Benin is a tropical destination, so it has a distinct rainy and dry season. Generally, visitors will want to book their trip during the dry season, which stretches from November through to February. The humidity will be lower and temperatures will be hot, making this time of year ideal for beach holidays. Try to avoid the very hottest times of year, generally between February and April.
Possessing some fascinating sights, located near great and unspoilt beaches, and offering the opportunity to see the stunning wildlife of the region, Cotonou is west Africa’s pearl.
The capital of Benin is a lively seaport which is also the very centre of the country’s economic life. This means that you will always be able to find essentials, but also that the city has some exceptional markets where souvenirs and local foods are on offer.
There are also plenty of attractions within the city. Head to Cotonou Cathedral, one of French West Africa’s most beautiful religious buildings. Head to the Haie Vive district, with its bustling collection of restaurants serving food from around the world (and its vibrant bars supplying all of the nightlife you could need). Or learn about the best of contemporary West African art at institutions like the Fondation Zisou.
Another advantage of Cotonou is that the sea is on its doorstep, and the coast near the city has some gorgeous beaches. Visit the newly renamed Obama Beach, which is patrolled by security guards and is completely tourist friendly. Or venture further afield to resorts like the sublime Casa del Papa.
Benin is also small enough to make exploring the interior easy from a hotel in Cotonou. Join adventure tours into the jungle or historical tours to see the relics of the once-dominant Dahomey Culture. See villages raised on stilts at Lake Nokoue or learn about the Voodoo culture at the city of Ouidah.
Wildlife fans will also be in heaven. Take a trip to the Pendjari National Park in the north of Benin to see lions, water buffalo and elephants in their natural habitat, or trek through the magnificent Atakora Mountains with expert guides.
Cotonou does not have a bus network, and locals get around this by using taxis extensively. Many also use “motos”, a kind of communal taxi service using scooters or motorbikes – which are far cheaper than cars (but possibly a little less reliable). Always negotiate a fare before travelling, as there are no taxi meters.
Cotonou is served by Cadjehoun Airport (COO), which is not far from the city centre and reaching your hotel should be simple. Most major hotels will offer shuttle buses to meet every flight, so check that your accommodation provides this. Otherwise, there will always be a scrum of taxi drivers waiting to assist, but be sure to negotiate a price before leaving.