A tiny country in West Africa to the west of Nigeria, Benin used to have the most powerful empire in Africa. The Dahomey Kingdom was renowned for its traditions, curious customs, and prosperous culture. The Kingdom was known for having an elite corps of female soldiers, the Ahosi (Our Mothers), which Europeans thought of as the Dahomean Amazons. Young boys were also initiated into being soldiers, earning the Dahomey Kingdom the title of 'Black Sparta' by Europeans in the 19th century.
The area at one time was called The Slave Coast. This is because for three hundred years, Dahomey kings sold their prisoners into transatlantic slavery, prisoners who would otherwise have been murdered in a sacrificial ceremony called Annual Customs. It is estimated that the King of Dahomey, by 1750, was earning a quarter of a million British pounds annually by selling Africans to the salve trade.
Today, the ruins of the kingdom's many temples and palaces remain in Abomey. Ouidah is a powerful reminder of just where the kingdom's riches originated: the slave trade. The last walk captives took on African soil before being shipped as slaves to Brazil and the Caribbean was the Route d'Esclaves and you can still see this walk today at a memorial in Ouidah. There are also excellent museums in Ouidah and in Benin's capital city of Port Novo which deal with the slave trade and with the Afro-Brazilian culture which resulted from it.
Despite the glittery jewels which were so horrifically ill-gotten and now showcased in the museums, there are other treasures in the country not ill-gotten at all, such as palm-lined beaches. Also, Benin is where voodoo originated. In fact, it's the country's religion and was exported by slaves to the Caribbean. Voodoo is an integral part of life in Benin, as evidenced just about everywhere you go, from the market stalls dealing skins and heads of animals, to the women on the streets selling bat wings and monkey testicles.
The city of Cotonou is a polluted urban maze, although many declare it to have an excellent nightlife.
If you're interested in wildlife, lions, crocodiles, elephants and giraffes stalk the wildlife parks to the north, especially around Pendjari, one of the best safari parks in all of West Africa. Stilt villages are homes to people in the southern lagoons, while in the north, people live in mud huts, known as tata sombas. Overall, Benin is easy to travel through as it's politically stable and happy to have visitors.
Benin travel advice is provided on www.fco.gov.uk