Despite its small size and fragile economy, the Republic of Benin has been able to confirm its place as a leading Cultural Tourism destination in the West Africa sub-region. The nation’s imprint in this sphere is most pronounced though its voodoo tradition, which has gained prominence within West Africa and beyond, and the popular Voodoo festival which holds annually in January. Culture aficionados touring West Africa should add this small nation to their itinerary to have a fully grasps of the undiluted religious and cultural practice of the ancient Dahomey people. In this piece, I will take you on a quick tour of Benin, including Ouidah – the global headquarters of voodoo.
Port Novo is the capital of Benin Republic, but most tourists arrive at Cotonou, the commercial nerve-centre of the country. Contonou is vibrant, bustling city which is usually quite overwhelming at first for most first time visitors, though everyone eventually enjoys the pulsating rhythm of the city thanks to its vibrant nightlife, good restaurants and excellent shopping. It’s the best stop to stock up on essentials before venturing into rural areas of Benin Republic.
Some of the notable sites to visit in Cotonou include the red star, the martyrs square, the Lenin square, the dantopka market, the handicraft promotion centre and the Laguna that is at the origin of the name Cotonou, to name a few.
A getaway site from Cotonou is the Ganvie, a community entirely built on stilt. Ganvie is called the Venice of Africa because it is a lake city where life coasts gently on water. From a floating market, hotel, restaurants and bar to other monuments that tell the history of the lake city, one is greeted with an experience of life in a uniquely different terrain.
A trip to Benin, without visiting Ouidah, is incomplete as the town holds a special historical, religious and cultural spot in the life of the country. Ouidah is a slave trade route in the slave trade era, and has remained the global headquarters of voodoo tradition and host of the famous voodoo festival till today.
Some of the major highlights of a tour of Ouidah include a visit to the sacred forest, the fetish market and the temple of the pythons. The trip should also include a visit to the old Portuguese fort, now a museum, from where tourists travel back in time through the (in)famous Slave Route followed by men, women and children who were chained and shipped out of Africa through the Gate of No Return.
Tourist on DIY plan are advised to check ahead before visiting Benin as tickets to some of these sites must be purchased ahead of the visit. Most tour guides too only speak French, a tourist might need to arrange for an English-speaking guide before the trip.
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