Once a force to be reckoned with, Benin, a beacon of democracy and stability in West Africa, remains a historical and culture-rich country to explore. It's also one of the most straightforward parts of the region to access.
The ruins and remnants of the powerful Dahomey Kingdom that once dominated the region are still evident and their palaces and temples, especially in Abomey, make fascinating viewing; look out for Ghezo's fearsome throne, mounted on human skulls.
Benin's wealth came from the slave trade, with Ouidah, a crumbling, atmospheric small city, the port of departure for slaves bound for Brazil and the Caribbean. Retrace the final steps of those being sent abroad to the Point of No Return memorial to get a sense of what millions of slaves experienced.
Both cities are voodoo strongholds and there are plenty of fetish temples and markets to explore in a bid to gain a true picture of Benin's state religion, free from the rest of the world's loose interpretations and imagery. Fetish shrines, and python temples abound but your best bet is to visit during the annual Voodoo Day on 10th January.
Cotonou, another substantial port and trading centre that's full of bustle and business, has good beaches at Fidjrosse where water sports are popular.
Travel to Ganvlé to see houses built on stilts rise out of the shallow, murky waters of Lac Nokoué and witness local people poling their pirogues across the still surface, fishing or selling their wares from their boats.
In the north, the Pendjari National Park, one of the best in West Africa, is home to more than 45 different species of mammals, including lions and elephants, as well as over 200 species of birds, making it popular with wildlife enthusiasts.