If you’re heading to West Africa to unearth lost treasure, look no further than Benin. This club-shaped country, on the western edge of Nigeria, was once one of the most powerful empires in Africa – the Dahomey kingdom. The ruins of the Dahomeyans’ palaces and temples can be seen in Abomey, while Ouidah is a poignant reminder of where their riches came from: the slave trade. The Route d’Esclaves in Ouidah was the last walk on African soil for slaves bound for Brazil and the Caribbean. Museums here and in Porto Novo, Benin’s lagoon-side capital, examine the resultant Afro-Brazilian society and culture. Cotonou, on the other hand, is urban Africa at its most frazzling and polluted - but is not without its own charms, a lively nightlife and good shopping being a couple of them.
Regardless of the ill-gotten Dahomeyan gains glittering in the Musée Historique d’Abomey, there are plenty of treasures on Benin’s dusty streets and palm-fringed beaches. This is the birthplace of voodoo, the country’s national religion, exported by the slaves and distorted by Hollywood. Voodoo is an important part of everyday life and most towns bear signs of it, such as the fetish markets stocked with the heads and skins of every animal imaginable.
Elephants, lions and crocodiles can be seen in more animated form in the northern wildlife parks, notably Pendjari, one of the best in West Africa. Then there are the stilt villages, home to thousands in the southern lagoons, and the northern tata somba (fortlike mud huts) built by the insular Somba people. Not only is Benin a richly historical and cultural country, this politically stable nation is one of the easiest parts of West Africa to travel in.
West Africa's best wildlife parks
Everyone knows about the great national parks of eastern and southern Africa – Masai Mara, Kruger and Serengeti all conjure up images of majestic landscapes, packs of lions lazing in the shade and herds of elephants roaming the savannah.
Benin destination guides
Voodoo Festival: tips to experiencing the voodoo that they do in Benin
'Voudoun Festival, Ouidah, Benin' by tlongacre. Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs This is an excerpt from Lonely Planet's A Year of Festivals. Location: Ouidah, Benin. The main festivities take place on the beach near the Point of No Return monument.
Ghana, Togo & Benin
This remarkable trip through Ghana, Togo and Benin boasts all of the best bits of these three diverse and fascinating West African countries. From the butterfly sanctuary of Mount Klouto to the ancient voodoo culture of Ouidah and the unbelievable two-storey mud huts of the Tammari people, there’s no shortage of authentic West African sights on this jaunt.
The Voodoo Trail
Get off the beaten track and into the hills, forests and villages that make up the 'Voodoo Trail' of West Africa for an immersive experience that few travellers get to have. Meet African royalty and witness tribal dancers fall into trance-like states as you enjoy an authentic cultural experience like no other.
The voodoo priests, kings and ghosts of Benin
Wills and Kate didn’t invite you to their big day? Don’t be down heartened. Instead let us tell you about a place where royalty –as well as a few village-building crocodiles – will be happy to entertain you.