White-throated Bee-eater Merops albicollis
Sô-Ava, Lower Ouémé basin, southern Benin
19 November 2011
There are no true birding tours organized at present in Benin but a number of recent initiatives aiming at developing local birdwatching ecotourism are worth mentioning.
Eco-Benin NGO aims at “Working for Nature and Communities Welfare” and offers a wide range of eco-touristic and community tours across the country. They provide, with professionalism and a high ethical standard, community-based tours between tradition, culture and nature. By increasing local capacities and employment opportunities, ecotourism is an effective vehicle for empowering local communities to fight against poverty and to achieve sustainable development. With an emphasis on enriching personal experiences and environmental awareness, ecotourism promotes greater understanding and appreciation for nature, local society, and culture.
Eco-Benin works with international tour-operators as well as with individual travellers. Their website provides all you need to know: www.ecobenin.com/.
Benin Environment and Education Society (BEES ONG) works for people and nature and aims at biodiversity conservation and community development through ecotourism. They are currently developing a very promising ornithological tour in Sô-Ava, where most of the water birds from Nokoué Lake are likely to be found and with a bit of luck the rare Anambra Waxbill. A pirogue is available, a watchtower has been built and guides are trained. They also intend to develop a ‘Benin Bird Route’ on the model of Costa Rica. We wish them success wih this venture. More information is available at www.bees-ong.org .
The local NGO Nature Tropicale provides several ecotourist activities. In Grand-Popo, they offer Sea Turtle activities during the laying season. From August to November, they offer whale-watching pelagic trips off Cotonou to observe Humpback Whales Megaptera noaveanglia which are quite common in the waters off Benin at that period. This is an excellent opportunity to find seabirds. In September 2012, several Wilson’s Storm Petrels Oceanites oceanicus were observed offshore during one of these trips.
Humpback Whales Megaptera noaveanglia and Wilson’s Storm Petrels Oceanites oceanicus, c. 20 km off Cotonou, Photo: Bruno Portier, 16 September 2012
A small number of reports have been submitted in recent years. Two are available here in PDF format but they may include unconfirmed records and are provided for information only.
Benin Bird Trip Report (Jan - Feb 2010) by Alain Fossé (in French). 14 pages: full birding trip report, with checklist of 223 species, detailed itinerary, accommodation information, phone numbers of hotels and drivers, sites GPS coordinates and daily lists including Cotonou and coast, Nokoué Lake, Camp Numi, Pendjari National Park, Forêt de la Lama, Hlan / koussoukpa (= Lokoli Forest), Grand Popo and Bouches du Roy. A PDF copy is available to download here (344 Kb).
Benin Bird Trip Report (Nov 2010) by Julien Gonin (in French). 33 pages: full birding trip report, with annotated checklist of 270 species, selection of pictures, accommodation information, phone numbers of hotels and guide, detailed itinerary including Cotonou and coast, Grand Popo and Bouches du Roy, Lokoli Forest, pays Somba, Pendjari National Park, Tanougou waterfalls, Nokoué Lake and Sô River. A PDF copy is available to download here (4.2 Mb).
Abdim’s Stork Ciconia abdimii
Niger River, northern Benin
Photo: Agnès Giannotti, 23 July 2006
There are no professional birding guides known in Benin. In the two northern parks and in the Lama Classified Forest, the services of a professional guide, available at the entrance, are necessary. Some may have excellent identification skills but others may just know the name of 10 birds or so. If the choice is possible, let them know you would strongly prefer a guide with advanced birding abilities. Anywhere else, independent birders may well be able to obtain the services of local people or off-duty forest rangers for local trips. Maarten van den Akker notes that there are several local guides at the Niaouli Forest.
Independent birders can fly into Cotonou from Paris with Air France, from Brussels with SN-Brussels Airlines and from many other European capitals with Royal Air Maroc via Casablanca. There are also a number of cheap intra-African connections, via Lagos, Dakar or Abidjan. Travelling from Cotonou to Parakou, Malanville or Nattintingou either needs a private car or requires the use of local taxis. These can be negotiated and for two people would be quite cheap. An alternative is to wait and share and pay less. A typical trip to Parakou with hire car should cost around 50€, and to Grand Popo probably around 15€. The local currency is the CFA Franc at 656/€. Note that credit cards are not widely accepted and getting cash from automatic bank walls is virtually possible and only in Cotonou, but even then you might experience frequent and frustrating ‘out of use’ messages; be prepared!
French is the official language and up to 40 African languages are spoken. English is fairly widely spoken because of the proximity of Nigeria.
Further information can be found at Lonely Planet.
Safety and health issues are no different from those in many African countries. Guidebooks, travel companies and websites provide much of the advice one needs, but key points warrant repetition here: (1) be aware of the risk of malaria and seek current advice, sleep in a sealed tent or under a net and take prophylaxis as recommended; (2) always ensure you have sufficient water and some method of purification (even if this comprises a pot and a campfire for boiling); (3) do not underestimate the danger of being in the sun for too long, ensure you use sun-block, drink plenty of water and wear a hat; (4) be aware of the risk of AIDS; (5) ensure that you take a reasonably-equipped first-aid pack with you including supplies of hypodermic and suturing needles; (6) do not walk around the city after dark, and take particular care to avoid the beach and isolated areas near the beach after dark; (7) remember also that the ocean currents along the coast are extremely strong and treacherous, with rough surf and a strong undertow, and several people drown each year.
Traffic safety and road conditions
The information below concerning Benin is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
With the exception of the road linking Cotonou in the south to Malanville on the border with Niger in the north, from both Parakou and Savalou in central Benin to Natitingou and Burkina Faso border in the north-western part of the country, roads in Benin are generally in poor condition and are often impassable during the rainy season. Even the above-mentioned sealed roads to Burkina and Niger have deep potholes. Benin's unpaved roads vary widely in quality; deep sand and potholes are common. During the rainy season from mid-June to mid-September, dirt roads often become impassable. Four-wheel drive vehicles with full spare tyres and emergency equipment are recommended.
Traffic moves on the right and an international driving licence is necessary for drivers.
Most of the main streets in Cotonou are paved, but side streets are often made of dirt and have deep potholes. Cotonou has no public transportation system; many Beninese people rely on bicycles, mopeds, motorbikes, and zemidjans (moto-taxis). Travelers using zemidjans, particularly at night, are much more vulnerable to being mugged, assaulted or robbed. Buses and bush taxis offer service in the interior but we strongly recommend not to travel long distances by car at night as roads are much more dangerous after dark and most of lethal accidents or car jacking happen at night.
Black Crake Amaurornis flavirostra, Malanville, north Benin
Photo: Agnès Giannotti, 13th November 2010