Cotonou is the de facto capital of Benin. The late Stalinist architecture isn’t awe-inspiring but worth looking at as is the Centre for Artistic Promotion, a museum that proudly displays Benin’s legendary craftsmanship. Several craftsmen exhibit their skilled work and are willing to make items to order. Go ahead and bargain because there are no fixed prices. The beaches in the city are dirty and unkempt and not ideal tourist spots.
Grand Popo, 60km from Cotonou, has the best beaches in Benin, which are sometimes out of bounds because of currents. It’s a calm and quiet fishing village.
Abomey is perhaps the only city with a history of its own. It used to be the capital of the ancient Kingdom of Dahomey. Start your tour with the Royal Museum and Palace – see the huge carved elephants and the richly hued tapestries with historical events woven into them. It’s worth paying a guide for the stories and details. The little mounds you see around the city are sacred soil – the “fetishes” as they are called. Each family has one where the guardian spirit supposedly resides.
Women bring offerings of food to the fetishes and some families still sacrifice animals to please the spirits who be! Tread carefully – this is religious ground. Abomey has a market, just the place to wander through the stalls and buy beautiful local crafts or simply get your fortune told. The city can be visited on a day trip from Cotonou, which is 105km away.
Ouidah rhymes with "ouijah" and there is certainly lots of voodoo to this place. The Temple of the Sacred Python, Sao Joao Batista Museum of Voodoo, the fetish-market behind it and the voodoo cemetery in the outskirts are guaranteed to give the creeps!
Porto Novo, the capital city, has an ethnological and cultural museum and a nearby market at Adjarra with excellent masks, carved drums, tie and dyed cloth, pottery and other local handicrafts on sale.
Pendjari National Park has lions, hippos, leopards, apes, gazelles, elephants and many birds. Perhaps, its best feature is the non-touristy atmosphere. The Park is open to visitors between December and May.