Visas for most passport holders are available at 10,000 CFA on main border points. I entered at Hilakondji, the main land border between Togo and Benin. I did get hassle from some fat woman (who barely fit in her) uniform. She started with "You should have gotten a visa before you arrived here". Had the B.itch stopped watching the TV (wildlife documentary) and not been on her mobile phone - I could have stated the bleeding obvious. Benin has no Embassy in the UK! Anyway, the other tourists were handled swiftly and efficiently by her colleagues who were busy doing work. I was there for 30 minutes. The taxi driver was not impressed. Make sure you don't let this woman process you ! Otherwise its a 5 minute process. Easy.
PLEASE NOTE: This is only a 48 hour Visa!
You have to go to the following Minstry and pay another 12,000 CFA for a 30-day Visa
Direction Générale de l'Emigration et Immigration
Ave Jean Paul II, Cotonou
Tel : (229) 21 30 83 45
Fax : (229) 21 30 18 51
E-mail : firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com
Site Internet : www.finance.gouv.bj
You need a passport photo and wait 2 days.
Applications accepted: 8am - 11am, 3pm - 5pm Monday to Friday
Collect your Visa: 11am - 12:30pm, 5pm - 6:30pm 2 weekdays later
Ganvie in Benin (West Africa) is a unique village built on Lake Nokoué, just an hour north of the administrative capital and 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 and built their lake village to escape slavers who came from the Fon tribe and were not allowed to fight in water for traditional reasons (or perhaps could not swim). 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.
Lac Doukon is 109 km east of Cotonou. Here, visitors can see hippopotami, many species of birds and aquatic plants, and enjoy the daily life in an African village. Visitors will have the chance to explore the area by walking around the lake and taking traditional canoe. You will be able to find food and lodging in the city of Lokossa. Take the opportunity to discover our local cuisine like, le manioc pilé(pounded manioc), les poissons d’eau douce(ocean fish), and la viande d’aulacode(agouti or cane rat).
Lac Doukon is a small lake (25 ha) outside of Lokossa where a small family of Hippopotami live. This lake is unusual because of village and hippos living together and sharing the lake. Visitors will see villagers fishing, tending there gardens and crops and doing their laundry while hippo are not far off in the lake. Like other places conflict do exist between the two groups. Hippos destroy crops, damage fishing nets and cause traffic accidents. In many places throughout Benin hippos are highly valued for their nutritional and religious uses. However, here humans try to live together with these Pachydermes.
The Tata Somba region is slightly South of Natitingou in the Atakora Hills. Here 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 defence purposes – against raids by the Dahomey slave traders and by neighbouring tribes. They are still built today and each man has to build his own Tata when he wants to marry and start a family. Traditionally if a son wanted to build his own Tata his father would shoot an arrow and the son would build his Tata where the arrow landed.
Tatas are made from traditional mud bricks. The bricks are made from mud, grass and water in a mould then dried in the sun. There are many different variations on the Tata, depending on which village you visit. We visited Kouba
The father sleeps on the ground floor in a separate room, as the animals are brought in at night to prevent them wandering away or getting stolen. Also on the ground floor is the grinding stone for grinding cassava and millet and an area for fetishes.
The next floor contains the kitchen which is separate from the living and sleeping areas.
The top floor terrace is the highlight. Reached via a tree branch ladder the terrace contains the bedrooms of the mother and children and the grain stores all neatly arranged around the terrace with a view of the village and the fields beyond. The rooms have sliding reed doors for privacy and when the husband wants to visit his wife he has to knock 3 times on the door.
The grain stores contain dried cassava, millet and any other foodstuffs that can be stored for months when fresh food is not so plentiful. The stores built high and are totally enclosed to prevent insects or small animals getting inside. They are reached by a tree ladder and have a conical top that lifts off for access to the inside. The area can grow Mangos and other fruits, Cassava, Millet, vegetables and Shea nuts for making Shea butter.
The Somba men have their faces marked at age 3 and their bodies marked when they are a teenager. They are circumcised at around age 18! The facial markings traditionally matched the marking on the man’s Tata, so you knew which man owned which Tata.
The area is remote with only dirt roads, which has probably enabled the Somba to carry on their traditional lifestyle. You will need to hire a 4W in Natitingou or Cotonou to visit the Tata Sombas and it is important to respect the culture of the people when you visit.
Pendjari National Park is in the far North West of Benin on the border with Burkina Faso over 600km from Cotonou. The nearest large town is Natitingou, 80km south.
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.
One of the most interesting features of the park are the “Mares” or waterholes which are completely natural and much larger than waterholes I have seen anywhere else – more like small lakes. There are 7 of them in the park and the animals congregate around them so they are excellent places for animal and bird viewing. Some of them have hides or covered viewing platforms with seats. Mare Bali is in the centre of the park and is the biggest.
This area is not the dry Savannah that you get in Southern and Eastern Africa. It is actually very wet with a lot of vegetation so the game viewing is a little more difficult. However, the Mares and the many roads allow good views of the animals. Our visit was mid March which is at the end of the dry season which starts in December. The park is closed from the end of April until the beginning of December as the roads get flooded by the rains.
You need a 4WD vehicle to visit the park. We had our own vehicle with a driver which we hired in Cotonou and used for the whole trip, but you can arrange hire of 4WDs in Natitingou at one of the travel agencies or at the Tata Somba Hotel which also runs the best lodge in the Pendjari park. On arrival you can get a guide at the ranger station, however ours didn’t speak any English which I think is the norm.
For more info and tips see my Tanguieta page.
Dassa Zoume is in Central Benin, North of Abomey and Bohicon and is on the route to the North so if you are travelling on a Sunday it is worth a stop to visit the Catholic sanctuary and pilgrimage site.
There is a modern Basilica, built in 2002 and services are held outside so it is very busy with crowds stood under colourful awnings listening to the preachers. Behind the Basilica is the “Marial Grot,” which is a cave where the virgin Mary appeared. The hillside behind the Basilica and the Grot has 14 shrines which represent the stages of the crucifixion.
More details Dassa Zoume
Porto Novo is actually the capital of Benin, but has been overtaken in size and population by Cotonou which is the commercial capital with the port and the airport. Porto Novo can be visited in a day from Cotonou as it is only 30 km and 45 minutes drive to the East close to the border with Nigeria. As prices in Benin are much higher than in Nigeria for most goods, there is plenty of trade in Nigerian goods here, particularly petrol.
Things to do and see in Porto Novo include -
KINGS PALACE MUSEUM
This is the old Palace of the Kings of Porto Novo who can be traced back from 1688 up until King Toffa signed the Palace over to the French in 1883 for protection against the Kings of Dahomey who would have sold the people as slaves. The last King lived here until the 1970's when it was opened as a museum. Every year a ceremony is held here in honour of the ancestors. The palace complex has a lovely courtyard with a collection of scrap metal sculptures. Inside the history and lifestyle of the Kings is documented. It is a good idea to get a guide as they are very good here and give very thorough explanations of what you are looking at.
This museum is located in an old colonial building and explains the importance of birth, life and death on society and there is a floor devoted to the importance of the Yoruba masks and their messages.
When you have had enough history, a visit to the Songhai centre will bring you bang up to date. This is a centre for sustainable agriculture and it is well worth spending at least a couple of hours here. Many types of fruit and vegetables are grown here, animals are raised and there is a fish farm, water filtration plant and fruit juice production. You can see how each section creates the bio-fuels to allow the other sections to function and how everything is used with no waste. Look out for the NERICA rice (New Rice for Africa) which grows here - adapted to grow in harsh African conditions and developd by a Beninese company. After the tour you can sample the organic produce in the restaurant.
See my Porto Novo page for more details.
Ganvie is another must-see on a visit to Benin. 25,000 people live permanently on Lake Nakoue in houses built on stilts. The whole life of the town is lived on and in the water and a trip to Ganvie is absolutely fascinating. The town was established here during the slave trade. The local King took advantage of a rule that states the Kings of Dahomey, who were capturing slaves, could not pursue their enemies over water as the Juju (magic) would work against them and also the lake was out of range of their guns. So the King took his people to safety and the town has stood on the Lake ever since.
Boats depart from the Lakeside village of Abomey-Calavi which is a short drive from Cotonou. My trip was pre-booked and our motor boat was covered to protect us from the sun. We passed the many fish farms along the journey to Ganvie and many people coming and going from Ganvie to Abomey-Calavi to sell fish or to buy goods sold at the lakeside or in the market.
We were welcomed to Ganvie by a boatful of local men singing. Then we toured the main street, the floating market and a few of the side streets before going to have a look at 2 other smaller Lake Villages of So-Zouko and So-Tchonhoue. We ate a delicious lunch at the hotel Germaine, which also has rooms, before returning to Abomey-Calavi late afternoon.
More info and tips are on my Ganvie page.
Abomey is about 100km North of Cotonou and it takes under half a day to get there by car. The road is good all the way and you can stop at Allada, original home of the Dahomey (the old name for the Kingdom of Abomey) Kings, and Bohicon along the way. The name Dahomey was derived from French meaning "in the belly of Dan" because of the origins of the first king who was descended from Dan the serpent god, who is one the the most powerful and popular gods. The Dahomey kingdom became very powerful during the slave trade and the kings became very wealthy from selling their captives as slaves. Even before this they were well known and feared for their warlike natures and bloodthirsty tendencies.
Considering it is such an important site, Abomey is surprisingly small and quiet. The main tourist attraction is the Palace of the Kings complex, a UNESCO World Heritage site where 12 of the Kings each had their palaces. Each King, when he came to the throne had to built his own Palace which would have housed around 2500 people. The remaining palaces are those of Ghezo (1818-1858) and Glele(1858-1889) which have been turned into a museum of the history of the Kings. As usual with the museums in Benin it is extremely well laid out with fascinationg exhibits, and this is the best museum I visited. You can see the throne of King Ghezo which sits on the skulls of four of his enemies!
More info and tips on my Abomey page.
Ouidah is just 40km from Cotonou and the roads are very good so it is easy to get to. It is one of the main tourist attractions in Benin as it has a lot of history and there is much to see there -
Ouidah was the main port in West Africa for shipping slaves to the Americas. You can visit the Old Portugese slave Fort with its excellent museum, place Chacha where the slave auctions were held and where Don Francisco de Souza, the main slave trader in West Africa was based. The De Souza family home is still there. Then you can walk along the route the slaves took, past the Tree of Forgetfulness to the Door of No Return where they were put onto the ships. The history of slavery is well documented in Ouidah in the museum and the monuments and it is all very well laid out, although all signs are in French.
Ouidah is a Voodoo stronghold and there is a yearly Voodoo Arts and Culture Festival held in the sacred forest in January. The sacred forest is now open to the public, although there are areas you can't go, and has a wonderful collection of statues representing the Voodoo gods as well as many temples. The forest is also important in the history of one of the Kings of Ouidah, Kpasse, who turned himself into a tree to avoid being taken as a slave. You can see the sacred Iroko tree and the temple of Kpasse. It is a good idea to get an English speaking guide if you don't speak French as the explanations and descriptions are so interesting it is a shame to miss them.
The python temple is a real must-see if you are in Ouidah - unless you really don't want to get close to 40 pythons. The pythons are "Royal Pythons" and are quite small, although heavy enough when one is around your neck. They are sacred, one of the most important gods in Benin is Dan the snake god and so these snakes live in luxury in their own temple in Ouidah, well fed, warm and happy. They are allowed to roam free at night as the door is left open, and they can go in search of nocturnal activity around the town if they feel like it. If the local people find them, they do not harm them but return them to the temple in the morning.
A good place to eat, which also has rooms, is the American Diasporo restaurant situated on the beach near to the Door of No Return.
More on my Ouidah page.
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.
The Old Town is between the river and the beach and was important during the slave trade but is now rundown and crumbling. It is great to walk around and look at the old buildings and watch the fishermen.
The Mono river flows from Togo into the sea at Les Bouches Du Roi and you can take a boat trip along the 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.
You can even take a day trip to Lome in Togo which is less than 1 hour's walk along the beach or a short drive by car.
The best place to stay is Auberge Grand Popo right on the beach.
See my Grand Popo pages for more details.
You may get the opportunity to visit a Fetish market while in Benin or Togo.
If you are a vegetarian, animal rights person or sensitive about animals it is wise no to go!Some of the tour companies are considering not offering this to tourists any more because of the reactions of the tourists. I asked to go because my curiosity always gets the better of me.
You will see many dead animals for sale including some that we consider as domestic pets! However most of them are wild animals and reptiles and they are used to guard against disease, treat disease or to facilitate events or enhance skills. For example a monkey is used to increase intelligence, a bat is for male virility, a snake is used for snake bites.
Parts of the animal or plant are sometimes worn in a pouch around the neck.
Not all the fetishes are animal – the ebony stone is used to aid sleep.
There is a Fetish market in Cotonou but the one I visited was actually in Lome, where we went on a day trip. This one allows tourists to visit and has a guide who will show you around and give you an explanation.
At the end they will try to get you to have a consultation, which you have to pay for, but they are OK if you refuse, which I did.
If you get the opportunity, it is always worth visiting a rural village to see how different the villages are to the towns and cities. It is better to go with a local guide or at least a local person who knows the village so they can introduce you and translate. It is also better if you can visit a village where they don't get many tourists so you will not get people pestering you for money.
You will probably be surrounded by curious children who want their photographs taken and think they need to get right up to the camera for it to work! Then they will want to see the photos and you have to keep a tight hold of your camera as they can get really excited. It will also probably need a bit of a clean afterwards from the many hands trying to grab hold of it.
Often you will be able to shake hands with the chief and his wives as he will usually want to know who you are, and will usually be the one to ask if you can have a look around the village.
It's a good idea to take small gifts of pens, sweets and something for the women - in rural villages these things really are appreciated as they often don't have much. I don't mind giving money to visit a village as you are intruding on their privacy a little if it is a small village, but I always prefer to give the money and the gifts to an adult in charge to distribute, never directly to the children.
The villages I visited in Benin were in Abomey and Grand Popo and they were both very friendly indeed.
Fa is the god or spirit of Fate and a Fa reading is a type of fortune telling that dates back thousands of years, performed by a specially qualified Fa priest using traditional materials of cowrie shells and beads.
To get a Fa reading it is best to go through a local guide who will organise a reputable one. You need to take gifts and plenty of money. Gifts are in the form of alcohol, and the money is to pay for your "prescription".
Once you have handed over your gifts the Fa reader throws the cowrie shells onto the ground and interprets the way they land. There are 256 interpretations. He will then tell you the result and tell you what your prescription is - this usually involves some kind of sacrifice. The reading was traditionally written on a wooden board but they are now written on paper.
The whole thing is not cheap! I needed a particularly expensive prescription.................
You can see my travelogue for more details.
The Yoruba “Guelede” masks all have a message or tell a story and were used in ceremonies to communicate with the ancestors. You can see them in the ethnographic museum in Porto Nuovo, but you cannot take pictures. There are many examples of masks and the exhibits are well laid out with descriptions (in French). There are different masks for day and for night and they also illustrate the importance of Birth, Life and Death. Examples of the messages the masks were used to convey would be to warn against mockery, to guard against hypocrisy or to emphasise the importance of courage and unity.
Lovely and very clean stay at the Ibis. They remind you in every-way that they are only providing a...more
Bld De La Marina
Satisfaction: Very Good
Good for: Families
This lovely hotel sits on the edge of the Lagoon and my room overlooked it quite literally – the...more