Cotonou is a beautiful town in Benin Republic and the economic center of this West African country. Its neighbors with Nigeria and so makes for a great weekend gateway from the hustle and bustle of Lagos. Cotonou has it’s hustle and bustle places too, but overall it’s a lot more laid back – and plus you can get plenty of beautiful beach getaways right in the city.
So if you are planning a weekend trip, or longer, to Cotonou or just want to know a little bit more about this beautiful coastal city, read on!
Where to Stay in Cotonou
I much prefer Airbnb when I’m going to be at a place for 3 or more days. I like to feel at home and do my own cooking and usually ends up being cheaper. There are a number of AMAZING Airbnb options right in the heart of town, but the ones that met ALL the specs we were looking for was this listing. The host was super great and his girlfriend let us borrow things in their kitchen (spices, garlic, oil…things you might not want to buy for just a week stay).
The neighborhood we stayed in was Fidjrosse and this neighborhood turned out to be perfect for our needs. Quiet, near the beach, enough places to go and easy to get transport to other places in the city. There were two supermarkets and a boulangerie not too far away from us. Pharmacies, a catholic church, restaurants and other things were also nearby.
I would definitely advice staying in this neighborhood – because it also had a mix of local dive type restaurants and some chique upscale restaurants, not too far away. We were also able to do all our grocery shopping at the super market or from women who sell fruits and veggies at stands along the road.
What to Eat in Cotonou
Speaking of grocery shopping. We did almost all our own cooking. We were there for about 7 days and 8 nights and we only ate out 3 times and snacked out (suya, ice cream, juice) only three times as well.
Grocery Shopping and Cooking
Things are super pricey in Cotonou. For example, eggs are 100 cfa each which is crazy because they are like 60 cfa in Ivory Coast. We asked someone and they said they get a lot of provisions from Lagos and hardly grow anything themselves…no wonder.
Besides that though, we found lots of vegetable and fruit stalls along the way and we were able to get most of what we needed like that. I felt the fruits and veggies were pretty reasonable prices. It was the eggs, groundnuts, soap, etc, that was outrageous. Although I know there are sizable markets and super markets where we could have done that as well, it was just faster to pick it up along the way.
For our groceries (wine, pasta, ice cream) and provisions (soap, toothbrush, etc) we went to Supermarche du Pont and another provision store a few kilometers away, and then shopped at the stalls around it/on the way back home for things like potatoes, vegetables, fruits, groundnuts, eggs, etc.
Le Lieu Unique was on the pricey side of things – a regular bottle of Sprite was 1000cfa…maybe more. Whereas it’s about 300cfa at the grocery store. By the time we got there though, we were super hungry and already seated so we ordered a pizza to share. The pizza was actually pretty good and they have live music there on the weekends. I would suggest going there if it’s in your budget, but if it’s not, there are plenty of other options.
Le Paillote was a local dive along the beach, so we tried a local dish called Sauce Epinard (spinach sauce). Another blogger, Cassie Daves said she didn’t like Beninois food…but the sauce epinard was AMAZING! I think part of it is definitely personal preference, but I think it helps to have someone that speaks French because the only reason we ordered that dish was because I asked what the national dish of Benin was, the one dish everyone must try if they visit the country and that’s what about 3 different restaurants said. The local name for the dish is Gboma Dessi so be aware of that too.
If I had been in my right senses, I would have ordered two different local dishes, but the woman was speaking so fast and she was so friendly, I ended up agreeing to whatever she was saying. Good thing the dish was DELICIOUS. We had it we pate (a type of swallow made with corn I believe). And Rice. I preferred it with the pate but it was delicious either way. The dish looked tiny when we got it, but it was EXTREMELY filling.
On that same stretch of road there were plenty of other restaurants to choose from serving similar things. We chose Paillotte because the seating and atmosphere was our favorite. The open air layout and seating gave you an unobstructed view of the beach and the sea.
As for fancier restaurants that we checked out, liked and might have eaten at if they were in our budget, I liked Dream Beach and another one whose name I forgot inside the Erevan mall complex near the airport.
Boulangeries and Patisseries.
And now for my favorite part and the highlight of going to a Francophone country (besides speaking French of course!)
There was a boulangerie not too far from where we were staying, but we found it to be super expensive for anything besides bread. Where we found the best prices was at Super U/Eravan SuperMarket. We jogged there from our Airbnb, and strolled back but I it was actually quite a distance! So worth it though.
It was my birthday so we got a pack of 2 croissants and 2 pain au chocolat for 1400cfa, which is 350cfa each. This is compared to about 600 for croissants and 800 for pain au chocolat at other boulangeries. (You can compare this to 300cfa for a croissant in Abidjan). If we had bought the croissants individually at Super U, then I think it was about 400 each, so still cheaper than other boulangeries in Cotonou.
Also, weird/fun fact. Everyone called that super market (there are a few throughout Cotonou) Erevan. Which is weird because there is a giant Super U on it and all their products are labeled with a U. I mean, the word Erevan is on the side of the building as well, but Super U stands out to me more.
This is just advice for when asking for directions…when we asked people where the Super U was, it took them a while to figure out what we were asking for. We would say “Le grande supermarche…Super U?” “Ahhhh. Eravan? C’est tout droit.” “The big super market…Super U?” “Ooooo! Eravan? It’s straight ahead.”
What to Do in Cotonou
If you are looking for an adventure filled getaway, I’m not sure Cotonou is for you. But if you are looking for a relaxing getaway with some nice sights to see (which is my idea of a “getaway” to be honest), then Cotonou should be high on your list.
To be perfectly honest there aren’t that many attractions in Cotonou. I know people enjoy going to Tokpa Market and the beach of course. But I didn’t feel like going to the market, especially since I had nothing to buy and I’m sure it’s like many other West African markets. We were right near the beach and went a few times, so I enjoyed that a lot.
The few sites there were to see though, we definitely hit them and the ride on the Zim there was scenic (Zims are what they call the bikes that take people everywhere within the city limits…it’s your surest bet for a taxi). The one full day we spent sight-seeing this was our general route:
We tried to go to the Port, but that was kind of annoying to figure out so we just trekked to the Basilica and that was worth the view. It’s super pretty and photogenic, but somebody hissed at us to stop taking photos. From there we went to the Ancien Pont (it means Old Bridge). Ger found it unremarkable, but I thought it was picturesque…though, anything that fits in the frame of my camera these days can be made picturesque. On our way we stopped at La Buoffe for ice cream. The flavors we had were Cheesecake and what I can only imagine is French for Smurfs? It was nice sha…800cfa per scoop. The other things on their menu were outrageous so we held it together and had dinner at home.
If you get a chance, check out the St. Francoise Catholic church in Fidjrosse. The interior artwork is beautiful. When I saw it, I knew it looked familiar, so I googled it and found out it’s the same art work that can be found at Keur Moussa in Senegal, which is an Abbey right outside of Dakar where monks live. At St. Francoise, even the details on the lectern and the stand that holds the cross is true to the culture and I love that. We attended Mass link to catholic post there twice and got to hear from both their priests. Also the music in their church is AWESOME!
Also, if you are in Cotonou for more than 3 days, and you are up to it, I would definitely suggest taking a day trip or two. We chose to go to Ouidah, which was a super awesome idea and it was nice to see a smaller Benin Republic town. Another option, we didn’t go, is Porto Novo which is the capital of Benin Republic. It’s supposed to be beautiful and there are a few sights to see there. If we had been in Benin Republic for longer, I would have definitely taken a day trip there as well.
Getting Around Cotonou
Like I said, the Zims are your best bet as far as getting around. Beware though, everyone and their Mama owns a motorcycle or scooter in Cotonou, so don’t just flag down anyone on a bike like you could in Lagos. Zim riders wear a distinct vest over their clothes. Those are the people you should flag down and then negotiate the price. For us, we would ask our host the approximate prices of things before heading out to negotiate. For the most part though, it’s relatively cheap to get around.
I also think Cotonou is much more stroll worthy (at least that trek from the Port to the Ancien Pont) than lots of places in Lagos. One thing I hate about strolling around Lagos is that it’s smelly and has lots of open and dirty gutters, even in downtown VI. In Cotonou, we had plenty of sidewalk to be on, and lots of interesting sights to take in like a busy intersection or this village looking square that we ended up taking a mini photoshoot at.
So there you have it! Everything you need to know about spending a perfect getaway in Cotonou! I’ll do a breakdown of how we got there and back (NIGHT MARE!!), how specifically we spent our time, and also our day trip from Cotonou to Ouidah, another town in Benin Republic.
Let me know what you thought of the format of this Travel Post! I want to make sure my posts aren’t just recaps (though that is coming), but are actually full of great ideas for when you are planning your own trip. I hope this inspires you to check out Cotonou as an AWESOME and relaxing travel destination. And if you aren’t planning a trip just yet, share it with someone you think might be planning one!
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