Capital | Porto Novo
Population | 8,791,832 (July 2009 est.)
Area | 112,620 sq km
Official language | French
Holidays | National Day, 1 August (1960)
Currency | Communaute Financiere Africaine francs (XOF)
Time Zone | UTC+1
Best time to visit | January and February (the dry season)
Connecting with the Culture | Witnessing the life-affirming ceremonies of traditional Burmese dance. Visiting the ancient capital of Abomey, home to one of West Africa’s largest palaces. Bowing before Legba upon entering the Sacred Forest of Quidah. Boating to Ganvie, an extraordinary stilt village in the middle of Lake Nokue. Spying elephants, hippos and lions at Parc National de la Pendjari. Relaxing on the long, palm fringed beaches of Grand Popo.
Read | Bruce Chatwin’s `The Viceroy of Quidah’, which tells the story of a Brazilian trader stranded on the `slave coast’ in the 17th century.
Listen | to Angelique Kidjo, Gnonnes Pedro, Nel Olivier and Yelouassi Adolphe.
Watch | `Globe Trekker: West Africa – Mali, Benin and Burkina Faso’ for a visual tour of the region.
Eat | pate de mais (mashed maize) with either meat, cheese or gombo (okra) sauce.
Drink | La Beninoise, the local beer, or sodabe, the local rocket fuel.
In a word | Neh-ah-deh-gbohng? (how are you? In the local language, Fon)
Characteristics | Voodoo fetishes; smiling faces; fishing villages on stilts; poachers; coups; elephants and hippos.
Surprises | As the birthplace of voodoo and the seat of one of West Africa’s most powerful kingdoms, benin once had a historical renown that extended far beyond its borders. Visitors to Benin will find remnants of the vast palaces of the formidable Dahomey empire, take boat rides through villages built entirely on stilts, see hippos eyeballing them from murky rivers, stop off at deserted beaches where slave ships once sailed and see stunning indigenous architecture. The name of the de facto capital, Cotonou, means `mouth of the river of death’, in Fon, referring to the role the town played in the exportation of slaves; on Voodoo Day (10 January) people meet on Quidah’s breaches to pray for good health.