Cotonou is the economic capital of Benin, as well as its largest city and houses many of its government and diplomatic services; thus, it is Benin's de facto capital, even though the official capital is Porto-Novo.
Cotonou is located on the coastal strip between Lake Nokoué and the Atlantic Ocean. The city is cut in two by a canal, the lagoon of Cotonou.
The climate is equatorial, alternating with two rainy seasons (April - July and September - October) and two dry seasons. From December to January, the city is affected by winds. The annual temperature varies between 18 and 35 °C.
The Autonomous Port of Cotonou is one of the largest ports in West Africa. Through Cotonou International Airport the capitals of the region, as well as the major cities of Benin are within reach: Parakou, Kandi, Natitingou, Djougou and Savé.
Because of these connections, Cotonou has become a crossroads of West African commerce.
SLEEP The very popular guesthouse La Maison de Canélia (Fidjrosse, Fin Pavé, lamaisondecanelia) is located on a quiet, pretty side street. Stroll to Fidjrosse Beach, a short walk away, or relax on the roof terrace overlooking the tropical gardens.
EAT For superb Beninois cuisine, try Maquis Chez Amy (Quartier de Ganhi, next to the Church of Notre Dame), a hole in the wall that’s jammed at lunchtime. Fish of the day with the spicy sauce and a side order of atieké (cassava) is the way the locals like to roll.
- For a fascinating afternoon, head to the outskirts of Cotonou, where you’ll find the incredible stilt village of Ganvie on Lac Nokoué. Take a pirogue around the floating market and ask for Alako Hain Abumaja Tand, one of Ganvie’s chief priests. For a few euros he’ll be happy to show you his temple and offer a blessing by spritzing you with local gin.
- The Artisanal Centre (Centre de Promotion de l'Artisanat, Rue Saint Michel) is a collection of small shops set in a park, each a treasure trove of local art and artifacts, from exquisite brass sculptures to antique masks.
- The sandy-floored Jammin Bar (Rue 2355A) is a hip little hangout with a convivial, chilled-out atmosphere. DJs spin a rock and reggae mash-up for locals and expats most nights.
From Cotonou International Airport (airport code: COO), a taxi to the centre of the city will cost from CFA3,300/€5 to CFA6,600/€10. If you are on a tight budget and have minimal baggage, the ubiquitous ‘zémidjan’ motorcycle taxis will propel you into Cotonou for about CFA655/€1.