Benin is a country in West Africa having borders with Togo, Nigeria, Burkina Faso and Niger.
The once powerful Kingdom of Dahomey has gone through a mixed and troubled past to become the democratic country it is today. The coast of Benin became known as the Slave Coast as slavery on a large scale developed under the Dahomey government and the fall of the Dahomey Kingdom was precipitated by the abolishment of slavery throughout Europe in the mid-19th century. In 1960 Dahomey gained its independence from France and went through a long and destabilizing series of coups. The country was renamed the Republic of Benin in 1990, and now holds free elections for president and government.
French is the official language of Benin, with at least eight indigenous languages also spoken, English is rare used. The nation consists of more than 60 ethnic groups including the Fon, Aja and Yoruba tribes. The most widespread religions are Christianity and Islam, however, Benin is the birthplace Vodun (Voodoo) and it is the principal religion of 18% of the population.
Benin is a small country and its national parks and culture are among the main tourist attractions. Benin’s largest city, Cotonou, has one of the finest cultural scenes in the region and a thriving nightlife. The Fondation Zinsou, a museum dedicated to contemporary African art, is superb. The sprawling Grand Marché du Dantokpa offers everything from pirated DVDs to voodoo fetish objects and is worth visiting for the spectacle as much as the shopping. Abomey is one of Benin’s main tourist attractions, with palaces that are designated a World Heritage Site and one of the most impressive museums of Africa. Possibly Benin’s most unusual attraction, the town of Ganvié is built entirely on stilts in the middle of a large lagoon. In Ouidah is the Route des Esclaves, a four-kilometer trail that was taken by slave before they shipped to the New World. Benin’s main holiday – the Voodoo Festival – is held in Ouidah in mid January
Some of the best wildlife areas in West Africa are found in north Benin, in Pendjari National Park and W National Park, where are wide variety of animals can be found.
The best time to visit is from November to February, when the temperature moderates, and the weather is dry with low humidity and from July to September, although temperatures are higher. The equatorial south of Benin experiences two rainy seasons of the year, from April to mid July and from mid-September through the end of October. The rainy period in the subequatorial north runs from March until October.
Today, Benin remains as an extremely poor country, and although not without its problems, it is today one of West Africa’s more stable democracies.
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