Here Are 7 Must-See Sites to Visit Now That Benin is Visa-Free for Africans

Benin has relaxed visa restrictions, upholding the African Union’s spirit of Pan-Africanism as part of its 2063 Agenda, including an e-passport program.

“Learning from Rwanda, I have decided that Benin will no longer require visas for other Africans,” Patrice Talon, President of Benin, says of the decision in Rwanda Tuesday, according to Quartz Africa.

The West African nation joins 13 countries including Rwanda, Seychelles, Mauritius, and most recently Ghana that are making it easier for Africans from around the continent to visit in addition to advancing education and trade opportunities.

What’s more this means Africans can now explore the rich history of the former Dahomey Empire, one of West Africa’s most enduring kingdoms, also the birthplace of Voodoo and hub of the African slave trade. There’s so much culture to soak up from museums, ancient architecture to sublime Atlantic beaches.

Put that new red and gold passport (rolling out between now and 2018) to use by hitting up these seven must-see attractions in Benin:

1. Ouidah

Photo credit: Roberto Maldeno, Modeste Zinsou, director Tourist Office Ouidah
Modeste Zinsou, director Tourist Office Ouidah, Photo credit: Roberto Maldeno via Flickr

If you’re an African history buff and looking for a laid back atmosphere, then look no further than Ouidah. What makes it special are the museums dedicated to the slave trade and Voodoo arts and the confluence of French and the Portuguese cultures. Ouidah boasts picturesque beaches as well.

Casa del Papa Ouidah Benin, Photo credit: Roberto Maldeno via Flickr
Casa del Papa Ouidah Benin, Photo credit: Roberto Maldeno via Flickr

2. Grand Popo

Grand Popo, Photo credit: Victorillen via Creative Commons
Grand Popo, Photo credit: Victorillen via Creative Commons

This quaint, but charming town once played a major role in the Dahomey Empire’s slave trade. Be sure to check out the graffiti murals and Voodoo temples by Mono River where exotic birds abound.

3. Natitingou

Tata Somba in Natitingou, Photo credit: Carsten Ten Brink via Creative Commons
Tata Somba in Natitingou, Photo credit: Carsten Ten Brink via Creative Commons

There’s a museum, located in a French colonial building, that documents the culture of the Somba or Tammari people of Benin known for constructing amazing two-story fortified huts, called Tata Somba. The Tata Somba found in Benin and neighboring Togo are considered UNESCO World Heritage sites. You can also observe how shea butter is made.

4. Cotonou

Cotonou, Photo credit: Cordelia Persen
Cotonou, Photo credit: Cordelia Persen

If a bustling metropolis is more your speed, then make time for Cotonou, home to the mysterious “fetish market” that sells a menagerie of dead animals for Voodoo festivities. Once you’ve had your fill of the city, head over to the Pendjari National Park or relax on nearby gorgeous golden sand beaches dotted with palm trees.

5. Parakou

Parakou Mosque, Photo credit: People of Parakou via Flickr
Parakou Mosque, Photo credit: People of Parakou via Flickr

It’s the second biggest city in Benin, though the wide streets make it feel less congested compared to Cotonou and Porto Novo. Check out the open-air museum housing traditional Bariba architecture. Beer drinkers won’t want to miss the market that brews a traditional millet variety called choukachou or simply “chouk.”

6. Porto Novo

The first king of Porto-Novo, Photo credit: Jbdodane via Flickr
The first king of Porto-Novo, Photo credit: Jbdodane via Flickr

Porto Novo may be the capital city of Benin, but expect a gentler pace than Cotonou. The Portuguese influence remains visible here. The Royal Palace and gardens and museum of Porto Novo kings are noteworthy sites.

Marketplace in Porto Novo, Photo credit: Helina Rautavaaran Museo via Flickr
Marketplace in Porto Novo, Photo credit: Helina Rautavaaran Museo via Flickr

7. Abomey

Abomey Historical City, Photo credit: jbdodane via Flickr
Abomey Historical City, Photo credit: jbdodane via Flickr

Formerly the capital of the Dahomey Empire for nearly 300 years, there’s a lot of historical value here. Sadly much of the Abomey Royal Palaces, deemed UNESCO World Heritage sites, have been destroyed, but scant remains offer insight into the lives of the kings that once ruled there.

Voodoo market near Abomey, Photo credit: Jbdodane via Flickr
Voodoo market near Abomey, Photo credit: Jbdodane via Flickr

What other Beninese locales would you add to this list?

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