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Cotonou is the largest city in Benin and the country's primary port of entry for visitors. The city is located in the south of the country, on the coastline.


In the Fon language, the word 'cotonou' means "the mouth of the river of death". The area was settled as a fishing village during the time of the Dahomey Kingdom. The French were given permission to build a trading post, until they were given the region altogether in 1868. The city was used to defend against the British in their conquests.

Cotonou grew to become the largest city in the country, right up to independence. Although the capital is located at Porto-Novo, Cotonou is still the nation's economic and population centre. It also attracts many government institutions and embassies, regardless of Porto-Novo's status, leading to the city being referred as Benin's de-facto capital.

Get in

By plane

Cadjehoun Airport is located just west of city centre, and is the primary airport serving the city and the country. It has scheduled services from most African capitals, along with connections to Brussels and Paris. Short-haul flights from nearby Lagos are a popular way of reaching Benin.

By bus

Buses from nearby capitals Accra, Lagos and Lome are plentiful. Amongst others, ABC Transport offers daily services.

There are bus services from Cotonou to every city in the country.

By train

There is a train route that goes halfway up the country, from Cotonou to Parakou, run by L’Organisation Commune Benin-Niger des Chemins de Fer et Transports (2132 2206). While the train takes longer than a bush taxi, it's a much more relaxing way of traveling. First class tickets are only slightly more expensive than second class ones and are worth the extra expenditure. The train leaves Cotonou three times a week (Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday) at 8AM precisely, arriving at Parakou about 6:30PM, and returns the next day, leaving at 8AM from the Parakou train station, arriving 6:30PM in Cotonou. First class costs CFA 5600, while second costs CFA 4000.

The trains on these schedules will usually stop at Bohicon, which is 4 hours from Cotonou. The fare costs CFA 1400 for first class, and CFA 1100 for second.

A tour company also hires out 1920s colonial-period trains for multiple-day touring trips at expensive, but good value prices (CFA 50,000+). The service is called Train d'Ebene and is operated by Voyageur SARL [1].

Get around

The best way to get around is by taxis. A cheaper alternative is by 'moto', localled called zemidjans. They are simply scooter or motocycle taxis. These are very popular and unique to Benin. Fares are negotiable, and there are no meters. The minimum fare is CFA 100.


  • 1 Cotonou Cathedral (Notre Dame des Apotres) (Near the Ancien Pont Bridge). Noted for its distinct burgundy and white striped tile architecture. The cathedral is the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cotonou.



It is possible to learn the native Fon language by contacting Vinawamon (2130 0856) or through the French Institute's Cultural Centre, +229 2121 2121, ..


  • 1 Grand Marché de Dantokpa, Boulevard St. Michel (by the lagoon). The Dantokpa market is allegedly the largest in West Africa, and it's huge indeed. You can buy everything here, be prepared to bargain and brace yourself for noise, crowds, scents and general sensory overload. A fascinating place to visit.




  • 2 Hotel du Lac, +229-21331919. Check-out: Noon. Great location, reasonable prices, free Wi-Fi, nice swimming pool. From $100.
  • Le Crillon Hostel, off ave Steinmetz, +229 21315158. Fan room with own bathroom. CFA 8000.
  • Centre Paul six Hostel, Blvd St Michel. Fan room. CFA 3000 per per person,.


Stay Safe



Go next

  • Porto-Novo - official capital city of Benin
  • Abomey - UNESCO world heritage site with a number of mud-brick palaces
  • Bohicon - a city in the south of the country

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