Porto Novo is the capital city of Benin and former French capital of Dahomey. If you have visited Cotonou first, you will probably struggle to understand why Porto Novo is the official capital city, the population is only around 250,000 and the pace is much more leisurely than Cotono. The influence of the Portugeuse in this area are still clear to see in the present day. Sights in the city include the Royal Palace and gardens as well as the museum of Porto Novo kings.
It may not be the true capital city of Benin but Cotonou sure does feel like it. The city is an intense blast of urban energy combined with African charm. If it is your first time in Africa, the city can be a little bit daunting and full on but for those willing to risk the adventure, Cotonou has plenty of rewards These rewards include a number of stunning paradise beaches with golden sand and palm trees.The Pendjari National Park is also a must see in Cotonou and is seen as one of the leading animal reserves in Africa. For those looking for a more obscure attraction, the “Fetish Market” sells a large variety of dead animals for voodoo festival celebrations.
Ouidah is a city that has a mix of influence from the French and the Portuguese due to various events in history. The city is located about 40km away from Cotonou and in contrast is more relaxed. If you are interested in African history (and you should be) then this city should be top of your itinerary. It has fantastic museums exploring slavery and voodoo. If all the history gets too much for you, there are more stunning beaches to laze on in Ouidah too.
The town of Grand-Popo has an intriguing history mainly due to the important role it played in the slave trade. The town oozes with African charm and the people are friendly. The town is about an hours drive from Cotonou and offers a perfect change of pace from the busy city. There are many backside hotels and resorts in the town and the beaches are a great place to relax and swim. The nearby Mono River is a great place to walk and offers a chance to see mangroves and exotic bird life.
Located a convenient 50km away from the Pendjari National Park, the city of Natitingou also has some of its own attractions that make it a worth stop off on a tour of Benin. The city has its own museum which is based in a French colonel building and documents the lifestyle of the Somba people. In fact the city of Natitingou is one of the best places to see the Somba people’s way of life and methods of building. Natitingou is also a great place to see Shea butter being made.
Bohicon is more of a place to pass through than to actually spend an extended period of time visiting. The town is an almost entirely modern place but it is well worth visiting the market, which is arguably the biggest and the best in Benin. The difference between the bustling market and the relative calm of nearby Abomey is startling. The busiest times for the market are in the mornings, so these should be avoided if possible (unless of course you thrive on the chaos).