Benin excites everybody’s love for the mysterious and unfamiliar with its title, ‘the cradle of voodoo’. It has a number of places to visit, the biggest attraction for most visitors to Benin is the country’s rich history and the ruins which stand to tell the story.
The ancient palaces of Abomey, their museums and the pathway on which slaves ones walked are a special part of the country’s heritage. Below are the list of things things to do in Benin.
Royal Palaces of Dahomey
If there is one attraction that every tourist to Benin should visit, the Royal Palaces of Abomey is it. Built between the 17th and 19th centuries by the Fon people, this UNESCO World Heritage site holds some of the last remains of West Africa’s turbulent past. The earthen structure makes up the ancient town in which the King of Dahomey (the ancient Benin) resided.
It is 109 km east of Cotonou. Lac Doukon is a small lake outside of Lokossa where a small family of Hippopotami live. Here, you can see many species of birds and aquatic plants and enjoy the daily life in an African village. This lake is unusual because of the village and hippos living together and sharing the lake. Visitors will have the chance to explore the area by walking around the lake and taking traditional canoe. You will also be able to find food and lodging in the city of Lokossa.
The Tata Somba region
Located slightly South of Natitingou in the Atakora Hills, you will see the unique group of people called the Somba whose lifestyle is hardly touched by the modern world and who live in 3 storey houses called TaTas. The houses were originally built for defense purposes – against raids by the Dahomey slave traders and by neighboring tribes. They are still built today. The Tatas are made from traditional mud bricks. Note that, it’s important to respect the culture of the people when you visit.
Temple of the sacred python
Open to visitors daily, the Temple of the Sacred Python is one of the most interesting temples in Ouidah. The serpent deity Dangbe is revered in many cultures in Benin. Thus the serpent is believed to be sacred and in need of reverence and protection. The priests of Dangbe maintains the temple and charge a small fee for visitors interested in seeing the pythons. For another fee, visitors can have their picture taken with a serpent draped around their neck.
Pendjari National Park
It’s in the far North West of Benin on the border with Burkina Faso, is the Pendjari national park. The park was created in 1961 and made a UNESCO world biosphere site in 1986. It covers a total area of 2750 sq km and you can see a large variety of animals and birds, except for Giraffes and Zebras. Another interesting feature of the park are the “Mares” or waterholes which are completely natural and more like small lakes.
The Route d’Esclaves
The Slave Route is a 2.5 mile stretch of heritage road. That is the last piece of African soil slaves from Benin touched before they were shipped to the Caribbean and Americas. The area now holds several landmarks which are important for telling the story. These includes the Slave Auction, the Tree of Forgetting and the Zomai Cabin. Most haunting of all is the remarkable monument on Ouidah Beach, ‘the slaves point of departure” called the Point of No Return.
Grand popo is along the coast 85km from Cotonou and has an endless sandy beach which stretches all the way to Lome in Togo. The town is spread out along the road which runs parallel to the beach and is very quiet and laid back. It is a great place to relax and chill out for a few days by the sea. There is plenty to do in Grand Popo if you can be bothered to leave the beach and explore. You can take a boat trip along the Mono river, visit a village where they make salt. Explore the mangroves and spot all the Voodoo temples along the riverbank, as well as see some nice birds.
Ganvie Stilt Village
This a unique village built on Lake Nokoué, just an hour north of Benin’s largest city, Cotonou. About 20,000 people live in Ganvie. It’s commonly believed that the Tofinu people settled here around 400 years ago to escape slavers who came from the Fon tribe and were not allowed to fight in water for traditional reasons. Hence the Tofinu were safe to build their homes on the water. Ganvie is marketed as the “Venice of Africa” but that may be raising expectations a little high.