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Ganvie Benin, West Africa, Venice of Africa

Updated on February 28, 2017
The bustling market at Ganvie,Benin
The bustling market at Ganvie,Benin | Source

Ganvie, Benin Lake Nokoué, is different from almost anywhere else on earth. It is a village built entirely on stilts. This is not new in West Africa as there are similar stilt settlements all along the Atlantic ocean.

What makes Ganvie unique is that there is no land near to it. The village is on the lagoon, entirely surrounded by water, an island of houses if you will.

The villagers own canoes as their only means of transport and are predominantly fishermen. They have even devised a method of using bamboo to create fish ponds within the lagoon, where they breed fish.

Ganvie Architecture

Luxurious apartments at Ganvie in Benin
Luxurious apartments at Ganvie in Benin | Source

Origins of Ganvie

Folklore/ Oral history date the settlement to the 16th or 17th Century.

The story goes that it was established at the height of the slave trade era as a way of hiding from captors.

The principal captors were of the Dahomey tribe and their beliefs prohibited them from crossing bodies of water.

The Tofinu people (ancestors of the present day Ganvie) were peacefull reclusive farmers. Their only hope for survival was in remaining exclusively marine based.

They became self sufficient fishermen, who lived and died on the water, trading with those who came to them on canoes.

Ganvie, Benin, West Africa Today

The people of Ganvie are still rather reclusive.

For a village that makes most of its income from tourists they are rather unfriendly.

Many travellers insist it makes the trip more authentic, as they ignore visitors a lot and move on with thier daily routines.

Visiting Ganvie, on the West Coast of Africa

Ganvie is accessible from Cotonou by boat or canoe. It takes between 11/2 to 3 hours depending on your choice. You can simply take a taxi to the water side and board a canoe.

The locals refer to themselves as Ganvie au Benin. Some hotels in Cotonou arrange day trips on demand. The official tour trip is more expensive and regimented, but safer. Ensure the tour operator has enough life jackets for every one.

While in Ganvie there is not much to see as the people are poor, living a very basic life. They are not very tourist aware so the village is not spruced up.

There are a number of restaurants serving delicious rice and fish meals. For the hardy adventurer, a Ganvie hotel beckons - built of course with bamboo and perched on stilts - for a night with and on nature.

Allure of Ganvie

Ganvie has been called the Venice of Africa but it is far from that. It contains no centuries old wonders and makes no effort to engage visitors.

All you get is the opportunity to observe people who have lived for generations perched on water and know no different. You will see little children chattering as they paddle to visit friends.Life is tough for the villagers, there is little time for idle chat.

Visit Ganvie Benin Africa and marvel at the diversity in humanity.

Other Sites - West African Tourism

There are a lot of other places of interest in West Africa. There are also a number of dangerous locales with danger just around the corner. Always inquire from your embassy about local safety conditions before you set out.

The Gambia

At the tip of west africa and almost completely surrounded by giant Senegal, the Gambia is a safe, unspoiled natural place. There are a lot of tourist attractions like the artifact market and the crocodile village where a specie of friendly crocs frolif with the villagers.

Another major attraction is St James Island, enshrined in slave trade history. There is a museum on the spot. The author of ROOTS traced his ancestor Kunta Kinte to the Gambia.

Who knows - he may have sailed from St James island

After all is said, my best location for an authentic getaway in West Africa for a unique holiday is Ganvie lake village Benin.


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