If Benin was not on your bucket list until now, it should be. It is indeed a small country in West Africa, but it has many treasures waiting to be discovered. The ruins of palaces and temples alone make for a great attraction, but the artisanal markets and rich culture are waiting to be explored also. However, like all the foreign countries you visit, you need to do some research so that you know what to expect. Fortunately, you will not find anything that appears challenging. Below, you will find some information that will help you plan a splendid vacation in Benin.
First of all, we should discuss Benin’s visa policy. However, you will be pleased to find out that Benin has one of the most lenient visa policies in the world. There are two categories of travelers. The first category is represented by nationalities that are exempt from getting a visa. We are talking about all African nationalities as well as the citizens of Hong Kong. While the citizens of African countries can stay in Benin for up to 90 days without a visa, the nationals of Hong Kong can remain for only 14 days. All that is required is a valid passport.
The second category includes all the other nationalities in the world, and they are required to obtain a visa in advance. The good news is, however, that all of them are eligible for a Benin eVisa, which can be easily purchased online. All you need is a passport that remains valid for at least another 6 months from the date of arrival in Benin. Fast Track Visa can help you with the application process. The eVisa ensures a stay of 30 or 90 days, and it can be single or multiple entry. The choice is yours.
The best time to visit Benin is when the temperatures are a little bit lower, and there is less humidity, which is November through February. The rest of the year rains a lot and the temperature are not so easily tolerated.
Benin used to be a French colony, which is why the official language is French. However, there are over 50 African languages spoken all over the country, including Fon and Yoruba. It is easier to learn a few French phrases than anything else. Fortunately, English becomes more and more common, and you should get around just fine with it, especially in urban areas.
As far as attractions in Benin are concerned, we would better start with the fact that Benin is the birthplace of Vodun, widely known as Voodoo. It is still the official religion in Benin, and Beninese people still live by it. You will wish to visit the Voodoo temples, as well as the fetish markets all over the country. However, one of the most fascinating things you will find related to Voodoo is the skull and skin-filled fetish market in the Grande Marche du Dantopka in Cotonou. One of Benin’s top attractions is Abomey, which was the capital of the Dahomey Empire. It has plenty of ruins from palaces and temples, and tourists often flood the sites. The location is declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The kings of Dahomey has lots of money as a result of slave trade, and they built opulent palaces. You can visit the museum, which contains macabre tapestries and a throne made of human skulls.
While in Benin, you cannot overlook Ganvie, which is the home for 30 thousand people. Their ancestor ran from the barbaric Dahomey kings and created their own town. Lake Nokoue is close, which makes Ganvie one of Africa’s largest lake towns.
As you go north, you will come across the Somba people and their unique mud and clay tower houses. They are called ‘tata,’ and they look quite eccentric. All tourists who come to the area also visit the Koutammakou Valley across the border in Togo, which is yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Before you leave from Benin, you have to go to the artisanal market in Se. You can buy a lot of beautiful souvenirs for your loved ones at home, as well as some nice things for yourself. The beauty of this market is well appreciated by everyone who visits, and you will wish to fill your bags some more. The prices are affordable, and you will bring home lots of pretty things.
Lastly, let’s not forget that Benin has a coastline along the ocean in the south. The Grand Popo beach is there to welcome you with clean sand and cheap beers. You can find several water sports, but the scenery and the warm water should be enough if you want to take a break from all the exploring.
The food in Benin is not spectacular. It is delicious, but it does not have anything out of the ordinary. You will find many street vendors, and if you have never tried donkey meat, now is your chance. However, you must be cautious with the places you buy your food from. Never buy food that has gone cold (it means it is not fresh), and if you see a vendor who does not cover the food with a lid, run the opposite direction. You do not need the trouble. Infection with E.coli is the most common among tourists.
As far as safety in Benin is concerned, you do not have significant reasons for worry. However, we recommend that you always travel with a companion, especially as a woman. The person you are with must be trustworthy because you need someone who knows the prices, the languages, as well as the right places to eat in the region you visit. Attacks and robberies are most common close to hotels and night clubs, so going out alone at night should be out of the question. As for the rest, use your common sense. Beninese people are very welcoming and peaceful, but these things occur everywhere.
Health-wise, the only mandatory vaccination is the one against the Yellow fever. However, keep in mind that immigration officers will seldom check the certificate, but you should get the vaccine for your own health. Malaria is also common in Benin due to a high number of mosquitos who are present all day long. Pills are available and can be bought with a prescription only. Other than that, tap water is okay to drink in some regions, although it is heavily treated with chlorine, which you may not like. Bottled water is widely available.
Benin is one of the safest countries you can visit in West Africa. But other than that, you are going to have an unforgettable experience. The people are lovely, the attractions are stunning, and you will wish to go back. After all, Benin is often referred as one of Africa’s best-kept secrets.