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Benin

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Benin is a country in West Africa. It borders Togo to the west, Nigeria to the east and Burkina Faso and Niger to the north.

Regions

Cities

  • Porto-Novo — The capital, if only in name
  • Abomey — Royal Palaces are on the UNESCO World Heritage List
  • Cotonou — Benin's largest city and de facto capital; site of the international airport
  • Grand Popo — Beach resort town close to the Togolese border
  • Kétou
  • Parakou — Largest city in the central region
  • Malanville — Largest city in the far north, lies on the Niger border
  • Natitingou — Largest city on the way to northern Togo or Burkina Faso.
  • Tanguiéta

Other destinations

  • Pendjari National Park
  • W National Park

Understand

Benin is a great country to visit on any West African itinerary. You'll find a large quantity of palatial ruins and temples of the once powerful Kingdom of Dahomey (1800s–1894). Moreover, Benin is the birthplace of Vodun (Voodoo) and all that goes with it—to this day Vodun remains the official religion of the country, and an important part of the life of ordinary Beninese. The national parks of Benin are also well worth a visit for their wildlife. Benin is also, fortunately, one of the most stable and safe countries of the region for traveling.

History

The Portuguese arrived in Benin's territory in the fifteenth century, and established significant trading posts in Benin's coastal areas. Soon following the Portuguese came French, Dutch, and British traders. Over time, Benin's coast developed into the largest center of the slave trade in Africa, run by the Fon people, who dominated the Dahomey government and actively sold their neighboring peoples to the Europeans. As the slave trade increased in volume (10,000–20,000 slaves shipped off per day), the coast of Benin became known as the Slave Coast. Around this time, the port cities of Porto-Novo and Ouida were founded and quickly became the largest and most commercially active cities in the country, while Abomey became the Dahomey capital.

The fall of the Dahomey Kingom was precipitated by the banning of slavery throughout Europe in the mid-19th century, followed by the French annexation of the territory under colonial rule. Much of the Dahomey leadership broke even in the annexation, being appointed to top government posts throughout all the French colonies in West Africa. In 1960, Dahomey gained its independence, under the name République du Dahomey, which set off a long and destabilizing series of coups. In the course of just one decade, 1960—1972, the government changed hands nine times, and experienced four violent coups.

In 1972, Major Mathieu Kérékou, a staunch Marxist, organized the fourth of the military coups, and renamed the country the People's Republic of Benin. Kérékou's regime proved more successful at maintaining power, and reorganized the country on his interpretation of the Maoist model. In 1989, the French government, in exchange for financial support of Benin's flailing economy, persuaded the Benin government to abandon its one-party Socialist rule, and to move to a multiparty republic. In 1990, the country was renamed the Republic of Benin, and in 1991, Benin held its first free elections with significant success, and Kereku lost to Nicephore Soglo—Benin was thus the first African nation to successfully coordinate a peaceful transfer of power from a dictatorship to a functioning democracy. Soglo remained president through 1996, but his administration was marred by poor economic performance, leading to his electoral defeat to Mathieu Kérékou in 1996, who ruled the country and maintained popularity despite corruption scandals until 2006. The current president of Benin is today Yayi Boni, a technocrat who served under the tutelage of former President Soglo.

Benin remains as an extremely poor country, suffering from poverty and corruption. Infrastructure remains very poor in condition, and the struggling economy is recovering after decades of political unrest.

Climate

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. The best time of the year to visit the country is from November to February, when the temperature moderates, and the weather is dry with low humidity.

Geography

Benin, compared to its neighbours, is geographically smaller, being 112,620km² or a similar size to Honduras or the US state of Ohio. The country is basically divided into five geographic zones, from south to north: the Coastal plain, the plateau, the elevated plateau and savannah, hills in the northwest, and fertile plains in the north.

People

The nation consists of more than 60 ethnic groups. The major tribes include the Fon (40%), Aja (15%), and Yoruba (12%) in the south of the country, and the Bariba (9%), Somba (8%), and Fulbe (6%) in the north.

The most widespread religion is Christianity (43%), predominantly in the south, and Islam in the north (24%). Most interesting for many visitors, however, is the strong influence of Vodun on Benin, practiced as a principal religion by a good 18% of the populace, and which was spread about the globe largely by the massive quantity of slaves exported by the Dahomey Kingdom.

Holidays

  • January 1: New Year's Day
  • January 10: Traditional Day (Fête de Vodoun)
  • August 1: Independence Day
  • October 26: Armed Forces Day
  • November 1: All Saints Day
  • November 30: National Day
  • December 25: Christmas
  • December 26: Boxing Day


Get in

Visas

Nationals of all African countries and Macau can enter Benin visa-free for up to 90 days. Hong Kong citizens can also enjoy visa free for 14 days.

Visas can be single entry (USD 40) or multiple entry (USD 45) and last 30 days. Visas cost USD 140 for US citizens. In Paris, a single entry visa costs €70 for all EU citizens.

Benin plans to introduce e-Visas from 1 January 2018.[1]

By plane

There are many international flights arriving at the main airport in Cotonou. From here you can connect to Paris, Amsterdam, Moscow, and a variety of cities in West Africa. In order to enter the country you will need proof that you have had a yellow fever shot, and this will need to be readily available at the airport.

By train

There are no international train services to Benin.

By car

There are land crossings with all bordering countries, but due to conflict, it is only recommended to cross the two coastal borders with Togo and Nigeria.

Get around

By bus

There is an extremely timely and reliable bus system that typically operates a tour-style bus through every major city in Benin every day, and even some international services in and out of Benin. There are many major lines with a range of quality of buses. The main systems are Confort Lines and Benin-Routes. Confort Lines seems to provide more of a variety of routes, and you even get some water and a little sandwich for long trips. Reservations for Confort Lines can be made in advance for CFA 500 at any regional office or by calling +229 21-325815. Bus lines run through: Porto-Novo, Cotonou, Calavey, Bohicon, Dassau, Parakou, Djougou, Natitingou, Tanguieta, Kandi, and even all the way up to Malanville.

Buses run on the two major paved roads running north and south, and you can have the bus stopped at any point you would like to get off at, and for differing rates. No discussion of prices is needed with the bus, as they use fixed rates. To give you an idea of prices, buses running from Cotonou to Natitingou (or vice versa) cost CFA 7,500 one way, and Cotonou to Parakou (or vice versa) costs CFA 5,500. These are examples, because there are also buses that go as far as Tanguieta and Malanville.

By bush taxi

Bush Taxi is possible between most cities, every day in major cities, periodically for the more remote ones. The total price for long distances will be a little higher than by bus, and comfort and security are significantly lower. Drivers are often trying to maximize the number of people in the car so one can expect an intimate experience with the local population. However, bush taxis do offer flexibility that the bus systems do not; you can always find a taxi fairly quickly (at the autogarres). For trips of 3 hours (approx 150km) or less, a bush taxi might be a more flexible and reasonable option. Unlike the buses though, prices must be discussed in advance. Cost depends on the destination and price of gas. Ask other passengers what they are paying and always try to pay on arrival, although the latter is not always possible. A decent option for travelers not trying to go on the cheap is to buy up all the seats in a bush taxi, or at least all the seats in one row. It not only avoids having to wait until the taxi driver has filled up every seat, but it's much more comfortable than being crammed in with lots of sweaty people! If you do this, you'll typically need to give the driver some money up front so he can buy petrol along the way.

By car

Hired drivers cost more and is the typical means of transport for foreigners. The price depends on the driver and a local (Beninois) helping to negotiate is recommended. For example, a three hour car ride from the south central region along the main highway costs CFA30,000-40,000 if the car is hired, but a bush taxi would cost CFA 5000-10,000.

Traffic is chaotic and the rules of the road are rarely enforced. If you are planning on driving yourself in Benin, an International Driver's Permit (IDP) is required. Traffic flows on the right hand side of the road as in the US and Canada.

Hiring a local guide is recommended.

Police roadblocks at night occur regularly and traveling alone with a driver (especially if you are a woman) may put the driver in an awkward position explaining and/or bribing the police.

Travelling by car is recommended only between major cities. For example, to travel from Cotonou to Porto Novo or Cotonou to Abomey. Most of the time, you would be required to share the car with many other travellers who are going it the same direction as you. Expect to be cramped and hot as most bush taxis are in hard shape and drivers try to cram as many people as possible into the car to make the trip as financially rewarding as possibly. However, if you want to throw the extra money, you can hire a car to take you personally where ever you want to go with no stops. The price would depend on the driver and you would definitely need a local (Beninois) to help you to negotiate the price or you will be taken advantage of. For example, a 3 hour car ride from the South Central region along the main highway would cost you CFA 30,000-40,000 if only 2 passengers are present, where as if you share the ride and pick people up on the way you would only spend CFA 5000-10,000. This of course all depends on if you have a local present or not. Travelling in such a manner is not recommended without a local present. The danger is minimal, but the financial price would be excessive. Also, random police roadblocks at night occur regularly as a way of policing the highways and if you were traveling alone with a driver (especially if you are a woman), it may put him in an awkward position explaining to the police and it may cost you more money. Traveling by car within the city is not recommended at all due to the fact that it is simply unnecessary and uneconomical. The best way to travel in any city or village is by motorcycle taxi. They are very cheap and the drivers know the city well. You can recognize them by their yellow shirts in most cities. Choose your driver carefully, drinking and driving in Benin is very common. These guys a very reliable if you need to go somewhere and enter a building for example, for a little extra money, they will wait outside for as long as you want; just make sure you don't pay them first! For example, you can go just about anywhere in Cotonou by zem (zémidjan = moto taxi) for as little as CFA 500-1,000if you get a local to negotiate. It is recommended to travel with a local as much as possible, mainly from a financial aspect. Also, driving yourself around in a car is not a good idea. The roads are mostly of hard packed sand, with a few paved main roads in the cities and on the highways between the major cities. Traffic is chaotic and there are no rules of the road. If you are planning on driving in Benin, an International Driver's license is required. Traffic drives on the same side of the road as the US and Canada.

By moto

The cheapest way to travel within a city or village is by motorcycle taxi (moto, zemidjan or zem). They are cheap and the drivers usually know the city well. An average ride costs between CFA 100-300, and they are easily recognizable by their matching colored shirts with their ID numbers on them. Prices must be discussed beforehand, and payment is made upon arrival. Remember the driver's ID number as you would a taxi driver's ID in New York City, just in case. Choose your driver carefully, drinking and driving in Benin is very common and moto drivers are sometimes involved in crime rings in major cities.

Motos have colors for different cities (for example): Cotonou: yellow Natitingou: green with yellow shoulders or light blue with yellow shoulders Kandi: light blue with yellow shoulders Parakou: yellow with green shoulders Kérou: green with yellow shoulders

By boat

There are many pirogues (kayak/canoe) used for the fishing industry. Normally one can use a pirogue to visit the lake villages.

By train

There is a train route that goes halfway up the country, from Cotonou to Parakou, run by L’Organisation Commune Benin-Niger des Chemins de Fer et Transports (2132 2206). While the train takes longer than a bush taxi, it's a much more relaxing way of traveling. First class tickets are only slightly more expensive than second class ones and are worth the extra expenditure. The train leaves Cotonou three times a week (Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday) at 8AM precisely, arriving at Parakou about 6:30PM, and returns the next day, leaving at 8AM from the Parakou train station, arriving 6:30PM in Cotonou. First class costs CFA 5600, while second costs CFA 4000.

The trains on these schedules will usually stop at Bohicon, which is 4 hours from Cotonou. The fare costs CFA 1400 for first class, and CFA 1100 for second.

A tour company also hires out colonial-period trains for multiple-day touring trips at expensive, but good value prices (CFA 50,000+)

Talk

The official language is French — the language of the former colonial power. Native African languages such as Fon and Yoruba are spoken in the south, Bariba and Dendi in the north, and over 50 other African languages and dialects are spoken in the country. English is on the rise.

See

Benin is perhaps best known to the world as the birthplace of the Vodun religion—voodoo. Voodoo temples, roadside fetishes, and fetish markets are found throughout the country, but the best known is the skull and skin-filled fetish market in the Grande Marche du Dantopka—Cotonou's overwhelmingly busy, enormous, and hectic grand market. The most important fetish in the country is the monstruous Dankoli fetish, on the northerly road near Savalou, which is a pretty good spot for beseeching gods.

Benin under the rule of the Dahomey kings was a major center of the slave trade, and the Route des Esclaves in Ouidah, terminating at the beachside Point of No Return monument is a memorial to those who were kidnapped, sold, and sent off to the other side of the world. Ouidah's local museum, housed in a Portuguese fort, unsurprisingly focuses on the slave trade, in addition to other facets of local culture, religion, and history, and is a real must see for anyone passing through the country.

Abomey was the capital of the Dahomey Empire, and its ruined temples and royal palaces, now a UNESCO World Heritage site, are one of the country's top attractions. The ruins, their bas-reliefs, and the Abomey Historical Museum in the royal palace (which contains all sorts of macabre tapestries and even a throne of human skulls) are a testament to the wealth brought to the Dahomey kings from the slave trade, and brutality with which they oppressed their enemies, fodder for human sacrifice and bondage.

Ganvie, home to 30,000 whose ancestors fled the brutal Dahomey kings by building their town on stilts right in the center of Lake Nokoué, is without question a fascinating and naturally beautiful locale, and a popular stop as one of the largest of West Africa's lake towns. But it has been to an extent ruined by the unpleasant relationship between locals and tourism. (Ghana may have much more rewarding experiences for travelers interested in West African lake towns.)

While manic Cotonou is the country's largest city and economic center, Porto Novo, the capital, is small and one of West Africa's more pleasant capitals. Most of the country's major museums are located here amidst the crumbling architectural legacy of French colonial rule. Grand Popo is the other popular city for tourists to relax, but not for the city itself as much as the beaches.

In the north, you'll find a very different sort of Benin from the mostly crowded, polluted cities of the south, of which Cotonou is such a prominent example. Pendjari National Park and W National Park (which Benin shares with Burkina Faso and Niger), is considered West Africa's best for wildlife viewing, and are set in beautiful, hilly highlands.

The unique and eccentric mud and clay tower-houses, known as tata, of the Somba people in the north, west of Djougou near the Togolese border, are a little-known extension into Benin of the types of dwellings used by the Batammariba people of Togo just west. Virtually all tourists to this area flock to the UNESCO-designated Koutammakou Valley across the border; the Benin side has the advantage of being even off the beaten path.

Do

Buy

Money

The currency of the country is the West African CFA franc, denoted CFA (ISO currency code: XOF). It's also used by seven other West African countries. It is interchangeable at par with the Central African CFA franc (XAF), which is used by six countries. Both currencies are fixed at a rate of 1 euro = 655.957 CFA francs.

There are banks in all the major cities, and most of the banks have cash machines. Keep in mind that many businesses and offices, including banks, close for several hours in the middle of the day.

Prices for goods purchased in a store, restaurant, hotel, bus tickets, etc. are non-negotiable, but almost everything else is. Depending on the item, it's not uncommon for foreigners to be quoted a price that is double the final purchase price.

One can find any type of African commodity all over Benin.

ATMs

  • MasterCard/Visa can be used to withdraw cash at the ATMs of Ecobank, Banque Atlantique, BIBE, and SGB.

Eat

In every city/village one will find street vendors selling anything from beans and rice to grilled chicken, goat and/or turkey. Prices are nominal. But one must be careful, always choose a vendor whose food is still hot, and they have taken care to keep the bowls covered with a lid and/or cloth.

Signature dishes

  • Kuli-Kuli
  • Boulets de Poulet avec Sauce Rough (Chicken Meatballs with Red Sauce)

Drink

The beer is cheap and good! Local pubs (buvettes) are on every corner in every neighborhood. You can get a bottle of local beer "La Béninoise", Heineken, Guinness, Castel and others depending on the bar. They all cost about CFA 250 for a small bottle or CFA 500 for a large bottle. In the nightclubs beer is excessively expensive, like CFA 30,000 a bottle! So stick to the local pubs, or avoid buying beer at the nightclub. There is also the local vin de palme (palm wine), an alcoholic beverage that is made from the sap of the palm tree. A fermented palm liquor (Sodabi) is also available, it costs about CFA 2000 for a liter and it is very strong stuff.

Sleep

Benin's sleeping habit is a vast contrast compared to Westerners. While most rise before the crack of dawn, they all work hard straight til Noon:30, when most take a 2-1/2 hour siesta. Then it's back to work for 3 hours.

Depending on how far they've commuted to work, most are back home by 7PM. The next 3 hours are consumed by preparing dinner, TV, dancing or mingling with friends and neighbors. Then it's time for bed around 10PM, to rest and do it all over again tomorrow.

Stay safe

The best way to stay safe in Benin is to always always always be in the presence of a local person whom you can trust, such as a friend or even a hired tourist guide. They know which areas are safe and which are not, they know the prices of things so you won't get ripped off, they speak the native languages, they know which venues sell good food that is safe for westerners to eat.

For women, avoid travelling alone, try to be in the company of other people as much as possible. Do not travel at night alone: attacks along the beaches are frequent, and of course near hotels, nightclubs and other venues. Ignore any person who whistles at you during the night if you are alone. Benin is a peaceful country and the people are very kind and generous, but muggings and robberies occur everywhere, no matter how peaceful the place seems, so be on guard. If you are a victim of a crime, contact the Gendarme (Police) immediately.

Homosexuality is legal in Benin, though social stigmatization might cause you problems. It's better not to flaunt it and not to talk about it randomly with local people.

Stay healthy

Watch what you eat/drink and where you eat/drink it. If you are going to eat street food, make sure it is served very very hot, since bacteria will not live in hot food. The most common causes of sickness is E.coli bacteria found in undercooked meat.

Drinking water is readily available, if you want bottled water there is "Possatome"- a natural spring water bottled in the city with the same name. It is very good and about CFA 500 a bottle. In Cotonou, the tap water is safe to drink but is treated with chlorine which some people may be sensitive to.

Malaria is a reality in Benin. Mosquitoes appear from dusk to dawn, and they use standing water as a breeding ground. Medications are available by prescription only. The only compulsory vaccination needed to enter the country is against Yellow Fever. The customs agents at the airport generally do not check to see if you have it, but it is strongly advised to get it before entering for your own health. Along with vaccines against polio, hepatitis A and B, Measles, Mumps, Rubella, Lock Jaw, Rabies and all the other standard childhood vaccines (as per Canadian public school standards).

AIDS is an issue in Benin as in all sub-Saharan African countries; use of a condom is highly recommended if entering into a sexual relationship with a Beninese partner. Other risks pertaining to unprotected sex are the same as in any other country whether developed or not: Syphilis, Chlamydia, HPV, etc.

If traveling to Benin it is highly recommended that you speak to a doctor who specializes in travel. Ask your family doctor or public health nurse for the name of a travel clinic in your area. Go to them about 6 months prior to travel to Benin if possible. This information is designed as a guide and should not be taken as an expert account on how to stay healthy in Benin, only a licensed health professional can provide such information.

Respect


Connect



Exercise a high degree of caution

The decision to travel is your responsibility. You are also responsible for your personal safety abroad. The purpose of this Travel Advice is to provide up-to-date information to enable you to make well-informed decisions.

The security situation is generally stable. However, you should be vigilant at all times and avoid demonstrations, large crowds and public areas where unrest may occur.

Northeast Benin

Be particularly vigilant in regions bordering Nigeria (specifically, the northern portion of the Benin-Nigeria border—because of potential incursions by Nigerian militants.

Crime

Petty crimes such as purse snatching and pickpocketing occur, but are not as common as in other West African countries. Muggings and robberies are a significant problem in Cotonou, where incidents usually occur near the port, near railways and along the beaches near hotels frequented by international visitors. Armed robbery, especially at night, has increased in Cotonou and is common in the area bordering Nigeria. Carjackings are on the rise throughout the country. Avoid driving and walking after nightfall. Do not show signs of affluence and ensure that your personal belongings and travel documents are secure, particularly in the Dantokpa market.

Piracy

Pirate attacks occur in coastal waters and, in some cases, farther out at sea. Mariners should take appropriate precautions. For additional information, consult the Live Piracy Report published by the International Maritime Bureau.

Fraud

Canadians have been the victims of Internet scams originating in Benin. Scammers will offer enticing business or financial opportunities. Be wary of unsolicited emails. Ensure that any business opportunity is legitimate before travelling to Benin.

Other scams involve online friendships or romances. There are many variations, all with the intent of scamming money from people abroad; some Canadians have lost thousands of dollars and, in some cases, have been arrested as a result of such situation.

Credit card fraud is also a considerable problem. Limit your use of credit cards whenever possible. See our Overseas Fraud page for more information on scams abroad.

Road travel

Road conditions range from fair to poor. Be careful of broken-down vehicles and potholes, as these often force traffic to switch lanes without warning. There are paved roads in Cotonou and along the coast, and one leading north to Niger. Other roads are made of hard-packed sand and may become impassable during the rainy seasons. Local driving habits, inadequate lighting, motorcycle traffic and overloaded trucks pose additional hazards. Avoid overland travel after dark, particularly on the coastal highway, in the regions bordering Togo and Nigeria, and on the road linking Cotonou and Parakou. In case of an accident resulting in an injury to a resident, take the individual directly to the hospital. If witnesses react strongly, go immediately to the nearest police station.

Fuel shortages are frequent in rural areas of northern Benin.

Public transportation

Public transportation in Cotonou, including moped taxis, is not reliable.

Buses can be used for travel within Benin.

Consult our Transportation Safety page in order to verify if national airlines meet safety standards.

General safety recommendations

Tourist facilities are available in Cotonou, which is the main port and largest city in Benin, but are limited elsewhere.

Ocean currents are very strong along the coast. Many people drown each year. Exercise caution and avoid visiting beaches alone.

Emergency assistance

Dial 117 for police, 118 for fire and 21 30 17 69 or 21 30 06 56 for ambulance services.

Health

Related Travel Health Notices
Consult a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic preferably six weeks before you travel.
Vaccines

Routine Vaccines

Be sure that your routine vaccines are up-to-date regardless of your travel destination.

Vaccines to Consider

You may be at risk for these vaccine-preventable diseases while travelling in this country. Talk to your travel health provider about which ones are right for you.

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a disease of the liver spread by contaminated food or water. All those travelling to regions with a risk of hepatitis A infection should get vaccinated.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a disease of the liver spread through blood or other bodily fluids. Travellers who may be exposed (e.g., through sexual contact, medical treatment or occupational exposure) should get vaccinated.

Influenza

Seasonal influenza occurs worldwide. The flu season usually runs from November to April in the northern hemisphere, between April and October in the southern hemisphere and year round in the tropics. Influenza (flu) is caused by a virus spread from person to person when they cough or sneeze or through personal contact with unwashed hands. Get the flu shot.

Measles

Measles occurs worldwide but is a common disease in developing countries, particularly in parts of Africa and Asia. Measles is a highly contagious disease. Be sure your vaccination against measles is up-to-date regardless of the travel destination.
 

Meningitis

This country is in the African Meningitis Belt, an area where there are many cases of meningococcal disease. Meningococcal disease (meningitis) is a serious and sometimes fatal infection of the tissue around the brain and the spinal cord. Travellers who may be at high risk should consider getting vaccinated. High-risk travellers include those living or working with the local population (e.g., health care workers), those travelling to crowded areas or taking part in large gatherings, or those travelling for a longer period of time.

Polio

There is a risk of polio in this country. Be sure that your vaccination against polio is up-to-date.

Rabies

Rabies is a disease that attacks the central nervous system spread to humans through a bite, scratch or lick from a rabid animal. Vaccination should be considered for travellers going to areas where rabies exists and who have a high risk of exposure (i.e., close contact with animals, occupational risk, and children).

Typhoid

Typhoid is a bacterial infection spread by contaminated food or water. Risk is higher among travellers going to rural areas, visiting friends and relatives, or with weakened immune systems. Travellers visiting regions with typhoid risk, especially those exposed to places with poor sanitation should consider getting vaccinated.

Yellow Fever Vaccination

Yellow fever is a disease caused by the bite of an infected mosquito.

Travellers get vaccinated either because it is required to enter a country or because it is recommended for their protection.

* It is important to note that country entry requirements may not reflect your risk of yellow fever at your destination. It is recommended that you contact the nearest diplomatic or consular office of the destination(s) you will be visiting to verify any additional entry requirements.
Risk
  • There is a risk of yellow fever in this country.
Country Entry Requirement*
  • Proof of yellow fever vaccination is required for travellers from all countries.
Recommendation
  • Vaccination is recommended.
  • Discuss travel plans, activities, and destinations with a health care provider.
  • Protect yourself from mosquito bites.
Food/Water

Food and Water-borne Diseases

Travellers to any destination in the world can develop travellers' diarrhea from consuming contaminated water or food.

In some areas in West Africa, food and water can also carry diseases like cholera, hepatitis A, schistosomiasis and typhoid. Practise safe food and water precautions while travelling in West Africa. Remember: Boil it, cook it, peel it, or leave it!

Cholera

There have been cases of cholera reported in this country in the last year. Cholera is a bacterial disease that typically causes diarrhea. In severe cases it can lead to dehydration and even death.

Most travellers are generally at low risk. Humanitarian workers and those visiting areas with limited access to safe food and water are at higher risk. Practise safe food and water precautions. Travellers at high risk should get vaccinated.

Schistosomiasis

Schistosomiasis is caused by blood flukes (tiny worms) spread to humans through contaminated water. The eggs of the worms can cause stomach illnesses like diarrhea and cramps or urinary problems. Risk is generally low for most travellers. Avoid swimming in contaminated water. There is no vaccine available for schistosomiasis.

Travellers' diarrhea
  • Travellers' diarrhea is the most common illness affecting travellers. It is spread from eating or drinking contaminated food or water.
  • Risk of developing travellers’ diarrhea increases when travelling in regions with poor sanitation. Practise safe food and water precautions.
  • The most important treatment for travellers' diarrhea is rehydration (drinking lots of fluids). Carry oral rehydration salts when travelling.

Insects

Insects and Illness

In some areas in West Africa, certain insects carry and spread diseases like African trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness), chikungunya, Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever, dengue fever, leishmaniasis, lymphatic filariasis, malaria, onchocerciasis, Rift Valley feverWest Nile virus and yellow fever.

Travellers are advised to take precautions against bites.


Malaria

Malaria

  • There is a risk of malaria throughout the year in the whole country.
  • Malaria is a serious and occasionally fatal disease that is spread by mosquitoes. There is no vaccine against malaria.
  • Protect yourself from mosquito bites. This includes covering up, using insect repellent and staying in well-screened air-conditioned accommodations. You may also consider sleeping under an insecticide-treated bednet or pre-treating travel gear with insecticides.
  • See a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic, preferably six weeks before you travel to discuss the benefits of taking antimalarial medication and to determine which one to take.

Animals

Animals and Illness

Travellers are cautioned to avoid contact with animals, including dogs, monkeys, snakes, rodents, birds, and bats. Certain infections found in some areas in West Africa, like avian influenza and rabies, can be shared between humans and animals.


Person-to-Person

Person-to-Person Infections

Crowded conditions can increase your risk of certain illnesses. Remember to wash your hands often and practice proper cough and sneeze etiquette to avoid colds, the flu and other illnesses.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV are spread through blood and bodily fluids; practise safer sex.

HIV

HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a virus that attacks and impairs the immune system, resulting in a chronic, progressive illness known as AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome). 

Practise safe sex while travelling, and don’t share needles, razors, or other objects which could transmit infection.

Remember that HIV can also be spread through the use of unsterile medical equipment during medical and dental procedures, tattooing, body piercing or acupuncture. Diseases can also be spread though blood transfusions and organ transplantation if the blood or organs are not screened for HIV or other blood-borne pathogens.


Medical services and facilities

Medical services and facilities

Medical facilities are adequate in Cotonou, but supplies of medicine are limited throughout the country.

Keep in Mind...

The decision to travel is the sole responsibility of the traveller. The traveller is also responsible for his or her own personal safety.

Be prepared. Do not expect medical services to be the same as in Canada. Pack a travel health kit, especially if you will be travelling away from major city centres.

You are subject to local laws. Please refer to our Arrest and Detention FAQ for more information.

Laws and illegal activities

Penalties for possession, use or trafficking of illegal drugs are strict, and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines. If you are travelling with prescription medicine, carry proof of your prescription.

Sexual relations with minors under 21 years of age are illegal and severely punished by law.

Although homosexuality is not illegal, it is not socially accepted. Homosexual behaviour could lead to arrest under laws such as indecent exposure.

Do not take pictures of military zones, airports or government offices. You should ask permission before taking any picture.

An International Driving Permit is required.

Culture

Exercise common sense and discretion in dress and behaviour. You should respect religious and social traditions to avoid offending local sensitivities.

Money

The currency is the African Financial Community franc, or CFA franc (XOF).

Climate

In the south, the rainy seasons occur from April to mid-July and mid-September to October. In the north, the rainy season extends from June to September. Unpaved roads can become impassable during a rainy season. The harmattan, a burning, dusty and sand-filled wind, blows in from the desert from December to March. Keep informed of regional weather forecasts and plan accordingly.

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