Benin or officially the Republic of Benin is a West African state having access to the Gulf of Guinea. It borders Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, and Togo. The capital city is Port-Novo but the Government office building is situated in Cotonou.
Benin has two climatic zones: equatorial on the south and sub-equatorial on the north. It is unfavourable to travel to Benin during a wet season which lasts from March to June and from September to the middle of October.
The official language of the country is French. On the north, people speak indigenous languages. There are three main religions in Benin, they are the Christianity, the Islam, and the Voodoo.
Benin can be a good destination for ecological tourism, the tourists can visit the forests in the north of the country. Here, there are a lot of safari camps and group safari hunting is organised for the tourists.
Many tourists come to Benin only for the sake of a good fishing. The best places for fishing are Kandy, Save, Natitingou, and Parakou.
The lovers of nature can take a trip to the reserves in Bohicon and the tourists who love history can see the local monuments.
Close to Cotonou, in a lake village Ganvie, the tourists can learn about the everyday life of the indigenous settlement on the water. 3 kilometres away from the city, there are wide sandy beaches.
In Port-Novo, the tourists will find many entertainments and museums. Here, one can spend the time near the ocean, go shopping, and visit the entertainment venues.
Air France and Brussels offer direct flights from Paris and Brussels to Cotonou. The tourists from other European countries should take a transit flight with Turkish Airlines, Austrian, Brussels, Finnair, and Air France.
One can fly from Moscow to Benin with one stop. Aeroflot, Air France, IUA, Brussels, and Turkish Airlines offer flights from Saint Petersburg, Minsk, Kiev, Chişinău, Tashkent, and Astana.
The tourists can get to Benin by car or by bus from Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Niger or Togo.
The citizens of CIS and EU countries must obtain a visa to travel to Benin.
There are two ways to get a visa. When crossing the border, the tourists can get a stamp in the passport permitting to stay two weeks in the country and then they can extend the permit applying to the Immigration Office. To obtain a visa beforehand, one can submit the documents to the Embassy of Benin.
It usually takes three working days to process the documents for a visa. A visitor visa permits to stay in the country for fifteen days and it is valid for three months.
The Customs legislation of Benin does not include any restrictions concerning the import and export of foreign currency. To avoid any questions, it is recommended declaring any large sums of money.
The tourists are allowed to bring in Benin the following goods duty-free:
- some tobacco and alcohol;
- perfume for personal use only;
- personal clothes, shoes, and accessories.
It is strictly prohibited to import:
- certain drugs;
- meat, vegetables and food of plant and animal origin;
- pets and cattle;
It is not allowed to export from Benin:
- ivory and goods made of it;
- skins of wild and rare animals;
- souvenirs in fruits in large amounts.
The Benin traditional cuisine is different from the common African cuisine because it was under a great influence of the Portugal and French cooking traditions. The ingredients that are used most often are sweet potato, fruits, vegetables, herbs, rice couscous, beans, cheese, fish, beef, and pork.
The foodies should definitely try Nam Pile with chicken broth, beef, peanut, tomatoes, and yams. We also recommend a stew with tomatoes Calalu.
In Benin, fish dishes gained popularity. For example, a fish stew Dahomey and roasted fish with a sauce Mayo. The locals often serve various types of smoked fish.
As for the first course, try a vegetable soup Efo-riro or a fish soup with tomatoes Owo.
French colonizers brought the recipes of such cheeses as Gruyère, Camembert, and Roquefort and they gained popularity among the local people.
The most popular side dishes are yams porridge Fufu, corn dumplings Akpan, roasted plantain Akolo, pastry dish with tomato sauce Amiwo, yams pasta He-he, patties from mashed beans Akkra Funfun, and deep fried green bean Akaraj.
Staying in Benin, treat yourself to fruits and a peanut cake Beye.
The people of Benin prefer to drink coffee with condensed milk, diluted lemon juice, Citronade, and fruit juices.
Do not miss a chance to try local beer La Benonoise and Chouk, palm wines and a strong alcoholic drink Sodabi.
The official currency in Benin is the West African Franc (XOF). The Central Bank of West African States issues the coins from 1 to 500 francs and banknotes from 1.000 to 10.000 franks.
The tourists can exchange the currency at banks and at the airport in Cotonou. It is usually not possible to exchange the currency on the country resorts.
One can withdraw the money from the card account only at Financial Bank Benin, in the offices in Porto-Novo and Cotonou. The bank accepts Visa cards.
Cash traveller’s checks in the offices of the Bank of Africa as it offers the best exchange rate. It is better to have the checks in sterling pounds or Euro.
Be aware that to perform a reverse conversion, the tourists should provide a slip confirming the initial currency exchange.
Due to the unstable criminal situation, we strongly recommend you against walking during the night and visiting out-of-town districts alone.
Details of interest
Sightseeing in Benin
In Benin, the tourists have a chance to see one UNESCO site.
The Royal Palaces of Abomey are a complex which contains 12 palaces and it was the center of the political life of the Kingdom of Dahomey from the 17th century to the beginning of the 20th century. Each palace has its own unique architecture. On the territory of the complex, there were fortifications, including the walls constructed of mud, six gates and several protective ditches. In the town, there was a market, barracks and small farming settlements. The scientists say that about 8.000 people could live within the complex. The tourists should pay attention to the unique sculptural compositions depicting the most important events in the history of the kingdom.
In Benin, anyone can see six UNESCO candidate sites.
- A very popular place among the tourists is the so-called African Venice or a lake village Ganvie, According to the scientists the last settlement on the water was built in the 16th - 17th centuries by the slaves who ran away from their owners. And those were the Fon people. All the buildings stand on the wooden piles. The tourists have a chance to buy something on the floating market.
- The Ancient quarters and Slave route are also of a great touristic interest. The route along which the slaves were walking from the market to the port was reconstructed with the help of UNESCO. The route ends with the gates, which are called the Gates of No Return.
- The travellers can take an excursion to Porto-Novo and its Ancient quarters and Royal Palace. The local buildings are an excellent example of the French and Portuguese colonial architecture. Today, the Royal Palace is a museum and it contains the exposition of 230 exhibit items.
- 10 kilometres from Abomey is an underground town Agongointo-Zoungoudo which was founded in 1198. Presumably, this housing and bunker complex was built in the 16th century.
- Those who love nature should visit tree savannah, meadows, and swampy plains of the Penndjari National Park. This is the habitat for lions, hyenas, buffaloes. Nile monitors, leopards, elephants, waterbucks, pythons, and antelopes.
- On the north of Benin, there is the National Park W with archaeological monuments such as tombs and ruins of the houses.
Souvenirs in Benin
In Benin, the tourists usually buy:
- copper figurines of people and animals;
- fine wood figurines;
- voodoo items;
- traditional clothes and handmade textile;
- oils of exotic plants;
- bronze and iron dishware made by the local craftsmen;