With stretches of aqua blue water, palm fringed beaches and tasty food, Benin republic is easily my go-to destination on a budget. On the garri-for-lunch-everyday side of town I grew up, you’d have to be rich to afford a vacation. Maybe not filthy rich, but at least rich enough to afford a plane ticket; and you know those things don’t come cheap. Longingly, I’d scroll through dozens of vacation pictures that carried tired clichés like ‘Living my best life’ or ‘flewd out’ and other uninspired one-liners that managed to peg down the picture quality a notch.
Is your Instagram really fire if you have to explain to people how fire it is?
I discovered Benin Republic during one of these scrolling sessions. I was thrilled and the ecstasy quickly escalated when I found out it’s just a cab ride away! As you know, adventures beget stories, experiences and tips and you’ll find all 3 in this post.
How much time you’ll need: Benin is a whole country, quite a big one. I was there for just a couple of days (3 days to be precise) and only managed to scratch the surface of all that Benin has to offer. I wish I would have spent 2-3 weeks at least, though I would have needed quite a budget to sustain it. welp! But, no matter how little it seems you’re spending, it’s never too little to have the time of your life.
Language barrier: French is the official language and you’ll have a hard time finding anyone that speaks English. But surprisingly, you’ll find a good number of people speak yoruba. Try to learn a few French phrases if you can (to order food, call a cab or ask where the bathroom is), especially if you plan to go off the city centre. It’ll almost be impossible to find a local who speaks English.
Credit Cards and Cash: My general rule when traveling anywhere is ‘cash is best’; especially when there are no high security risks. Ecobank has branches everywhere so that’s your best bet. But ATMs run out of cash pretty fast so it’s safer to carry cash on you. You can have it changed at Seme Border.
Movement within Benin Republic: It’s really easy to get around. There are a lot bikes and taxis and a number of them operate till really late at night, depending on what part of town. The people are quite friendly and accommodating, commuting was relatively safe.
WHERE TO VISIT
Love thrift shopping? Welcome home. This market stretches on and on, bursting with traders selling all sorts. Theming with brilliant colors, boisterous sellers and buyers, the market is stuffed with all kinds of merchandise from clothes, art and wood crafts, jewelry to dead animal heads and other mysterious items used for voodoo. All for a worthy bargain too.
Amazing sunsets over long shores of clean beach, coconut water for a dime, really good pizza and many more are what you’ll find here. One of my absolute favorite things to do in Cotonou is to walk the stretch of sands while watching the sunrise/sunset. When the sky is a gorgeous deep blue with burning orange bleeding into the horizon, It’s very soothing.
There are restaurants sprinkled all over where you can sample some of the tasty local meals.
This is a very touristy market, a choice destination to go for gift items and souvenir shopping.
The people at the Artisanal Center are friendly and welcoming, but be prepared to drive a hard bargain.
The guide will talk you through the temple, cultures and sacrifices and you get to carry a python around your neck– nothing to worry about they don’t bite neither will they attempt to strangle/constrict you.There’s also an art market behind the building where you will find amazing jewelry and figurines that make for good souvenirs.
This little treasure is an entire village on water. The villagers here spend all their time on water; working and living and don’t like being photographed so be sure to ask before taking photos. You can visit Ganvié by paying for a ride either by a motorboat or a pirogue (canoe).
The motorboat tour costs 10,500 CFA while the canoe costs 8000 CFA. You also need to pay for a guide/government fee, 4500 CFA.
It is much more cost effective to go in a group than to go alone. We didn’t go in because that was way over budget but i’ll surely be going back.
Walk the streets
One of the things I love to do the most when I’m in a new place is to get a feel of what it’s like to live as a local. Clad in a popular attire the place is known for, throw on my not-so-conspicuous touristy hat (that’s how you camouflage), I make my way through the rustic looking streets, blending in pretty well.
Jollof rice, gamey flavored mutton, chawarma, fried yam and poivre (pepper sauce) there’s a long list of street food you can try.
Benin Republic offers a first time traveler quite a thrill, and on a very small budget too. I always enjoy my time there and i’ll recommend it to anyone who’s looking for cozy and budget-friendly getaways. There’s so much more to see and do that I haven’t gotten around to yet so feel free to add and remove from your itinerary.