A club-shaped country located on the western edge of Nigeria, Benin was once one of the most powerful empires in Africa called the Dahomey Kingdom during 1800-1894. Located in West Africa, Benin is the birthplace of voodoo, the country’s national religion. Contrary to popular belief, voodoo is not at all a taboo and was exploited in all the wrong ways. It was also in this country wherein slave trade became rampant. Despite these slightly off connotations, Benin is one of the most politically stable and safe countries of the region for travelling. See Benin for what it truly is: a treasure trove of Dahomeyans’ palaces and temples in Abomey, a soft reminder of slave trade in Ouidah, the larger than life wildlife park in Pendjari, and a lively nightlife and retail therapy shopping at its best in Cotonou.
The largest city of Benin, but not necessarily the capital, Cotonou is the country’s primary port of entry for visitors. Here you can admire the Cotonou Cathedral, also known as Notre Dame des Apotres. It is located near the Ancien Pont Bridge. It is notable for its burgundy and white striped tile architecture. The Cotonou Cathedral is the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cotonou. You can also treat yourself to therapy shopping in Grand Marché du Dantokpa, a renowned market from which you can buy anything under the sun in its labyrinthine lanes.
Gone are the days when slave trading was rampant. In Ouidah, the Route des Esclaves stands as a reminder of the trade. Slaves were taken from the fort to the beach down here, which are lined with monuments such as the Monument of Repentance and the Tree of Forgetfulness. However, one of the poignant reminders of the slave trade is the Point of No Return, a memorial that features bas-relief depicting slaves in chains, which saw at least 12 million people deported to their fate.
Meanwhile in Abomey, the capital of the Dahomey Kingdom, ruined temples and royal palaces are in stark contrast with Ouidah’s slave trade monuments. Now a declared UNESCO World Heritage Site, the ruins are a living testament to the wealth brought to the Dahomey kings from the slave trade. Meanwhile, the Musée Historique d'Abomey is housed in two palaces of the ancient kings Ghézo and Glélé. The museum displays royal thrones, tapestries, human skulls that were once used as musical instruments, and fetish items that were mounted on four real skulls of slayed enemies. Admission here is free so going in to see the Dahomey Kingdom’s courtyards, ceremonial rooms, and burial chambers will amaze you.
You should also take time to visit the Pendjari National Park. The 275,000 hectare national park is one of the best parks in West Africa. Here, you will get a chance to see lions, leopards, elephants, baboons, and hippopotamus in all their glory. If you want to visit the park, it is best to visit towards the end of the dry season, when you can see them hovering around water holes. The Pendjari National Park is adjoined with the Parc National d’Arli in Burkina Faso, and bordered to the west, north, and east by the Pendjari River.
How to get around within Benin
From the Cotonou Airport, you can reach most cities by hired cars and drivers that you need to arrange prior to your arrival in the city. Car driving is highly recommended for tourists who are travelling from city to city, especially major ones. Bush taxi is also possible for travel between most cities.
You can also opt to take the bus, which is extremely timely and reliable that will take you to every major city in the country. Main systems are Confort Lines and Benin-Routes, with the former providing a wider transport route options. You can make reservations at any regional office in the city.
If you are travelling within the city, the cheapest way to do so is by motorcycle taxi, which is recognisable with the driver and the car’s matching coloured shirts with ID numbers. Interestingly, the colour varies for each city.
How to get there
To reach Benin, you will have to fly to Cotonou Airport. The airport is being serviced by airlines such as Air Cote D’Ivoire, Air France, Arik Air, ASKY, Delta Air Lines, ECair, Ethiopian Airlines, KLM, Mauritania Airlines International, Turkish Airlines, and Westair Benin. The aforementioned airlines fly to and from destinations such as Accra, Paris, Lagos, Abidjan, Niamey, Pointe Noire, Lome, Brazzaville, and Libreville.
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