"Cotonou" Cotonou by Ramonq
Cotonou Travel Guide: 99 reviews and 273 photos
Lots of people ask "where is Cotonou?" I suppose it's not on the tourist trail nor in the news limelight. Cotonou is one of those low-key West African cities that line along the north Atlantic Ocean. Since it is a coastal city, there are beaches, and of course, seafood. Cotonou is a good place to stopover while sweeping through the West African coast from Dakar to Douala. It's the largest city in the Republic of Benin,yet it is not its capital, which is Porto Novo. It sits on a long peninsula surrounded by a large lake and the Atlantic Ocean. So in Cotonou, you will be able to get a glimpse of water, although some areas, especially along the banks of the river that connects the lake and the ocean, can be quite filthy and full of rubbish thrown from the market stalls. Not far from Cotonou, an hour away by boat, at the other end of the lake Ganvie, is Ganvie, which has been dubbed, the Venice of Africa. It's not at all resplendent with architectural marvel like its Italian counterpart, in fact, it's a floating jumble of ramshackle wooden houses on stilts, yet it gives an interesting insight into the lifestyle of this water-borne community. It reminded me of Inle Lake in Myanmar but with an African context.
The sweltering city of Cotonou is not overwhelmingly suffocating as in other large African cities. In the southern suburbs of Haie Vivre, life is quite sleepy and pleasant with many nice houses and sweeping boulevards. This is the embassy district of Cotonou, where there are rows of restaurants and expansive government buildings, including the presidential palace which occupies a vast tract of land. In this suburb, you will find Western-style chain hotels for business travelers that face towards the golden beaches, which are surprisingly empty. The touristic potential of Benin's beaches are severely under-utilsed, as there are hardly any bars or restaurants on the beach. It appears that Cotonou has turned its back from the sea. But not quite, as there is an abundance of seafood here, and the Beninoise restaurants serve them a lot.
The core city centre is different from Haie Vivre. It's more chaotic but still tolerable compared to Luanda or Kinshasa. You will see mosques and churches close to each other and not far from the vibrant African-style markets. The Beninoise love their zemidjans, those ubiquitous motorbikes that serve as public transport. Hundreds of zemidjan drivers sporting the official yellow vests, zoom and swerve around the city streets while trying to pick up single passengers to sit behind them without wearing a helmet. I've tried them, it's very cheap and they're quite exhilirating but a tad perilous. A joy ride on a zemidjan is the ultimate Cotonou experience!
Cotonou has some quartiers that have their own character. The Jonquet district is the nightlife section of the city, where there are many bars tucked in some corner where many weary male Beninois go out for a drink or two that last till morning during the weekends. Haie Vivre is more upmarket and where many expats live while Cadjehou is where many government buildings are located. One thing good about the areas around central Cotonou is that the traffic has a semblance of chaotic order which actually flows. You actually get from A to B without being bogged down for hours.
Kotonou means 'the mouth of the river of death' in the local Fon language. At the end of the 18th century At the beginning of the 19th century, Kotonou was just an insignificant fishing village under the Kingdom of Dahomey. Things changed in the middle of 19th century when the French forged a treaty with the Dahomean king. This treaty included the establishment of a trading port. The French selected the village, renamed it to Cotonou, and the city has never looked back since. The French overtook the city completely in the 1860's further reinforcing their presence to challenge the British domination of West Africa. Despite some resistance from the Dahomean tribal rulers, Dahomey was under the French for the early part of the 20th century, and they expanded and modernised the port of Cotonou in their effort to improve trade with the colony. The Kingdom of Dahomey became the Republic of Benin after its independence from France in the 1960 and Cotonou flourished as the nation's economic centre while Porto Novo retained its role as the traditional capital of Benin.
Today, Cotonou is the transportation hub of Benin. Most of its manufacturing industries, such as brewery and textile, are also based in the city. One can see that the city is full of economic activity in the crowded markets and new high rise buildings. Compared to some African cities, Cotonou is relatively pleasant. It's a nice place to start your adventure into the hinterlands of West Africa.
- Cons:Zooming Zimajans
- In a nutshell:Caught on you, Cotonou!
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