A Trip to Cotonou, Benin Republic

Travelogue

Zainab Balogun O.
8 min readJan 1, 2024
you can tell that it was fun

When Ahmed dropped by in a mutual group chat to say he was planning a 2-day trip to Benin Republic alongside some other people, I didn’t think twice before showing interest.

I’ve always wanted to travel out on a vacation, especially in 2023, no matter how short it would be & especially if I could afford it. It was a no-brainer, I was going to tag along.

Wednesday

Heading to the border

All 14 of us were prepped & ready to leave by bus on Wednesday morning as early as 8 am.

I particularly liked how everyone seemed enthusiastic about the trip ahead. We didn’t exactly know one another except from the group chat so after a round of introductions & putting names to faces, we forged ahead!

It was a quiet trip, music served as good company as per usual.

Getting to the border between Nigeria & Benin Republic too a little less than 3 hours. Quite shorter than expected.

Although we had a few stops getting there, uniformed men making sure all was well & carrying out their duties.

But now we were at the border & it was time to turn in documentation.

At the border

First of all, you’re not allowed to take pictures of the border. I don’t know why but it is what it is.

What you’re allowed to do however is to get down from the bus & stretch your legs because you’d be here a while.

After submitting passports & yellow fever cards, authentication had to be done with every individual getting their faces captured & answering some basic questions about their background. After this, you can get your passport stamped as a certified traveler into the foreign country.

The whole thing at the border surprisingly took a while. I think we spent almost 2 hours at the border before we were all cleared to go. Might not have taken as long as a solo traveler.

Post Border, entering Benin

The major thing that makes you aware you are now in another man’s land is the French-dominated banners & landmarks. Everything else was pretty much the same as in Lagos. By that, I mean the hustle & bustle culture & the hot weather.

But yes, we were now in Benin & it was time to change our Naira to CFAs which was a heartbreaking process because we suddenly became poorer.

The conversion rates are no longer as friendly as it used to be. Instead of double, we got our money halved meaning we couldn’t exactly ‘flex’ as foreigners. Phew

Money converted, heading to base

We were now headed to where we’d call home for the next 2 days. That was another journey, I naively thought entering Benin automatically meant home was close by.

It was 2 hours away but it was 2 hours of fawning over the new environment and comparing it to Lagos & Nigeria in general.

Everything was in French. And I could barely read my way through them. My 2 weeks of Duolingo lessons didn’t help much either.

The roads were smooth, free, and wide. It was a long but fine journey down to ‘Barbie House’ (the name I gave the house cos of the pink exterior)

our 2 day base in Cotonou; Barbie House

We finally reached, were welcomed nicely, everyone picked their rooms to settle in before going out to find something to eat.

Settling in

I wanted to try a local food so I opted for their pounded yam and groundnut soup mixture. It wasn’t at all bad. The soup was a new territory but not an unfriendly one. Their pounded yam was also softer than the usual ones I’ve had but it was tasty.

Culture shock was the addition of cheese alongside beef in the soup. I’d never seen that but I gobbled everything right up.

food x restaurant

After meals, the weather was still bright so we thought to go to the nearby beach to cool off into the evening. I mean we only had 2 days to spare so might as well utilize it to the fullest.

The beach was so breezy, clean, cool, and most importantly it was free & not in any way crowded. It was just the welcome into Benin Republic that I needed. We played with water, took pictures & generally just had fun. I loved every bit of it.

The sun was going down & it was time to head back home.

We didn’t.

Instead, we decided to check for any malls nearby to explore & again, compare. Luckily for us, the Everan mall was only about 3 mins away on bike & off we went!

Everan Mall was pretty big. It was shiny with Afropop music blasting (one solid thing Nigeria can boast of anywhere is good music).

Couldn’t do more than window shopping here because the prices were huge. Didn’t help that I was mentally converting it to Naira which only made matters worse. So we strolled about a bit & headed home to rest up for the activity-packed day ahead.

Thursday

Thursday started with a complimentary breakfast of the long, light but tasteless bread (probably the healthier version of bread) with butter & tea.

Then off we went on our Cotonou tour! (we hired a tour bus by the way)

Le Monument Amazone

it’s so huge

The first point of contact was the Amazon Monument Garden locally known as Le Monument Amazone.

“The monument entitled “Amazone” aims to establish a strong symbol honouring the women warriors of Danxomè, the first purely female army created by Queen Tassi Hangbé, the only woman to rule the kingdom from 1708 to 1711" — Afro impact.

Fun fact: at that time, the garden was being prepped to host their 2-day concert where Davido & some other Nigerian artists like Ayra Starr, etc would be. We didn’t plan to stay longer so we missed that.

the crew minus 2

Temple Des Python

Yep, a Python temple.

“The Temple of Pythons, also known as Temple des Pythons, is a sacred voodoo shrine located in Ouidah, Benin It is a concrete building with a clay roof and a pit filled with dozens of snakes from the Royal python species”

Here, we had a tour guide explaining the history of the place while showing us around.

If you wanted to get a picture with a Python around your neck (they’re supposedly harmless under supervision), you were allowed.

I wasn’t interested so I volunteered as a cameraman haha.

temple de python entrance

Next stop, Zinsou Foundation Museum

some art pieces from ‘Men Who Destroyed Nature’

…aka Musee de la Fondation Zinsou was only a stone's throw from the Python temple so we simply strolled in.

“The Zinsou Foundation Museum of African Art is a contemporary African art museum located in Ouidah, Benin Republic. Built in 1882 & established i 2005, the foundation provides free access to contemporary African arts.”

Even though it was free, we had a museum guide giving us the tea on the different art pieces available in every room.

Fun fact: the art pieces in the museum are changed every 6 months. So if I decide to visit another time, it’ll be a different experience. I think that’s pretty cool.

Last stop, Casa del Papa

Casa del Papa is a resort with a beach. It was quite far from the city so getting there via bus was a journey.

It’s a cool place to relax with friends/family. The ambiance was calm & they had good food. You could just decide to chill by the beach. Or sleep haha.

That was the last point of contact before heading home. The day had been pretty engaging & it was time to rest.

Thursday night ended with good food, drinks & my team losing at a game of charades.

Friday, goodbyes, back to the trenches

We’d had a fun 2 days but it was now time to go back to where we came.

But before that, we thought to enter a market, get souvenirs & gather ‘evidence’ that indeed we came to Cotonou.

Here, I met a pretty & friendly girl called Mariam. She’s from Ghana, speaks English & helps her aunty communicate with customers. Bought most of my items from here. She also helped me choose a bracelet. Wish I remembered to take a picture

Mariam’s pick

The journey back home was just as smooth. The bus broke down for a few minutes but we were back up & running in no time.

We had another round of passport stamping & capturing at the border before we were allowed to go.

Immediately I entered Nigeria, I could immediately tell. The traffic, noise, the differences between both countries were now clear.

But anyway, we all made it back home safely.

Can’t wait for my next major travel 🚀

Big shoutout to ahmed sanni for organizing the whole thing & ensuring everyone was well taken care of ❤

And another round of shoutout to everyone who came along on the trip. Such good sports.

Salut!

PS: if you enjoyed this then you should probably subscribe to my newsletter where I bring you monthly fun gist: ZigZag Zee

https://zigzagzee.substack.com/

a stacked view of the long graffiti wall

--

--

Zainab Balogun O.

advocate 4 humanity, quality TV shows & 💤. subscribe to my newsletter, some say it's fun https://zigzagzee.substack.com/