Kétou is a medium sized town in Benin. It is the seat of a very old Yoruba kingdom and therefore has a particularly strong cultural heritage. Ketou is very much off the beaten-track, making for an interesting visit.
Ketou is only two and half hours and 140 kilometres from Cotonou. There are regular taxis leaving from the Dantokpa taxi station in Cotonou. The overall quality of the vehicles is very poor, so do not expect to travel comfortably. If leaving from Porto-Novo, go to the Ouando taxi station where taxis leave more frequently than from Cotonou. As of this writing prices are 2500 CFA from Cotonou and 2000 CFA from Porto-Novo. These prices will change directly with the price of gasoline.
Ketou is not a very big town. You can easily get around by foot although there are moto-taxis everywhere. Drivers have only recently begun wearing uniforms as in other parts of Benin, but you will easily find them at designated taxi stands. It should never cost more than 150 CFA for a single ride through town.
Although the tourist sector in Ketou is very under-developed, there are various interesting sites in town. Ketou is a very old and important kingdom in Yoruba tradition and therefore has a strong cultural heritage. Some of the local attractions include:
- The Royal Palace, which is located at the far end of town in the direction of Bohicon. The current king speaks French and is very open to visitors. Please show the utmost respect for him and ask before taking any pictures. Note that you should not shake his hand and that you must remove your shoes before entering the palace.
- Akaba Idenan (The Sacred Door). This site is one of few remaining examples of traditional military fortificatrions in the region. A visit to the site will provide you with interesting insight into local history. The door was at one point the only entrance to town, and is therefore protected by large fortification ditches and high walls. The site is also the center of the Orisha/Voodoo cult of Ketou. A number of shrines and traditional Yoruba statues can be found within the compound. As this is a very sacred site, it is best to see the king before visiting. He will take a small fee (500-1000 CFA) and will provide you with a guide. You may encounter some hassle from locals when visiting. You do not need to give them money but do deal with them tactfully, without getting angry. This always makes matters worse, wherever you may be in Benin.
- Aitan Ola (The Sacred Garbage Pile). This is certainly a unique site, well worth a visit. It is a major Orisha shrine, established in the early days of Ketou's history. The mound of garbage actually stands above a sacred charm, said to offer protection to the kingdom in time of war. When it was first buried, locals were given strict instructions to cover the charm with anything they could find - hence the garbage. The site is located nearby the Royal Palace and also offers the opportunity to discover some of the more traditional and 'authentic' parts of Ketou.
Ketou doesn't offer much in terms of entertainment. Like in most rural communities, the biggest attraction in Ketou is its people. The town is not used to seeing foreign travellers so you can expect a cheerful, albeit guarded, welcome. It is important to be open and friendly if you wish to engage with the people you meet. As with everywhere else in Benin, it is strongly advised that you not hand out gifts or money to people you have just met, as this only serves to cause hassle for future visitors. Some suggestions on things to do:
- Attend a cultural event. Unfortunately, these don't follow any particular calendar, so it is very much hit or miss. If you are lucky and are willing to spend the night, you could attend a Guelede mask dance, which is a UNESCO World Heritage dance. If you are a woman, or even a man, please take extreme caution when travelling to Ketou during the month of August. During this time, Ketou celebrates its most powerful Orisha, the Oro divinity. These celebrations are extremely sacred and completely forbidden to women. It is strongly advised that you avoid Ketou at this time, especially if you do not know anyone there. Please ask around if you intend on travelling to Ketou around that time (this also applies to other towns in the region, which also celebrate the Oro).
- Visit the main 'Assena' market. This is the main market in the region and attracts people from far and away. It is quite vibrant and is a good way of getting a taste of local life.
- Visit one of the surrounding villages. If you are interested in seeing a village split between two countries, Ilara, 17 km east of Ketou, is certainly a place to visit. Right on the border with Nigeria, it can be interesting to walk around and try to figure out which country you are in. Another option, only 6 km from Ketou, is the small village of Ofia. This village is said to be the home of the Guelede dance and a visit to the king will leave you with some fascinating stories about local history.
No visit to Ketou would be complete without a taste of the local food speciality - Lafou. This cassava and corn flour paste is the staple meal in Ketou and most local families eat it every day. You will find it at any stall or restaurant that sells food. Some recommended places for eating are:
- Ave Maria, between the school and the customs agents, is a small but well stocked restaurant owned by a woman who couldn't be more welcoming to foreigners. She serves chicken, rice and wagasi (a Beninese cheese). She has a big smile and even bigger heart. This should be the first if not the only stop you make in Ketou. Her children will tease you and want to play and you won't be able to resist. She has cold drinks and will do special orders of salad if you give her a day or two.
- Maquis La Detente, on the way out of town in the direction of Cotonou. This restaurant has a good selection of fried fish as well as the occasional salad. It is also a bar.
- Auberge Yokpodugbe, off the road that leads to the village of Ofia. This is a friendly, colourful and cheap restaurant where you can find excellent jollof rice and a variety of fish.
- L'Auberge de la Cite has a good menu that offers some western dishes. If you plan on eating there, it is a good idea to give them advance notice so they can prepare.
- For travel to Pobe, Porto-Novo and Cotonou, go to the main taxi station in town. The best time to travel is early in the morning when taxis leave more frequently. If leaving later, it is best to go to the 'Calvaire' about two kilometers north of town on the road to Cotonou, where you can board taxis already on their way.
- If you are heading towards Bohicon or Abomey, leave from the station directly behind the Royal Palace. Note that vehicles leave quite infrequently from here, so the wait can be quite long.
- For travel closer to Ketou, it is best to hire a moto-taxi that will take you to your destination and back.