Voodoo Trails

Benin is a land where the supernatural and the modern worlds intertwine almost seamlessly, where voodoo gods walk the streets and the magical never seems far away. This Benin tour transports you to a world far removed from our own, where spirits and deities are ever present and traditional ceremonies seemingly around almost every corner.

Starting in the largest city Cotonou we learn a little about modern Benin before heading along the coast to the crumbling capital of Porto Novo, with its Afro-Brazilian architecture and voodoo temples. From here we head north to Ketou, seat of a traditional Yoruba kingdom, where we meet the king and his courtiers to get to grips with the complex traditional hierarchies of the country. We see dances of the Guelede and Egun masks – powerful manifestations of voodoo gods and spirits, and see voodoo in action at Savalou, the most powerful shrine in the country.

Heading north the landscape changes and becomes more arid, and it is here that we meet the Taneka people, a small ethnic group led by fetish priests. Nearby are the Tamberma people, who live in in a remote area in the fortress style houses called ‘tatas’. Returning south we meet the semi-nomadic Fulani people and learn about the ancient kingdom of Dahomey at Abomey, before witnessing more of Benin’s complex spiritual world with the Celestial Church and a dance of the Zangbeto masks.

In Ouidah we explore the legacy of colonialism and slavery, then visit the enormous stilt village of Ganvie, before returning to Cotonou to fly home.

Benin is perhaps the best country in West Africa to experience and witness traditional beliefs and ceremonies, and this trip covers some of the most interesting. A journey into the realm of magic, almost……

Highlights

  • Explore the villages of the Tamberma people
  • Witness the Zangbeto and Egun voodoo ceremonies
  • Meet the Fulani and Taneka people
  • Visit the stilt village of Ganvie

Day 1 - Cotonou

Arrive in Cotonou and transfer to your hotel. For those arriving early in the day, the rest of the day is free to explore. Overnight Azalai Hotel or similar.


Day 2 - Cotonou

Spend the day exploring Cotonou, Benin’s vibrant ‘capital’ (it is the largest city by far but Porto Novo is actually the capital). Visit the lively central market as well as the Zinsou foundation, a private institution exhibiting contemporary African art. We also visit an artist in his workshop, as we get to grips with the modern side of Benin before heading further. Overnight Azalai Hotel or similar. (BLD)


Day 3 - Porto Novo

Drive along the coast to Porto Novo, Benin’s slightly ramshackle and charming official capital. Much smaller than Cotonou, it holds plenty of old colonial architecture, most notably in its cathedral which now functions as a mosque. Visit the ethnographic museum, the former palace of King Toffa and other sights. Overnight Hotel Centre Songhai or similar. (BLD)


Day 4 - Ketou

This morning we visit the Centre Songhai, a local project focussed on sustainable farming and traditional agricultural practices. From here continue to Ketou, the ancient capital of a Yoruba kingdom, on the border between Benin and Nigeria. We visit the royal palace and meet the Oba (king), surrounded by his dignitaries, and learn about one of the most important kingdoms in Benin. Overnight Residence Celine or similar. (BLD)


Day 5 - Dassa

This morning we see a performance of the traditional Guelede masks. These dances are a mix of street theatre and magic, and are revered by the local people, as they relate myths and moral stories. Drive to Dassa and walk to a sacred site used for the burial of kings, protected by voodoo statues and shrines. Later in the afternoon we see a performance of the Egun masks, which represent the spirits of the deceased. Overnight Hotel Jeko or similar. (BLD)

Voodoo
Voodoo, or Vodoun as it is known here, is one of the most important religions in this part of West Africa. Forget what you may have seen on TV about it being a form of black magic – here it has the same legitimacy as any other belief system and has been adopted as an official religion by Benin.

Voodoo is a complex and intricate way of seeing of the world, with literally hundreds of different gods responsible for various areas of daily life – some are benevolent, some less so, and in order to communicate with them and ask for favours local people will seek the assistance of followers, or adepts. There are numerous voodoo temples scattered around the coastal regions of both Benin and Togo, each headed by a priest who for a suitable donation will intercede on your behalf.

Voodoo is not limited to the temples though and travelling around the region it is not unlikely that you will see some ceremonies being carried out. Also worth looking out for are the Egunguns – earthly manifestations of the dead who roam the streets in outlandish costumes, striking fear into the heart of local people. Sacrifice and blood are important within voodoo rituals, and any ceremony worth its salt is likely to involve a chicken being killed, its blood spilled onto a shrine in order to seal the pact. You’re also likely to see fetishes dotted around villages – these are inanimate objects such as rocks or trees in which a spirit is believed to reside, often covered in candle wax, feathers and blood where sacrifices have been made. Gaining some understanding of voodoo allows you a glimpse into a magical world where nothing is quite as it seems, and is perhaps the most fascinating aspect of travelling here.

Day 6 - Savalou - Naititingou

Stop at the Dankoli fetish, the most important voodoo shrine in Benin, where we may be able to witness rituals taking place. In the afternoon we visit villages of the Taneka people, a small but traditional ethnic group with a society centred around fetish priests. Overnight Hotel Tata Somba or similar. (BLD)


Day 7 - Tamberma Villages

From here we drive into the lands of the Tamberma, one of the region’s most traditional groups who live in fortified houses known as ‘tatas’ – quite a spectacular sight. Return to Naititingou for the evening. Overnight Hotel Tata Somba or similar. (BLD

The Tamberma people
The Tamberma are one of the region’s most intriguing and traditional groups. Straddling the border between Togo and Benin (where they are known as Somba), they live deep in the bush in fortress style houses which are utterly unlike anything else. Rather than settling in villages each family has its own compound, an arrow’s flight from anyone else, and the mud built dwellings, known as ‘tatas’ are built for defence, with strong walls and traditionally only accessed via a ladder which would be withdrawn in times of trouble. Inside the tatas are separate areas for people, livestock and grain, and some contain wells, meaning that the inhabitants could hole up for days when slave raiders came, making attacks on the Tamberma a far less attractive proposition than weaker, less defensive peoples. Although modern influences are now starting to creep in, the Tamberma are still very traditional and it’s possible to see groups of men heading off into the bush to hunt, armed with bows and arrows and accompanied by their bogs, while many of the older women still wear polished bones through their lower lips and wear impressive headgear adorned with gazelle horns.

Day 8 - Abomey

Head south, hoping to meet some of the Fulani ethnic group along the way. We then drive to Abomey, once the centre of the powerful kingdom of Dahomey, and home to an impressive Royal Palace. The palace is now a museum displaying various artefacts from that time. Overnight Hotel Sun City or similar. (BLD)

Fulani People
The Fulani, also known as Peul, Wodaabe or Mbororo, are also traditionally nomadic, searching for new pastures in arid lands for their sizable flocks of sheep, goats and cattle. Darker skinned than the Tuareg, the Fulani women plait their hair and often wear silver coins or discs into their hair, and sometimes have tattooed faces. They are the largest nomadic group of people in the world and can be found in many different parts of Africa, from Guinea to Sudan

Abomey
Once the capital of the powerful kingdom of Dahomey, Abomey gained a notorious reputation as the centre of a fierce civilisation, whose rulers preyed mercilessly on the surrounding tribes as they conquered neighbouring lands and captured slaves. During the ‘Scramble for Africa’ Dahomey put up strong resistance against the French colonial armies but in the end were no match for modern weapons, and the kingdom fell  in 1892, its king Gbehanzin setting fire to the city. Abomey had been renowned for its palaces, and although many were lost, two still remain which give the visitor a fascinating insight into this once mighty nation. Now museums, they contain a number of interesting exhibits from earlier times, the most impressive of which is a throne which sits on top of human skulls. Also worth a look is the nearby temple whose walls are said to have been made with the blood of enemies.

Day 9 - Ouidah

This morning we visit Abomey’s Royal Palace, before we drive south to the coastal town of Ouidah, a stronghold of voodoo and once an important slave port. Overnight Hotel Casa del Papa or similar. (BLD)

Ouidah
Founded in the fifteenth century and made famous by Bruce Chatwin’s novel, ‘The Viceroy of Ouidah’, Ouidah was once a centre for the slave trade in this part of West Africa and many of its buildings bear witness to a strong European influence. As well as a rather imposing and out of place cathedral, Afro-Brazilian architecture and crumbling colonial buildings, the Portuguese fort holds an interesting history museum which gives an insight into the past life of the town. Of equal interest is the Python Temple, where a collection of snakes are venerated as earthly representations of voodoo gods. A thought provoking excursion is the 3km walk along the ‘Slave Route’, where those boarding the boats across the Atlantic were herded like cattle to the shore. At the end on the beach lies the modern ‘Gate of No Return’, built in memory of the thousands who never made it back.

Day 10 - Grand Popo

This morning we experience the weekly ceremony of the Celestial Church, which mixes Christianity and voodoo and frequently features exorcisms and trances. From here drive to Grand Popo and take a boat along the Mono River, passing small fishing villages. In one of these villages we see a ceremony of the Zangbeto dancing masks, another of Benin’s fascinating secret societies. Return to Ouidah for the night. Overnight Hotel Casa del Papa or similar. (BLD)


Day 11 - Ouidah

In Ouidah we visit the python temple, where snakes are venerated as representations of gods, the old Portuguese fort and finally head to the beach and the sombre ‘Gate of No Return’, the point from which slaves left Africa for the New World. The afternoon is free to explore further or just relax by the beach. Overnight Hotel Casa del Papa or similar. (BLD)


Day 12 - Ganvie - Cotonou

This morning we head out onto Lake Nokwe to visit Ganvie, the largest stilt village in Africa situated in the middle of the water. Later, transfer to Cotonou for your flight home. (BL

We arrive in Cotonou in the afternoon of the final day and you should not book any departure flight before the evening.

 

Ganvie
On Lake Nokwe lies the stilt village of Ganvie, a settlement of 25,000 people isolated from the land and only accessible by boat. Legend has it that the Tofinou people fled here in the 18th century to escape the depredation of the more powerful Dahomeyans on the lookout for slaves, and that they were transported to their new home by crocodiles. Whatever the truth behind it, Ganvie is an interesting place to drift through in a boat, watching how people go about their daily lives on the water, stopping at local markets watching the fishermen casting their nets, and is far removed from the busy towns making this a real delight to explore. The market on the mainland is also worth a look, if only for the rather gruesome section dedicated to voodoo.

Please note that we sell this trip in conjunction with our local partner and therefore you should expect people of different nationalities and a maximum group size of 16 on this tour.

Ouidah Voodoo Festival - Voodoo Ceremony Togo

Voodoo ceremony in Togo

Voodoo ceremony Togo

Voodoo acolyte in a trance

What's included?

  • Airport transfers

    We include arrival and departure transfers regardless of whether you book flights yourself, or we book them for you. If you’re booking them yourself, then please let us know the details so that we can arrange the transfers. Please note though that if you arrive earlier than Day 1 of the tour, and leave after the final day, we may need to make an additional charge for an airport transfer.

  • Accommodation

    Accommodation as listed in the dossier. The nature of the destinations that we operate may sometimes mean that we need to change hotels, but we’ll always endeavour to keep the same standards. Please be aware that as we operate in many countries where tourism is in its infancy, hotel standards may not be the same as you’re used to elsewhere.

    While we prefer to use centrally located hotels where possible, this is not always practical and in some locations they may not be the best option in terms of standards or reliability.

    Please note that it is not always possible to secure twin rooms as many hotels in West Africa only have rooms with one large bed. If you would like a twin room you must check with us beforehand that this is possible.

  • Guides

    You will be accompanied by an English speaking guide.

  • Meals

    As listed within the itinerary / dossier (B-Breakfast, L-Lunch, D-Dinner). These will vary from trip to trip – in some areas it makes sense to include all meals while in others there is a good choice of restaurants and we feel people might like to ‘do their own thing’ now and again. Please note that when meals are included, sometimes these will be in hotels, as often these are the most appropriate option, and will sometimes be set menus. Local restaurants are often lacking in variety, as well as the capacity to cater for groups. Drinks are not included and are at your own expense

  • Entrance fees

    Entrance fees are listed for those sites that we mention within the itinerary. If there are any other sites that you’d like to see, these would be at your own expense.

What's not included?

  • Visas

    We don’t arrange visas for our travellers, but if an invitation letter is necessary then we will arrange this for you. If you need any advice with visas then just give us a call, or alternatively a visa agency such as Travcour (www.travcour.com) can assist.

     

  • International flights

    Many of our travellers arrive from different destinations and so we don’t include international flights in the cost of our tours. If however you would like us to book flights for you, then just give us a call and we’ll be happy to discuss your options

  • Travel insurance

    If you need any assistance with this, then let us know – although we can’t arrange it ourselves we can point you in the direction of a reputable provider that can assist.

Visas

Most travellers will require a visa to enter Benin, which must be obtained before travel. You may need an invitation letter in order to obtain this, depending on the requirements of the embassy that you apply at – we can provide this for you. Visa regulations can change however and so we recommend that you contact your nearest embassy for the most up to date information.

Health and vaccinations

We are not medically qualified and so we recommend that you speak to your doctor or nearest health professional for advice concerning recommended vaccinations. For more advice on vaccinations, you can also visit www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk.

A Yellow Fever vaccination certificate is required for entry to Benin and you must bring this with you.

Insurance

It is a condition of joining our tours that you have suitable travel insurance in place, and we cannot accept travellers without insurance. All policies differ in terms of what they will cover, but as a minimum, you need medical and health cover which will cover you for the whole time that you are away. Most policies will also include cancellation cover, which will cover you if an unforeseen circumstance obliges you to cancel your trip. We recommend that you obtain your insurance as soon as you book your trip.

Please note that government travel warnings often affect the validity of your travel insurance, and you should check this with your insurance company.

Money

The local currency in Benin is the West African CFA, a currency that is shared with many other countries in the region. It is not however, the same as the Central African CFA, and the two are not interchangeable. It is best to bring Euros for exchange purposes as the CFA is not obtainable outside of the region.

It’s not difficult to change money here, either at banks or the hotels and your guide can assist with this. There are also an increasing number of ATMs in larger towns. However, these are not always reliable and so it is best to think of them as a back up rather than a main means of obtaining money.

Credit cards are accepted in larger hotels and better restaurants (usually in larger cities only) but are not commonly accepted elsewhere. You should also be aware that credit card fraud is not uncommon in the region and so should you choose to use one, do bear this in mind.

Local conditions

When travelling to some of the destinations we offer you need to bear in mind that things won’t always work here as we’re used to them working at home. Travelling in underdeveloped and untouristed destinations requires both patience and a sense of humour. There may be problems with infrastructure, attitudes may be different, and maintenance may not be as high a standard as we would always like, but this is very much part and parcel of travelling in such a place. We aim to resolve any issues as quickly as possible, and thank you for your patience.

Travel advice

We keep a very close eye on the travel advice issued by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office so that we can keep you up to date with any warnings. At the time of writing the FCO does not advise against travel to the parts of Benin that we visit.

This relates to advice from the British government – other nationalities need to check the stance of their own governments.

Please note that the information contained above is highly susceptible to change, and while we endeavour to keep up to date we recommend that you use this as a guide only. Should you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Updated November 2020

Ouidah Voodoo Festival - Voodoo Ceremony Togo

Voodoo ceremony in Togo

Voodoo ceremony Togo

Voodoo acolyte in a trance

Date(s)
Price (PP) Exc. Flights
Single Supplement
Trip Status
Date -
27 August 2021
Price (PP) -
£2,699
Single Supplement -
£340
Trip Status -
Available
Date -
12 November 2021
Price (PP) -
£2,699
Single Supplement -
£340
Trip Status -
Available
Date -
04 March 2022
Price (PP) -
£2,799
Single Supplement -
£350
Trip Status -
Available
Date -
26 August 2022
Price (PP) -
£2,799
Single Supplement -
£350
Trip Status -
Available
Date -
11 November 2022
Price (PP) -
£2,799
Single Supplement -
£350
Trip Status -
Available