Benin is a great country to visit on any West African itinerary. You'll find a large quantity of palatial ruins and temples of the once powerful Kingdom of Dahomey (1800s–1894). Moreover, Benin is the birthplace of Vodun (Voodoo) and all that goes with it—to this day Vodun remains the official religion of the country, and an important part of the life of ordinary Beninese. The national parks of Benin are also well worth a visit for their wildlife. Benin is also, fortunately, one of the most stable and safe countries of the region for traveling.
Benin’s largest city, Cotonou, is characterized by the same kind of chaos and grit as other large West African metropolises, but it also has one of the finest cultural scenes in the region and a thriving nightlife. The sprawling Grand Marché du Dantokpa offers everything from pirated DVDs to voodoo fetish objects and is worth visiting for the spectacle as much as the shopping. The Jonquet strip contains several bars and nightclubs with Beninese music and low or nonexistent cover charges.
Possibly Benin’s most unusual attraction, the town of Ganvié is built entirely on stilts in the middle of a large lagoon.
The name Benin commemorates an African kingdom that flourished from the 15th to the 17th century in what is now southwest Nigeria. In 1990, Benin abandoned Marxist ideology, began moving toward multiparty democracy, and changed its name, to the Republic of Benin. The Abomey kingdom of the Dahomey, or Fon, peoples was established in 1625. A rich cultural life flourished, and Dahomey's wooden masks, bronze statues, tapestries, and pottery are world renowned. One of the smallest and most densely populated regions in Africa, Dahomey was annexed by the French in 1893 and incorporated into French West Africa in 1904. It became an autonomous republic within the French Community in 1958, and on Aug. 1, 1960, Dahomey was granted its independence within the Community.
When to go
It is best to visit during the dry seasons, from December to February and from July to September, when temperatures are higher and overland travel is generally much easier. Weather in Benin is the most temperate and pleasant in August and September. Visiting in mid-January will allow you to witness the Voodoo Festival. Some tourist facilities, particularly in the south, close during the rainy season.
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