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TOP DESTINATIONS IN BENIN

The birthplace of voodoo and a pivotal platform of the slave trade for nearly three centuries, Benin is steeped in a rich and complex history still very much in evidence across the country.

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Abomey

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If you're looking to immerse yourself in ancient Beninese history, one of the best places to start is Abomey. The name is mythical, and not without reason: Abomey, 144km northwest of Cotonou was the capital of the fierce Dahomey Kingdom and a force colonial powers had to reckon with for centuries. Its winding lanes dotted with palaces and temples, Abomey is shrouded with a palpable historical aura and filled with character.

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Ouidah

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Some 42km west of Cotonou is Ouidah, a relaxed, relatively prosperous town and a must-see for anyone interested in voodoo or Benin's history of slavery. From the 17th to the late 19th century, captured countrymen from across West Africa left Ouidah for the Americas.

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Agongointo-Zoungoudo Underground Town

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The underground town of Agongointo-Zoungoudo is located approximately 9 km from Abomey, in Central Benin. The city was discovered in 1998 by the Danish company DANIDA, also a UNESCO world heritage site. It consists of a series of bunkers and other housing structures around 10m deep underground, built in an apparent effort to provide dwelling as well as protection for warriors.

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Boukoumbe, Koussoukoingou and the Tata Somba villages

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Boukoumbe or Boukombe is a town, arrondissement and commune in north western Benin on the border with Togo. It is known for its market, its whipping ceremony and for its tradition of pipe making. Mount Kousso-Kovangou, the highest point in Benin, lies nearby.

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Cotonou

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Cotonou is Benin's capital in everything but name: a vibrant, bustling, full-on city, and very much the economic engine of Benin. As a first port of call, it can be a little overwhelming, but life can be sweet in Cotonou, with good nightlife, great restaurants and excellent shopping (ideal for end-of-trip souvenirs)

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Kokokodji, relax at Bab's Dock

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The location is a hidden gem near the Route des Peches is this secluded retreat on the edge of the lagoon. Almost everything is made of local wood - the tables, the bar, the deck. You can swim in the shallow (but somewhat murky) waters of the lagoon, canoe and even sail or just relax in a hammock.

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Ganvie stilt village

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The village of Ganvie, in Benin, is the only human settlement in the world, built on stilts, in the middle of a lake, several kilometers from the nearest shore.But people don�t just go ahead and build themselves a home, in the middle of a lake, they must have a serious reason.

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Ketou, rich Yoruba voodoo culture

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Ketou is a Yoruba town, arrondissement and Commune located in the Plateau department. It covers 2183 square kilometers and had 100,499 people in 2002. The Commune is located in the North by Save' and Dassa-Zoume', south by Pobe, East by Nigeria Federal Republic and West by Zagnanado and Ouinhi.

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Parc National de la Pendjari

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Surrounded by the beautiful Atakora Mountains, the Pendjari is probably the best park in West Africa. It has 'big-ticket� wildlife - lions, elephants, cheetahs, baboons - and plenty more for those with the patience to seek it.

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Natitingou and the Kota falls

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Affectionately known as Nati, Natitingou is the most vibrant town in northern Benin and is a fabulous base for excursions to the nearby Atakora Mountains and the Parc National de la Pendjari. It is also a good location for Tata Somba village experience.

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Parakou

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The word Parakou means 'a city for everyone' and is derived from a local tribal word. Parakou is one of the largest cities in Benin and serves as the terminus for the Benin - Niger Railways. It is essentially Benin's final port of call before goods move along the Niger River.

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Porto Novo

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Nestling on the shores of Lake Nokoue, Porto Novo is Benin's unlikely capital. Its leafy streets, wonderful colonial architecture, unperturbed pace and interesting museums are in striking contrast to full-on Cotonou.

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Possotome & Lake Aheme

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The fertile shores of Lake Aheme are a wonderful place to spend a few days, particularly around Possotome, the area's biggest village. It's even possible to swim in the lake

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Taneka villages

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The Taneka village is 25km to the northwest of Djougou. The villages houses are made of round huts covered with conical roof which is typical of Gurunsi architecture in Burkina Faso. The villages have fascinating masterpieces of architectural molded mud houses on a rocky hillside scattered over a wide settlement.

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Savalou and the fetish town of Dankoli

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Ten kilometers out of town on the road to Djougou is the Dankoli fetish. To the uninhabited, this roadside location may just resemble a rotting, stinking pile of organic rubbish and blood, but don not be fooled, for the Dankoli fetish is in actual, the strongest and most powerful fetish in the country. The gods are so close here that, you do not need a priest to act as a middleman between you and the gods. You simply speak directly with the spirits who will pass on your message and request. It is said that, anything you ask for will become true within a year. This is a popular site of pilgrimage with a stream of believers looking for answers arriving all the time.

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Se, women pottery village

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It is fascinating to see how women in Se, produce wonderful clay pottery with their bare hands, without the usage of any contemporary tools. They welcome you in their workshop and demonstrate to you the pottery making process.