Seeing Benin — From Voodoo Serpents To Lake Living

Do you know what’s the birthplace of voodoo? Let’s pay a visit to Benin (😉) to check out everything from the serpent temple, where we’ll get to hang with pythons, to the Venice of West Africa, where we’ll get to experience life on the water in Africa’s largest lake village. Let’s do it…

Getting to Benin

After my amazing adventure in Niger, I went to Benin. Benin is bordered by Niger in the northeast, as well as Togo to the west, and Burkina Faso to the northwest. Traveling from Niger to Benin overland is very dangerous because it passes through the territory of Boko Haram, that extremely dangerous Islamic terrorist organization that I had to dodge in Niger.

It would be very expensive to go there escorted by a group of soldiers, as I opted to do in Niger, where I hired a small army to go with me to meet the wild West African giraffes. 💸

There was a park that I wanted to visit along the road from Niger to Benin, but my Nigerien guide told me that it was too unsafe to visit there on the Niger side. My tour guide in Benin told me that it’s safe to visit the Pendjari National Park from the Benin side, though, so I might have to go back to see it. I was told that it’s one of the few good national parks to visit in West Africa, so I’d still like to see what it looks like.

Regardless of missing the park, I had some nice views to look forward to in Benin.

Because it’s difficult to fly anywhere directly in this part of the world, I took a huge detour on the way from Niger to Benin through Bamako and Lomé. Benin is a very small country, like Togo, which is not very wide but stretches vertically several hundred kilometers. I mainly stayed at the coast for a couple of days, where I took a few tours. Most of the population of Benin lives along the coast as well. The tours picked me up from my hotel in Cotonou, Benin’s largest city and administrative capital.

Life’s a Beach

I stayed at the Azalai Hotel, which was nice and directly on the beach, as well as in the city center. It’s right at the big port, so it’s not exactly the most scenic, although it does boast an ocean view. The beach is actually pretty nice, but it’s basically fenced off for the port. So, you can see the water but you can’t really access the beach, and there isn’t much else to really do there.

The view was nice anyway.

There was a nice bar, anyway, and a nice restaurant with good pizza, as I found in much of West Africa. 😋

I enjoyed my time there overall and went on a couple of day trips with my cool guide. On one trip, we went to a lake, where we took a little boat ride and visited a nice orange plantation, which I thought would make an interesting agricultural investment.

The orange plantation had a nice view of the water.

The people there were pretty friendly to us, and there was a good guest house there, as well, where we were offered lots of fresh orange juice, which was a nice experience.

Voodoo Serpents

My favorite day trip, though, was to the snake temple. Anyone who’s been reading my blog knows that I love reptiles, so it should be no surprise that this was the highlight of my time in Benin. 🐍

A beautiful green mamba that I encountered in Benin. If this guy bites you, you’ll be dead in five minutes.

The religion and practice of voodoo originated in Benin, so there are different related sites around the country. The majority of the population still practices voodoo in Benin, so it is considered to be quite normal there. I had visited a few other places that practice animist religions, but being in the birthplace of voodoo was a completely new experience, even for me.

Locals performing voodoo rituals is nothing out of the ordinary here.

We went to a museum in the town and then went to visit the amazing snake temple, which is called the Temple of Pythons. Snakes are one of their deities, and it’s considered bad luck to kill them, so there are dozens of real pythons living in this temple, slithering around freely. I was lucky enough to touch one and even have one sit around my neck for a photo.

I think we look good together 😂

As a big fan of snakes, I very much enjoyed this experience, although it may have made others scared or squeamish. It was a quick stop, basically just for the picture, but it was cool to touch the snakes and briefly see the temple before going on our way.

The Venice of West Africa

There wasn’t that much more for us to do or see in the country, but I did see some other stuff before moving on.

For example, I found this nilwaran up in a tree!

One day we went to the westernmost part of the country, right by the border of Togo. There’s a nice beach there where we took a walk and saw some baby turtles, which are protected there and released into the sea, similar to what I had encountered in Guinea Bissau. It was pretty nice to see all the baby turtles there.

They are so cute 🐢

Other than that, we just took a little boat ride in the lagoon to the beach, where we walked along and enjoyed the scenery a bit.

View from the lagoon

The highlight of my time in Benin, besides the serpent temple, was the stilt village of Ganvié.

Village Lacustre in Ganvié

There are quite a few lakes in Benin, including one big lake close to the border of Nigeria called Lake Nokoué. In that lake, you can find Ganvié, a village built on stilts on the water.

Houses on the lake

This is the largest lake village in Africa, with about 20,000 inhabitants living on the water. 😲

A bustling village

It takes around half an hour to get there by motorboat from the mainland, although most of the villagers use sticks to row themselves across.

Local kids row themselves across the lake with a long stick

The water there isn’t too deep and there are a couple of islands, so there are some bigger buildings like a mosque built on the island, and others are built on stilts.

A floating platform with some larger buildings

There are a lot of channels or canals, like Venice, but much more basic. It was fun to drive all around this town on the boat and see how the people live there.

A local haunt

Sightseeing in Benin

Near the lake, we got to stop at the Sacred Forest of Kpetou, where we spent some time tracking the local monkeys and seeing some other wildlife that lives in the surrounding area.

Spotting a monkey in the sacred forest

We also visited a kind of Portuguese city along the coast and saw the local marketplace. Before Benin was colonized by the French, it used to be a Portuguese colony, so you can find a bit of Portuguese history around there as well.

Pigs on their way to market

We also spent some time visiting Cotonou. Porto-Novo is officially the capital of Benin, and we didn’t visit there, but Cotonou is the main city, and it has the most to do. In Cotonou, we visited the main historical sites of the country, which is relatively peaceful, especially in comparison to some of its neighbors.

A somewhat modern city

It is much more developed than some other places I had recently traveled to. Benin used to be part of the Marxist African Republic which fell along with the Soviet Union in 1989, but today it’s a nice place to visit. Although my time there was short, I quite enjoyed my trip to Benin.

Going to Gabon

From Benin, I continued to Gabon. I was supposed to go to Nigeria, but I had issues with the visa. It’s very tricky to get a visa to visit Nigeria, so it will be one of my last countries in September. Since I skipped Nigeria, that gave me more time to enjoy Gabon. I ended up having ten days in Gabon, which gave me a lot of time to enjoy the spectacular nature. Join us next time to explore what Gabon has to offer.

Always ready for the next adventure 🤣