A renowned and historically significant nation, Benin is also the cradle of one of the world’s most enigmatic religions. There is a tangible sense of centuries-old customs permeating the air when you set foot on this land. Benin’s culture is evident in every corner, from the markets of Cotonou to the shores of Lake Ahémé. What really moves people, though, is the country’s Voodoo history.

Voodoo, or Vodun as it is known locally, is not merely a belief system in Benin but a way of life. This ancient religion, rooted in West African animism, has survived centuries of persecution and continues to thrive as an integral part of Beninese culture. To truly understand the essence of Voodoo, one must embark on a pilgrimage to its sacred sites.

Routing from Ouidah to Abomey and Ganvie

The world-famous Temple of Pythons sits among colonial buildings and palm-lined beaches in the mythical seaside town of Ouidah. Slithering serpents—honored as sacred messengers of the Voodoo spirits—welcome you as you enter this holy sanctuary. While the sight may be frightening to the uninitiated, believers see it as a powerful symbol of protection and wisdom.

a group of men working on a boat on the beach
Photo Credit: Junior Samson

From Ouidah, venture inland to Abomey, the historic capital of the ancient Kingdom of Dahomey. Here, Voodoo’s legacy intersects with the region’s royal past, as evidenced by the imposing walls of the Abomey Royal Palaces. These UNESCO World Heritage sites offer a glimpse into Benin’s regal history, where kings and queens ruled with divine authority and Voodoo rituals played a central role in governance.

While in Benin, stop in Ganvié, the world-famous “Venice of Africa.” The Tofinu people have maintained their ancient culture and way of life in this floating community that sits on the banks of Lake Nokoué. Visitors can feel the deep spiritual bond between the Tofinu and the environment as they paddle through the network of canals in a dugout canoe.

Deep Within Dankoli’s Sacred Forests

The pinnacle of our spiritual trip lies in the northern reaches of Benin, in the sacred forests of Dankoli. The ancient shrines and altars where Voodoo priests commune with the spirits lie hidden among the dense foliage. As you wander through this mystical realm, guided by the rhythmic chants of the adepts, you cannot help but feel the presence of something greater than yourself.

Porto-Novo, Bénin
Photo Credit: Mayeur Pascal

Yet, amid the mysticism and ritual, the Beninese people’s warmth and kindness leave the most lasting impression. People are friendly and eager to welcome you no matter where you go, whether it’s the busy marketplaces or the quiet countryside. 

And so, in an increasingly materialistic and technological world, this small West African nation provides a reminder of the enduring strength of tradition and faith. Whether you come for enlightenment or to immerse yourself in a culture unlike any other, Benin will greet you with open arms and an infectious warmth.