By day Cotonou is a song that not only you want to sing to but to which you also want to dance. Colours bewitch you, the azure sky and warm air calls you out into the open and people know your name. A taxi will take you wherever you need to go but the zémidjan, the Moto taxis, ubiquitous and fast swarm the streets always willing to carry you from the craziness of Fridjrosse Beach past the zone commerciale, on the bridge over Lake Nokoué and the serenity of Boulevard de la Marina.
Take a ride on a zémidjan
Zémidjan in the Fon language means “take me quickly” and is a fun and cheap way to get around the city. Be careful as you aren’t provided a helmet and ensure it’s always one passenger on the motorcycle. A police officer gave chase when a friend and I were both passengers on a zémidjan, which we thought was legal and the driver refused to stop.
Some roads in the city are not tarred or have potholes so it’s best to use an automobile to get around. At night taxis will wait for you while you have dinner or go out and drivers will ask for a flat rate eg CFA 4000 – 10 000. Zémidjans are from CFA 200.
Dantokpa Market and the Fetish Market
This is one of the best parts of visiting the city. It’s a huge market where you can find everything but it’s best to buy Ankara fabric and jewellery. Take a guide with you and give it a few hours. The fetish market is not for the faint hearted but it speaks to the voodoo religion. If you’re really interested in the Voodoo religion you can find out more here.
Place de l’Étoile Rouge
Although just a landmark this remains an important site for the Benineses, a symbol or revolution. While travelling through the city you will come across this red star built by the Russians in 1975.
Palais des Congrés
I drove past this so many times and it’s a great beacon in the city. You can’t go near it as there are armed guards but it is a place of great architecture and hosts numerous conferences.
I took a walk to the beach one steamy afternoon and was surprised by the number of local restaurants and bars on the beach. I enjoyed a simple fish plate washed down a grapefruit flavoured Youki, the local soft drink. If you do decide to enjoy the festivities at night make sure you come as a group or with people who know the area.
Located close to the US Embassy, you can enjoy the afternoon swimming and a long lunch. You can enjoy volleyball or soccer but when the sun goes it’s perfect for a sunset walk.