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Basic information

  • Area: 79 km2 (31 sq mi)
  • Calling Code: +229
  • Currency: West African CFA franc (XOF)
  • Population (EST): 779,314
  • Official language: French
  • Time Zone: WAT (UTC+1)

10 Reasons to Visit Cotonou

1. Shopping and Clubbing

Cotonou is the largest city in Benin, and the absolute best place in the country to shop and party. Like many other West African metropolises, you can experience a stunning mix of bustling chaos and fine cultural amusements. You’re sure to find a wide array of shops, markets, and nightclubs that service both tourists and locals alike. Whether you’re looking for Benin craft goods or mainstream products, you’ll be able to find it all in this city, as well as plenty of opportunities to party the night away. Be sure to visit the Grand Marche du Dantokpa for Voodoo fetish objects, and venture down the Jonquil strip for several bars and nightclubs with Beninese music.

2. Ganviè

This is one of Benin’s most unusual attractions, as it is a town built completely upon stilts in the middle of a large lagoon. The people who live here are descended from the Tofinu people who were once sold as slaves by the Abomey tribe. The Tontinu constructed this unique settlement because the Abomey people were forbidden to attack people on water. If you’re looking for a break from the mainland experience in Cotonou, be sure to visit this cultural marvel.

3. Safaris in Pendjari National Park

In this fine national park, you can see some of the most extraordinary animals of Africa, such as lions, elephants, cheetahs, and so much more. Located in northern Benin, the park is also home to crocodiles, baboons, and hippos, and offers some of the best scenery in all of Benin. There are a number of guides on-hand to help you through your journey of the park.

4. Voodoo Fetish Markets

The Voodoo culture of Cotonou is something not to be missed. Most Beninese nominally practice Catholicism or Islam, but the country’s official religion is Voodoo. This spiritual practice has the greatest influence over the spiritual lives of the people of Benin. You’ll find that the majority of the open air markets in Benin have a fetish section to purchase talismans such as statues, dried animal parts, potions, and amulets. Voodoo, or vodun, has been highly sensationalized in the movies, but the actual practitioners of this religion require respect and an open mind. The locals are almost always happy to answer questions that tourists have about this unique religious practice.

5. Slave History

There is a long and fascinating history of slavery in Benin, and in the nearby city of Ouidah you can find the Route des Esclaves, a four kilometer trail that follows the path from the slave auction square to the ‘Door of No Return’. This is the spot where slaves boarded ships to be taken to the New World. In the auction square today you will find the Musee d’Histoire de Ouidah. Within the museum you will find countless and sizable artifacts from this sad period of Benin’s history. The route itself is marked by a number of monuments and fetishes.

6. Royal Palaces of Abomey

Benin was once ruled by the kingdom of Abomey from 1625 till 1900. The 12 kings that led the country resided at the Royal Palaces, and today it is an UNESCO World Heritage site. When you walk inside, you get a glimpse of a number of fascinating artifacts, bas-reliefs, and the famous throne mounted on human skulls. The site is maintained and run by descendants of the royal family.

7. Route des Pêches

The route comprises Benin’s entire Atlantic coastline, and here you’ll find some of the quietest and most beautiful beaches in West Africa. There are a number of bed and breakfast-style inns along the coast, and this is the most inviting way to relax and take it all in. It’s possible to rent a canoe or kayak at the Mono River delta. Experience the pleasure of gently riding down the river’s winding path, and get a glimpse of some of the most beautiful scenery in Benin.

8. Fidjrosse Beach

Although this beach is not quite as remote as the ones to be found on the Route des Pêches, you’ll find this to be a pleasurable spot thanks to its wonderful climate and clean, quiet environment. The beach resides within a close proximity to Cotonou, and offers many opportunities for surfing and water sports. You’ll find a number of accommodations here to suit every traveler’s budget.

9. Lake Ahémé

The lake is one of Benin’s most famous Voodoo holy places, and offers beautiful scenery and tranquility whether you practice the religion or not. You’ll find many visitors camping at the lake, and the local tour operators provide traditional fishing lessons, as well as guided tours into the lush nearby forests.

10. Festivals of Ouidah

Although Ouidah is a bit of an excursion outside of Cotonou, it’s still worth the trip to experience the remarkable festivals that take place here. The Fête du Vedoun, or Voodoo Festivals, are some of the most important holidays in Benin, and Ouidah is where you’ll find the festivities in mid-January. Enjoy the raucous celebrations marked by ecstatic music and drinking. The trip to Ouidah is worth it to catch the Quintessence Film Festival, which takes place in the days leading up to and after the Voodoo Festival.

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