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Benin

Traditions & Customs

Traditions & Customs


Ramadan

Ramadan is the 9th and holiest month in the Islamic calendar and lasts 29–30 days. Muslims fast every day for its duration and most restaurants will be closed until the fast breaks at dusk. Nothing (including water and cigarettes) is supposed to pass through the lips from dawn to sunset. Non-Muslims are exempt from this, but should still refrain from eating or drinking in public as this is considered very impolite. Working hours are decreased as well in the corporate world. Exact dates of Ramadan depend on local astronomical observations and may vary somewhat from country to country. Ramadan concludes with the festival of Eid al-Fitr, which may last several days, usually three in most countries.

  • 27 May – 24 June 2017 (1438 AH)
  • 16 May – 14 June 2018 (1439 AH)
  • 6 May – 3 June 2019 (1440 AH)
  • 24 April – 23 May 2020 (1441 AH)

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Benin - Travel guide

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Introdaction

Benin (US English: /bˈnn/ bǝ-neen or /bˈnɪn/bǝ-nin, UK English: /bɛˈnn/ beh-neen; French: Bénin), officially the Republic of Benin (French: République du Bénin) and formerly Dahomey, is a country in West Africa. It is bordered by Togo to the west, Nigeria to the east, and Burkina Fasoand Niger to the north. A majority of the population live on its small southern coastline on the Bight of Benin, part of the Gulf of Guinea in the northernmost tropical portion of the Atlantic Ocean. The capital of Benin is Porto-Novo, but the seat of government is in Cotonou, the country's largest city and economic capital. Benin covers an area of 114,763 square kilometers and its population in 2015 was estimated to be approximately 10.88 million. Benin is a tropical, sub-Saharan nation, highly dependent on agriculture, with substantial employment and income arising from subsistence farming.

The official language of Benin is French. However, indigenous languages such as Fon and Yoruba are commonly spoken. The largest religious group in Benin is Roman Catholicism, followed closely by Islam, Vodun and Protestantism. Benin is a member of the United Nations, the African Union, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, the South Atlantic Peace and Cooperation Zone, La Francophonie, the Community of Sahel-Saharan States, the African Petroleum Producers Association and the Niger Basin Authority.

From the 17th to the 19th century, the main political entities in the area were the Kingdom of Dahomey along with the city-state of Porto-Novoand a large area with many different tribes to the north. This region was referred to as the Slave Coast from as early as the 17th century due to the large number of slaves shipped to the New World during the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. After slavery was abolished, France took over the country and renamed it French Dahomey. In 1960, Dahomey gained full independence from France, and had a tumultuous period with many different democratic governments, many military coups and military governments.

A Marxist–Leninist state called the People's Republic of Benin existed between 1975 and 1990. In 1991, it was replaced by the current multi-party Republic of Benin.


Understand

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 Vodun remains the official religion of the country, and an important part of the life of ordinary Beninese. 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.


Climate

The equatorial south of Benin experiences two rainy seasons of the year, from April to mid July and from mid-September through the end of October. The rainy period in the subequatorial north runs from March until October. The best time of the year to visit the country is from November to February, when the temperature moderates, and the weather is dry with low humidity.


Geography

Benin, compared to its neighbours, is geographically smaller, being 112,620km² or a similar size to Honduras or the US state of Ohio. The country is basically divided into five geographic zones, from south to north: the Coastal plain, the plateau, the elevated plateau and savannah, hills in the northwest, and fertile plains in the north.


People

The nation consists of more than 60 ethnic groups. The major tribes include the Fon (40%), Aja (15%), and Yoruba (12%) in the south of the country, and the Bariba (9%), Somba (8%), and Fulbe (6%) in the north.

The most widespread religion is Christianity (43%), predominantly in the south, and Islam in the north (24%). Most interesting for many visitors, however, is the strong influence of Vodun on Benin, practiced as a principal religion by a good 18% of the populace, and which was spread about the globe largely by the massive quantity of slaves exported by the Dahomey Kingdom.


Demographics

The majority of Benin's population lives in the south. The population is young, with a life expectancy of 59 years. About 42 African ethnic groups live in this country; these various groups settled in Benin at different times and also migrated within the country. Ethnic groups include the Yoruba in the southeast (migrated from Nigeria in the 12th century); the Dendiin the north-central area (who came from Mali in the 16th century); the Bariba and the Fula (French: Peul or Peulh; Fula: Fulɓe) in the northeast; the Betammaribeand the Somba in the Atacora Range; the Fon in the area around Abomey in the South Central and the Mina, Xueda, and Aja (who came from Togo) on the coast.

Recent migrations have brought other African nationals to Benin that include Nigerians, Togolese, and Malians. The foreign community also includes many Lebanese and Indians involved in trade and commerce. The personnel of the many European embassies and foreign aid missions and of nongovernmental organizations and various missionary groups account for a large part of the 5500 European population. A small part of the European population consists of Beninese citizens of French ancestry, whose ancestors ruled Benin and left after independence.


Religion

In the 2002 census, 42.8% of the population of Benin were Christian (27.1% Roman Catholic, 5% Celestial Church of Christ, 3.2% Methodist, 7.5% other Christian denominations), 24.4% were Muslim, 17.3% practiced Vodun, 6% practiced other local traditional religions, 1.9% practiced other religions, and 6.5% claimed no religious affiliation.

Traditional religions include local animistic religions in the Atakora (Atakora and Donga provinces), and Vodunand Orisha veneration among the Yoruba and Tado peoples in the center and south of the nation. The town of Ouidah on the central coast is the spiritual center of Beninese Vodun.

The major introduced religions are Christianity, followed throughout the south and center of Benin and in Otammari country in the Atakora, and Islam, introduced by the Songhai Empireand Hausa merchants, and now followed throughout Alibori, Borgou and Donga provinces, as well as among the Yoruba (who also follow Christianity). Many, however, continue to hold Vodun and Orisha beliefs and have incorporated the pantheon of Vodun and Orisha into Christianity. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, a sect originating in the 19th century, is also present in a significant minority.


Visas

Visas are not required by the following nationalities: Algeria, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Republic of the Congo, Côte d'Ivoire, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Taiwan, and Togo.

Visas can be single entry (USD40) or multiple entry (USD45) and last 30 days. Visas cost USD140 for US citizens. In Paris, a single entry visa costs €70 for all EU citizens.


Economy

The economy of Benin is dependent on subsistence agriculture, cotton production, and regional trade. Cotton accounts for 40% of GDP and roughly 80% of official export receipts. Growth in real output has averaged around 5% in the past seven years, but rapid population growth has offset much of this increase. Inflation has subsided over the past several years. Benin uses the CFA franc, which is pegged to the euro.

Benin’s economy has continued to strengthen over the past years, with real GDP growth estimated at 5.1 and 5.7% in 2008 and 2009, respectively. The main driver of growth is the agricultural sector, with cotton being the country’s main export, while services continue to contribute the largest part of GDP largely because of Benin’s geographical location, enabling trade, transportation, transit and tourism activities with its neighbouring states.

In order to raise growth still further, Benin plans to attract more foreign investment, place more emphasis on tourism, facilitate the development of new food processing systems and agricultural products, and encourage new information and communication technology. Projects to improve the business climate by reforms to the land tenure system, the commercial justice system, and the financial sector were included in Benin's US$307 million Millennium Challenge Account grant signed in February 2006.

The Paris Club and bilateral creditors have eased the external debt situation, with Benin benefiting from a G8 debt reduction announced in July 2005, while pressing for more rapid structural reforms. An insufficient electrical supply continues to adversely affect Benin's economic growth though the government recently has taken steps to increase domestic power production.

Although trade unions in Benin represent up to 75% of the formal workforce, the large informal economy has been noted by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITCU) to contain ongoing problems, including a lack of women's wage equality, the use of child labour, and the continuing issue of forced labour.

Benin is a member of the Organization for the Harmonization of Business Law in Africa(OHADA).

Cotonou has the country's only seaport and international airport. A new port is currently under construction between Cotonou and Porto Novo. Benin is connected by two-lane asphalted roads to its neighboring countries (Togo, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Nigeria). Mobile telephone service is available across the country through various operators. ADSL connections are available in some areas. Benin is connected to the Internet by way of satellite connections (since 1998) and a single submarine cable SAT-3/WASC (since 2001), keeping the price of data extremely high. Relief is expected with initiation of the Africa Coast to Europe cable in 2011.

Currently, about a third of the population live below the international poverty line of US$1.25 per day.

Transportation - Get In

By plane

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.

By train

There are no international train services to Benin.

By car

There are land crossings with all bordering countries, but due to conflict, it is only recommended to cross the two coastal borders with Togo and Nigeria.

Transportation - Get Around

By bus

There is an extremely timely and reliable bus system that typically operates a tour-style bus through every major city in Benin every day, and even some international services in and out of Benin. There 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 some water and a little sandwich for long trips. Reservations for Confort Lines can be made in advance for XOF500 at any regional office or by calling +229 21-325815. 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 use fixed rates. To give you an idea of prices, buses running from Cotonou to Natitingou (or vice versa) cost XOF7,500 one way, and Cotonou to Parakou (or vice versa) costs XOF5,500. 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. A decent option for travelers not trying to go on the cheap is to buy up all the seats in a bush taxi, or at least all the seats in one row. It not only avoids having to wait until the taxi driver has filled up every seat, but it's much more comfortable than being crammed in with lots of sweaty people! If you do this, you'll typically need to give the driver some money up front so he can buy petrol along the way.

By car

Hired drivers cost more and is the typical means of transport for foreigners. The price depends on the driver and a local (Beninois) helping to negotiate is recommended. For example, a three hour car ride from the south central region :::to?::: along the main highway costs about 30,000 - 40,000 FCFA if the car is hired, but a bush taxi would cost about 5000 - 10,000 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 right hand side of the road as in 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.

Travelling by car is recommended only between major cities. For example, to travel from Cotonou to Porto Novo or Cotonou to Abomey etc. Most of the time, you would be required to share the car with many other travellers who are going it the same direction as you. Expect to be cramped and hot as most bush taxis are in hard shape and drivers try to cram as many people as possible into the car to make the trip as financially rewarding as possibly. However, if you want to throw the extra money, you can hire a car to take you personally where ever you want to go with no stops. The price would depend on the driver and you would definitely need a local (Beninois) to help you to negotiate the price or you will be taken advantage of. For example, a 3 hour car ride from the South Central region along the main highway would cost you about 30,000 - 40,000 CFA if only 2 passengers are present, where as if you share the ride and pick people up on the way you would only speand about 5000 - 10,000 CFA. This of course all depends on if you have a local present or not. Travelling in such a manner is not recommended without a local present. The danger is minimal, but the financial price would be excessive. Also, random police roadblocks at night occur regularly as a way of policing the highways and if you were traveling alone with a driver (especially if you are a woman), it may put him in an awkward position explaining to the police and it may cost you more money. Traveling by car within the city is not recommended at all due to the fact that it is simply unnecessary and uneconomical. The best way to travel in any city or village is by motorcycle taxi. They are very cheap and the drivers know the city well. You can recognize them by their yellow shirts in most cities. Choose your driver carefully, drinking and driving in Benin is very common. These guys a very reliable if you need to go somewhere and enter a building for example, for a little extra money, they will wait outside for as long as you want; just make sure you don't pay them first! For example, you can go just about anywhere in Cotonou by zem(zémidjan = moto taxi) for as little as 500-1,000 CFA if you get a local to negotiate. It is recommended to travel with a local as much as possible, mainly from a financial aspect. Also, driving yourself around in a car is not a good idea. The roads are mostly of hard packed sand, with a few paved main roads in the cities and on the highways between the major cities. Traffic is chaotic and there are no rules of the road. If you are planning on driving in Benin, an International Driver's license is required. Traffic drives on the same side of the road as the US and Canada.

By moto

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 sometimes involved in crime rings in major cities.

Motos have colors for different cities (for example): Cotonou: yellow Natitingou: green with yellow shoulders or light blue with yellow shoulders Kandi: light blue with yellow shoulders Parakou: yellow with green shoulders Kérou: green with yellow shoulders

By boat

There are many pirogues (kayak/canoe) used for the fishing industry. Normally one can use a pirogue to visit the lake villages.

By train

There is a train route that goes halfway up the country, from Cotonou to Parakou, run by L’Organisation Commune Benin-Niger des Chemins de Fer et Transports (2132 2206). While the train takes longer than a bush taxi, it's a much more relaxing way of traveling. First class tickets are only slightly more expensive than second class ones and are worth the extra expenditure. The train leaves Cotonou three times a week (Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday) at 8AM precisely, arriving at Parakou about 6:30PM, and returns the next day, leaving at 8AM from the Parakou train station, arriving 6:30PM in Cotonou. First class costs CFA 5600, while second costs CFA 4000.

The trains on these schedules will usually stop at Bohicon, which is 4 hours from Cotonou. The fare costs CFA 1400 for first class, and CFA 1100 for second.

A tour company also hires out colonial-period trains for multiple-day touring trips at expensive, but good value prices (CFA 50,000+)

 

Cities


Regions

 Northern Benin
Arid landscapes and tribes
 Southern Benin
The coastline, the capital and most of the sights

Cities

  • Porto-Novo — The capital, if only in name
  • Abomey — Royal Palaces are on the UNESCO World Heritage List
  • Cotonou — Benin's largest city and de factocapital; site of the international airport
  • Grand Popo — Beach resort town close to the Togolese border
  • Kétou
  • Parakou — Largest city in the central region
  • Malanville — Largest city in the far north, lies on the Niger border
  • Natitingou — Largest city on the way to northern Togo or Burkina Faso.
  • Tanguiéta

Other destinations

  • Pendjari National Park
  • W National Park

Language

The official language is French — the language of the former colonial power. Native African languages such as Fon and Yoruba are spoken in the south, Bariba and Dendi in the north, and over 50 other African languages and dialects are spoken in the country. English is on the rise.

Local languages are used as the languages of instruction in elementary schools, with French only introduced after several years. In wealthier cities, however, French is usually taught at an earlier age. Beninese languages are generally transcribed with a separate letter for each speech sound (phoneme), rather than using diacritics as in French or digraphs as in English. This includes Beninese Yoruba, which in Nigeria is written with both diacritics and digraphs. For instance, the mid vowels written é è, ô, o in French are written e, ɛ, o, ɔ in Beninese languages, whereas the consonants written ng and sh or ch in English are written ŋ and c. However, digraphs are used for nasal vowels and the labial-velar consonants kp and gb, as in the name of the Fon language Fon gbe /fõ ɡ͡be/, and diacritics are used as tone marks. In French-language publications, a mixture of French and Beninese orthographies may be seen.

Culture


Arts

Beninese literature had a strong oral tradition long before French became the dominant language. Félix Couchoro wrote the first Beninese novel, L'Esclave, in 1929.

Post-independence, the country was home to a vibrant and innovative music scene, where native folk music combined with Ghanaian highlife, French cabaret, American rock, funk and soul, and Congolese rumba.

Singer Angélique Kidjo and actor Djimon Hounsou were born in Cotonou, Benin. Composer Wally Badarou and singer Gnonnas Pedro are also of Beninese descent.

Biennale Benin, continuing the projects of several organizations and artists, started in the country in 2010 as a collaborative event called "Regard Benin". In 2012, the project become a Biennial coordinated by the Consortium, a federation of local associations. The international exhibition and artistic program of the 2012 Biennale Benin are curated by Abdellah Karroum and the Curatorial Delegation.

History


Precolonial history

The current country of Benin combines three areas which had different political and ethnic systems prior to French colonial control. Before 1700, there were a few important city states along the coast (primarily of the Aja ethnic group, but also including Yoruba and Gbe peoples) and a mass of tribal regions inland (composed of Bariba, Mahi, Gedevi, and Kabye peoples). The Oyo Empire, located primarily to the east of modern Benin, was the most significant large-scale military force in the region and it would regularly conduct raids and exact tribute from the coastal kingdoms and the tribal regions.  The situation changed in the 1600s and early 1700s as the Kingdom of Dahomey, which was of Fon ethnicity, was founded on the Abomey plateau and began taking over areas along the coast. By 1727, king Agaja of the Kingdom of Dahomey had conquered the coastal cities of Allada and Whydah, but it had become a tributary of the Oyo empire and did not directly attack the Oyo allied city-state of Porto-Novo. The rise of the kingdom of Dahomey, the rivalry between the kingdom and the city of Porto-Novo, and the continued tribal politics of the northern region, persisted into the colonial and post-colonial periods.

The Dahomey Kingdom was known for its culture and traditions. Young boys were often apprenticed to older soldiers, and taught the kingdom's military customs until they were old enough to join the army. Dahomey was also famous for instituting an elite female soldier corps, called Ahosi i.e. the king's wives or Mino, "our mothers" in the Fon language Fongbe, and known by many Europeans as the Dahomean Amazons. This emphasis on military preparation and achievement earned Dahomey the nickname of "black Sparta" from European observers and 19th century explorers like Sir Richard Burton.


Portuguese Empire

The kings of Dahomey sold their war captives into transatlantic slavery; otherwise the captives would have been killed in a ceremony known as the Annual Customs. By about 1750, the King of Dahomey was earning an estimated £250,000 per year by selling Africans to the European slave-traders. Though the leaders of Dahomey appeared initially to resist the slave trade, it flourished in the region of Dahomey for almost three hundred years, beginning in 1472 with a trade agreement with Portuguese merchants, leading to the area's being named "the Slave Coast". Court protocols, which demanded that a portion of war captives from the kingdom's many battles be decapitated, decreased the number of enslaved people exported from the area. The number went from 102,000 people per decade in the 1780s to 24,000 per decade by the 1860s.

The decline was partly due to the banning of the trans-Atlantic slave trade by Britain and other countries.This decline continued until 1885, when the last slave ship departed from the coast of the present-day Benin Republic bound for Brazil, a former Portuguese colonythat had yet to abolish slavery.

The capital's name Porto-Novo is of Portuguese origin, meaning "New Port". It was originally developed as a port for the slave trade.


Colonial period (1900 until 1958)

By the middle of the nineteenth century, Dahomey had begun to lose its status as the regional power. This enabled the French to take over the area in 1892. In 1899, the French included the land called French Dahomey within the larger French West Africa colonial region. In 1958, France granted autonomy to the Republic of Dahomey, and full independence on 1 August 1960. The president who led them to independence was Hubert Maga.


Post-colonial period

For the next twelve years after 1960, ethnic strife contributed to a period of turbulence. There were several coups and regime changes, with the figures of Hubert Maga, Sourou Apithy, Justin Ahomadegbé, and Emile Derlin Zinsou dominating; the first three each represented a different area and ethnicity of the country. These three agreed to form a Presidential Councilafter violence marred the 1970 elections.

On 7 May 1972, Maga ceded power to Ahomadegbe. On 26 October 1972, Lt. Col. Mathieu Kérékou overthrew the ruling triumvirate, becoming president and stating that the country would not "burden itself by copying foreign ideology, and wants neither Capitalism, Communism, nor Socialism". On 30 November 1974 however, he announced that the country was officially Marxist, under control of the Military Council of the Revolution (CNR), which nationalized the petroleum industry and banks. On 30 November 1975, he renamed the country to the People's Republic of Benin.

The CNR was dissolved in 1979, and Kérékou arranged show elections where he was the only allowed candidate. Establishing relations with China, North Korea, and Libya, he put nearly all businesses and economic activities under state control, causing foreign investment in Benin to dry up. Kérékou attempted to reorganize education, pushing his own aphorisms such as "Poverty is not a fatality", resulting in a mass exodus of teachers, along with a large number of other professionals. The regime financed itself by contracting to take nuclear waste first from the Soviet Union and later from France.

In 1980, Kérékou converted to Islam and changed his first name to Ahmed, then changed his name back after claiming to be a born-again Christian.

In 1989, riots broke out after the regime did not have money to pay its army. The banking system collapsed. Eventually Kérékou renounced Marxism and a convention forced Kérékou to release political prisoners and arrange elections. Marxism-Leninism was also abolished as the nation's form of government.

The country's name was officially changed to the Republic of Benin on 1 March 1990, after the newly formed government's constitution was complete.

In a 1991 election, Kérékou lost to Nicéphore Soglo. Kérékou returned to power after winning the 1996 vote. In 2001, a closely fought election resulted in Kérékou winning another term, after which his opponents claimed election irregularities.

In 1999, Kérékou issued a national apology for the substantial role Africans had played in the Atlantic slave trade.

Kérékou and former president Soglo did not run in the 2006 elections, as both were barred by the constitution's restrictions on age and total terms of candidates.

On 5 March 2006, an election was held that was considered free and fair. It resulted in a runoffbetween Yayi Boni and Adrien Houngbédji. The runoff election was held on 19 March and was won by Boni, who assumed office on 6 April. The success of the fair multi-party elections in Benin won praise internationally. Boni was reelected in 2011, taking 53.18% of the vote in the first round—enough to avoid a runoff election, becoming the first president to win an election without a runoff since the restoration of democracy in 1991.

In the March 2016 presidential elections, in which Boni Yayi was barred by the constitution from running for a third term, businessman Patrice Talon won the second round with 65.37% of the vote, defeating investment banker and former Prime Minister Lionel Zinsou. Talon was sworn in on 6 April 2016. Speaking on the same day that the Constitutional Court confirmed the results, Talon said that he would "first and foremost tackle constitutional reform", discussing his plan to limit presidents to a single term of five years in order to combat "complacency". He also said that he planned to slash the size of the government from 28 to 16 members.

Things to see

Benin is perhaps best known to the world as the birthplace of the Vodun religion—voodoo. Voodoo temples, roadside fetishes, and fetish markets are found throughout the country, but the best known is the skull and skin-filled fetish market in the Grande Marche du Dantopka—Cotonou's overwhelmingly busy, enormous, and hectic grand market. The most important fetish in the country is the monstruous Dankoli fetish, on the northerly road near Savalou, which is a pretty good spot for beseeching gods.

Benin under the rule of the Dahomey kings was a major center of the slave trade, and the Route des Esclaves in Ouidah, terminating at the beachside Point of No Return monument is a memorial to those who were kidnapped, sold, and sent off to the other side of the world. Ouidah's local museum, housed in a Portuguese fort, unsurprisingly focuses on the slave trade, in addition to other facets of local culture, religion, and history, and is a real must see for anyone passing through the country.

Abomey was the capital of the Dahomey Empire, and its ruined temples and royal palaces, now a UNESCO World Heritage site, are one of the country's top attractions. The ruins, their bas-reliefs, and the Abomey Historical Museum in the royal palace (which contains all sorts of macabre tapestries and even a throne of human skulls) are a testament to the wealth brought to the Dahomey kings from the slave trade, and brutality with which they oppressed their enemies, fodder for human sacrifice and bondage.

Ganvie, home to 30,000 whose ancestors fled the brutal Dahomey kings by building their town on stilts right in the center of Lake Nokoué, is without question a fascinating and naturally beautiful locale, and a popular stop as one of the largest of West Africa's lake towns. But it has been to an extent ruined by the unpleasant relationship between locals and tourism. (Ghana may have much more rewarding experiences for travelers interested in West African lake towns.)

While manic Cotonou is the country's largest city and economic center, Porto Novo, the capital, is small and one of West Africa's more pleasant capitals. Most of the country's major museums are located here amidst the crumbling architectural legacy of French colonial rule. Grand Popois the other popular city for tourists to relax, but not for the city itself as much as the beaches.

In the north, you'll find a very different sort of Benin from the mostly crowded, polluted cities of the south, of which Cotonou is such a prominent example. Pendjari National Park and W National Park (which Benin shares with Burkina Faso and Niger), is considered West Africa's best for wildlife viewing, and are set in beautiful, hilly highlands.

The unique and eccentric mud and clay tower-houses, known as tata, of the Somba people in the north, west of Djougou near the Togolese border, are a little-known extension into Benin of the types of dwellings used by the Batammariba people of Togo just west. Virtually all tourists to this area flock to the UNESCO-designated Koutammakou Valley across the border; the Benin side has the advantage of being even off the beaten path.

Things to do

Eat

In every city/village one will find street vendors selling anything from beans and rice to grilled chicken, goat and/or turkey. Prices are nominal. But one must be careful, always choose a vendor whose food is still hot, and they have taken care to keep the bowls covered with a lid and/or cloth.

Signature dishes

  • Kuli-Kuli
  • Boulets de Poulet avec Sauce Rough (Chicken Meatballs with Red Sauce)

Cuisine

Beninese cuisine is known in Africa for its exotic ingredients and flavorful dishes. Beninese cuisine involves fresh meals served with a variety of key sauces. In southern Benin cuisine, the most common ingredient is corn, often used to prepare dough which is mainly served with peanut- or tomato-based sauces. Fish and chicken are the most common meats used in southern Beninese cuisine, but beef, goat, and bush ratare also consumed. The main staple in northern Benin is yams, often served with sauces mentioned above. The population in the northern provinces use beef and pork meat which is fried in palm or peanut oil or cooked in sauces. Cheese is used in some dishes. Couscous, rice, and beans are commonly eaten, along with fruits such as mangoes, oranges, avocados, bananas, kiwi fruit, and pineapples.

Meat is usually quite expensive, and meals are generally light on meat and generous on vegetable fat. Frying in palm or peanut oil is the most common meat preparation, and smoked fish is commonly prepared in Benin. Grinders are used to prepare corn flour, which is made into a dough and served with sauces. "Chicken on the spit" is a traditional recipe in which chicken is roasted over fire on wooden sticks. Palm roots are sometimes soaked in a jar with saltwater and sliced garlic to tenderize them, then used in dishes. Many people have outdoor mud stoves for cooking.

 

Drink

The beer is cheap and good! Local pubs (buvettes) are on every corner in every neighborhood. You can get a bottle of local beer "La Béninoise", Heineken, Guinness, Castel and others depending on the bar. They all cost about 250 CFA for a small bottle or 500 CFA for a large bottle. In the nightclubs beer is excessively expensive, like 30000 CFA a bottle! So stick to the local pubs, or avoid buying beer at the nightclub. There is also the local vin de palme(palm wine), an alcoholic beverage that is made from the sap of the palm tree. A fermented palm liquor (Sodabi) is also available, it costs about 2000 CFA for a liter and it is VERY strong stuff.

Money / Shopping

The West African CFA franc (XOF) is used by Benin. It is also used by Côte d'Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Niger, Sénégal and Togo. While strictly a separate currency from the Central African CFA franc (XAF), the two currencies are used interchangeably at par throughout all CFA franc (XAF & XOF) using countries.

Both CFA francs are guaranteed by the French treasury and are pegged to the euro at €1 = 655.957 CFA francs.

There are banks in all the major cities, and most of the banks have cash machines. Keep in mind that many businesses and offices, including banks, close for several hours in the middle of the day.

Prices for goods purchased in a store, restaurant, hotel, bus tickets, etc. are non-negotiable, but almost everything else is. Depending on the item, it's not uncommon for foreigners to be quoted a price that is double the final purchase price.

One can find any type of African commodity all over Benin.

Festivals & Events


Public holidays

DateEnglish Name
January 1New Year's Day
January 10Traditional Day
May 1Labor Day
May 25Ascension
June 5Whit Monday
August 1Independence Day
August 15Assumption
October 26Armed Forces Day
November 1All Saints' Day
November 30National Day
December 25Christmas Day
December 26Boxing Day

Internet, Comunication

Stay safe / healthy


Stay safe

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. 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. 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. Ignore any person who whistles at you during the night if you are alone. Benin is a peaceful country and the people are very kind and generous, but muggings and robberies occur everywhere, no matter how peaceful the place seems, so be on guard. If you are a victim of a crime, contact the Gendarme (Police) immediately.

Homosexuality is legal in Benin, though social stigmatization might cause you problems. It's better not to flaunt it and not to talk about it randomly with local people.


Stay healthy

Watch what you eat/drink and where you eat/drink it. If you are going to eat street food, make sure it is served very very hot, since bacteria will not live in hot food. The most common causes of sickness is 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 and about 500 CFA a bottle. 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, and they use standing water as a breeding ground. Medications are available by prescription only. The only compulsory vaccination needed to enter the country is against Yellow Fever. The customs agents at the airport generally do not check to see if you have it, but it is strongly advised to get it before entering for your own health. Along with vaccines against polio, hepatitis A and B, Measles, Mumps, Rubella, Lock Jaw, Rabies and all the other standard childhood vaccines (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. Other risks pertaining to unprotected sex are the same as in any other country whether developed or not: Syphilis, Chlamydia, HPV, etc. If traveling 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.

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