The West African country of Benin has much to offer for the curious traveller looking for something different. From the majestic sights of the safari, to the eye-catching festivals and cultural ceremonies that characterise the country’s unique culture, Benin is full of sights and sounds found nowhere else on Earth. Join Odyssey Traveller as we take you on a journey through this fascinating country.
Odyssey travels by coach and occasionally uses local transport, including trains and ferries. Specifics are always outlined in your tour itinerary. Bus routes connect the main cities in Benin, though services to more isolated areas may be limited. Bush taxis are commonly found in the cities and towns of Benin, though costs and safety standards can vary vehicle by vehicle. Train services are largely limited to a single line that runs between Cotonou and Parakou.
In major cities, Odyssey stays in centrally located 3-4 star hotels, with easy access to public transport. In smaller towns or rural areas, we usually stay in family-run hotels or guesthouses. On our longstay tours, during which you spend the length of the tour in a single location, we use serviced apartments.
Odyssey always engages local guides with regional knowledge to ensure an authentic experience during which you can learn as much as possible about the history and culture of places you visit.
Geography, Environment, & Weather
Benin is a small, narrow country that covers an area of 11,622 square km. Marshes and lagoons characterise the coastal areas to the south, while wooded savannah makes up much of the country’s central area. Most of the country is flat, apart from mountains in the northwest of the country.
Benin has a tropical climate with high year-round temperatures and humid conditions. Precipitation can be high during the rainy season, so depending on when you intend to travel, check the weather reports and dress accordingly.
World heritage sites
There are 2 properties in Benin listed on the World Heritage List, with a further 5 on the Tentative List. You can view the listed properties here: (https://whc.unesco.org/en/statesparties/bj). Benin’s listed properties include:
Royal Palaces of Abomey, which stand as the last physical remains of the once mighty Kingdom of Dahomey
W-Arly-Pendjari Complex, one of the largest stretches of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems in West Africa, and home to the largest population of elephants in West Africa.
Festivals & Events
Many of the unique traditions, customs and beliefs of Benin’s people are preserved through the country’s many festivals and events. Perhaps the most important day of the year in Benin is Voodoo Day. Held on January 10th every year, it is a celebration of the West African Voodoo religion, with the occasion marked with music, dance performances and elaborate religious rituals. The Yoruba people in the south of the country hold many colourful festivals to celebrate their own cultural traditions, including the Gelede Festival, whereby thanks are given to the mothers of the community and masked men stage comical performances and festive dances. Wrapping up the year is the International Festival of Dahomean Cultures. Running over 10 days in December, it is dedicated to showcasing the cultural diversity of Benin, and features traditional songs, dances, and stories of the ancient Dahomey Kingdom.
The Kingdom of Benin, by Dominique Malaquais
The Art of Benin, by Nigel Barley
Life & Afterlife in Benin, by Alex van Gelder
Why Monkeys Live in Trees and Other Stories from Benin, by Raouf Mama
Eating & Drinking
The cuisine of Benin is centred around staple crops such as corn, yams, and rice. Yams form the basis of numerous dishes, including fufu (a savoury paste made from mashed yams) and nam pilé (mashed yams served with tambo chili, onions, tomatoes, chicken consome, peanuts and beef). Similarly, corn and corn meal are the central ingredients to many recipes, including akpan (fried corn dumplings served with dipping sauce) and amiwo (tomato and corn maize dough served with peppers, onions and diced tomatoes). Rich, flavoursome sauces characterise Beninese cooking, with many dishes served with generous helpings of sauce, including peanut sauce and spiced tomato sauce. Beverages popularly consumed in Benin include choukachou (millet beer) and sobadi (a liqueur made from palm wine).
Health & Safety
As of writing, smartraveller.gov.au advises travellers to exercise a degree of caution when travelling through Benin, and in particular avoid travelling to W National Park or the Mékrou and Djona hunting zones due to potential violence and banditry. Crime is a problem in Benin, while outbreaks of Yellow Fever do occur, so you will need a valid Yellow Fever Vaccination Certificate to enter Benin.
Whenever you travel overseas, it’s always wise to take an appropriate travel adaptor. The electricity supply in Benin runs at 220V and 50Hz. Benin uses the Type E electric plug, so make sure you have the right travel adaptor with you.
Ganvie lake village
Parc National de la Pendjari
The Door of No Return
Benin has a single time zone, West Africa Standard Time (UTC+1). Benin does not observe daylight savings.
If you’re on an Odyssey tour, we take care of tipping so you don’t need to give it a second thought. However, in your free time, or if travelling independently, it’s essential that you tip an appropriate amount for services. Tipping is not customary in Benin, although restaurants are a general exception. A tip of around 10% is appropriate for upscale restaurants, while in smaller establishments, it is polite to round up the bill.
Wifi should be freely accessible in most hotels in Benin’s major towns and cities
Check with your cell phone provider to see whether you’re able to make calls and use data while in Benin. Many providers will allow you to pay a daily fee that allows you to make calls and check the internet while only being charged your regular rates. However, be certain to inform your provider that you’re heading overseas, because just like a bank they can turn off your service as a result of unusual activity.
Responsible travel tips for Benin
- Learn at least the local greetings to break the ice. Although some locals speak English, the more you know of the native language, the greater your experience of the country will be.
- Carry a business card in your wallet or purse from your local hotel, to assist you with the return journey if you do become lost.
- Always ensure that you are covered by travel insurance. If you need advice on this feel free to contact Odyssey and we’ll be able to help.
- Before departing, make sure you have a number of lekë in a range of denominations. You don’t want to be carrying around enormous amounts of cash, but take enough to make it easy to pay in locations that might not accept credit card. It will also help you avoid card transaction fees, and it makes tipping a breeze.
- When travelling independently, make sure you check the opening hours of shops and museums so that you don’t miss out! Also be certain to check whether your trip coincides with any public holidays, so you can plan accordingly.
- Before departing, make sure you have a number of CFA francs in a range of denominations. You don’t want to be carrying around enormous amounts of cash, but take enough to make it easy to pay in locations that might not accept credit card. It will also help you avoid card transaction fees, and it makes tipping a breeze.