Benin is perhaps best known to the world as the birthplace of the Vodun religion—voodoo. To this day, Vodun remains the official religion of the country, and an important part of the life of ordinary Beninese. Voodoo temples, roadside fetishes, and fetish markets are found throughout the country, but the best known is the skull and skin-filled fetish market in the Grande Marche du Dantopka—Cotonou’s overwhelmingly busy, enormous, and hectic grand market. The most important fetish in the country is the monstruous Dankoli fetish, on the northerly road near Savalou, which is a pretty good spot for beseeching gods.
Benin under the rule of the Dahomey kings was a major center of the slave trade, and the Route des Esclaves in Ouidah, terminating at the beachside Point of No Return monument is a memorial to those who were kidnapped, sold, and sent off to the other side of the world. Ouidah’s local museum, housed in a Portuguese fort, unsurprisingly focuses on the slave trade, in addition to other facets of local culture, religion, and history, and is a real must see for anyone passing through the country.
Abomey was the capital of the Dahomey Empire, and its ruined temples and royal palaces, now a UNESCO World Heritage site, are one of the country’s top attractions. The ruins, their bas-reliefs, and the Abomey Historical Museum in the royal palace (which contains all sorts of macabre tapestries and even a throne of human skulls) are a testament to the wealth brought to the Dahomey kings from the slave trade, and brutality with which they oppressed their enemies, fodder for human sacrifice and bondage.
While manic Cotonou is the country’s largest city and economic center, Porto-Novo, the capital, is small and one of West Africa’s more pleasant capitals. Most of the country’s major museums are located here amidst the crumbling architectural legacy of French colonial rule. Grand-Popo is the other popular city for tourists to relax, but not for the city itself as much as the beaches.
In the north, you’ll find a very different sort of Benin, and the national parks are well worth a visit for their wildlife. Pendjari National Park and W National Park (which Benin shares with Burkina Faso and Niger), are considered West Africa’s best for wildlife viewing, and are set in beautiful, hilly highlands.
The unique and eccentric mud and clay tower-houses, known as tata, of the Somba people in the north, west of Djougou near the Togolese border, are a little-known extension into Benin of the types of dwellings used by the Batammariba people of Togo just west. Virtually all tourists to this area flock to the UNESCO-designated Koutammakou Valley across the border; the Benin side has the advantage of being even off the beaten path.
Benin is also, fortunately, one of the most stable and safe countries of the region for traveling. Largely off the tourist radar and undoubtedly ‘West African’, Benin is a great country to visit on any West African itinerary.
We also offer multi-country itineraries and special interest tours throughout Africa. Ready to inquire about a booking or need more info?
Contact Us today and we’ll be happy to help!