Benin


Overview

Benin travel guide, including map of Benin, top Benin travel experiences, tips for travel in Benin, plus where to wildlife and voodoo ceremonies in Benin

You won’t forget Benin in a hurry. The birthplace of voodoo and home to the slave trade for almost 300 years, tiny, little-known Benin is a fascinating place to visit. Economic capital Cotonou is a bustling city: come here to haggle at the markets and bump and grind in its nightclubs. Travel a few hours out of town and you’ll be in Ganvié where local fishermen live in bamboo huts on stilts over the lake. Loll on one of the palm dotted beaches that line the Atlantic coast and visit the Parc Regional du W: one of the best wildlife parks in West Africa.

Wanderlust recommends

    1. Discover the magic and mystery of the state religion – voodoo
    2. Visit the Dantokpa Market, Cotonou, which has a compelling yet macabre fetish section
    3. Sail out to Ganvié, a floating stilted town on Lake Nakoué
    4. Lounge on the stunning, deserted, palm-fringed beaches at Grand Popo on the Bight of Benin
    5. Spot elephants, cheetah, buffalo and lion at the Pendjari National Park, one of West Africa’s prime game reserves

 

Wanderlust tips

Find a local guide with an ear to the ground if you want to find a non-touristy voodoo ceremony. Note that the beaches are only safe for paddling as dangerous currents make the water unsafe for swimming. Pack a torch if you’re coming to Benin – there’s not a whole lot of street lighting.

Further Reading

Travel in Benin: vital statistics

  • Capital of Benin: Porto Novo (official); Cotonou (largest city and main hub)
  • Population of Benin: 8.5 million
  • Languages in Benin: French (official): Fon widely spoken
  • Time in Benin: GMT+1
  • International dialing code in Benin: +229
  • Voltage in Benin: 220AC, 50 Hz
  • Visas for Benin: Visas for Benin
  • Money in Benin: CFA franc (CFA). Outside Cotonou there's hardly anywhere to change money. Take euros in large note denominations for a better rate. Forget credit cards.
  • Benin travel advice: Foreign & Commonwealth Office
  • Benin tourist board: Benin Tourism

When to go to Benin

Southern Benin has a year-round tropical climate; the north is hotter and semi-arid. From April to October expect strong rains, with a break in August when countryside is green.

Come in the dry winter for Ouidah's annual Voodoo Day on 10 January.

International airport

Catanou Cajehoun (COO) - 5km from the city.

Getting around in Benin

Between towns, travel in Benin is by taxi brousse (shared taxi). These leave when full and are cheap.

For journeys inside cities and to taxi ranks, use use zémidjans (motorbike-taxis) but negotiate the fare first.

Benin accommodation

Accommodation options are increasing in Benin but Cotonou is the only place you'll find business-class hotels. Mid-range tourist hotels can be found in Grand Popo, Parkou and Natitingou: elsewhere accommodation is more basic.

There are no dorm-style hostels in Benin. Campers will be able to pitch in hotel grounds for a small fee and camping is the perfect way to explore some of the national parks, especially Parc National du W. 

Benin food & drink

Most folks in Benin eat at market stalls or buvettes (small bars). Expect fried chicken and fish with rice, chilli sauces, okra and bitter leaf dishes, plus a variety of staples made from maize, cassava or yam. Brochettes of beef, goat, or agouti (cane rat) along with grilled corn are also available. Beer Beninoise is a refreshing brew.

Health & safety in Benin

Hygiene is generally satisfactory. Consult your GP about inoculations; a yellow fever vaccination certificate needs to be shown on arrival.

Outside of Cotonou (where modest caution is required at night), Benin is a safe, friendly country. Be very sensitive with photography, particularly at voodoo ceremonies or fetish markets - many will simply not allow this