Howdy all! Last Sunday of the month means it’s time again for another ‘Destination of the Month’ – and today I am featuring the West African nation of Benin. What has prompted this choice? Well, next month the film ‘The Woman King’ starring Violet Davis is due for release, and although I know very little about the film, she does shout ‘Dahomey!’ in the trailer, which prompted me to think of this region of the world, because ancient Dahomey is basically enclosed in the area that is modern day Benin (mostly in the south).
So I am very much aware that this is not a country that everyone has heard of, and thus people may not know what to expect if they were to visit it. Benin is nestled in the little corner of West Africa, with Nigeria to the east, Togo to the west, Burkina Faso and Niger to the north. It’s sort of a longish country which doesn’t have much in the way of coastline, but bulges in the north. The climate is more tropical and humid in the south where the main city of Cotonou sits along with the capital Porto Novo, where as the further north you go the more dry and desert-like it becomes.
Anyways, Benin is probably a country to visit along with a couple of others in the region (such as Ghana and Togo) but it still is pretty unique in its own right. Personally I only spent a few days there many years ago and really only looked at the south staying in Cotonou for a few nights and then one night in Parakou which is still in the south half of the country but well on the route to Niger which is where I was heading.
Cotonou is, as I said, the main city in Benin. I didn’t get to Porto Novo the capital, but I have heard it’s actually a pretty nice city. Cotonou isn’t a bad city all up, although it seems pretty spread out and lacked a real ‘city centre’. One highlight actually was all the roast chicken places outside along the road where I ate not far from my hotel. The power went out one night but the chickens kept a-roastin’!
One highlight of this region is to head to the town of Ouidah which is a little town on the ocean back towards the Togolese border. Here you can visit the ‘Point of No Return’, where boats took slaves from Dohomey and the region to the New World. It’s along a famous path and it is a moving tribute to people who were forced to leave their homes on a hellish journey never have freedom again. And this is the part of Africa here where thousands upon thousands of souls were bought, traded and ripped off their homeland.
A Portuguese colonial fort in Ouidah is now the Ouidah Museum of History and is worth a visit. It’s up to you whether you wanted to visit the Temple of the Pythons, which has a few pythons and if you’re less of a chicken than I am you might actually get to hold one. The colonial buildings of Ouidah are faded and crumbling, and perhaps that’s a good thing because the colonials brought death and slavery. Still it is a hauntingly beautiful reminder of the past.
The Temple of the Pythons is related to the voodoo still practiced somewhat in Benin. And if you are interested in that you may want to try a visit to the town Abomey which is famous for being a centre of voodoo.
Closer to Cotonou is the Lake Ganvie, where you can take a pirogue on to the water and see the floating houses and villages. It’s beautiful out there and it’s a fascinating look into a different way of living, the only downside is the seats are not so comfortable for you back or bum!
Parakou is not a place I got to know, arriving late by train and leaving early the next morning. A lot of mosquitoes from what I remember, the train journey is really a great experience through the Benin countryside past mountains and hills, seeing the landscape get dryer as you head north, and sharing the journey with the locals, their animals and their families. It was a very long journey, and the rain pelted down at one point and came into the not very comfortable carriage, but it was a very cool and memorable journey. The Grand Marchee is apparently worth visiting and there is an interesting museum in town too.
All in all, Benin is a fascinating place to visit and thoroughly worthwhile. Personally, as always, I regret I didn’t spend much time there but I know through the little that I did get to do and see, it has a lot to offer the visitor. So perhaps it’s a place you’d like to put on your list? Thanks for popping by today, take care wherever you may be in the world right now, and May the Journey Never End!