Video Source: Youtube
Flag Source: CIA World Factbook
Like the rest of West Africa, Benin has been inhabited by many small ethnic groups since prehistoric times. By the 15th century, the area had come under the power of the kingdom of Dahomey (which originated in nearby regions), and members of rival tribes were often sold to the Europeans as slaves, a practice that led to the construction of the island region of Ganvié. The territory became a French colony in 1872 and was granted independence in 1960, as part of France’s wave of decolonization. The nation endured the rule of several dictatorial, incompetent military leaders until 1989, when it became a democracy. Although not without its problems, Benin is today one of West Africa’s more stable democracies.
The Top 5: Local Advice
1. Benin uses the West African CFA franc, whose value is fixed to that of the euro. Be careful not to confuse it with the Central African CFA franc, which is used in some nearby countries but is not interchangeable with the West African franc. You can also find ATMs in the cities.
2. French is the official language of Benin, although at least eight indigenous languages are also spoken. English is rare, and travelers would do well to learn some French phrases before visiting. The country has more than 50 newspapers, both independent and state owned, in a variety of languages. Internet access is scarce outside of Cotonou, but within the city Internet cafés are plentiful and upscale hotels offer Wi-Fi.
3. Western women may attract some unwanted attention in the streets, so it is advisable for them to dress more modestly than at home, particularly in the summer. Although sleeveless shirts are fine, women should keep their legs covered at least to the knee. Pants or a medium-length skirt should be fine.
4. Tap water in Cotonou is drinkable, although bottled water is generally a safer bet, and any water that has been sitting out for a period of time should be avoided. Malaria is common in Benin; it is wise to carry insect repellent and a mosquito net with you, even during the dry season.
5. You’d do well to book tour guides, transportation, and hotels in advance: local guides are known for jacking up prices. The Beninese embassy has a helpful list
of hotels in the country.