The current government is a republic under multiparty democratic rule. Benin dropped Marxism-Leninism December 1989 and adopted democratic reforms in February 1990. A transition to multiparty system was completed 4 April 1991.
There are many international flights arriving at the main airport in Cotonou. From here you can connect to Paris, Amsterdam, Moscow, and a variety of cities in West Africa. In order to enter the country you will need proof that you have had a yellow fever shot, and this will need to be readily available at the airport.
Travel into Benin via train is not possible. However, there is a train route that goes halfway up the country, from Cotonou to Parakou. While it takes longer than a bush taxi, it's a much more relaxing way of traveling. First class tickets are only slightly more than second class ones and are worth the extra expenditure. The train leaves Cotonou three times a week (Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday) at 8 am precisely and returns the next day, leaving at 8 am from the Parakou train station.
Bush Taxi: Bush Taxi is possible between most cities, every day in major cities, periodically for the more remote ones. Drivers are often trying to maximize the number of people in the car so one can expect an intimate experience with the local population. Cost depends on the destination and price of gas. Ask other passengers what they are paying and always try to pay on arrival, although the latter is not always possible.
Hired Car: Hired drivers cost more and is the typical means of transport for foreigners. The price depends on the driver and a a local (Beninois) helping to negotiate is recommended. For example, a three hour car ride from the south central region :::to?::: along the main highway costs about 30 000 - 40 000 FCFA if the car is hired, but a bush taxi would cost about 5000 - 10000 FCFA.
Traffic is chaotic and the rules of the road are rarely enforced. If you are planning on driving yourself in Benin, an International Driver's license is required. Traffic flows on the same side of the road as the US and Canada.
Hiring a local guide is recommended.
Police roadblocks at night occur regularly and traveling alone with a driver (especially if you are a woman) may put the driver in an awkward position explaining and/or bribing the police.
The cheapest way to travel within a city or village is by motorcycle taxi (moto, zemidjan or zem). They are cheap and the drivers usually know the city well. Licenced moto taxis almost always have a recognizable shirt in a color distinctive to the region or city with an individual number for the driver. Remember his number as you would a taxi driver's ID in New York City, just in case. Choose your driver carefully, drinking and driving in Benin is very common and moto drivers are someimes involved in crime rings in major cities.
Motos have colors for different cities (for example): Cotonou: yellow Natitingou: green with yellow shoulders or light blue with yellow shoulders Kandi: light blue with yellow shoulders Parakou: green with yellow shoulders Kérou: green with yellow shoulders
The buses are not inner city, but long distance systems, and they are very timely and reliable. Their are many major lines with a range of quality of buses. Confort Lines is one of the better companies, and reservations can be made by calling (001 229) 22.214.171.124.
Buses run on the two major paved roads running north and south, and you can have the bus stopped at any point you would like to get off at, and for differing rates. No discussion of prices is needed with the bus, as they used fixed rates. To give you an idea of prices, buses running from Cotonou to Natitingou (or vice versa) costs 7.500f CFA one way, and Cotonou to Parakou (or vice versa) costs 5.500f CFA. These are examples, because there are also buses that go as far as Tanguieta and Malanville.
There are many pirogues (kayak/canoe) used for the fishing industry. Normally one can use a pirogue to visit the lake villages.
There is an extremely reliable bus system that runs your average tour-style bus through every major city in Benin everyday, and even some in and out of Benin. The main systems are Confort Lines and Benin-Routes. Confort Lines seems to provide more of a variety of routes, and you even get a some water and a little sandwich for long trips. Reservations for Confort Lines can be made in advance for 500f CFA at any regional office. Bus lines run through: Porto-Novo, Cotonou, Calavey, Bohicon, Dassau, Parakou, Djougou, Natitingou, Tanguieta, Kandi, and even all the way up to Malanville.
Bush taxis are also available if you are not wanting to use the bus lines, but the total price for long distances will be a little higher, and comfort and security are significantly lower. However, bush taxis do offer flexibility that the bus systems do not; you can always find a taxi fairly quickly (at the autogarres). For trips of 3 hours (approx 150km) or less, a bush taxi might be a more flexible and reasonable option. Unlike the buses though, prices MUST be discussed in advance. In case of difficulties, be sure to NOT pay until you arrive.
If traveling in a larger city or village, Zemidjans, or moto taxis, are usually available. An average zemidjan ride costs between 100f CFA - 300f CFA, and they are easily recognizable by their matching colored shirts with their ID numbers on them. Prices must be discussed beforehand, and payment is made upon arrival.
The official language is French - the language of the former colonial power. Native African languages such as Fon and Yoruba in the south, Bariba and Dendi in the north, and over 50 other African languages and dialects. English is on the uprise.
One can find any type of African commodity all over Benin. Prices are not set in stone,
In every city/village one will find street vendors selling anything from beans and rice to grilled chicken, goat and/or turkey. Prices are nominal. But one must be careful, always choose a vendor whose food is still hot, and they have taken care to keep the bowls covered with a lid and/or cloth.
The beer is cheap and good! Local pubs (buvettes) are on every corner in every neighborhood. You can get a bottle of local beer "La Béninoise", Heineken, Guinness, Castel and others depending on the bar. They all cost about 250 CFA for a small bottle or 500 CFA for a large bottle. In the nightclubs beer is excessively expensive, like 30000 CFA a bottle! So stick to the local pubs, or avoid buying beer at the nightclub. Local whiskey (moonshine) is also available, it costs about 2000 CFA for a liter and it is VERY strong stuff. There is also the local vin de palme (palm wine), a beverage that is from palm leaves that is naturally alcoholic.
Bénin's sleeping habit is a vast contrast compared to Westerners. While most rise before the crack of dawn, they all work hard straight til Noon:30, when most take a 2-1/2 hour siesta. Then it's back to work for 3 hours.
Depending on how far they've commuted to work, most are back home by 7pm. The next 3 hours are consumed by preparing dinner, t.v., dancing or mingling with friends and neighbors. Then it's time for bed around 10pm, to rest and do it all over again tomorrow.
The best way to stay safe in Benin is to always always always be in the presence of a local person whom you can trust, such as a friend or even a hired tourist guide. This will keep you safe in a number of ways. For example they know which areas are safe and which are not, they know the prices of things so you won't get ripped off, they speak the native languages, they know which venues sell good food that is safe for westerners to eat, basically they would protect you in all aspects. Some people may be resistant to the idea of being reliant on a local person but honestly it is the only way to stay safe. For women, avoid travelling alone, try to be in the company of other people as much as possible. Do not travel at night alone, attacks along the beaches are frequent, and of course near hotels, nightclubs and other venues. Benin is a peaceful country and the people are very kind and generous, but that being said muggings and robberies occur everywhere no matter how peaceful the place so be on guard.
Watch what you eat/drink and where you eat/drink it, is the number one rule for staying healthy in Benin. If you are going to eat street food make sure it is served very very hot, bacteria will not live in hot food. The most common causes of sickness are things like e.coli bacteria found in undercooked meat. Drinking water is readily available, if you want bottled water there is "Possatome" a natural spring water bottled in the city with the same name. It is very good, about 500 CFA a bottle. Also in Cotonou the tap water is safe to drink but is treated with chlorine which some people may be sensitive to. Malaria is a reality in Benin. Mosquitoes appear from dusk to dawn, standing water is mosquito breeding ground. Sleep under a Mosquito net and use a bug repellent with 30% DEET, also make sure to bring antimalarial drugs, you need a prescription from your doctor. The only compulsory vaccination needed to enter the country is against Yellow Fever, however the customs agents at the airport generally do not check to see if you have it, but you should get it before entering. Along with vaccines against polio, hepatitis A and B, Measles, Mumps, Rubella, Lock Jaw, Rabis and all the other standard childhood vacines ( as per Canadian public school standards). AIDS is an issue in Benin as in all sub-Saharan African countries, use of a condom is highly recommended if entering into a sexual relationship with a Beninese partner unless you are completely aware of their HIV/AIDS status. Other risks pertaining to unprotected sex are the same as in any other country whether developed or not: Syphilis, Chlamydia, HPV, etc. If travelling to Benin it is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED that you speak to a doctor who specializes in travel. Ask your family doctor or public health nurse for the name of a travel clinic in your area. Go to them about 6 months prior to travel to Benin if possible. This information is designed as a guide and should not be taken as an expert account on how to stay healthy in Benin, only a licensed health professional can provide such information.