Benin is probably best known to the rest of the world as the home of the Vodun religion, or voodoo. There are voodoo temples, roadside fetishes, and fetish markets all throughout the nation, but the most well-known is the skull and skin-filled fetish market in the Grande Marche du Dantopka—enormously Cotonou’s crowded, huge, and chaotic main market. The most significant fetish in the nation is the monstruous Dankoli fetish, which is located on the northerly route near Savalou and is a suitable place to entreat gods.
Benin was a significant hub of the slave trade during the Dahomey monarchs’ reign, and the Route des Esclaves in Ouidah, which ends at the beachfront Point of No Return monument, is a tribute to individuals who were abducted, sold, and sent to the other side of the globe. Ouidah’s local museum, located in a Portuguese fort, concentrates on the slave trade, among other aspects of local culture, religion, and history, and is a must-see for anybody traveling through the nation.
Abomey was the capital of the Dahomey Empire, and its destroyed temples and royal palaces are now a UNESCO World Heritage site. The ruins, their bas-reliefs, and the Abomey Historical Museum in the royal palace (which contains macabre tapestries and even a throne of human skulls) bear witness to the wealth brought to the Dahomey kings by the slave trade, as well as the brutality with which they oppressed their enemies, providing fodder for human sacrifice and bondage.
Ganvie, home to 30,000 people who escaped the harsh Dahomey monarchs by constructing their town on stilts right in the middle of Lake Nokoué, is without a doubt an interesting and naturally attractive location, and a popular visit as one of West Africa’s biggest lake cities. However, it has been harmed to some degree by the strained connection between residents and tourists. (For visitors interested in West African lake communities, Ghana may provide much more rewarding experiences.)
While the country’s biggest city and commercial hub is frantic Cotonou, the capital, Porto Novo, is tiny and one of West Africa’s more attractive cities. The majority of the country’s main museums are housed here, among the decaying architectural heritage of French colonial control. Grand Popo is another popular destination for visitors looking to unwind, although not so much for the city itself as for the beaches.
Benin in the north is significantly different from the mainly congested, filthy towns of the south, of which Cotonou is a prime example. Pendjari National Park and W National Park (shared by Benin, Burkina Faso, and Niger) are two of West Africa’s finest for wildlife watching, and are located in magnificent, steep highlands.
The Somba people’s distinctive and quirky mud and clay tower-houses, known as tata, in the north, west of Djougou near the Togolese border, are a little-known expansion into Benin of the kinds of structures used by the Batammariba people in Togo just west. Almost all visitors to this region go to the UNESCO-designated Koutammakou Valley across the border; the Benin side is even further off the beaten path.