Benin is one of a handful of slivers squeezed in along the West Africa coast to satisfy the jostling for territory that occurred between the major European powers during the 19th century. Like many of the great dynasties and local regions of power at that time, Benin’s fortunes were not advanced much by European intrusion, and of course the tremendous sophistication of its history and culture was virtually destroyed by the trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.
Prior to independence from France in 1958 the territory was known as Dahomey, which was probably more reflective of its ancient history than it’s current name taken from the adjacent Bight of Benin. Once known as the Black Sparta by early European explorers, the region was identified as a highly sophisticated political and social center. The remnants of this are evident in a diversity of art, music, masks and sculpture that betray evidence of past greatness and accomplishment not commonly attributed to Africa.
Culturally Benin remains extraordinarily diverse, with the population divided unevenly between a Christian majority and a Muslim minority, overlaid by an intermingling of traditional worship and custom. The latter is defined mainly by the organized animist/monotheistic religion of Vodun, a precursor to Voodoo, thought to have been exported to the Caribbean by the slave trade from this particular region of West Africa.
Travel To & Within Benin
Why Travel To Benin
Benin is a small country with limited development potential so it tends to nourish its tourist industry as a vital pillar of the local economy.
The country is primarily a culture destination with no less than the usual proliferation of cultures, languages and ethnic groups as anywhere else in West Africa. Among the 6.5 million population of Benin are more than 20 different ethnic groups who live in general harmony, each with a distinct language, history and traditions. The country is as colorful and vibrant in its ethnic diversity as it is in its music, art and dance. Home of singer Angélique Kidjo, who heads a rich and diverse cast of Beninese musicians, the genres cover hip hop, reggae and local folk and traditional styles.
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In the north of the country are situated two of the regions principal nature conservancies. Benin is bordered in the northeast by the Niger River, and as a partner in the larger Arli-W-Singou Complex, which is a series of related conservancies surrounding a region of the Niger River that conforms to a W shaped sequence of bends. This area is justly regarded as the most important conservation region in West Africa, and Benin’s two parks of Pendjari National Park and W National Park are an important component. A wide diversity of wildlife and wild habitats are to be found in the region, but most importantly is the proliferation of birdlife that is what the region is most famous for.
Almost the entire coast of Benin is one long sandy beach. Most of the population in concentrated here, as are the principal cities. Beach culture is well established and arguably the chief tourist attraction of the country.
When To Visit Benin
The climate of Benin varies from north to South. The south enjoying the usual tropical flavor of the West African coast while the north dips into the Sahel and as a consequence tends to be dry and arid. The country has two distinct wet seasons that are both worth avoiding. These are between April and July and September to October.
The hottest time of year is between February and April during which time temperatures can reach the mid 40s Celsius. The Harmattan winds occur between December and March that allows for two brief periods of December and March as the ideal times to visit.
There is a low threat of terrorism in Benin.
An increasing incidence of highway related crime has been reported in Benin, and in particular along the frontier with Nigeria. This is an area worth avoiding, and when using the nation’s highways exercise caution.
Street crime is also on the rise with reported incidences of mugging and other violent crimes. Due caution should be exercised in all the main urban areas, and in isolated beachfront areas after dark.
Ocean currents are strong and many drownings are annually reported.
On the whole Benin is a safe and ordered destination with great care being taken to conserve and protect the country’s tourist industry.