At a Glance
Dates: December 18th - December 29th, 2023
Extension: No extensions currently available
Prices: This trip is available for £2,795 per person sharing, with a £300 single supplement.
In a sentence: Pendjari is a truly magical destination for any safari connoisseur, home to the few remaining Cheetah, Lion and Bush Elephant in West Africa.
It is a minor miracle that Benin has been overlooked by the safari community for so long. Nestled between Nigeria and Togo, this small West African country boasts many of the few remaining pockets of pristine savanna and forest habitats in the region. In the south, a network of forests managed by local communities offers rare chances to view habituated primates including White-Thighed Colobus and White-Throated Guenon, as well as Anomalures and numerous Duiker species. Further north, the border areas shared with Burkina Faso and Niger represent perhaps the greatest wilderness area in all of West Africa. The WAP complex, made up of Parc W, Arli and Pendjari is home to a fractured population of West African Cheetah, with Pendjari being the only place where visitors stand a chance of seeing these cats. Pendjari is a stronghold for West African Lions, more closely related to the Lions of India than to those in Eastern and Southern Africa. Bush Elephant, Savanna Buffalo, Roan Antelope, Side-Striped Jackal, African Civet, Olive Baboon, White-Tailed Mongoose, Western Hartebeest and Korrigum are all easily seen in this delightful area.
Pendjari itself is not frequently visited by tourists, other then French safari enthusiasts who are 'in the know'. There is limited accommodation available within the reserve, which has recently been taken over by African Parks. Pendjari Hotel is situated in the north of the park, near the border crossing to Burkina Faso, in an area no longer accessible to tourists due to insurgent activities in Arli National Park. The remaining available accommodation is the delightful Pendjari Lodge, perched atop a hill in the centre of the reserve overlooking a small waterhole. The lodge is one of Pictus Safaris' favourite properties, delivering fantastic food each evening, as well as providing clean and comfortable safari tent accommodation. The swimming pool provides a great view of the savanna below, and it is not uncommon to be able to view West African Lion or Bush Elephant as they drink whilst you have a cocktail in hand. Morning and evening game drives are available each day, and we strongly recommend taking as many opportunities as possible to venture into the park to search for Cheetah, Lion, Serval and even Leopard.
On arrival into Cotonou, you will be met by your Pictus Safaris representative and transferred to your hotel (Hotel du Lac or similar). For those arriving early enough, we will gladly arrange a tour of Cotonou for an additional fee. Dinner and a briefing will be provided at your hotel.
Abomey & Bassila
This morning we will leave our hotel shortly after breakfast, making the approximately two-hour drive to the city of Abomey. This city is truly the epicentre of Benin's famous culture of voodoo, and this city has a rich and interesting history. Our local guide has plenty of knowledge to share about the kingdom of Danxome, and we will be sure to visit both the fascinating history museum and former royal palace.
After lunch in Abomey, it is a further five-hour drive to Bassila, a town located within striking distance of Kikele Forest. We will overnight at Hotel La Romance.
Kikele & Natitingou
We recommend an early start this morning, rising at dawn for the very short drive to Kikele Forest. This community-owned forest has been well protected by local people, and this beautiful area has a special and sacred significance to them. This excellent community-wide focus on conservation has been a real boon for the primates that call Kikele home. In particular, this is a stronghold for mona monkey and white-thighed colobus, both of which are fairly well habituated to humans and are typically very photogenic. We will explore this forest on foot with the help of a local guide, before continuing on to Djougou, a bustling market town.
After lunch, we will continue north to the gateway to Pendjari, Natitingou, via the scenic Kota Falls. This small town is dependent on the nearby Pendjari National Park, and we will overnight here at the Hotel Totora.
This morning we will need to go through entry formalities in Natitingou, where the national park has its administrative headquarters. We will also use this opportunity to stock up on any food or water we may miss in Pendjari, as this is the last chance to access shops for quite some time.
By mid-morning, we will have begun our drive to Pendjari itself, which remains 2-3 hours away, depending on road conditions. By mid-afternoon, we will have completed the final entry formalities and we will drive through the buffer zone to Pendjari Lodge. Don't be disappointed if we do not see any game right away, as the buffer zone is largely devoid of wildlife. Once we reach Mare Bali, the first of many small waterholes, we will be in a prime game-viewing area and the Pendjari Lodge is just a short drive away.
Once we are settled into our fantastic accommodation at Pendjari Lodge, we will head out on an evening game drive to explore the area. Mare Bali and Mare Baobab are great areas to begin our search as they are favourite haunts of West African Lion. Pendjari holds the last viable population of Lion in West Africa, and sightings are hit and miss. Previous visitors have seen Lion every day, or not at all, but with the help of local guides we stand an excellent chance of tracking one or more prides down. The plains around the lodge are also a good bet for Bush Elephant, Korrigum, Roan Antelope, Warthog, Buffon's Kob, Western Hartebeest, Bushbuck, Savanna Buffalo, Waterbuck and Patas Monkey, some of which we are likely to encounter today.
We will then return to the lodge for dinner, which is always of a surprisingly high standard given the remoteness of the area. After dinner, we will head out on a night drive, to reveal the nocturnal residents of Pendjari. Lion sightings are possible, as are sightings of White-Tailed Mongoose, African Civet and even Leopard, although sightings of Leopard are rare.
Days Five to Eight
We now have four days to explore Pendjari as far as possible. Morning, evening and night drives are all available to us and we can target species as the group desires. The most prized sighting in Pendjari is that of the vanishingly rare West African Cheetah, of which there are perhaps only a dozen or so left in this ecosystem. Sightings are very rare, but entirely possible, with perhaps 3-4 sightings each year. The plains to the west of the lodge are the best bet for these elusive cats, and this area also regularly produces sightings of Serval. There is really no telling what else we might encounter in this remarkable ecosystem, as there is so much yet to be learnt about this area.
Tanongou & Koussoukoingou
After a final morning drive, we will make a beeline for the mountain town of Tanongou just outside the park. This town is famed for its numerous pools and waterfalls, and we highly recommend a quick dip - it will be chilly! It's then about a four-hour drive to the village of Koussoukoingou, nestled in the heart of the Atakora mountains. This town is well-known for its unique clay and wood buildings, and also its stunning panoramas across the surrounding valleys. We will overnight at the Otammari Lodge.
Taneka Beri & Parakou
After a late breakfast we will transfer to the nearby village of Taneka Beri, where we will have the opportunity to meet local chiefs and learn more about the community structure and ecosystem surrounding this village. We will then head on to Parakou, another four hours or so away. Provided we arrive in the city sufficiently early, we can explore the area and visit a large local market, a real experience. We will overnight at Ecocentre Le Rucher.
Today will be a full day of driving, heading south for approximately six hours, breaking for lunch halfway. Our destination is the Gnanhouizounme forest, and we will camp just outside the forest tonight.
Gnanhouizounme, Porto Novo & Cotonou
An early start today as we head into the forest at first light. Gnanhouizounme is a stronghold for a number of species rarely found elsewhere in West Africa, including numerous primates, sitatunga and red river hog. Sightings of large mammals are rare, but we will do all we can to ensure a sighting on our two-hour walk this morning.
A relatively short drive will take us to Porto Novo, Benin's capital. Our key focus here will be the Jardin des Plantes et de la Nature, where we will lunch and seek out the garden's habituated mona monkeys. After this stop, we will head directly to Cotonou for dinner and homeward flights.
Please be aware that whilst we make every effort to follow the above itinerary as closely as possible, circumstances may occasionally arise that mean the tour deviates from the itinerary.
Dates and Prices
This tour will run in December 2023, aiming to take advantage of the end of the dry season when wildlife populations congregate around water sources, but visiting before the Harmattan winds grip Pendjari and lower visibility. This tour will run from 18th December 2022 to 29th December 2022.
The cost of this holiday is £2,795 per person sharing, with a £300 single supplement. To secure a place on this tour a £1,000 deposit plus any single supplement is required.
Flights and Visas
Pictus Safaris do not offer flight booking services. However, we do recommend the use of travel comparison websites such as skyscanner.net or momondo.com to identify the best fares, and then booking with the airline directly where possible. This will reduce the likelihood of complications and fees should any issues with your booking arise.
British nationals do require a visa to enter Benin. Clients of other nationalities are advised to check well before travel whether they require an entry visa. Details of the process of obtaining a tourist visa for Benin will be provided to you upon booking. The cost of a Beninoise tourist visa for UK citizens is 50 euro - this will be obtained by completing an online application form, which will allow you to collect your visa on arrival. You will need a passport valid for at least three months after your date of return from Benin.
Weather and What to Bring
The weather in Benin in December is warm and dry, with maximum temperatures of around 35 degrees Celsius. At night, temperatures will drop to around 20 degrees Celsius.
A full packing list will be circulated at least two months prior to departure. Pictus Safaris will be able to provide one extra set of binoculars and two spotlights per group, and clients are welcome to bring additional camera, videography and scope equipment should they wish to. Please note that the use of drones is not permitted in many protected areas. We strongly recommend bringing comfortable, loose-fitting and neutral-coloured clothing on safari - please do not bring camouflage clothing. We recommend against dark coloured clothing (e.g. black or dark blue) as this attracts biting flies. Worn-in hiking boots with ankle support are a must, as are sunglasses, sun protection and a hat.
Do also remember to budget for any expenses not included in the cost of the trip, including for gratuities and additional activities. We recommend bringing Euros.
Safety and Security
We understand that for some potential visitors, the security situation in Benin is a concern. Pictus Safaris take the safety of clients extremely seriously and we are in constant communication with our ground operators to monitor the security situation in all of our destinations.
The security situation in Benin is generally stable. However, Pendjari is situated on the border with Burkina Faso, where there is significant civil unrest and terrorist activity. In 2019, two tourists were kidnapped in Pendjari and their guide was killed - the tourists were later liberated by French special forces. The border area is now closed to tourists, with the main game-viewing routes being moved further south. African Parks has done a good job of militarising the park, and it is now considered secure.
All Pictus Safaris clients must have travel insurance to travel with us. As travel to Pendjari is advised against by national travel advisory bodies, most travel insurance policies will not be valid here. We recommend High Risk Voyager insurance as it covers medial evacuation from remote areas.
To secure a booking on this fantastic holiday, please fill out the details below.