Exploring Cotonou and environs…

Niyi David

Although, it is not the capital of the country, Cotonou is the largest city, the commercial center of government of Bénin République, and one of West Africa’s most popular cities.

The city enjoys a temperate weather all round at 27°C, which makes it a nice place to visit anytime of the year. A coastal city lying in the south of country, it offers a couple of interesting attractions worth exploring.

How Do I Get There?

For citizens of ECOWAS, getting in into Bénin République does not require a visa. For other nationals, it is advisable to check the entry requirements before booking the flight. The Cadjehoun International Airport, Cotonou, renamed in 2008 as Cardinal Bernardin Gatin Airport is the main port of entry into the country by air. Cotonou can also be accessed easily by road from Lagos (Nigeria), Lome (Togo), or Accra, Ghana.  

What To Do Here?

It is important that you recognize that French is the main language spoken, apart from the local dialects like Fon and Yoruba. You will still find those who speak English, and in any case, communication should not be a problem.

One of the things that you will discover in Cotonou is that motorbikes are a common means of getting around. Locally known as ‘zémidjan,’ which means take me there fast, these moto-taxis are piloted both by male and female riders. Cotonou is a frenetic city with the buzzing zémidjans whizzing around, but there are a couple of quiet places with nice tree-lined paved boulevard reminiscent of its French colonial heritage.

A stroll around town, or a ride on zem will afford you to see some of the attractions in the city, like the Notre Dame des Apôtres (Cotonou Cathedral), Ancien Pont, the university, La Cathédrale du Sacre Cœur and the famous Dantokpa market where you will see a slew of fetish items used for voodoo practice like animal skulls, among others. Cotonou is one of West Africa’s main textile markets, so be sure to get some nice African fabrics at a good bargain.

You will find a couple of nice restaurants to enjoy a good meal, and if you love to hang out, there are nightclubs where you can party.

The next day can be spent exploring the places nearby, like Ouidah the voodoo capital of the world. On January 10 every year, the Béninoises celebrate national voodoo day or Fête du Vodun, and Ouidah is where everyone converges. Ouidah is about 41km from Cotonou and it was once a slave port.

Another place to explore is stilts village of Ganvie, referred to as Africa’s Venice. About 11km north of Cotonou on the Lac Nokoué, the village was built by Tofinu people during the period of the slave trade. Haunted and sold to the Portuguese as slaves by the Fon, the Tofinu capitalized on the beliefs of their adversary who were forbidden to harm anyone on water. It is a whole community with shops, restaurants and a school on stilts in the lake.

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