Traveling in Benin
Benin is a tiny coastal nation that is one of West Africa’s most peaceful and pleasant places to visit. Since I like my trips to get less and less stressful as I progress, I intentionally started this trip in Nigeria, went to through Niger and finished up in peaceful Benin. Benin was the laid back country that I needed after some of my earlier experiences in Nigeria and Niger! As a former French colony that has lots of French tourists and some of the best infrastructure in the region, I found it easy to get around Benin and reasonably priced hostels and hotels are always a plus. Benin has many interesting things within its borders, but the country is most famous for being the birthplace of Voodoo that has spread through other parts of Africa and even to the Caribbean.
Benin’s largest city is located right on the Atlantic Ocean. Cotonou is a safe place to visit and travelers will find plenty to do. The most popular place to stay is Haie Vive which is popular among American and French tourists. The stone lined streets have a variety of international restaurants that will satisfy anyone’s appetite. Cotonou has several landmarks, miles of beach, and good night life.
Ouidah is one of the most important historic places in all of Benin. It was here that most of Benin’s slaves were exported to the new world. The gate of no return still stands along the Atlantic coast and lots of history for this colonial slave port is still in tact. As a result of slaves from different tribes all being brought to Ouidah, the city became a melting pot of spiritualism and voodoo. Within Ouidah you can find voodoo ceremonies, the temple of pythons and dozens of shrines. Ouidah is also home to the sacred forest, the location where voodoo was first founded and a mecca for its followers today.
Benin’s coast makes up only 75 miles (120 km) in length, but is one of the safest coasts in West Africa and a popular destination for travelers. There are several beach resorts such as Grand Popo, along with interesting fishing villages and mangrove forests that offer lots of culture and wildlife. You can go on a mangrove boat safari, visit villages and voodoo temples, relax at a beach hotel, or even go for a swim if you’re brave enough to fight the riptides.
Benin’s capital of Port Novo is filled with dozens of important landmarks and cultural attractions. The royal palace of King Roi Toffa gives a great example of history and the culture of some of Benin’s elite. Also a must visit is the national history museum which covers everything from voodoo to details of Benin’s experience with the slave trade and European colonization.