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Benin many not be the first country people consider when thinking of an African holiday, but it certainly has its offbeat charms and exoticism. The first is voodoo. Benin is considered the birthplace of Voodoo. A rather benign version of the belief (you are unlikely to encounter dolls riddled with pins) it is followed by 40% of the population and along with Islam and Christianity is an official religion. There in even an annual voodoo festival in the beach town of Ouidah – one of Africa’s most colourful. Another is salsa music. Benin’s is also considered the birthplace of salsa, resulting in a music scene that even out-vibrates its neighbours.
Benin is a slither of a country wedged between Niger, Togo, Nigeria, Burkina Faso and the Atlantic Ocean. It ranks as one of the world’s poorest countries, but after a dozens or so changes of government it is also one of Africa’s most stable. The French colonised the country in the late 1900s, effectively putting an end to the ancient and powerful Dahomey Kingdom, renaming it French Dahomey. When independence, came in 1960 it was followed by a decade of strife and coups. In 1975 the country became a People’s Republic of Benin, a Marxist state. In 1989 the economy collapsed, riots broke out and Marxism was renounced, resulting in yet another name change to the Republic of Benin.Read more
If all that’s not enough to spark your curiosity, perhaps the landscape will. To the northwest, the region is dominated by the Atakora Mountains. Reaching as high as 914 metres they offer wonderful hiking in the Pendjari National Park as well as an opportunity to spot hippos, crocodiles, elephants and perhaps even a cheetah.
The southern beaches are also a big draw, dotted as they are with old slave forts (like most of West Africa, Benin was a departure point for human trafficking) unspoilt beaches and low-key destinations. Behind the coastline lies a mosaic of plateaus covered in savannah and mangroves dotted with huge baobab trees. The majority of the population lives in the south. Although not its official capital, Cotonou is Benin’s largest city, a French-influenced metropolis with a handful of unusual attractions.
The red and white candy striped cathedral is one, as is the 20- hectare Dantokpa Market, where you can shop for voodoo fetishes to take back home. Then there’s the music. The plethora of salsa bars are a legacy of the country’s foray into Cuba-backed Marxism and when mixed with the body tugging sounds of afrobeat, it’s hard to stand still. More recently, Benin has hosted the first Benin Biennale. Held late 2012 to early 2013, African art lovers (and lovers of African art) are hoping it won’t be the last.
Places of interest in Benin
Atakora is Benin’s north-western region, an area which hosts a number of the country’s major sites, most notably...
When seen from the air, the sizable village of Ganvie looks like it's been the victim of a flood. It hasn’t, but is...
Situated some 40kms west of Cotonou, Ouidah is a fascinating place on many levels. Most of them will leave an...