Benin Travel Guides for Backpackers

Essential travel guide Cotonou – the unofficial capital of Benin

Cotonou or as it was originally known, ‘Kotònu’ is the largest city of the West African country of the Republic of Benin. An unconventional travel destination, Cotonou is, in fact, the gateway to discovering Benin, and its history of powerful empires, tumultuous changes and the contemporary melting pot that now exists.  sits on the mouth of the river. Cotonou’s location at the mouth of a river opening onto the Atlantic Ocean is the very reason for its existence and allows the city to connect much of land-locked West Africa to trade with the outside world. History In 1830, having already passed the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act in 1807, the British began to patrol Ouidah’s natural harbour which connected European slave merchants to a major slave trading post. By 1832, and with the complicity of the King Guézo a new trading hub had been established to the East of Ouidah at Kotònu which permitted the other European slave traders to evade the British patrols. In the regional language, Fongbé, ‘Kotònu’ means “the mouth of the river of death.” The port’s significance to the contemporary Beninese economy cannot be understated, procuring the majority of the country’s GDP each year. It brings in business from Benin’s landlocked Northern neighbour such as Niger and Burkina Faso and at night lines of trucks can be seen heading to the port. As such, Cotonou is the throbbing economic heart of the country. Although it is also home to the Presidential Palace and foreign embassies it is not the country’s political capital; that honour is reserved for Porto Novo. Why Visit? Today, Cotonou is the gateway to everything the narrow West-African country of Benin has to offer. It hosts the country’s International airport and for that reason alone it will be the first destination of some international visitors. If you’re coming overland it’s only a few hours by car or bus from Nigeria to the East or from Togo on to the West. Cotonou can also serve as a base for venturing to other intriguing Beninese cities such as Ganvié, Ouidah, Porto Novo and Abomey. Cotonou itself is inseparable from the turbulent history of this region from it time as the Kingdom of Dahomey to the modern-day Republic of Benin. French has remained the official language since independence from French colonial rule in 1960 so you’ll need to use the French names to get around. Taking a motorbike taxi is the most efficient type of transport. Buy yourself a helmet and remember you’ll have to negotiate a fare. Local languages such as Fongbé are equally prominent but you shouldn’t have much trouble finding a French speaker. Travelling with only English might be a bit more challenging but a lot can be achieved by pointing at a map, some charades and a piece pen and paper! Surpassing the challenging is half the magic of travelling off the beaten road. In just one day you can really get a feel for Cotonou and, in a couple more, […]
Load More