Sandwiched between Togo to the West, and Nigeria to the East, this key shaped country will provide a diversity of activities, no matter how mild or spicy a traveler’s interests may be! Whether surfing off the coast of pristine beaches, or touring the magnificent ruins of palaces and temples from the slave trade days, time spent in Benin promises to excite. In the motherland of voodoo, one of many national religions, you can bear witness to the happenings at various fetish markets. Be careful not to go into sensory overload in these local markets surrounded by the many vibrant people in colourful traditional dress. By chatting with locals, learn about the diversity of languages, religions, and cultures that are thriving in Benin as a result of many waves of migration. Visit with elephants, monkeys, lions, hippopotamuses, buffalo and antelopes, to name only a few Benin animal friends, at National wildlife parks. Whatever your choice of experiences know that they’ll be accessed with few hassles in what Lonely Planet has labeled as one of the easiest countries to travel in West Africa.
Location: Ouidah, a small charming city with cobblestone streets. It was a previous centre for slave trading and is the voodoo capital of West Africa.
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Accommodation: Self-catering apartment shared with other volunteers. Guesthouse is stocked with toiletries and food basics such as salt, sugar, tea, & coffee. A Beninoise meal will be cooked for you each week.
Population: 9 Million
Religion: 42% Christian, 24% Muslim, 17% Voodoun, 15.5% Other
Language: French is official language. FOn & Yoruba is spoken widely in the South, six major tribal languages in the North
Poverty Line: -37% of the country’s population lives below the poverty line
Interesting Tidbit: You can marvel at the nation’s most striking and best-known practice, one that has gained significant social and political power—Voodoo. On a visit to Pendjari park, see one of the last habitats of the Painted Hunting Dog, Lycaon pictus.
Benin is tropical, hot and humid in the South, and semi-arid in the North. Dry season is from December to April.
- Is a visa required?: Yes
- Allocation of Tourist Visa: Before you depart
- Duration of Tourist visa: Up to 3 years
- Cost of Tourist Visa: Varies, but you can expect to pay $100
- Tourist Visa Extension: No
- Cost of Tourist Visa Extension: Not Applicable
- Passport validation: 6 months required before expiry
- Return/onward flight ticket: May be required
- Confirmation of Funds: May be required
- For more information visit the websites of Benin representation abroad:
- Currency: West African CFA (XOF)
- Inform Banks: Give the dates of travel and destinations to prevent security blocks on your bank and credit cards.
- Cash: Always take enough cash to cover your expenses for the first week in case there is a problem with your bank cards or access to ATM’s is limited.
- Credit Options: Good idea to have at least two different credit/debit card options i.e. MasterCard, Visa, Maestro, or Cirrus.
- Travellers Cheques: Not recommended as they will be difficult to cash.
- Western Union: If at any time you have any problems in accessing money you can use Western Union transfer. Money can be sent from your home country and received in Benin the same day.
- Vaccinations: Yellow fever (and proof of vaccination) is required. All other vaccinations are recommended. You must contact your local health clinic or family doctor for any medical advice.
- Malaria medication: Recommended
- Other Medications: Before leaving you should visit your travel clinic or family doctor for information on other medications you may need while travelling.
- Click here for up to date travel health information.
Originally, Benin was under the reign of Dahomey, an affluent West African empire. In 1872, the region was colonized by the French until it became an independent nation in 1960. By 1972 a sequence of military governments collapsed and Mathiew Kerekou came into power instilling a government with a strong base in Marx and Lenin philosophies. The country was named Dahomey, after the tribe, until 1975 when it was renamed the Republic of Benin. Steps towards a representative government started in 1989, and a couple of years later a free election occurred and Prime Minister Nicephore Soglo was ushered in, establishing a transition of power from a dictatorship to a democracy. Kerekou eventually stepped down, and Thomas Yayi Boni took over; although Yayi was a political outsider and an independent he has made the fight against corruption a priority and has been committed to the country’s economic development.
The country has excess mortality rates due to AIDS, and therefore lower life expectancy, higher infant mortality, higher death rates, lower population growth rates.
See & Do
-Visit the National parks of Pendjari (in the North West) and The ‘W’ National Park (in the North).
-Hang out at the beaches, Grand Popo and Ouidah.
-Browse local markets in Cotonou (the Dan Tokpa), as well as in Boukombe in the northwest of the country; in the latter market you will find extraordinary pieces made by the Somba people, who live in this region.
-Ganvie is a lake village 11miles northwest from Cotonou; many of the houses there were built on stilts. Be sure to check out the water-market.
-The Temple of the Sacred Python and an old Portuguese fort, both worth seeing, are located in the town of Ouidah.
-Trek Mount Sokbaro, the highest peak at 658 metres.
Your Exchange Manager is the in-country representative who manages aspects of your placement overseas including lodging, language lessons, organization placement, and country specific advice.
Jules Koffi kan Djaha (BComm. MA) – Exchange Manager Benin
Jules worked with AIESEC, an international youth organization, for five years. With AIESEC he discovered the power of living diversity. Jules has a passion for both business and the non-profit sector. He took up the role as Exchange Manager in Benin to help his continent which is faced by seemingly more and more challenges every day. Jules has been a part of the team from the inception of The Humanity Exchange. Jules wants to help volunteers discover that travel in Africa can change both a volunteer’s life and the lives of the Africans they meet. Working as Exchange Manager in Benin is a way Jules is able to realize his dream of doing something good for “his dear Africa.”
FAQ – Benin
Where will I live in Ouidah?
You will live in a relatively new district called Gbena. It is safe and secure, and located near the main road to Cotonou. Internet cafes, markets, and the city centre are within walking distance.
How will I manage if I don’t speak French? You will learn. In a very short amount of time you will learn the basics for getting around the city, buying your own food and taking your transport. Your Exchange Manager will assist you with this, and you will find you will build your confidence in speaking French in a short amount of time.
How will I get around the city? Shared taxis and moto-taxis are everywhere. We recommend taking shared taxis as they are safer. Moto-taxis are small motorbikes which take passengers around the city quickly.
Ouidah is the centre of of voodoo culture, should I be worried about this?
Voodoo, and the religion Vodoun, is practiced throughout Sub-Saharan Africa and is particularly strong in Benin, where it originated. The local people are tolerant of your beliefs and, as with other locally practiced religions, you only learn about it if you like. You will have the opportunity to attend voodoo festivals from time to time (generally no photos are allowed), peruse fetish markets, and visit local voodoo sites. Though westerners may associate it with negative connotations of black magic, it is simply viewed as another religious belief in Benin. It is a culture like any other that you have the opportunity to learn about if you wish.
I have only one month and basic French. I would like to do volunteer activities that use my university education rather than basic activities like caring for children. Is this possible?
It will be unrealistic to meet this request. It is not that we are not willing to accommodate. Rather, if you have one month do volunteer activities which require administration, reading, writing, and speaking in French, but you don’t speak French, you will get frustrated. Think, for example, if a foreigner was to come into your workplace for one month and did not speak English. No matter how skilled this person is, he or she will not be able to share these skills in a language that you and your co-workers understand.
If you are starting with basic French and have only one month, we would recommend volunteering with children, as an intermediate level of French (or having the time to learn more French) is not needed. Yet, you will have the opportunity to improve your French in this setting. Alternatively, if the work experience is a greater priority for you than learning French, we would recommend volunteering in a region where English is the working language.
What is the local food like?
The corn, rice, yams, potatoes, and plantains are the local staples. There are also many fresh vegetables like carrots, avocados, onions, hot peppers, tomatoes, and okra, as well as a variety of edible leaves that locals use to make sauces. Soups with fish or meat are common. One of the famous local soups is “Kpêtê,” an original soup with goat’s meat and blood. Baguettes are common and sold on almost every street corner.