Benin Travel Guide
Introduction to Benin
Located in the heart of what used to be known as the Slave Coast, Benin has come a long way from the days when its lands were plundered of its most valuable resource: the people. After the bad old days of slave raiding, colonialism, and political mismanagement, this thin nation has finally found stable footing in recent decades.
Although it still suffers from corruption and poor infrastructure, this country is one of the safest in the region to visit.
Currency: CFA Francs
Languages: French, Fon, Yoruba, various indigenous languages
What To Do in Benin
Take in some of the best art that can be found in Benin by dropping by Fondation Zinsou, which is located in Cotonou. Created in 2005 with the intention of showcasing the best contemporary art in the nation, it also puts on workshops that aim to teach the younger generations how to produce paintings, sculptures and other forms of artistic expression.
There are a number of items for sale that will make for unique souvenirs, and the on-site cafe serves coffee grown upcountry, so be sure to have a cup if you are a java enthusiast.
After you have had your fill of Cotonou, make the Royal Palaces of Abomey your first stop outside the cities. The imperial compound of the Fon Kingdom, which rose to power in the region in the 17th century.
They built their fortune by supplying European slave traders with captured prisoners of the many wars that they fought, a practice that lasted up until slavery was abolished across the world starting in the 19th century.
Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it has suffered from a number of disasters over the years, from a tornado that damaged several buildings in 1984, to a bushfire that torched a similar number of structures in 2009.
However, they re-built these buildings after each tragedy, so be sure to check out this monument of human history when you are visiting Benin.
La Porte Du Non Retour is perhaps the saddest place in Africa (let alone Benin), as it represents the last time millions of men, women, and children would ever see their homeland again.
Located in Ouidah, this was just one of several major slave ports located up and down the western coast of the African continent where European traders would collect captured human beings, with the intention of selling them to masters in Europe and the New World.
A stone arch facing the open ocean along with stone sculptures depicting the human toll taken by this horrible period in human history will make for one of the more powerful places that you will visit during a trip to West Africa.
Those wanting to see some wildlife during their trip to Benin will want to pay a visit to Pendjari National Park. Named after the river that flows through it, this preserve is home to one of the few remaining populations of lions, elephants, and hippos in Western Africa.
Birders will also want to make their way up to this park, as over 300 avian species can be sighted within its boundaries.
Like many other places in Western Africa, the seascapes of Benin feature some excellent tropical beaches, but they see little in the way of foreign tourism. There are quite a few beautiful places to relax near the city of Cotonou, but none are quite as unique as Obama Beach.
Named after the 44th president of the United States, this tan strip of sand features large empty stretches where you get your daily allotted dose of UV rays, but if you are looking to socialize, they are plenty of locals about on weekends as well. Watch out for the undertow, as it is reported to be fairly strong just a short distance offshore.
What to Eat in Benin
Those looking for a snack while walking the streets in Benin will want to try some Acaraje. Made by peeling black-eyed peas, mashing them together with salt and onions, and then deep-frying them in palm oil, it is a delicious treat that will fill you up in a hurry.
Alloco is another quick snack that many native Beninese go for on a daily basis. Essentially fried plantains, they are consumed on their own, but they are also served on the side at many grilled meat vendors throughout Benin.
Those looking to try the national dish of Benin will want to track down a restaurant that serves Kuli Kuli. Made by mashing up peanuts into a paste and combining it with onions, cayenne pepper, and salt, it is a tricky snack to make on your own, but to the established masters, creating this treat is second-nature.