The Republic of Benin is recognized for its involvement in the Slave Route, for its important cotton production, pristine nature and for the vodou as the official religion. A small, French speaking nation rich with cultural learning, fascinating architecture, art, and interesting people. The whole country was an enchanting experience.
I did this 2 days in Benin trip solo in December 2023 with the help of a private driver. I strongly recommend using the services of a driver as public transport within Benin is slow and unpredictable. Your guide will also help a lot if you don’t speak French (I don’t). If you’re looking for a reputable English speaking guide (particularly, if you are a woman travelling alone), I strongly recommend getting in touch with Isaac from Green Paths Travel. He has many trustworthy guides that speak English and French in addition to coming up with an itinerary that suits your preferences. Please tell him that Aneesa sent you when you whatsapp him: +22898225868.
Note: The flights, accommodation and activities mentioned in this post were NOT sponsored/discounted/gifted. Full cost breakdown for 2 days in Benin below:
Is it Safe?
I felt quite safe during my 2 days in Benin, even with my phone in my hand, even at night.
All African passport holders (and some other nationalities) do not require a visa to enter Benin. For everyone else, the easiest way to apply is through the e-visa Benin website which is known to be very efficient.
What to do about money?
The official currency used in Benin is the West African franc (CFA). It is the same currency as neighbouring Togo. My advice is to take USD or EUR and exchange it when you cross the land border or enter the city. ATMs seemed to be few and far between outside of Contonou. Cash is key!
How to communicate?
Everyone in Benin speaks French and other indigenous languages like Fon and Yom. You will struggle to get by with English outside of hotels.
FIRST IT’S TIME FOR A BRIEF PPG (PANDA’S PROGRESSIVE GEOGRAPHY) LESSON!
Smaller tribes populated most of Benin before the 15th century. Nonetheless, the African kingdom of Danhomey emerged in the fifteenth century. Benin was founded, so the narrative goes, by the Edo people of southern Nigeria. Danhomey was still expanding in the 18th century when European settlers arrived. They engaged in trade with the Portuguese, Dutch, and French.
Trade was Benin’s main source of prosperity. Benini artisans and traders cultivated ties with the Portuguese, who were interested in the kingdom’s artwork, gold, ivory, and pepper. Benin had a significant role in the West African slave trade in the early modern period. They would kidnap men, women, and children from opposing tribes and sell them to buyers in Europe and America for enslavement. The kingdom benefited much financially from this commerce.
During the 1800s, Benin started to lose its influence as members of the royal family struggled for control of the throne. A major blow to Benin’s economy and governance came with the outbreak of civil conflicts. Benin found it difficult to fend against foreign meddling in its commerce network when it was weaker, especially from the British. An invasion of Benin by the British in 1897 was ultimately motivated by a desire to control territory and trade in West Africa. Later, early in the 20th century, Benin was annexed by France. Within the French community, it attained self-government in 1958 and was dubbed the Republique du Dahomey. It gained complete independence a few years later, in 1960, and the country was renamed the People’s Republic of Benin in 1975.
Benin has a 121-kilometre-long coastline on the Gulf of Guinea and is bordered by Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Togo.
Day by day itinerary
Day1: Arrive in Benin via land border (Hilaconji)
I arrived in Benin after spending 3 days in Togo. While crossing the land borders in Togo was a complex (and unnecessary) mess, entry into Benin was a breeze. At the land border I presented my yellow fever vaccination proof and passport. I was stamped in without any fuss or questions.
Stop 2: Drive to Slave Monument
Ouidah is an easy drive from the Togo-Benin border. This town, in southern Benin, was not only the headquarters of the vodou religion but also a significant hub for the slave trade from the 17th to the 19th century. Captives were brought here to be sold to merchants, who subsequently transported them over the Atlantic to meet the demand for slave labour in the plantations and mines of the New World.
The slaves were placed in tiny boats and rowed to the slave ships once they arrived at Ouidah’s beach. The location of this incident is marked with a symbolic monument today. The monument is called “The Gate of No Return” because the slaves realised they would never be able to return to Africa.
Unfortunately at the time when I visited, they were working on restoring the area and monument so I could not get very close or see much. The photo below is sadly, not mine.
Now had I known I wouldn’t be able to have a good visit to the slave monument I might have planned something else instead but this is the reality of travelling in Africa- you never know what awaits you. With all the construction in the area, it took us ages to get out of there and we rushed to head to my accommodation before it got dark.
Where to stay: I stayed at L’annexe by L’imprévu which was one of the most modern hotels I stayed at during my Togo & Benin. It was also the most expensive because in Benin I found that there were either really basic accommodation options or really expensive accommodation options- nothing in between.
Day 2: Boat Ride on Black Lake and Visiting Ganvie
Stop 1: Visit the Black River of Adjarra
With no idea where I was headed, I was ready for a full day of exploring. Adjarra- my first destination- was once a separate town located 10km (6mi) north of Porto-Novo, the capital city of Benin. As both places have continued to expand over the decades, Adjarra has essentially become a northern suburb of the capital.
The boat voyage down the Rivière Noire to visit a village north of the city was the highlight of my trip to this area. My driver and I hopped aboard an awaiting boat, met our local guide and off we went down the blacket river I had ever seen. The boat was called a pirogue and it wound its way down the river, the sounds of Adjarra gradually subsided, leaving us to enjoy only the sound of fluttering insects and the soft undulations of rippling water. The river holds a lot of cultural significance because the myths and traditions that surround the Rivière Noire are what really set it apart. The Beninese have a strong bond with this river, which they revere. They will regale you with tales of their forebears, enthralling adventures in the frothing waters of the river, and mysteries concealed in the forest.
Stop 2: Local Village in Ajarra
After we disembarked from the pirogue, we walked around ten minutes to the nearest village. This village is known for basket village and alcohol distilling.
I was introduced to the master distiller who showed me the process of making palm wine including spinning the mill that was turning out the liquor into a bowl at the end of a chute. After seeing the process of making the liquor, they passed around the bowl and encouraged me to have a drink which I had to decline. However, I did agree to the offer of basket weaving and was surprisingly adept at it!
You have the option to purchase wine, baskets and artwork if you so choose before getting back on the boat.
Stop 3: Central Mosque of Porto Novo
The largest mosque in Porto-Novo is called the Great Mosque. It was once a Catholic church built in the early 20th century and is still open for prayer today. The structure is painted in orange, yellow, red, green and blue hues and has plaster decorations that combine African and Brazilian architectural traditions. Coastal towns such as Porto-Novo functioned as both a transatlantic slave trade port and a harbour for emancipated slaves. The Malê Rebellion, a rebellion that occurred during Ramadan, could have been the cause of this. Former slaves, many of whom were originally Hausa and Yoruba Muslims, were sent back to the coasts of West Africa in order to put an end to subsequent uprisings. They restored trades like blacksmithing, carpentry, and architecture, constructing several important structures in the city upon their return, such as the mosque, which combines this distinctive cross-cultural design.
At the time when I visited, it was not possible to go inside due to ongoing prayers.
Stop 3: Visit the floating village of Ganvie
Only accessible by boat, this scenic location—which consists of stilt houses made solely of wood and plant materials—is recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. When the indigenous people of modern-day Benin relocated their nearest lake to evade slave traders, Ganvie was established in the 16th or 17th century. The Fon tribesmen who were dealing in slaves with the Europeans were being avoided by the Tofinu people. Although the lake actually posed little threat to the Fon, attacking people living on the water were forbidden by the tribesmen’s religious beliefs. This was how the community of Ganvie grew.
On Lake Nokoue, a distinct culture evolved over years. Perched on stilts, Ganvie is a fully operational community. The town has voodoo temples, mosques, and churches belonging to many denominations. Hotels, eateries, retail stores, and schools are all present. and thriving marketplaces. This community now consists of more than 3,000 buildings.
Currently the most visited tourist destination in Benin, Ganvié is accessible by motorised water taxi from Cotonou or Abomey-Calavi, a smaller city located to the north of Cotonou and closer to Ganvié.
If you arrange it, I would stop at Ganvie to have a simple yet flavourful lunch before the day ends.
Stop 4: Art in Cotonou and the Amazon statue
If you have some extra time, you can stop at the 30 m metal statue dedicated to the famous female warrior of the ancient Benin kingdom, Queen Tassi Hangb. A short distance away at Cotonou Port are some stunning murals that are worth photographing if you like street art. It is allegedly Africa’s longest graffiti mural and the art can be attributed to 40 graffiti artists from both the African continent and abroad.
After this, it was getting late and we headed to Grand Popo to my last accommodation.
Where to stay: For my last night in Benin, I stayed at a simple accommodation called Auberge de Grand-Popo. This was a very basic accommodation (no hot water) but it sits right on the beach with stunning sunrise views.
Day 3: Benin-Togo border
On this day I headed back to the Hillacondj border to start my journey all the way back to Accra. My driver dropped me off at the Togo-Ghana Aflao border where I boarded an STC bus to head into Accra. The driver will drop you off anywhere on his route, you just need to ask him in advance. Remember that you will pay a little extra for bags (around 150 cedis).
Rich in cultural legacy, Benin is a fascinating place to visit on your own or with friends and family. The nation has a rich history and much to offer travellers and visitors from all over the world. It is the birthplace of the voodoo arts and the epicentre of the African slave trade of the last few centuries. Places in Benin are a genuinely unspoilt gem in central Africa. This is a signal to go ahead and visit the Benin Republic if you’ve been looking at how to spend 2 days in Benin.
You might be interested in some of my other regional travels:
How to spend 3 days in Togo
Lastly, I have a wealth of information on my Instagram especially in the Benin highlight, and my feed. Do have a look. If you enjoyed this post about planning a 3 day trip in Togo, please pin it using the pin below:
Have you visited Benin before? Or have I inspired you with this guide for how to spend 2 days in Benin? Let me know in the comments below!