Cotonou is the largest city and the economic and political center of Benin in West Africa. The name ‘Cotonou’ literally means ‘by the river of death’, which is a fitting name for a country that boasts the origins of ‘vodun’, or voodoo.
There is a vast amount of things to see and do as an expatriate living in Cotonou. A must-see is the 20 Dantokpa Market, which sprawls 20 hectares and sells an enormous array of goods, as well as a delicious selection of local cuisine, usually consisting of rice, corn, fresh fish and vegetables. For those confident enough to haggle, there are plenty of bargains to be found. The market is crammed with color, noise and exciting smells and will help you to fall into step with the local way of life immediately.
The best way by far to get around the city and to neighboring towns is by motorbike taxi, known as zémidjans, which are not only cheap but also a great way to see the city as you go about your daily life. Be aware that a fair price is around half of what your driver suggests so don’t be afraid to negotiate! Other options available are bicycles, mopeds, buses and bush taxis.
Cotonou is served by excellent transportation links and you can catch a bus from one of the main stations to every city in the country. ABC Transport is a bus company that offers daily services to and from every city in the country to Cotonou. There is a train route that operates sporadically but is a more relaxing way to travel.
Cadjehoun Airport is located close by and functions as the main airport for the country, offering a number of national and direct international flights. Air France, Lufthansa, and Emirates Airline all operate services to Benin. Another option for those on a budget is to fly to nearby Lagos and catch a short-haul domestic flight to Benin from there. The city is also home to a large port, which is an invaluable source of trade as during the rainy seasons the dirt roads in and out of the city are often impassable.
It is possible to buy or hire a car and drive between cities within Benin; however, it is advisable to look out for the difficult conditions within the rainy seasons.
There are health risks associated with travelling to West Africa, so it is recommended that precautions are taken and the necessary vaccinations are arranged. Not all medicines are available and therefore it would be a good idea to check to see if any necessary prescriptions will be accessible there. If not, you may wish to stock up on any necessary medication before you move to Cotonou. Most doctors expect immediate cash payment and it would be most helpful to have comprehensive international medical insurance - this ensures you can get the best treatment, and be taken to a hospital in a nearby country if necessary.