CotonouSouthern Benin : Cotonou
In the Fon language, the word 'cotonou' means "the mouth of the river of death". The area was settled as a fishing village during the time of the Dahomey Kingdom. The French were given permission to build a trading post, until they were given the region altogether in 1868. The city was used to defend against the British in their conquests.
Cotonou grew to become the largest city in the country, right up to independence. Although the capital is located at Porto-Novo, Cotonou is still the nation's economic and population centre. It also attracts many government institutions and embassies, regardless of Porto-Novo's status, leading to the city being referred as Benin's de-facto capital.
Cadjehoun Airport is located just west of city centre, and is the primary airport serving the city and the country. It has scheduled services from most African capitals, along with connections to Brussels and Paris. Short-haul flights from nearby Lagos are a popular way of reaching Benin.
There are bus services from Cotonou to every city in the country.
There is a train route that goes halfway up the country, from Cotonou to Parakou, run by L’Organisation Commune Benin-Niger des Chemins de Fer et Transports (2132 2206). While the train takes longer than a bush taxi, it's a much more relaxing way of traveling. First class tickets are only slightly more expensive than second class ones and are worth the extra expenditure. The train leaves Cotonou three times a week (Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday) at 8AM precisely, arriving at Parakou about 6:30PM, and returns the next day, leaving at 8AM from the Parakou train station, arriving 6:30PM in Cotonou. First class costs CFA 5600, while second costs CFA 4000.
The trains on these schedules will usually stop at Bohicon, which is 4 hours from Cotonou. The fare costs CFA 1400 for first class, and CFA 1100 for second.
A tour company also hires out 1920s colonial-period trains for multiple-day touring trips at expensive, but good value prices (CFA 50,000+). The service is called Train d'Ebene and is operated by Voyageur SARL .
(As of May 2014 the train to Parakou wasn't running, "because we are too poor")
The best way to get around is by taxi, although you have to go to a main gare (Etoile Rouge, Dantokpa, etc.) to find them. A cheaper alternative is by 'moto', locally called zemidjans which means "get me there fast" in Fon. They are simply moped taxis which are very popular. Fares are negotiable, and there are no meters. The minimum fare is CFA 100 but the fair price is at most half of what the zem originally quotes--negotiate!
- Cotonou Cathedral, or Notre Dame des Apotres, located near the Ancien Pont Bridge. It is noted for its distinct burgundy and white striped tile architecture. The cathedral is the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cotonou.
- French colonial architecture Architecture or history buffs might enjoy looking at the French colonial architecture, some adapted and modernized, others in a state of decay. Many of the buildings are a short walk north of the Cotonou Cathedral. From the cathedral, walk west one block on Ave Clozel and make a right where Rue 866 becomes Rue 308. Cross the busy Rue 102 and proceed northwest on Rue 308 past the Hotel Acropole for as many blocks as you desire, eventually turning west one block and return south on Ave. Proche.
Swim at one of the pools in town; however they're generally expensive:
- Golden Tulip Le Diplomate - 5000 CFA
- Hotel du Port - 3500 CFA
- Hotel Azalai - 5000 CFA
- Hotel du Lac - 4000 CFA
The West African CFA Franc has a fixed exchange rate to the euro. 655.957 (or in street trade often 650) F CFA is equal to €1, and roughly 500 F CFA is equal to 1 US dollar. There are banks in all the major cities, and most of the banks have cash machines. As in all the CFA Franc economies, Visa is much more popular than Master Card. For Master Card and Maestro withdrawals, try Banque International du Bénin (blue star), with SGBB (red and black square logo) being quite reliable with Visa and Visa Electron. Keep in mind that many businesses and offices, including banks, close for several hours in the middle of the day.
Prices for goods purchased in a store, restaurant, hotel, bus tickets, etc. are non-negotiable, but almost everything else is. Depending on the item, it's not uncommon for foreigners to be quoted a price that is double the final purchase price.
If you have been on the road a long time and are looking for a nice, cool and well stocked shop, try Erevan hypermarket very close to Cotonou Airport. It is reputed to be the biggest hypermarket in all of West Africa, selling all the nicest imported French goodies, as well as having a nice hardware department.
For the tourist wanting to experience the local spread, Dantokpa Market in Cotonou is the biggest local market in West Africa.
- Restaurant "Le Roi Du Chawarma" -This small place has only five tables but great Lebanese food along with pizza and plenty of other options. Terrific falafel and good vegetarian options. The place seems popular with African and Lebanese locals. On the northeast corner of Boulevard Steinmetz and Rue Des Cheminots (Rue 109). Tel:97014545.
- Hotel du Lac - easy to find with general light meals and standard hotel food.
- Neuer Deutscher Biergarten - lovely upmarket restaurant and grill on the beach (you can sit and sip cocktails on the beach while watching the waves). Somewhere behind the breweries (SOBEBRA), not far from Hotel du Lac, but you will have to ask, as it is a few blocks in and not visible from main road.
- Haie Vive's Restaurant Street for everything else - Moroccan, Thai, Sushi, French, Indian, etc. This is an entire street full of restaurants where all the expats hang out and you are spoiled for choice. Le Livingstone is a popular expat hangout if you need to build connections and want to meet other expats.
- La galette à sucre. bakery with excellent coffee (only 250 CFA) and affordable breakfast. Daily lunch special & free WiFi. edit
- Novotel Cotonou Orisha, . edit
- Hotel du Lac, ☎ +229-21331919, . checkout: Noon. Great location, reasonable prices, free wi-fi, nice swimming pool $100. edit
- Hotel Le Prince, ☎ +229-21315289, . checkout: as wanted. Downtown, great prices, AC, hot water, cable, mini fridge, free wi-fi and a restaurant with delicious Lebanese, African and European food, plus hookah! $30-$50. edit
- Pension La Guineenne, Gare Jonquet (Opens onto the gare itself.). Simple and cheap place with ventilated rooms for 5,000 CFA (May 2014). edit
- United States, 1BP 2012, ☎ +229 21 30 06 50 (fax: +229 21 30 03 84), . M-Th 8AM-12:30PM, 1:30PM-5PM. edit
- Greece, PO Box 8116, ☎ +229 90 15 16 (fax: +229 31 00 43). edit
- Porto-Novo - official capital city of Benin
- Abomey - UNESCO world heritage site with a number of mud-brick palaces
- Bohicon - a city in the south of the country
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