wood figures, and cotton fabrics. Buying Beninese artifacts and souvenirs from the museum is a great way to support local craftsmen.

Benin City National Museum

Benin City National Museum source wikipedia

The Benin City National Museum is one of the best places to visit in Benin City, Nigeria. The museum has a large collection of Benin artifacts and continues to publish and exhibit its collection. It aims to educate visitors on the city’s cultural heritage.

The Benin City National Museum was established in 1944 under the leadership of Oba Akenzua II. The museum houses numerous antiques, including terracotta figures and pieces of iron associated with the Benin Empire.

Visitors can also see statues of the renowned Queen Idia and other important figures from the city’s past. The museum is also home to an extensive collection of jewelry and traditional drinking vessels.

The Benin City National Museum is a must-visit for anyone traveling to Benin City. It is located in the heart of the city, on King’s Square. It houses priceless Benin art, antiques, and works of art. The museum is also one of the largest museums in Nigeria and is worth visiting for art lovers and history buffs.

Lake Nokoue

Lake Nokoue

Lake Nokoue is a beautiful lake located in Benin. It can be reached by boat and is one of the top places to visit in Benin.

This lake was once part of the kingdom of Dahomey, which was one of the most powerful nations in West Africa. The kingdom had a rich history and was a powerful trading force. They hunted other tribes and traded with the Portuguese Empire. The local people were called Fon, and they lived on the water.

Benin is a small country nestled between Togo and Nigeria. The country stretches from the palm-fringed Gulf of Guinea to the rugged Atakora Mountains. The region is home to elephants, lions, and cheetahs. It’s a place that is still off the beaten path, but it’s worth visiting.

During the rainy season, Lake Nokoue triples in size. The city of Cotonou sits on the southern edge of the lake, and some residents of Cotonou have been displaced due to the flooding caused by the lake.

The town of Ganvie is located on the northern edge of the lake and has a population of 20,000. It’s a great place to visit if you’re in Benin and are looking for an eco-tourist vacation. Its fishing industry is an important source of income for the local people.

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Things to see and do in Benin

Attractions in benin, brush up on your history in porto novo.

The gateway to Benin for most visitors, Porto Novo, Benin's laidback capital, is home to some exquisite examples of colonial and pre-colonial architecture, not least the Brazilian-style Big Mosque. Other attractions of note include the eclectic Musée da Silva, which offers a brief history of Benin, and the Porto Novo Museum of Ethnography. Royalists might want to head to King Toffa's Palace, where the Musée Honmé reveals the secrets of local royalty.

Discover Somba culture in Natitingou

Natitingou's regional museum provides an impression of life for Benin's Somba communities that primarily inhabit the northeast of the country. Located within an elegant colonial structure previously used by local government, exhibits relate to archaeology, history and art. The habitat room has examples of traditional Somba homes.

Explore Cotonou’s bustling streets

Set between the Atlantic Ocean and Lac Nokoué, Cotonou is Benin's largest and most important city. Its market, the sprawling Dantokpa, covers a whopping 20 hectares (49 acres) and sells everything from toothbrushes to fresh fruit – a great way to experience the city. The nearby Foundation Zinsou, which promotes modern African art, is also well worth a visit.

Feed your brain in Abomey

The dusty city of Abomey is home to the eponymous Abomey Historical Museum, which offers an insight into the history of the Abomey Kingdom and contains a throne made of human skulls. Whilst you're in town, pay a visit to the opulent royal palaces, swing by the Fetish Temple and peruse the local wares at the Centre Artisanal.

Follow the Route of Slaves in Ouidah

Ouidah was once a major centre for the slave trade, a place where slaves were led from the Portuguese Fort (now a museum) along a 4km (2.5 mile) sandy track to waiting ships that would take them across the Atlantic. Today the track is lined with poignant memorials such as the Tree of Forgetfulness. The path ends at the Door of No Return memorial arch.

Indulge your inner artist at Villa Karo

A cultural centre and artists' residence, Villa Karo in Grand Popo is a Finnish-African project that aims to improve understanding between cultures. The centre puts on a range of events including art exhibitions, film screenings and concerts and is a great way to get involved with the local community, which relies largely on its modest fishing industry.

Journey north for wildlife watching

See a wide range of wildlife including cheetahs, hippos and crocodiles at Benin's two national parks. Though celebrated for its diverse landscapes and big game, Pendjari National Park is mostly vaunted for its varied birdlife. The UNESCO-listed W National Park provides a home for some of West Africa's last wild elephants and straddles the frontier between Benin, Niger and Burkina Faso.

Relax by the water

Although beaches are strung all along Benin's 120km (75 mile) Atlantic coastline, the best quality sands are found at Grand Popo and Ouidah. Facilities for water sports on the coast are limited, though it's possible to sail at the Yacht Club in Cotonou, or hire a dug-out canoe or motorboat on Lac Nakoué.

Take a dip at Kota Falls

The isolated 20m-high (65ft) waterfalls at Kota provide a relaxed and secluded pool to take a refreshing dip, and an idyllic setting to while away an afternoon with a picnic. Accommodation makes it possible to stay overnight, and enjoy the solitude and romanticism even longer.

Visit the ‘Venice of Africa’

Floating in Lac Nokoué, and only accessible by boat, the stilt village of Ganvie is home to a staggering 20,000 people. A fully-fledged and atmospheric town, it was constructed sometime between the 16th and 17th centuries as a safe haven for the Tofino people against local slave traders.

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Benin Travel Guide

Travel and tourism.

Although the Beninese musical ambassador Angélique Kidjo is the subject of something approaching hero worship in this small West African nation, to experience the country’s fabulous music scene is merely to scratch the surface of its eclectic culture. Marked by influences from the Americas, Europe, and elsewhere in Africa, along with native voodoo practices, Benin is unlike any other place in the world. Indeed, although visitors often come for the northern region’s abundant wildlife, including elephants, cheetahs, lions, and more than 500 species of birds, they often leave happily enthralled by the nation’s untouched beaches, fascinating indigenous traditions, and the thrills and chaos of the main city, Cotonou.

What to Do in Benin

1. Shopping and Clubbing in Cotonou: Benin’s largest city, Cotonou, is characterized by the same kind of chaos and grit as other large West African metropolises, but it also has one of the finest cultural scenes in the region and a thriving nightlife. The Foundation Zinsou, a museum dedicated to contemporary African art, is superb, and it hosts a painting workshop on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays—an excellent diversion for young children. In addition to the city’s numerous cinemas are the French and Chinese cultural centers, which hold weekly film screenings. The sprawling Grand Marché du Dantokpa offers everything from pirated DVDs to voodoo fetish objects and is worth visiting for the spectacle as much as the shopping. The Jonquet strip contains several bars and nightclubs with Beninese music and low or nonexistent cover charges.

2. Ganviè:  Possibly Benin’s most unusual attraction, the town of Ganvié is built entirely on stilts in the middle of a large lagoon. Its inhabitants are descended from the Tofinu people, who were captured and sold as slaves by the rival Abomey tribe. Because the Abomey were forbidden by a religious taboo to attack people on water, the Tonfinu constructed an entire town so that they would never have to go on land. The lagoon itself suffers from pollution, and locals hawking guided tours can sometimes be a bit overwhelming, but this city makes for an unforgettable respite from Cotonou’s mainland dominance.

3. Safaris in Pendjari National Park:  Lions, elephants, and cheetahs are the popular animals here—and that’s to say nothing of the crocodiles, baboons, and hippos that also inhabit Pendjari National Park, in northern Benin. It has some of Benin’s best scenery, and the well-run park administration uses quality control measures, including a rating system, to ensure that you’ll get your money’s worth from guides.

4. Voodoo Fetish Markets:  Although most Beninese nominally practice Catholicism or Islam, the country’s official religion is voodoo, and it wields the most influence over the spiritual lives of Benin’s people. Most open-air markets in Benin will have a fetish section, where buyers can purchase talismans, or “fetishes,” such as statues, dried animal parts, and potions. Hollywood has sensationalized many aspects of voodoo, or vodun, and it is important to treat the religion’s practitioners with respect. That said, many locals are happy to answer questions about their religion from polite, interested foreigners.

5. Slave History:  A highlight of the city of Ouidah (which itself is steeped in Beninese history and voodoo mythology), the Route des Esclaves is a four-kilometer trail that traces the road from the historical slave auction square to the Door of No Return, where slaves boarded the ships that would carry them to the New World. The auction square is currently home to the Musée d’Histoire de Ouidah, inside a former Portuguese fort; there you can hire guides for the rest of the route as well as browse the museum’s sizable collection of artifacts. Various monuments and fetishes can be seen along the route.

6. Royal Palaces of Abomey:  From 1625 to 1900, 12 kings of the long-vanished kingdom of Abomey lived in this enclosure, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Inside, visitors can view bas-reliefs and artifacts, including a throne mounted on human skulls. Descendants of the royal family live near the site and help to maintain it.

7. Route des Pêches:  The Route des Pêches, which technically comprises Benin’s entire Atlantic coast, has some of West Africa’s quietest beaches. The best way to experience the region is at one of the small bed-and-breakfast inns that dot the coast. Canoes and kayaks are available for rental at the Mono River delta.

8. Fidjrosse Beach:  Although it does not compare to some of the more remote locations on the Route des Pêches, Fidjrossé deserves credit for its agreeable climate and clean, reasonably quiet environment, especially given its proximity to Cotonou. It also offers opportunities to surf and is home to a wider variety of accommodations than you will find elsewhere.

9. Lake Ahémé:  Famous as a voodoo holy place, Lake Ahémé supplies tranquillity to believers and nonbelievers alike. It is possible to camp here, and local tour operators offer traditional fishing lessons and excursions into the nearby forests.

10. Festivals in Ouidah:  Benin’s main holiday is the Voodoo Festival, or Fête du Vodoun, which is observed in mid-January with raucous celebrations, music, and drinking throughout the country. The best place to enjoy the festivities is Ouidah, which is also home to the Quintessence Film Festival, a major attraction for African movie buffs. The Quintessence festival generally takes place in the days immediately before and after the Voodoo Festival.

It is best to visit during the dry seasons, from December to February and from July to September, when temperatures are higher and overland travel is generally much easier. Weather in Benin is the most temperate and pleasant in August and September. Visiting in mid-January will allow you to witness the Voodoo Festival. Some tourist facilities, particularly in the south, close during the rainy season.

Getting In and Around

Visas:  You will need a passport, visa, and proof of yellow fever vaccination to enter Benin. Visas cannot be purchased at the airport. Make an advance arrangement through your country’s Beninese embassy.

Transportation:  Transport between cities can be difficult, as roads are sometimes unpaved; if you must drive yourself, a vehicle with four-wheel drive is recommended. It is easiest to take a bush taxi or bus, although you shouldn’t travel in them by night. Benin has no public transportation system, but taxis and zémidjans(motorcycle taxis, also called “zemis”) are cheap and convenient. Domestic airlines offer flights between cities, and a train system connects Cotonou to Bohicon, Savé, and Paracou.

Safety and Security

Concerned about your safety as you plan travel to Benin? We at Africa.com, together with our friends, family and colleagues, travel extensively throughout the continent. Here are the resources we consult when thinking of our safety in Benin:

•  UK Government Benin Travel Advice Guidance 

Africa.com comment: Very timely and frequently updated. Perspective assumes that you ARE going to travel to Benin, and seeks to give you good guidance so that you understand the risks and are well informed.

•  Mo Ibrahim Personal Safety & Rule of Law Score for Benin

Africa.com comment: An annual ranking of the 54 African countries based on their relative personal security as determined by a highly qualified staff of an African foundation, funded by a successful African philanthropist. See where Benin ranks relative to the other 54 nations in Africa.

•  U.S. State Department Travel Advisory on Benin 

Africa.com comment: Can sometimes be considered as overly conservative and discourage travel altogether to destinations that many reasonable people find acceptably secure. On the other hand, they have the resources of the CIA to inform them, so they know things that the rest of us don’t know. See what they have to say about Benin.

Local Advice

1. Benin uses the West African CFA franc, whose value is fixed to that of the euro. Be careful not to confuse it with the Central African CFA franc, which is used in some nearby countries but is not interchangeable with the West African franc. You can also find ATMs in the cities.

2. French is the official language of Benin, although at least eight indigenous languages are also spoken. English is rare, and travelers would do well to learn some French phrases before visiting. The country has more than 50 newspapers, both independent and state owned, in a variety of languages. Internet access is scarce outside of Cotonou, but within the city Internet cafés are plentiful and upscale hotels offer Wi-Fi.

3. Western women may attract some unwanted attention in the streets, so it is advisable for them to dress more modestly than at home, particularly in the summer. Although sleeveless shirts are fine, women should keep their legs covered at least to the knee. Pants or a medium-length skirt should be fine.

4. Tap water in Cotonou is drinkable, although bottled water is generally a safer bet, and any water that has been sitting out for a period of time should be avoided. Malaria is common in Benin; it is wise to carry insect repellent and a mosquito net with you, even during the dry season.

5. You’d do well to book tour guides, transportation, and hotels in advance: local guides are known for jacking up prices. The Beninese embassy has a helpful list of hotels in the country.

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Benin — Attractions

Photo Credit: Loic Pinseel

The biggest attraction for most visitors to Benin is the country’s rich history and the ruins which stand to tell the story. The ancient palaces of Abomey, their museums, and even the pathway on which slaves ones walked, are a special part of the continent’s heritage. The country also offers visitors abundant natural beauty which can be enjoyed in places like Pendjari National Park and Lake Ganvie or on a big game safari.

Royal Palaces of Abomey

If there is one attraction that every tourist to Benin should visit, the Royal Palaces of Abomey is it. Built between the 17th and 19th centuries by the Fon people, this UNESCO World Heritage site holds some of the last remains of West Africa’s turbulent past. The earthen structure makes up the ancient town in which the King of Dahomey (the ancient Benin) resided. Address: Abomey, Southern Benin Phone: n/a Website: n/a

Abomey Historical Museum

Situated on an ancient palatial site, the Abomey Historical Museum provides insight into the fallen kingdom of Dahomey. With exhibitions covering the rise and fall of the elite and excavated artifacts like a throne made from human skulls, the Abomey Historical Museum is the perfect place to gain a better understanding of the Benin that once was. Nearby sites include the Fetish Temple and a local arts center which sells traditional handicrafts. Address: B.P.25, Abomey Phone: +229-22-50-03-14 Website: http://epa-prema.net/abomeyGB/

Slave Route (Route d’Esclaves)

The Route d’Esclaves, or the Slave Route is a 2.5-mile (four-kilometer) stretch of heritage road that is the last piece of African soil slaves from Benin touched before they were shipped to the Caribbean and Americas. The area now holds several landmarks which are important for telling the story, including the Slave Auction where owners bargained for help, the Tree of Forgetting where slaves were forced to perform a ritual which allegedly made them forget their homeland, and the Zomai Cabin, a tiny dark enclosure which was thought to prepare the slaves for the torrid conditions aboard the ships. Most haunting of all is the remarkable monument on Ouidah Beach, the slaves’ point of departure, called the Point of No Return. Address: BP 33, Ouidah Phone: n/a Website: n/a

Temple of the Sacred Python

Open to visitors daily, the Temple of the Sacred Python is one of the most interesting temples in Ouidah. The serpent deity Dangbe is revered in many cultures in Benin and thus the serpent is believed to be a sacred and in need of reverence and protection. The priests of Dangbe manage and maintain the temple, charging a small fee for visitors interested in seeing the dozens of pythons housed inside. For another fee, visitors can have their picture taken with a serpent draped around their neck. Address: near Rue F Colombani Phone: n/a Website: n/a

Pendjari National Park

The best national park in the country, the Pendjari spans 275,000 hectares and is home to a wide range of amazing wildlife. Located 28 miles (45 kms) north of the town of Natitingou, several activities can be planned, including a wildlife safari. Spend a few days at the billowing waterfalls, gorgeous green landscape, and navigable pathways, which is a lovely respite from the sometimes overwhelming nature of Benin’s large city centers. Address: Atakora, Northwest Benin Phone: 229-23-83-00-85 Website: www.pendjari.net

Ganvie Lake Village

One of the largest lake towns in the West African region, the village of Ganvie is an interesting place to visit. Home to nearly 30,000 people who all live in houses on stilts, the Ganvie Lake Village is quite a site to behold. Only 11 miles (18 kms) northwest of the center of Cotonou, Ganvie is a beautiful place to spend the day. There is also a water market from which all sorts of local crafts can be purchased. Address: Lake Nokoué, Southern Benin Phone: n/a Website: n/a

Grand Marche du Dantopka

For tourists interested in shopping, there is only one place to go in Benin, the Grand Marche du Dantopka in Cotonou. Apart from the vast expanse of stalls and its seemingly endless supply of local jewelry, crafts, and knock-off CDs and clothing, the Grand Marche du Dantopka is simply an experience in itself. A veritable labyrinth of lanes and alleys, the market can be both exhausting and exiting at the same time. Address: Town Centre B of Jonquet, Cotonou Phone: n/a Website: n/a

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Beautiful Benin: 10 Of The Best Attractions Of This Humble African Nation

West Africa is home to Benin, a small nation of big wonders.

Not everyone heard of Benin, a country in West Africa bordered by well-known Nigeria and the less-traveled Togo , Burkina Faso, and Niger. This strip of land is a place of wonder, and those who dared to check it out went home in awe.

Benin has more than 70 miles of beaches , and the Niger River passes through some parts of the country, making it a place of sun and sand. Its natural features include lagoons, lakes, plateaus, marshlands, flatlands, and Mont Sokbaro, the nation’s highest point. Aside from its natural spots, Benin is also home to equally stunning man-made attractions that make the country beyond beautiful.

10 Porto-Novo

The capital Porto-Novo is a charming place known for its rich culture. It is one of the country’s oldest cities , and many buildings share stories of its colonial past.

The city is proud of and protects its artisans, that’s why there are more than 40 guilds in town. Aside from visiting cultural spots, tourists should also drop by other points of interest like religious sites; the Royal Palace Musée Honmé, which features ancient Benin; the ethnographic museum; the bustling market of Grand Marché; and an Afro-Brazilian museum.

Porto-Novo never gets old.

9 W National Park

W National Park is shaped like a W , hence its name. This destination by the Niger River straddles Benin, Niger, and Burkina Faso. As such, it’s a major West African landmark where rocky hills work with the river to deliver satisfying moments with Mother Nature.

Botanists will love recording the over 450 plants species in the park, while wildlife watchers will have the best day of their life as they observe elephants, hyenas, leopards, buffalo, lions, hippopotamuses, cheetahs, monkeys, birds, and many more. W might as well mean wow.

Abomey is another popular tourist city in Benin, thanks to its rich culture and heritage. It is known for its crafts, which travelers can check out, and, when lucky, they can even score a unique item. What should not be missed are the Royal Palaces of Abomey, a UNESCO World Heritage Site .

Related: Nigeria: Things To Know Before Visiting Africa's Most Populous Nation

This museum is composed of 12 palaces of ancient kings. It features exhibits on tapestries, thrones, fetish items, and even human skulls.

The area has courtyards, burial places, ceremonial rooms, and other spots that exude royalty. Abomey aims to impress.

7 Pendjari National Park

The tropical savanna climate of Benin makes it a welcoming host for many wildlife species. Together with W and Arli National Park, Pendjari forms the W-Arly-Pendjari Complex, home to the largest elephant population in West Africa .

This World Heritage Site straddles Benin, Burkina Faso, and Niger, an important area where the wildlife is not just well-protected but teeming .

Aside from big-game animals, the WAP Complex is also home to many birds, an enticing prospect for birdwatchers. Pendjari National Park is one proud Benin destination.

6 Dantokpa Market

As they say, traveling is also about mingling with locals, gaining new friends, and learning new things along the way. Doing so is easy in Benin because, aside from the hospitality, it is home to a place where the local vibe is strong: Dantokpa Market, one of the largest open-air markets in the region .

Located in the city of Cotonou, this thriving destination is the perfect spot to check out crafts, souvenirs, tasty treats, and even fetish items. Expedia said that shopping in Dantokpa is “ like no other ,” something that should excite those who want to spend their days spending.

5 Cotonou Cathedral

Another must-see spot in Benin is Cotonou Cathedral, a uniquely colored landmark in the city. It is known for its red and white stripes, which is unlikely for a Catholic Church.

Though its facade is not typical for a religious building, this landmark is a place of peace in the bustling Cotonou.

Beyond the stripes, the church offers rest not just for weary travelers but lost souls. It has a bookstore where tourists can score local titles, but its main offer is refuge and relaxation.

Those who can’t get enough of the Beninese vibe must head to the coastal city of Ouidah. Aside from its shores, this charming town is home to many spots that make for a perfect sightseeing journey.

For starters, tourists should visit the historic São João Baptista de Ajudá before heading to a mansion that once housed slavers. Afterward, they should trace the Route des Esclaves to learn about the slave trade through monuments and markers.

Related: Are You Brave Enough To Browse This Voodoo Market In West Africa?

Aside from the church, curious travelers should not miss checking out a voodoo temple, too. Add the market and museums into the mix, and a trip to Ouidah is a win.

3 Ganvie Stilt Village

Tourists often flock to Ganvie, a lake village nicknamed the “ Venice of Africa .” The residents, called watermen, warmly welcome visitors who want to take a peek at their lifestyle, learn about their history, and gain new insights.

The area was populated by those escaping from slave traders, so it was like an oasis. Ganvie Stilt Village puts unity in the community, and eager tourists should not miss being in the presence of this fishing town. Enjoying the best things in life has never been this good.

2 Kota Falls

Tourists who want to dip in cool waters are in for a treat if they visit Natitingou. This city is home to Kota Falls, a humbling nature spot that’s easy to reach and easy to admire. The almost one-mile hike to the cascades will let trekkers appreciate scenic views of the trails.

After a 17-minute hike, tourists will be welcomed by the roaring falls, tempting them to play with its waters. For a day of nature, swimming, and relaxation, Kota Falls is the place to be.

1 Villa Karo

Creative souls should not miss exploring the wonderful Villa Karo in the town of Grand-Popo. This destination is home to a cultural center, cinema, library, concert stage, artist residency, research center, museum, and a multipurpose space. Basically, it’s a paradise for lovers of culture and the arts.

Traveling, after all, is about enriching the soul and having enlivening experiences. In the beautiful and blessed Benin, voodoo is a thing, and maybe the magic comes within after a worthwhile trip to this charming country.

11 things to know before traveling to Benin

Mwende Mutuli Musau

Aug 23, 2023 • 6 min read

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Children dancing on the beach during a Vodou festival in Benin © Cora Unk Photo / Shutterstock

Benin may have fewer visitors than its larger West African neighbors but that's no reflection of what it has to offer travelers.

This unique country has a fascinating history and culture, with fables of ancient kingdoms, beautiful beaches, incredible wildlife and its status as the birthplace of Vodou. Here's everything you need to know before booking your Benin vacation.

1. Apply for a visa early 

Unless you are a member of the ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States), you will most likely need to apply for a visa to travel to Benin. There are different kinds of tourist visas including the 30 days single entry visa, 30 days multiple entry visa and the 90 days multiple entry visa. There are other business visas available too.

If you are traveling to Benin for a short period of time, you should get the 30 days multiple entry visa. Luckily the process is pretty straightforward for most travelers and you can apply online via the Benin e-visa site . The site also has lots of information regarding which countries are covered by the e-visa and the application process. If you need more detailed assistance, you can visit the nearest Benin embassy to your country of residence. For Europe and the UK, the Embassy of Benin is located in Paris, and in the United States, the Embassy of Benin is located in Washington.

To apply for a visa, you'll need the following documents:

  • A valid passport for 6 months and if you are also planning to visit Togo, your passport needs to be valid for at least a year
  • At least 2 pages free in your passport 
  • Passport photos
  • Yellow fever certificate
  • Flight details
  • Hotel address (for your first night in Benin)

2. A yellow fever certificate is vital

This is mandatory while traveling in African countries and also in some parts of Asia. All visitors traveling to Benin need a yellow fever certificate and you will be refused entry without one. Proof of this vaccination is also required during your application for a visa. Book it well in advance of your planned trip.

A Beninese man carries a lot of sunglasses on his head for sale at the local market.

3. Cash is king in Benin

Card services are available in affluent areas in Benin but if you are dealing with local guides and need to move around, you need cash. It's always important to have quite a significant amount of West African CFA francs on you while traveling through Benin. The easiest currency that you can change is Euros – if you don't have Euros, you'll struggle to change other currencies and it's better to just withdraw cash from an ATM. Visa is widely accepted but you'll struggle a little more with a MasterCard.

It's also important to break large notes into smaller denominations for shopping in the markets and visiting villages. You're better able to bargain with market vendors with small bills and they're also handy to have for public transportation.

4. Benin is a French-speaking country

French is the official language of Benin and is spoken by everyone. English...less so. If you can't speak French, you'll struggle to communicate – your best bet is a translation app on your phone or hiring a tour guide that speaks English to help your trip go smoothly.

5. A local sim card is key

When you arrive, get a local sim card that will give you cheap access to calls and mobile data. The best network for travelers is MTN as it operates throughout the African continent and you'll have internet access wherever you are in Benin. You'll need your passport as ID to purchase the sim card and your phone will have to be unlocked.

Busy traffic in the streets of Cotonou, Benin.

6. A car is the best option for getting around Benin

Benin is best explored by road. You can either rent a car – the more expensive option – or you can use taxis. There are two types of taxis in Benin: bush taxis and normal taxis. Bush taxis are a shared mode of transportation that locals use. Normal taxis are fairly cheap but are unreliable and will likely result in a longer journey time because of that.

As of now, there are no taxi apps in Benin and the prices are quite unreliable. Alternatively, you can take the adventurous local option by using "zems" – motorcycle taxis that are used to travel between cities and towns.

7. Low season is the time to visit

Travel during the low season either from February to April or September to November. Conditions in Benin are at their best from September to November, just before the peak of the dry season. Temperatures aren't yet at their highest and you'll be able to move around more easily.

If you visit from January to May, you'll experience the high season in full force – the intense heat levels at this time can be overwhelming for some travelers.

8. Try the local cuisine

Besides the popular West African dishes such as fufu (maize), jollof rice, plantain, peanut soup and fresh fish, all of which are delightfully appetizing, there are delicacies including wagashi made by the Fulani people. This is a type of cheese that is unique to the region and it's delicious.

When you're exploring a beach area, try the local coconut juice that comes straight from the coconut trees towering above you. There's nothing sweeter and more refreshing than fresh coconut juice while relaxing on the beach.

Men with their faces painted dancing during a voodoo festival in Benin

9. Vodou is a way of life

Vodou is one of the oldest religions in the world and is often misinterpreted and misjudged by Western societies. This religion is incredibly complex and very deep. The word “Vodou” means spirit in the local Fon language. There are hundreds of deities and gods, as well as several priests, sorcerers, healers and witches.

While exploring Benin, you are likely to hear a lot about the Zangbetos (night watchmen) and the Egunguns (dead spirits who overtake a human body and directly communicate with the ancestors). You will also get to see Vodou dolls , which are a real part of the religion and used to heal illnesses and stop pain, rather than cause it.

10. Animal sacrifices are often part of Vodou ceremonies

Vodou is primarily animalistic and the practitioners believe that animals, objects and places all have a spiritual significance. Therefore, it's likely you'll see some animal sacrifices while visiting the shrines – this is how the priests make offerings to the gods. Most of the time, these sacrifices are done to bring good fortune to the shrine or ward off bad spirits.

Many of the sacrifices are now highly commercialized and are done at a price for tourists. The animal's throat will be cut and the blood poured onto the shrine as the priest recites a prayer.

Most authentic ceremonies are not planned and you must be invited to attend one. While it is a unique experience, some travelers may find it understandably upsetting to witness if unprepared. 

11. Have an open mind

If you have grown up with a Westernized belief system, Vodou may seem like the antithesis of everything you believe in. However, travel is about embracing the beauty of diverse cultures and experiencing foreign ways of life. There will be stories that you hear that do not make sense to you or things you see that seem odd or unusual. Go to Benin with an open mind and prioritize the experience rather than feeling compelled to judge it. 

The Beninise are extremely superstitious and you'll see writings on the wall or unusual events occurring at ceremonies – embrace the opportunity to expand your worldview. Be curious and open-minded and you'll have an incredible experience getting to know the real Benin.

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Beyond Babeesh

My ultimate benin travel guide and itinerary: budget backpacking in benin, the secret’s out…traveling around benin is awesome, backpacking in benin: a one week itinerary, things to do in cotonou: (be sure to check out my post about things to do in cotonou for more photos and details), benin itinerary day 2: ganvié day trip: the venice of africa, benin travel guide day 3: abomey: history of the dahomey kingdom, benin itinerary day 4-5:  ouidah : voodoo, history of slavery, art, and architecture, traveling in benin for longer than a week here’s a benin travel guide for a longer stay, backpacking in benin: a two  to three week benin itinerary, benin travel  itinerarydays 1-2: cotonou, ganvié (see above), day 3: porto novo: leafy streets and colonial architecture, benin itinerary days 4-5: abomey (see above) and head north, how to go on a budget safari in benin: pendjari national park, benin itinerary days 10-12: go back to natitingou, the gateway to the traditional tatas, benin itinerary days 12-14: return south to ouidah, grand popo (see above) and either go back to cotonou to fly out or continue on to togo., how to get to the border with togo:.

I decided to write this travel guide to Benin because, well, there isn’t a lot of information available online about traveling to Benin. Even further, there isn’t a lot of information available online in English about backpacking in Benin.

Also, in addition to this itinerary and Benin Travel Guide,consider checking out my post Benin: Know Before You Go for information on costs, visas, and travel tips. Women traveling alone may also find Solo Female Travel in Benin helpful to read as well!

I backpacked around Benin alone and really loved it.  There are lots of things to see and do for any type of tourist in Benin. It was pleasantly easy to travel around the country!

Beaches, history, architecture, music, nature…Benin has it all! I’ve included all these cool things in my Benin travel guide!

I traveled around Benin on a budget, staying in the cheapest guesthouses ( auberges ) and hostels and traveling by public transportation.

This travel guide and itinerary for Benin will work for people who also may have already planned their own private transportation or people who want to take public transportation around Benin.

I write about one week and two week itineraries Benin, the small, historically rich gem in West Africa!

If you have something to add or something has changed  in this Benin travel guide please let me know and I’ll change it! I really appreciate it!

Note that some of the links in this Benin travel guide are affiliate links. If you found this post helpful consider booking something via a link here- it’s at no extra cost to you! Thanks!

One week itinerary Benin

If you have limited time, money, or both, you can still see a lot of wonderful things in Benin during one week. Here is my suggested Benin itinerary for one week! Though I do love jam packed vacations…

If you want to relax a bit more  while backpacking in Benin, I would recommend (GASP!!!) skipping Abomey and doing Ouidah as a half day trip while you are on your way from Cotonou to Grand Popo. Then you can chill at the beach if you are looking for more of a relaxed vacation.

Otherwise, this Benin itinerary is fine for a busy week or a more relaxed 8-10 days. Thankfully distances aren’t too long …it’s not like traveling in Southern or Eastern Africa!

I traveled to Togo overland from Benin and so this one week itinerary will be perfect for those of you who want to do the same! Or if you are traveling to Benin from Togo then  you can tackle this guide to Benin backwards!

Benin Itinerary Day 1: Arrive and visit Cotonou, Benin’s largest city and port of entry

cotonou Benin itinerary

Located along the coast, Cotonou is the largest city in Benin. It is also where the international airport is located.

It’s not the capital, though! Porto Novo is the capital.

From here, backpackers in Benin can get to anywhere in the country. You can also easily travel to Nigeria, Togo, Niger, ad Burkina Faso from here…though getting visas to all those places may be less easy…

There are a few nice things to see and do in Cotonou, but I admit it isn’t the most exciting city.

I found it more interesting than Togo’s capital Lomé, but you can pretty much see the tourist sights of Cotonou in a day or two.

Cotonou Travel Guide: Visit The Cathedral (Notre Dame des Apotres) in Cotonou is very unique and worth a visit. It is the seat of the Catholic Church in Benin and the pope even visited there! It isn’t too far from the famous Dankopta Market   where you can literally wander for hours, people watching and absorbing the atmosphere.  The Dankopta Market is also home to an interesting voodoo market, though it is difficult to find. I ended up visiting one in Ouidah.

I read online that people will help you find things in the big market if you give them a little tip, but even after asking around nobody could direct me to the voodoo fetish market. Maybe I was just unlucky. It is apparently in the northern part of Dankopta Market.  Go north of the main market building along the shore and keep going (you will pass the empty bottle area). Good luck and prepare to pay for taking photos.

Actually, after asking around for that one really nice man thought he knew exactly what I wanted. He found me a moto and sent me on my way to the Artisanal Center/ Craft Market, which made me laugh because it seems like everyone assumes a white girl wandering around is trying to find the craft market.

The Artisan Market in Cotonou is the perfect place to find souvenirs and trinkets. There are lots of carved, wooden statues and necklaces. The vendors are extremely persistent, though very kind. To tell you the truth I find these sorts of places to feel like tourist traps, but sometimes you can find some gems.  The Fondation Zinsou may offer more unique pieces of art if that is what you are looking for.

Lastly, I enjoyed taking walks and wandering around Cocotiers, a nice neighborhood not far from the airport. It was a beautiful neighborhood and not so far from the beach!

If you want more beaches and seafood, don’t miss Route des Pêches, which stretches along the coastline between Cotonou and the west towards Ouidah. There are plenty of fishing villages to explore and of course lots of fresh seafood!

Where to stay in Cotonou, Benin:

After traveling through Benin, Togo, and Burkina Faso, I realized that accommodation can be a little pricey in the region.

Consider booking ahead to be sure you can get the best rates since the budget options do not always have lots of beds available. I will list some popular options in this Benin travel guide.

Also know that the cheapest option may not always be the most secure, or it may be really far outside of the city center. If you just look for the cheapest option on Booking.com like I do, I really recommend double checking the location and reviews!

Guesthouse Cocotiers- This place is where I stayed. It is right by the airport and they offer one of the cheapest dorm options in the region! They also offer private rooms. This is also the place to go if you want to meet other travelers. You meet a lot of interesting people here! One thing I really loved about this place was the staff. They were wonderful and sincerely wanted to help you out. The man at the front desk would always tell me what prices to expect when I took shared taxis or motos around. The staff cooked their own meals in the shared kitchen so I learned all about regional cooking. They even invited me to join them one evening and it was one of the most enjoyable dinners I had during my trip! You’ll meet authentically wonderful people here.

Check out Guesthouse Cocotiers on Booking.com or on Hostelworld .

La Guesthouse Cotonou- This place is the other backpacker hangout in Cotonou. I did not go there personally but it supposedly has affordable rooms and is a great place to meet people. You can read more here on Tripadvisor, but you can’t book it online through a booking site.

Hotel Saint Jean- This is less of a backpacker place but is still clean and affordable and closer to the center of town. Note that accommodation in the region can get really really expensive so I recommend booking in advance if you are traveling to Benin on a budget! You can check out Hotel Saint Jean on Booking.com !

benin itinerary and travel guide

Ganvié is a really special floating village not so far from Cotonou on Lake Nokoué. It is apparently one of the larger floating villages on the continent. It is also known as the Venice of Africa! Visiting there was one of my highlights of traveling in Benin. I would say it is a must in any Benin itinerary!

I felt skeptical before visiting Ganvié because I had read some negative things about tourism in the area online. In the end I decided to go and I was really happy that I did, even if I did run into some problems along the way. I felt compelled to write a more in depth post about Ganvié. You can check it out here if you’re curious.

Otherwise, here’s a mini Ganvié travel guide:

How to get to Ganvié: Take a moto (or a Zem as they call it) to the Étoile Rouge (Red Star monument in the middle of town that is the departure point for plenty of bush taxis that will take you around the region). It should be less than 500 CFA to go there from any point in town.

From the Étoile Rouge, take a shared taxi (taxi brousse) to Calavi for 500 CFA. From there you just walk down the street for about 5 minutes until you get to the launching point for the boats to Ganvié.

How much it costs to visit Ganvié:

To visit Ganvié, you can pay either for a motorboat or a canoe ( pirogue in French). The motorboat tour costs 10,500 CFA and the canoe costs 8000. You also need to pay for a guide/ government fee which turns out to be 4500 CFA. You will also be expected to tip your guide.

It is much more cost effective to go in a group than to go alone.

Keep in mind:

You are visiting a village where people work and live. The people there don’t like being photographed unless you ask. Many will expect some sort of payment.

The tour was interesting in French, though if you do not speak French you may get less out of the tour.

Don’t forget sunscreen! I ended up buying a big straw hat to protect me!

Women traveling alone: try to get an older guide. Unfortunately one theme of my Western Africa trip is that the young guides all seemed to think we were on a date and kept on trying to touch me.

For more details check out my Ganvié post!

Hotels in Ganvié, Benin:

I visited Ganvié as a day trip from Cotonou. It is about a half hour away.

If you are interested there seem to be two hotels in the village.

Hotel Germain has their own boats and they do all their own tours. Therefore you do not need to book a tour at the desk  when you arrive to the launching point at Calavi. The only other tourists I saw in Ganvié were affiliated with this hotel. To tell you the truth I wished I had stayed there too by the end of my day trip, especially since I had a bit of a negative experience. You can read more about it or book it here .

Chez Raphael is the other hotel. It is very basic and affiliated with the people giving the tours that independent travelers book. It did look cool, though, but I didn’t bring my things with me. Plus it would have required me to hang out with my guide all evening and he was already giving me the creeps. This place would be awesome if you had some travel buddies. They have a little restaurant, too.

guide to ganvie benin

This former capital of the Kingdom of Dahomey is one of the largest tourist attractions in Benin and also is a UNESCO World Heritage site! It is a definite must see in any Benin itinerary! Lots of the original palaces were destroyed when the French invaded in 1892 and the last king burned them as he escaped, but there are still a few standing that are worth seeing if you have the time. There is also an extensive craft market and the Musée Historique d’Abomey  was fine.

There are no pictures allowed inside and you pretty much need a guide if you really want to learn about the history of the place. To tell you the truth, the architecture didn’t blow me away. It wasn’t like Tiebele or Bani in Burkina Faso, or even the Tatas in Togo, but the draw of Abomey is the history. But I admit that one day is enough.

Though it really isn’t possible to see in a day trip from Cotonou since sometimes the public transport may not be reliable.

The tour takes an hour or two.

Cost of visiting Abomey

Entrance to the palaces is 2,000 CFA.

Entrance to the museum is 2,500 CFA.

How to get to Abomey

If you are going to Abomey from Cotonou, a bush taxi to Abomey should cost between 2,500 and 3,000 CFA. The drive should take two to three hours but always prepare for it taking longer. You can find the bush taxis to Abomey at the Stade d’Amitié or along Ave Van Vollenhoven near the Gare Jonquet.

But you can pretty much catch any bush taxi going in that direction and they will let you off at least at the town called Bohicon and then you can just find another shared taxi to Abomey! A shared taxi between Abomey and Bohicon should cost 500 CFA. A Zem/moto should cost 1200-1500 CFA. The ride takes around 15 minutes.

You can also technically take a train to Abomey! The trains weren’t running when I was there but that would be my first choice since I love trains! Double check to see if they are running to avoid disappointment. The train runs to Parakou which is farther north. You need to get off in Bohicon and then get a bush taxi to Abomey. It will take longer than a bush taxi.

See also: my tips for taking trains in Africa

Once you are in Abomey you can walk to the museum from the taxi stand. Don’t let the moto drivers rip you off! Though you may have to take one to your hotel. I recommend marking your hotel on google maps before arriving so you can see how far you need to walk!

taxi brousse bush taxi benin

Places to stay in Abomey

Auberge d’Abomey is the backpacker favorite and their food was pretty good. It was nothing special but clean and just off the main roundabout.

Chez Monique is supposedly a little higher end but simple nonetheless. Someone told me that there are some pretty miserable animals that they keep there and that sort of turned me off to it.

Residence Marie Josee is apparently another nice place in Abomey. I can’t vouch for it personally but apparently people like it and it’s a solid choice.

Also, if you can’t find a place to stay in Abomey, consider looking in neighboring Bohicon. It is just 15 minutes away and they offer some places that can be booked in advance online if you like to do that. For example, the Hotel Canadienne is priced at just 10 euros per night.

beinn travel guide ouidah

Note that you could easily spend two more relaxed days in Ouidah, or you could see a lot in one day as well.  If you’re in a rush you can even see the highlights as a stop in between Cotonou and Grand Popo. If you go to the little tourist office in the center of town you can leave your luggage there if you need.

I really liked visiting Ouidah. If I could, I would put it in my top two or three things I did while traveling in Benin. I would say it is a must do in any Benin travel guide and Benin backpacking itinerary!

I think I liked it because of the sheer variety of things to do there. You can learn about the history of the slave trade (Ouidah was once the second most prominent city that provided slaves during the slave trade), or you can learn all about the history of Voodoo in Benin. You can visit typical Beninese markets and see a mixture of colonial and traditional architecture.

Things to see and do in Ouidah, Benin

It seems like tourists generally hire a guide on a Zim/Zem moto to take them around and explain the sights of Ouidah. I did that and I was happy to not have to walk in the suffocating heat. I even saw two other tourists with their driver all on one moto!

When you arrive in town, plenty of young moto drivers will swarm around you and offer tours. I ended up wandering into a little tourism office in the center of town (if you head southeast on Rue Olivier de Montaguerre and turn right on Rue F Colombani you will see it). The man who owns in, Hervé, is a total sweetheart and I really enjoyed spending the day with him. He practices voodoo and is happy to explain the religion and answer questions! Even though he charged a little more than the young Zem drivers on the street were asking (I think I paid 15,000 for the entire day but that included admission and fees for the Temple of Pythons and all other little charges), I was really happy with everything.

But sorry for babbling, here are some things to see and do in Ouida…

The Temple of the Pythons is a voodoo temple where a ton of pythons just hang out. The snakes are sacred and you can learn all about the voodoo traditions and realize that the west’s perception of voodooism is sort of, well, racist. You have to pay an extra fee if you want to take photos.

The Musée de la Fondation Zinsou is a cool art museum in an impressive old colonial home. Like seemingly all museums in the region, a guide will take you around and explain every piece to you. They have a lot of amazing contemporary works by artists from West and Central Africa. You can also enjoy some nice views of Ouidah from the second floor windows.

The Route des Esclaves (the Slave route) follows a slave’s journey from being sold in the market in front of the colonial official’s house to the Door of No Return which is a beautiful monument on the beach that honors and remembers these slaves. Along the way there are many stops where there are statues that symbolize the various ways the slaves suffered before even leaving the continent. It is a sobering experience. One practicality is that if you want to walk the route be sure to take sunscreen and note that the path to the ocean would take a solid chunk of time to do on foot. If you hire a Zem just for the Slave Route apparently it should cost somewhere between 4,000 and 6,000 CFA.

The Sacred Forest of Kpasse is dotted with bronze statues, the Portuguese Fort is a history museum, and the Catholic Basilica is painted baby blue and is just across the street from the Temple of the Pythons. There’s a nice little restaurant next to it called  Amicale.  The colonial architecture in the center of town and in the outskirts is pretty interesting, and don’t forget to notice the Brazilian Quarter with its brightly colored houses.

The Market near the basilica and temple is less chaotic than in Cotonou and was enjoyable. They have a lot of herbs and objects used in voodoo rituals. If you want to see the animal parts used in the rituals, you need to exit the market building and go down the road on the right (if you are facing the market entrance). You have to pay if you want to take a photo, but they’re open to haggling.

Traditional salt collecting happens just outside of town in the marshes near the ocean. You can see the women working while on your way to the Door of No Return. You can  go to these villages and learn about how they collect the salt.

How to get to Ouidah

How to travel to Ouidah from Cotonou: You can pretty much take any bush taxi going on the main highway towards Togo. I got one from the Etoile Rouge no problem. It takes about an hour and cost soomething like 1,500 CFA. You can also get them from the Gare de Jonquet.

How to travel to Ouidah from Grand Popo or from Togo: Just go along the main highway that leads to Cotonou and grab a bush taxi from there.

How to travel to Ouidah from the north (for example how to get to Ouidah from Bohicon or Abomey): Take any Bush Taxi heading south on RNIE2 towards Cotonou. You can either change at Cotonou or change bush taxis at Allada to go directly to Ouidah.

Also NOTE that these bush taxis don’t often go into Ouidah. Instead, they drop you off at the highway turnoff for Ouidah. I was waging a personal war against aggressive Zem drivers and stubbornly decided to walk this route myself. It was a bad idea and took something like 45 minutes just to walk into town. Better to take a Zem.

Where to stay in Ouidah

Note that a lot of the hotels for Ouidah that you will see on online booking sites are located by the beach. This means that you can’t really walk into town from them and would need to take a Zem/moto. This also means that you can’t really walk to them when you arrive by bush taxi. But I mean who doesn’t like a hotel by the beach! Just be aware that some hotels will be sometimes 10 km from the center of Ouidah.

Also, as with most beachfront hotels in West Africa, you can’t really swim in the ocean unless you really want to drown. There are some places where it is fine, but the currents are really strong. But you can’t visit Benin without visiting the beach! It’s a must do for any Benin travel itinerary.

Hotel de la Diaspora (Jardin Bresilien) – This is the most popular budget hotel near Ouidah. It definitely had a family beach resort vibe to it. It is located on the beach and you are sure to meet other travelers here.

Casa del Papa – This is the higher end (though not the most expensive) beachfront hotel.  It is around 80 Euros a night, but I would totally splurge if I had a travel buddy to split the room with!

Le Jardin Secret – This is NOT a beach hotel and is located right in the center of Ouidah. It’s like a little oasis and the restaurant is worth a visit even if you aren’t staying in the hotel. It is slightly cheaper than Hotel de la Dispora, and you won’t have to pay for Zems to and from the beach.

Benin itinerary Day 6-7: Grand Popo: Beautiful Beach Heaven

grand popo beach guide benin

I loved Grand Popo. If you go during the off season, you will get the magnificent beach all to yourself. The beach is very clean- you won’t be avoiding glass and cigarette butts while walking on it. Hang out in a hammock listening to the ocean breeze. Stuff your face with enormous, freshly caught prawns. Go for a walk and see the fishermen fold their impressive nets next to their wooden boats at the end of a long day.

Grand Popo doesn’t feel commercialized like other beach hot spots on the continent. If you are seeking peaceful solitude after your adventurous backpacking trip to Benin then this is your place.

But then again it may turn into a complete zoo during the high season…so take my poetic musingsin this Benin travel guide and Benin Itinerary with a grain of salt. I was just in heaven to be at a beach and not be chased around by aggressive vendors or children demanding candy (tourists, can you please stop giving random children candy? pleeease?).

Lastly, you can’t really swim in the ocean at Grand Popo. There are no water sports or activities like snorkeling, and that is probably what keeps this place so quiet. I mean, it isn’t forbidden to swim and plenty of locals do it, but the ocean does not look welcoming! Even if you are a strong swimmer, there’s at least one big rusted out shipwreck (apparently the work of Nigerian pirates in the 80s) not far from the shore that looks sharp and unwelcoming among the waves…I hope you had a tetanus shot!

Things to do in and around Grand Popo

Other than being lazy next to one of Benin’s best beaches , there are some activities that more energetic people can do in the area. You could take a pirogue (canoe) trip up the river for about 2 hours (should cost between 5000 and 7000 CFA) , or take a motor boat all the way to where the river meets the ocean , called the Bouche du Roy.  The motor boat becomes pricey very quickly (they were quoting something like 55,000 CFA for a day trip), and so if you are traveling alone you may have to find some friends to split the cost. There’s also the Villa Karo cultural center that’s worth a visit.

Nearby, there is Lac Ahémè, where you can see more women collecting salt or learn about other traditional fishing and farming methods of Benin . You generally need a guide to do some of these activities, but every hotel will have a relationship with a trustworthy guide. You can generally book these things a night in advance when you arrive.

How to get to Grand Popo

Any bush taxi going in between Cotonou and the Togolese border will be able to drop you off at Grand Popo. If you are outside of Cotonou, you can just flag down any bush taxi passing by on the national highway. In Cotonou, you can find these cars at the Etoile Rouge, Stade de l’Amitié, or Gare Jonquet.

Note that the hotels are spread out along the beach. I would check on Google Maps to see how far your hotel may be from the highway. You may need to take a Zem to travel those last final kilometers to arrive at your hotel!

Grand Popo is literally a simple turnoff from the highway and the streets are pretty sparse. If you aren’t vigilant your bush taxi could just pass it by!

The drive should take 2 hours from Cotonou, and 45 minutes from Ouidah. Grand Popo is only 20 km east of the craziness of the border with Togo. It is a great final stop in Benin before heading to Togo, or a great first stop in Benin if you are coming from Togo.

I hope you really consider adding Grand Popo to your Benin travel Itinerary!

Where to stay in Grand Popo:

Coco Beach Chez Mathias- I stayed here and it had a very chill, rasta vibe. You get your own bungalow on the beach and there were plenty of hammocks. It was simple but exactly what I was looking for. Also the giant prawn curry I had there was the best meal I ate in Benin! A good, budget option.

Auberge de Grand Popo and Awale Plage   are both a little more expensive but they offer swimming pools for those of you who had your heart set on swimming somewhere during a beach trip. Both have excellent restaurants as well so you can’t go wrong.

Lion Bar- The main rasta hangout in Grand Popo. This place lets you camp for those of you who are on a shoestring budget. Definitely the backpacker hangout.

Benin travel guide and travel itinerary

Porto Novo is the capital of Benin, and it is a stark contrast from the craziness of Cotonou. It is also just around 45 minutes away! This used to be the center of the Gun people’s kingdom, and it was renamed after Porto, Portugal when the Portuguese made it into a slave trading center.

For those of you who want to spend less time on the road, you can swap Abomey for Porto Novo in the one week Benin itinerary.

Things to see and do in and around Porto Novo:

There is a totally wacky, awesome Grand Mosque in Porto Novo that you cannot miss. No Benin travel guide would be complete without mentioning this mosque! It was built in 1912 by the Brazilian community in Benin and it was based off of the baroque style of colonial churches in Brazil.  That’s right. So the Christian church style went from Portugal, to Brazil, and then to Benin where it was used to build a Muslim place of worship. Pretty crazy(and sad because of, well, colonialism and slavery…)! The Musée Honmé is the former palace of King Toffa and a peek into the end of that traditional royalty with a focus on a special musical instrument, which was really cool.

The Musée Ethnographique de Porto Novo will introduce you to the tribal customs and traditions of the region. It also is in a cool old colonial building. The Centre Songhai is a research and teaching center for sustainable farming. They give one hour tours if you are interested in that. You can also stay there since it has an auberge. The Musée de Silva celebrates the Afro Brazilian community and also is known for showing films outside! Check to see what they have going on!

Just outside of Porto Novo (maybe 8km) there is a cool market that is held every 4th day in Adjarra. The market is known for the local drum makers and you can find a ton of awesome musical instruments! Apparently you can buy from over 50 different kinds of Tam Tams, so this would be a drummer’s dream! You can find bus taxis going to Adjarra from the Gare Routiere near the bridge or take a moto.

Also, there are apparently much less touristy Stilt Villages (like Benin’s famous Ganvié) that you can visit from Porto Novo. Apparently Aguégué is a nice village to visit around 10km from town. I did not go personally so I can’t vouch for it, but I asked about prices and apparently you can find someone to row you there in a pirogue (takes around 4 hours) from the bridge. Or you can plan ahead with Iroko tours or through the Hotel Beaurivage that should cost between 6,000 and 8,000 CFA per person in a canoe or slightly more for a group in a motor boat.

Porto Novo is great and I hope you really consider additing it to your Benin itinerary.

How to get to Porto Novo/ How to get to other destinations in Benin and Nigeria from Porto Novo

To get to Porto Novo from Cotonou, you can find bush taxis at the Gare Jonquet or the Gare du Dantokpa. It takes around 45 minutes and should cost around 700 CFA. You could probably find a bush taxi at the Etoile Rouge if you just ask around.

To get to Cotonou from Porto Novo you can find a bush taxi in front of the Ouando Mosque or at the Carrefour Catchi.

To get to Natitingou buses also leave from near the Ouando Mosque.

The Gare Routiere is close to the bridge not so far from Musée da Silva. You will also be able to find transport to Cotonou and to  Nigeria from there. Note that bush taxis to Nigeria will most likely stop at the border and you will need to find transport after crossing the border. I usually make a friend on the bus who walks with me through the process and helps me not to be ripped off too much!

Where to stay in Porto Novo

Since Porto Novo is just 45 minutes from Cotonou, you can see a lot as a day trip. Just remember that the sun sets at around 6pm so you will have to get an early start! But it is a good thing that Benin is so small! You won’t spend all your time traveling in Benin cooped up in a bus.

Résidences Ouadada is a much beloved hotel that doubles as a cultural center in Porto Novo. It’s a good deal if you’re sharing a room!

Beaurivage is a little nicer and slightly more expensive. The plus is that you can organize tours to the local stilt/floating villages here!

Le Centre Songhai  is a cool option for people on a tighter budget. It’s 3 km north of town and, like stated above, it is a research and teaching center for sustainable farming. You are bound to meet some interesting people there!

Musée da Silva also has a run down auberge.

benin travel guide and itinerary

Days 6-9 (or longer): Check out a national park and go on a safari in Benin!

There are two National Parks that are home to big cats, elephants, and plenty of other herbivores in the far north of Benin. They are Pendjari National Park, which is known to be one of the best national parks in West Africa, and the more isolated Parc National du “W” du Niger.

Although personally I feel like the best safaris are to be had in Southern and Eastern Africa, the sheer remoteness of these parks makes them attractive destinations in any Benin itinerary. You won’t see elephants in a density that you may see in Zambia , but seeing a wild elephant in any context is special.

Just note that visiting the parks may be difficult/impossible in the rainy season so be sure to plan ahead and know about the road conditions. But going in the rainy season means there will be fewer tourists, even if that also means there will be fewer animals.

Also, for this Benin travel guide, it is totally possible to do a budget safari in Benin to Pendjari National park.  Costs start to go up if you want to go to the Parc National du “W”.

This park is more straightforward to visit for a Benin travel itinerary. If you can get to Natitingou you can book a 4×4 and park guide from there. This is probably the easiest and most comfortable option. Hotel Tata Samba is on the main road in Natitingou and a place where you can easily organize a trip. Auberge le Vieux Cavalier is a cheaper option where you can also book 4x4s. Expect to pay around 65,000 CFA/day for a 4×4 car with a driver/ guide. You will also have to pay for the Pendjari National Park entrance fee of 10,000 CFA per person, a 3,000 CFA car entrance fee, and a possible 5,000 more for a guide.

How do you travel to Natitingou from Cotonou? Try the ATT bus near the Etoile Rouge in Cotonou. You can also find plenty of bush taxis heading that direction, though you may need to change a few times.

So you can also go on a budget safari in Benin for even cheaper, you just have to take public transportation to Tanguieta and book your 4×4 and park guide there.

Park guides are given an A, B, or C ranking, and so be sure to get someone with an A to ensure a good experience. Official guides will have an official identity card for the park with the rating on it that you can ask to see.

To find said guide you can pretty much ask any driver and soon you will be at someone’s doorstep or corner store.

Tanguieta is the last town before the park gate. There are plenty of places to stay there, such as Le Baobab or the slightly seedier APP Bar-Dancing. It will be slightly cheaper to book your budget safari in Benin from there since you don’t have to spend time driving in your private car from Natitingou.

Also be sure to stock up on supplies in Tanguieta. Expect European prices for simple meals in the park, so for your budget safari I recommend stocking up on peanut butter and snacks before entering Pendjari National Park.

With all budget safaris, camping outside the park is the cheapest option since you don’t need to pay fees every day. But the downside with staying outside the park is that you may miss the early morning game drive, which is the best time to go!

But if you do stay in the park, for the purpose of this Benin travel guide, here are the popular places to stay:

The park gates close at 18:00 so remember that if you are staying in the park you have to plan to arrive before dark.

Pendjari Lodge: Your more classic lodge option. Not quite  a budget safari place but you pay for the nice ambiance! Check out their website   for more info and prices (About 100 Euros a night depending on the season).

Hotel Pendjari : A slightly cheaper and still popular option within the park.

benin itinerary and guide

A safari in the Parc National du “W” du Niger: a little less budget friendly, a lot more isolated.

This park in the north of Benin is much more isolated. It is named for the “W” shape of the Niger river. Apparently the park is more developed in the Burkina Faso and Niger sides (the park is a trans frontier park).

Note that the “W” will have the French pronunciation of “doblé veh”.

Expect to pay a minimum of 17,000 CFA per day just for park entry fees and taxes. This includes the fee for each person’s entry, a mandatory guide fee, and the car fee. You must enter the park with a 4×4 vehicle and you will not be allowed to enter on foot.

You can take public transportation up to the town Kandi and possibly try to book a 4×4 there (if you do not have your own). Note that the park fees do not cover the fee of hiring your own car and driver and gas.

You can try to organize things at the Auberge de Kandi where you can also apparently book accommodation within the Parc National du “W” du Niger in advance.

The easiest entry will be to then go to Banikoara from Kandi. There is simple, inexpensive accommodation in Banikoara. From there you go to Kérémou to enter the park.

Full disclosure: I did not go to this park and am acting based on information other travelers gave me. After traveling all around the region I knew that it would end up being a huge expense to do it alone. The park entry fees are fine, it’s just hiring a 4×4 and driver as a solo traveler in Benin would have been out of my price range

Lastly, double check if it is safe to travel in this isolated area of Benin when you are in the country. I know that this National Park is sometimes considered “off limits for tourists” in neighboring Niger, but  this doesn’t always apply to the Benin side of the park.

Tatas are traditional, fortress-like houses built by the Somba (also known as Batammariba or Tammari) people of northwestern Benin and northern Togo. You can see the tatas in both Benin and Togo, but the Benin side is much nicer to visit.

This is probably one of the coolest things to do in this Benin travel guide!

If you happen to be taking a bush taxi between Djougou and Natitingou , you are bound to see the Tatas dotting the countryside, but the highest concentration of tatas is between Natitingou and Boukoumbé .

(Also, as listed above in the Pendjari National Park section, Hotel Tata Samba and Auberge le Vieux Cavalier are good hotel choices for Natitingou.)

Boukoumbé is near the Togolese border. Some people like to see the tatas in both countries, but know that if you cross into Togo you have to pay the entrance fee to see their tatas and (sorry not sorry) it seems like a ton of thugs run the tata tourism over in Togo.

Also! This is important, if you cross into Togo from Boukoumbé or vice versa, you MUST get your passport stamped in Natitingou as they do not have the stamping facilities at the border.

You can easily get to Boukoumbé from Natitingou to see the tatas on market days. Apparently it is always the day before Natitingou’s market day. But on an off day you can take a momo/ Zem there. That will require some haggling but will cost you between 5,000 and 10,000 CFA depending on how good you are!

Visits to the villages and tatas in the region can be organized from hotels near Boukoumbé. You can also just ask around and possibly find a driver for the day.

Some local hotels and auberges near boukoumbé include:.

Otammari Lodge : Stay in a hotel that is a tata! It’s a rustic eco lodge that is right on the road to Boukoumbé. This place is also known as La Perlede de l’Atakora

Tata Koubetti Victor: You stay in a local Tata that has turned into a hotel and restaurant/bar. They also offer excursions in the region and you can see  their offerings and full price list at their website here !

tata house in benin guide

I wanted to write about  entering Togo in this Benin travel guide.

If you cross from the less popular border in the north near Boukoumbé, remember that you will need to do your border formalities at the police station in Natitingou!

The Togo-Benin border in the south that connects Cotonou with Lomé is a pretty straightforward border. The bush taxis that come from both Lomé and Cotonou do not cross the border. You need to get out and walk. Don’t listen to the moto drivers saying they need to drive you farther because it is a very easy walk.

If you are crossing the Benin-Togo border from the Benin side, you get your exit stamp from the office to the left before you cross.

When you enter Togo, you have the option to buy a visa. They also check your yellow fever certificate. They actually give out the vaccinations at the border for the equivalent of 10 euros or something…ughhhh why did I pay 60 euros in France for the same thing?!

Once you exit Benin and arrive in Togo, keep walking straight. They do a sort of customs check which involved a hoard of men making fun of me and trying to get me to give them peanuts. If your Benin itinerary includes a jaunt into Togo, don’t forget to get a multiple entry visa to Benin.

crossing into togo from benin guide border

I hope that this guide to Benin will help you plan a wonderful trip!

Related posts:.

  • My experience traveling to West Africa with the Visa Touristique Entente
  • Benin: Know Before You Go- Visas, My Travel Tips, and Advice
  • Solo Female Travel in Benin: Is it Safe to Travel to Benin Alone?

8 of the Absolute Best Things to do in Cotonou, Benin

Related posts.

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7 of the Absolute Best things to do in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso

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10 Reasons You Should Visit Benin

  •  Parc National de W National
  •  Parc National de la Forêt Classée de la Lama
  •  Parc National de la Kéran
  •  Parc National de la Lama
  •  Parc National de la Pendjari
  •  Abomey
  •  Allada
  •  Aplahoue
  •  Banikoara
  •  Bembereke
  •  Bohicon
  •  Cotonou
  •  Djougou
  •  Dogbo
  •  Grand-Popo
  •  Kandi
  •  Ketou
  •  Lokossa
  •  Natitingou
  •  Ouidah
  •  Parakou
  •  Porto-Novo
  •  Savalou
  •  Tchaourou
  •  Abomey Historical Museum
  •  Abomey-Calavi
  •  Akpro-Missérété
  •  Dassa-Zoumé
  •  Ganvie
  •  Grand Popo Beach
  •  Grand-Bassam
  •  Grand-Popo Beach Resort
  •  Kétou
  •  Ouidah Museum of History
  •  Pendjari National Park
  •  Porto-Novo Beach
  •  Royal Palaces of Abomey
  •  W National Park

  •  Algeria
  •  Angola
  •  Benin
  •  Botswana
  •  Burkina Faso
  •  Burundi
  •  Cabo Verde
  •  Cameroon
  •  Central African Republic
  •  Comoros
  •  Democratic Republic of the Congo
  •  Djibouti
  •  Egypt
  •  Equatorial Guinea
  •  Eritrea
  •  Eswatini
  •  Ethiopia
  •  Gabon
  •  Gambia
  •  Ghana
  •  Guinea-Bissau
  •  Guinea
  •  Ivory Coast
  •  Kenya
  •  Lesotho
  •  Liberia
  •  Libya
  •  Madagascar
  •  Malawi
  •  Mauritania
  •  Mauritius
  •  Morocco
  •  Mozambique
  •  Namibia
  •  Nigeria
  •  Niger
  •  Rwanda
  •  Sao Tome and Principe
  •  Senegal
  •  Seychelles
  •  Sierra Leone
  •  Somalia
  •  South Africa
  •  South Sudan
  •  Sudan
  •  Tanzania
  •  Tunisia
  •  Uganda
  •  Zambia
  •  Zimbabwe

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COMMENTS

  1. THE 15 BEST Things to Do in Benin

    Nestled in the north west corner of Benin, Pendjari National Park span a vast 4,800 km2. Representing one of the last true wildernesses of West Africa, the park supports an astonishing array of flora and fauna: contributing to it being added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2017.

  2. 7 best places to visit in Benin

    1. Ganvie. Best place to go for a boat tour. The largest lake village in Africa is a popular and spectacular place to visit when exploring Benin. Ganvie has a population of 20,000 people located on Lake Nokoue, a 16,000-hectare body of water close to Cotonou.This village has a treacherous and tyrannical history that stems back to the fifteenth century when the Tofinu people sought refuge on ...

  3. Must-see attractions Benin, West Africa

    Sierra Leone. Discover the best attractions in Benin including Centre Songhai, Zinzou Foundation Museum, and Route des Esclaves.

  4. 25 Best Tourist Attractions to Visit in Benin

    Benin is a West African country with a rich cultural and natural heritage. If you are looking for a unique and diverse destination, you should visit the 25 best tourist attractions in Benin, such as the Pendjari National Park, the Royal Palaces of Abomey, the Ganvie Lake Village, and the Ouidah Museum of History. Tour Rom offers you the best travel guides and tips to explore this fascinating ...

  5. Benin travel

    The 4 best road trips in Benin. Jan 16, 2024 • 5 min read. From exploring places steeped in Vodou culture to the ancient West African Kingdom of Dahomey, see the highlights of Benin on these top road trips.

  6. Top Benin Tourist Attractions: An Overland Travel Itinerary

    Abomey is the former capital of the Dahomey Kingdom and one of Benin's top historical attractions. Established in 1625 by the Fon people, the Royal Palaces in Abomey have been designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites for their unparalleled importance in Benin's history. Dahomey Palace in Abomey, Benin. Abomey, formerly known as Dahomey, was ...

  7. 20 Best Places to Visit in Benin

    Cathedral De Notre Dame. 20 Best Places to Visit in Benin 28. The Cathedral De Notre Dame is the largest Catholic church in Benin and is the main place to celebrate Mass. The building has many features, including a beautiful hall that is used for Sunday services.

  8. Things to see and do in Benin

    Attractions in Benin Brush up on your history in Porto Novo. The gateway to Benin for most visitors, Porto Novo, Benin's laidback capital, is home to some exquisite examples of colonial and pre-colonial architecture, not least the Brazilian-style Big Mosque. Other attractions of note include the eclectic Musée da Silva, which offers a brief ...

  9. Benin Travel Guide

    1. Shopping and Clubbing in Cotonou: Benin's largest city, Cotonou, is characterized by the same kind of chaos and grit as other large West African metropolises, but it also has one of the finest cultural scenes in the region and a thriving nightlife. The Foundation Zinsou, a museum dedicated to contemporary African art, is superb, and it hosts a painting workshop on Wednesdays, Thursdays ...

  10. Best Places to Visit in Benin

    Benin . Best Places to Visit in Benin | Travel Guide (2024) | Things to Do, See & Eat. Embark on an enlightening journey to Benin, a West African nation where the sacred rituals of Vodun, the historical remnants of the Dahomey Kingdom, and the tranquil beauty of Pendjari National Park converge. Wander through the Royal Palaces of Abomey ...

  11. 8 of the best things to do in Benin

    1. See Ganvie, the largest stilt village in Africa. As far as Benin experiences go, the "Venice of Africa", officially known as Ganvie, is a must-visit. It's an ancient stilt village full of "watermen" - people who have adapted to living in the shallow waters and islands of Lake Nokoue.

  12. 10 BEST Places to Visit in Benin

    5. Pendjari National Park. 70. National Parks. Nestled in the north west corner of Benin, Pendjari National Park span a vast 4,800 km2. Representing one of the last true wildernesses of West Africa, the park supports an astonishing array of flora and fauna: contributing to it being added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2017.

  13. Benin

    Benin — Attractions. The biggest attraction for most visitors to Benin is the country's rich history and the ruins which stand to tell the story. The ancient palaces of Abomey, their museums, and even the pathway on which slaves ones walked, are a special part of the continent's heritage. The country also offers visitors abundant natural ...

  14. Places To Visit In Benin. #Top Attractions

    Explore Benin this holiday! Look at our recommended travel activities and attractions in Benin to get the most out of your time there. Check out the list of the best things to do in Benin and places to go in Benin below.Wondrous Drifter is an ambitious Web 3.0 travel startup with the potential to revolutionize the market.

  15. 10 Best Places to Visit in Benin

    10 Best Places to Visit in Benin | Travel Video | Travel Guide | SKY Travel#travelvideo #travelguide #Benin #skytravel01.Cotonou02.Ouidah03.Porto Novo04.Abom...

  16. Beautiful Benin: 10 Of The Best Attractions Of This Humble ...

    5 Cotonou Cathedral. Another must-see spot in Benin is Cotonou Cathedral, a uniquely colored landmark in the city. It is known for its red and white stripes, which is unlikely for a Catholic Church. Though its facade is not typical for a religious building, this landmark is a place of peace in the bustling Cotonou.

  17. 11 things to know before traveling to Benin

    2. A yellow fever certificate is vital. This is mandatory while traveling in African countries and also in some parts of Asia. All visitors traveling to Benin need a yellow fever certificate and you will be refused entry without one. Proof of this vaccination is also required during your application for a visa.

  18. My Ultimate Benin Travel Guide and Itinerary: Budget Backpacking in Benin

    Backpacking in Benin: a Two to Three Week Benin Itinerary. Benin Travel ItineraryDays 1-2: Cotonou, Ganvié (see above) Day 3: Porto Novo: Leafy Streets and Colonial Architecture. Benin Itinerary Days 4-5: Abomey (see above) and head north. Days 6-9 (or longer): Check out a national park and go on a safari in Benin!

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    Here are 10 reasons why you should visit Benin. 1. The People - Benin is known for its friendly and hospitable people. The people of Benin are proud of their culture and heritage and are more than happy to share it with visitors. The locals are always willing to help and will make you feel at home in no time. 2.

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