Best time to visit Benin

Best time to visit Benin


TEMPERATURE & RAINFALL

Happily, this also coincides with the dry season from December to March, which is the best time to visit southern and central Benin; not only will you avoid the rainy spells (roughly April to mid July and September to October), but temperatures are a smidge cooler, too – although the dusty, Saharan harmattan wind can be uncomfortable. Benin’s coastline has the most consistent climate, lingering in the 20s. The climate in the north, near the Sahel, is slightly different, this region is the hottest, particularly November to June; July to October are wet.

Things to do in Benin


WHAT TO DO IN BENIN & WHAT NOT TO

Things to do in Benin


Forget about Voodoo dolls. Benin is the birthplace of this most mysterious of religions, and it is still found here in its purest form. Ouidah’s annual festival draws followers who transform into their chosen God, adopting their characteristics. The Zangbeto look like giant, walking grass skirts, while the Egungun – the most powerful – are covered entirely in colourful patchwork. There are ritual sacrifices, plus dancing, drinking and the constant beat of drums.

Be surprised by history. Abomey is the former capital of the Dahomey Kingdom, whose kings became rich by selling their enemies to European slave traders. Some estimate that the kings earned around £250,000 per year; one king described the slave trade as “the ruling principle of my people”. The legacy of horrific slave raids can still be seen across Benin: the fortress-like architecture of the Somba, the slave forts and Door or No Return along the coast, and the village of Ganvié – built in the middle of a lake to escape the Dahomey, whose beliefs prevented them from entering the water.

Benin is divided into kingdoms – many villages still have traditional kings, chiefs and palaces. Your guide may be able to request an audience with a king, where you can have an informal chat to find out about the duties of a modern-day Beninese monarch and the role he plays in the community. These important figureheads are still highly venerated – local people turn to their king to resolve disputes, and a meeting is never guaranteed.

Things not to do in Benin


Touch an Egungun. These masked men in trances, who represent the souls of the dead, are some of the most powerful voodoo figures. Anyone touching them – even accidentally, even brushing past their colourful robes – will die, as must the Egungun. Some say all women present must die too – although other beliefs state that women cannot attend these ceremonies – which may come as a relief…

Forget to offer a gift to the King. If you are lucky enough to gain an audience with a Beninese King, don’t turn up empty handed – it’s incredibly disrespectful. Money or a bottle of local spirits are the preferred offerings.

Get snap happy. We always advise photographers to act respectfully anywhere in the world – but there are many exceedingly photogenic parts of Benin – including Ganvié Lake – where local people are simply going about their daily business and would rather not have a camera pointed at them. If you can strike up a conversation, or purchase something from a local trader without taking a picture of them – great. If not, put the lens cap on and just enjoy the moment.

Don’t fall for the fakes. Inevitably, there will be the odd, dodgy voodoo practitioner quite happy to put on a show in order to part gullible tourists from their cash. Fortunately, travelling on an organised tour with guides who are either from or have spent plenty of time in the area means you’ll be sure to witness authentic rituals – and local people will be more comfortable with your presence.

Benin travel advice


TIPS FROM OUR FRIENDS IN BENIN

Jim O’Brien, from our leading Benin supplier Native Eye, shares his Benin travel advice:

Fetishes & festivals


“There’s a really interesting fetish at in Savalou called the Dankoli fetish. It is the most powerful fetish in the whole country, so you get a lot of pilgrims coming there to make sacrifices. I don’t know what it was originally but so many people have made sacrifices here that it’s just this mound of blood and feathers and wax and just congealed, rotting matter that they pay homage to. Another good thing to do is to go and see the Gelede masked dances at a place called Cové. That’s not really voodoo but it shares a lot of the same characteristics, with Yoruba people getting dressed up as representations – not necessarily of gods but perhaps of spirits. Voodoo is the state religion; it doesn’t have the same connotations in Benin as Hollywood has given it. It’s almost like a fairytale world. I’m slightly in love with Benin!”

Being prepared


“No one comes to West Africa as a first time visitor to the continent; everyone tends to start off with East Africa or Southern Africa. West and Central Africa are much harder, and the attractions are less well defined, so you have to look for it and you have to be prepared for a bit of adventure, and to be honest a fair few problems along the way. We do our best to mitigate any problems that there might be but we always tell people to travel to Benin with a sense of humour and expect things to go wrong from time to time – and be patient while we sort it out!”

Travelling with respect


“All throughout Africa, but especially in West Africa where it’s less touristy, there is that underlying notion of colonialism. A lot of people don’t like tourists to come in and treat them as objects because there is a history here where Africans have been treated as objects, really, in the past. In places like Kenya and Tanzania, it’s not really such a problem. But in the countries that don’t receive as many tourists, they’re not so inured to it. So it’s especially important to be respectful – especially when it comes to taking photos of local people.”
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If you'd like to chat about Benin or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help.
Rosy & team.
01273 823 700
Photo credits: [Sunset: Erik Cleves Kristensen] [Voodoo dancer: David Stanley] [Voodoo altar: Dominik Schwarz] [Taking photos: David Bacon] [Somba woman: Jacques Taberlet]
Written by Vicki Brown
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