Benin travel guide
In many ways Benin is the perfect introduction to Africa. A land of pristine beaches, bountiful wildlife and hospitable inhabitants, travelling around the country is a doddle thanks to its small size and advanced infrastructure.
The birthplace of voodoo and one of the major departure points for the more than eight million people forced to leave the continent as slaves, the country also has a complex and compelling history that filters down into everyday life to create a jumble of the familiar and the strange.
Stay in the south to experience Benin’s major cities, the slightly chaotic yet vibrant commercial hub of Cotonou and the laidback capital Porto Novo. Take some time out from the capital’s lagoon-side location and palm-fringed Atlantic beaches to request an audience with the tribal princes of Ajase, Porto Novo’s ancestral name, while visiting the palace museum.
Head along the coast to experience the unique lives of the Tofinu people at Ganvié, a bamboo stilt village often referred to as the “Venice of Africa.” Or take advantage of Benin’s small size and good roads to explore the country’s spectacular countryside, which harbours remote towns and exquisite national parks. Home to lions, hippos and elephants, not to mention myriad bird species, Benin’s flagship national park is Pendjari, which serves up spectacular fauna without the crowds.
A thriving arts scene across the country has given rise to stunning public sculptures and fantastic architecture, which complement the elegance of the wooden Afro-Brazilian mansions of Porto Novo and Ouidah. The latter is the beating heart of Benin’s voodoo practitioners and an important stop for those interested in the history of the Atlantic slave trade.
Small in size but not in stature, Benin has something to suit every interest, be it the wild landscapes of the north, the bustling metropolises of the south, or the shared religion and history that bind this country and its people together.
112,622 sq km (43,484 sq miles).
11,166,658 (UN estimate 2016).
92.8 per sq km.
President Patrice Talon since 2016.
220 volts AC, 50Hz. European-style plugs with two round pins are standard.
Last updated: 13 March 2017
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. ‘We’ refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
Street crime such as robbery and mugging is a problem in Cotonou. You should avoid travelling alone and maintain a high level of vigilance, especially at night and in isolated areas, including beaches. Don’t walk on the beach alone, at any time of day.
Pick-pocketing occurs in areas visited by international travellers (hotels, ports, railways, beaches, bars and restaurants). Avoid Dantokpa market after dark. Be alert to the risk of car-jacking both in Cotonou and on roads outside towns and cities. When you’re driving, lock vehicle windows and doors.
In general it’s better not to resist armed attack. The national police emergency number is 117 and fire is 118. You should get a police report if you report a crime.
Voodoo day is an annual public holiday celebrated by the majority of Benin’s population in early January. Make sure you’ve arranged suitable travel and accommodation as options are limited during the festival and watch out for pickpockets.
British nationals are increasingly being targeted by scam artists operating in West Africa. The scams come in many forms: romance and friendship, business ventures, work and employment opportunities and can pose great financial risk to victims. You should treat with considerable caution any requests for funds, a job offer, a business venture or a face to face meeting from someone you have been in correspondence with over the internet who lives in West Africa.
Driving standards and road conditions in Benin are poor. Avoid driving outside towns and cities at night as roads are poorly lit. During rainy seasons minor, unpaved roads may become impassable. Fuel shortages are common in rural areas of northern Benin. Police sometimes carry out vehicle checks at temporary road blocks in an effort to improve road safety and reduce the number of car-jackings.
There’s no reliable public transport in Benin. Take care when using public transport; driving standards and vehicle maintenance are poor. Avoid taxis and long distance buses as they’re poorly maintained and often overloaded.
There are land crossings with all bordering countries, but due to conflict you should only cross the 2 coastal borders with Togo and Nigeria.
There have been incidents of piracy and armed robbery against large vessels in waters off Benin and neighbouring countries. Mariners should take appropriate precautions.
Avoid swimming in the sea as ocean currents are very strong along the coast. Many drownings occur each year.
The EU publishes a list of air carriers that are subject to an operating ban or restrictions within the community, including several operating from Benin.
While the overall political situation is stable, you should follow news reports and be alert to any developments, which might trigger public protests or unrest. You should avoid any demonstrations or large gatherings of people. If you become aware of any nearby violence you should leave the area immediately, the security situation may deteriorate. You should remain vigilant.
There’s no UK diplomatic representation in Benin. If you need consular assistance, you should contact the British High Commission in Accra on +233 302213200
Other contacts: French Consulate, Avenue Generale de Gaulle, 01 BP 605 Recette Principale Cotonou (telephone: +229 31 26 38/80). US Embassy, Rue Caporal Anani, 01 BP 2021, Cotonou (telephone: +229 30 06 50).