Parakou is a city in Northern Benin.
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. This could be one of the reasons why Parakou thrives as a bustling marketplace. Some of the industries that are the foundation of Parakou’s economy are the cotton, textile and peanut oil industries.
Parakou lies on the main north-south highway RNIE 2 and at the end of a railway to Cotonou. This has made it an important market town, with major industries in cotton and textiles, peanut oil manufacture and brewing. The town grew initially from revenue generated from passing merchants that took goods from the region across the Sahara and the Mediterranean to Europe. It also served as an important stop over in the distribution of goods around Africa. As a result Parakou became well known in the slave trade. Later traders concentrated on cotton and Parakou remains the hub of the Beninese cotton trade to this day, with considerable interest from Europe.
There are several markets trading, notably the largest, "Grand Marché Azeke" which one of the largest in Benin, an international market spanning over a block. The Grand Marché Azeke has a large covered hall overlapping onto the streets with stalls, with 500 and 1000 vendors. The market sells an enormous range of goods from items of pottery including vases and bowls, to cotton textiles, cassettes and CD's of local and international artists, local spices, fruits and wagasi (cow's milk cheese) and even food and kitchen utensils. Another market, located several blocks north, is called the "Marché Kobo Kobo", which lies across the street from the French Cultural Centre. Marché Kobo Kobo is known for its clothing retailing, primarily second hand goods and in one section of it, sells livestock. The Marché Depot is located near Parakou Railway Station around numerous hotels and sells mostly food but also calabashes and baskets. There is also the smaller Marché Guema, located next to Guema Church on the northern road to Malanville in the Albarika quarter of the city. The market was founded by the Somba tribe of the Atacora, and takes place every Sunday at 10am. The market consists of a collection of grass huts, and specialises in beef and pork and local millet beer known as choukachou or simply "chouk"
The centre of the city has a roundabout with a distinctive tall pink column emblazoned with the words in red encrypted vertically, "Parakou". It is located in the central business district surrounding Parakou's banks and administrative buildings.
National highway RNIE 2, Benin's main highway, passes by here. It connects with Cotonou in the south, continuing towards the border with Niger.
A more leisurly way of reaching Parakou from Cotonou is by the privately run tourist train Train d’Ebene operated by Voyageur SARL . Composed of vintage railroad cars from the 1920s and offering both dinner, a bar and hammocks for afternoon naps. The train operates on request and prices begins at 400,000 CFA francs and can accomodate up to 20 persons.
A visit to Grand Marché Azeke, one of the largest in Benin, is a must when visiting Parakou. With more then a thousand vendors you'll find anything from fine rugs to fake DVDs.