1. Wander the Capital of Porto-Novo
Unless travelling into Benin overland, you'll likely start in the capital city of Porto-Novo, which translates to 'New Port'. The city was originally developed as a port for the slave trade during the era of the Portuguese Empire. Although, unusually for a capital, there's no government buildings here, as these are all in the city of Cotonou. There will be plenty of colonial architecture to admire though! The Grand Mosque of Porto-Novo cannot be missed due to it's sheer size when compared to neighbouring buildings. There's also plenty of markets lining the streets on a daily basis. As with most capitals, it's a great place to people watch.
2. The Stilt Village of Ganvie My personal highlight and a must for anyone visiting the country. The stilt village of Ganvie is located in the lagoon of Lake Nokoue with the entire community originally founded to keep the Tofinu people safe from slave hunters. As expected, fishing is the main trade here and supplies much needed revenue to the community. I found this place fascinating, and although it's recently became a tourist magnet, it still holds a very traditional feel. Many of the locals will cover their face when you're pointing your camera, but you're free to snap away all day! I was amazed by the hundreds of stilt houses scattered across the lake in every direction.
There is a small guest house here for those wanting to spend the night, but this really is a half-day trip. There are spots to sit back and have a coffee with the locals, which gives a great opportunity to head up onto the roof of one of the buildings to take some great panoramic photos. As for reaching the village, you can either book on a small tour via your hotel, or just turn up at the start of the lagoon where there will be plenty of locals offering to take you on their boat for a small fee.
3. Watch a Local Ceremony
This one is an unusual experience and not guaranteed, as it's hardly a tourist attraction, but there are a number of local ceremonies happening across the country on a regular basis. My local contact made a few calls and managed to locate a ceremony that was happening within close proximity to where we were staying in Abomey. We stood out like a sore thumb when we turned up, as we were the outsiders, in addition to turning up with all our camera gear. The locals were welcoming, offered us seating at the front, and the ceremony began! This was all about the locals promoting themselves in order to try and partner up with a local for dating, and eventually marriage.
4. Visit a Voodoo Doctor
Although voodoo originated in Haiti, Benin was the voodoo hub of the African continent. In recent times, it's becoming a dying trade, but there are still voodoo and witch craft doctors scattered across the country. You can arrange to visit one of these via a local contact, which will then give you the opportunity to see a voodoo doctor in action. This involves a lot of preaching whilst being surrounded by voodoo dolls. Whether you believe in this craft or not, it's an interesting experience to witness.
5. The Temple of Pythons - Ouidah
The Temple of Pythons is located in Ouidah and is linked to the popular West and Central African religion of Vodun. This is a place of worship where dozens of snakes are housed within a temple. The site is of great historical and spiritual importance and is a busy spot for locals who've travelled across the country to reach. If you ask a local, the snakes will be referred to as 'harmless' although it's natural to stand there in fear if snakes aren't your thing. If you are feeling brave, you can have a snake wrapped around your neck for a photo opp!
6. The Door of No Return
Also in Ouidah, is the Door of No Return, which is a memorial arch located directly on the beach. This is a memorial to the enslaved Africans who were taken to the slave port in Ouidah, and shipped off to the Americas. There's a lot of artistic detail gone into the design of the arch, with the columns designed by Beninese artist Fortuné Bandeira. Normally a quiet spot, but I happened to turn up whilst a school trip was taking place. Also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
7. Historical Museum of Abomey
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, which is also referred to as the "Royal Palaces of Abomey". There were 12 kings in total that succeeded one another to become the head of Abomey, which means there's 12 palaces that are spread across this site, each with their own memorabilia inside and offer a unique reminder into this vanished kingdom. I wouldn't put this place at the top of your list, but it's directly in the centre of Abomey, so worth checking out whilst passing.
Accommodation standards across the country is extremely basic regardless of which city you're exploring. I had a very nice experience staying at Chez Sabine in Abomey. This is a locally run guest house with a very welcoming owner. The rooms are basic, but clean, and there are meals available via the kitchen.
Benin cuisine is known for being flavourful with plenty of sauces, although I did struggle to find decent food in the country. This could have been due to minimal research on my behalf ahead of the trip. Rice, beans, tomatoes, and couscous are the stable foods of the country!