Benin is a country in West Africa. It borders Togo to the west, Nigeria to the east and Burkina Faso and Niger to the north. Benin is a great country to visit on any West African itinerary. You'll find a large quantity of palatial ruins and temples of the once powerful Kingdom of Dahomey (1800s–1894). Moreover, Benin is the birthplace of Vodun (Voodoo) and all that goes with it—to this day Voodun remains the official religion of the country, and an... Read more...
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Cities and Destinations in Benin
Benin is a country in West Africa. It borders Togo to the west, Nigeria to the east and Burkina Faso and Niger to the north. Benin is a great country to visit on any West African itinerary. You'll find a large quantity of palatial ruins and temples of the once powerful Kingdom of Dahomey (1800s–1894). Moreover, Benin is the birthplace of Vodun (Voodoo) and all that goes with it—to this day Voodun remains the official religion of the country, and an important part of the life of ordinary Beniners. The national parks of Benin are also well worth a visit for their wildlife. Benin is also, fortunately, one of the most stable and safe countries of the region for traveling.
Northern Benin, Southern Benin
There are many international flights arriving at the main airport in Cotonou. From here you can connect to Paris, Amsterdam, Moscow, and a variety of cities in West Africa. In order to enter the country you will need proof that you have had a yellow fever shot, and this will need to be readily available at the airport.
Travel into Benin via train is possible but there is only railroad from Cotonou (south city) to Parakou (North city).
There is an extremely timely and reliable bus system that runs your average tour-style bus through every major city in Benin everyday, and even some in and out of Benin. Their are many major lines with a range of quality of buses. The main systems are Confort Lines and Benin-Routes. Confort Lines seems to provide more of a variety of routes, and you even get a some water and a little sandwich for long trips. Reservations for Confort Lines can be made in advance for 500f CFA at any regional office or by calling (001 229) 126.96.36.199. Bus lines run through: Porto-Novo, Cotonou, Calavey, Bohicon, Dassau, Parakou, Djougou, Natitingou, Tanguieta, Kandi, and even all the way up to Malanville.
Buses run on the two major paved roads running north and south, and you can have the bus stopped at any point you would like to get off at, and for differing rates. No discussion of prices is needed with the bus, as they used fixed rates. To give you an idea of prices, buses running from Cotonou to Natitingou (or vice versa) costs 7.500f CFA one way, and Cotonou to Parakou (or vice versa) costs 5.500f CFA. These are examples, because there are also buses that go as far as Tanguieta and Malanville.
By bush taxi
Bush Taxi is possible between most cities, every day in major cities, periodically for the more remote ones. The total price for long distances will be a little higher than by bus, and comfort and security are significantly lower. Drivers are often trying to maximize the number of people in the car so one can expect an intimate experience with the local population. However, bush taxis do offer flexibility that the bus systems do not; you can always find a taxi fairly quickly (at the autogarres). For trips of 3 hours (approx 150km) or less, a bush taxi might be a more flexible and reasonable option. Unlike the buses though, prices MUST be discussed in advance. Cost depends on the destination and price of gas. Ask other passengers what they are paying and always try to pay on arrival, although the latter is not always possible.
Hired drivers cost more and is the typical means of transport for foreigners. The price depends on the driver and a a local (Beninois) helping to negotiate is recommended. For example, a three hour car ride from the south central region along the main highway costs about 30 000-40 000 FCFA if the car is hired, but a bush taxi would cost about 5000-10000 FCFA.
Traffic is chaotic and the rules of the road are rarely enforced. If you are planning on driving yourself in Benin, an International Driver's license is required. Traffic flows on the same side of the road as the US and Canada.
Hiring a local guide is recommended.
Police roadblocks at night occur regularly and traveling alone with a driver (especially if you are a woman) may put the driver in an awkward position explaining and/or bribing the police.
The cheapest way to travel within a city or village is by motorcycle taxi (moto, zemidjan or zem). They are cheap and the drivers usually know the city well. An average ride costs between 100f CFA-300f CFA, and they are easily recognizable by their matching colored shirts with their ID numbers on them. Prices must be discussed beforehand, and payment is made upon arrival. Remember the driver's ID number as you would a taxi driver's ID in New York City, just in case. Choose your driver carefully, drinking and driving in Benin is very common and moto drivers are someimes involved in crime rings in major cities.
Motos have colors for different cities (for example):Cotonou: yellowNatitingou: green with yellow shoulders or light blue with yellow shouldersKandi: light blue with yellow shouldersParakou: green with yellow shouldersKérou: green with yellow shoulders
There are many pirogues (kayak/canoe) used for the fishing industry. Normally one can use a pirogue to visit the lake villages.
When to go
The best way to stay safe in Benin is to always always always be in the presence of a local person whom you can trust, such as a friend or even a hired tourist guide. This will keep you safe in a number of ways. For example they know which areas are safe and which are not, they know the prices of things so you won't get ripped off, they speak the native languages, they know which venues sell good food that is safe for westerners to eat, basically they would protect you in all aspects. Some people may be resistant to the idea of being reliant on a local person but honestly it is the only way to stay safe. For women, avoid travelling alone, try to be in the company of other people as much as possible. Do not travel at night alone, attacks along the beaches are frequent, and of course near hotels, nightclubs and other venues. Benin is a peaceful country and the people are very kind and generous, but that being said muggings and robberies occur everywhere no matter how peaceful the place so be on guard.
Watch what you eat/drink and where you eat/drink it, is the number one rule for staying healthy in Benin. If you are going to eat street food make sure it is served very very hot, bacteria will not live in hot food. The most common causes of sickness are things like e.coli bacteria found in undercooked meat. Drinking water is readily available, if you want bottled water there is Possatome a natural spring water bottled in the city with the same name. It is very good, about 500 CFA a bottle. Also in Cotonou the tap water is safe to drink but is treated with chlorine which some people may be sensitive to. Malaria is a reality in Benin. Mosquitoes appear from dusk to dawn, standing water is mosquito breeding ground. Sleep under a Mosquito net and use a bug repellent with 30% DEET, also make sure to bring antimalarial drugs, you need a prescription from your doctor. The only compulsory vaccination needed to enter the country is against Yellow Fever, however the customs agents at the airport generally do not check to see if you have it, but you should get it before entering. Along with vaccines against polio, hepatitis A and B, Measles, Mumps, Rubella, Lock Jaw, Rabies and all the other standard childhood vacines ( as per Canadian public school standards). AIDS is an issue in Benin as in all sub-Saharan African countries, use of a condom is highly recommended if entering into a sexual relationship with a Beninese partner unless you are completely aware of their HIV/AIDS status. Other risks pertaining to unprotected sex are the same as in any other country whether developed or not: Syphilis, Chlamydia, HPV, etc. If travelling to Benin it is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED that you speak to a doctor who specializes in travel. Ask your family doctor or public health nurse for the name of a travel clinic in your area. Go to them about 6 months prior to travel to Benin if possible. This information is designed as a guide and should not be taken as an expert account on how to stay healthy in Benin, only a licensed health professional can provide such information.
The Portuguese arrived in Benin's territory in the fifteenth century, and established significant trading posts in Benin's coastal areas. Soon following the Portuguese came French, Dutch, and British traders. Over time Benin's coast developed into the largest center of the slave trade in Africa, run by the Fon people, who dominated the Dahomey government and actively sold their neighboring peoples to the Europeans. As the slave trade increased in volume (10, 000–20, 000 slaves shipped off per day), the coast of Benin became known as the Slave Coast. Around this time the port cities of Porto-Novo and Ouida were founded and quickly became the largest and most commercially active cities in the county, while Abomey became the Dahomey capital.
The fall of the Dahomey Kingom was precipitated by the banning of slavery throughout Europe in the mid-19th century, followed by the French annexation of the territory under colonial rule. Much of the Dahomey leadership broke even in the annexation, being appointed to top government posts throughout all the French colonies in West Africa. In 1960 Dahomey gained its independence, under the name République du Dahomey, which set off a long and destabilizing series of coups. In the course of just one decade, 1960—1972, the government changed hands nine times, and experienced four violent coups.
In 1972 Major Mathieu Kérékou, a staunch Marxist, organized the fourth of the military coups, and renamed the country the People's Republic of Benin. Kérékou's regime proved more successful at maintaining power, and reorganized the country on his interpretation of the Maoist model. In 1989 the French government, in exchange for financial support of Benin's flailing economy, persuaded the Benin government to abandon its one-party Socialist rule, and to move to a multiparty republic. In 1990 the country was renamed the Republic of Benin, and in 1991 Benin held its first free elections with significant success, and Kereku lost to Nicephore Soglo—Benin was thus the first African nation to successfully coordinate a peaceful transfer of power from a dictatorship to a functioning democracy. Soglo remained president through 1996, but his administration was marred by poor economic performance, leading to his electoral defeat to Kérékou's son, Mathieu Kérékou, who ruled the country and maintained popularity despite corruption scandals until 2006. The current president of Benin is today Yayi Boni, a technocrat who served under the tutelage of former President Soglo.
Quick Facts about Benin
7,862,944 (July 2006 est.)
French (official), Fon, Yoruba, other tribal languages
Country Dialing Code
Communaute Financiere Africaine franc (XOF)