At the mention of Ouidah what often comes to the mind of most travelers is the Temple of Pythons. Yes, the costal city in Benin Republic is famous for the temple, which houses over 50 royal adult pythons amid several shrines where offerings are made to ‘Dagbe’, the snake god.
But the main offering at the temple is the $1.50 entrance fee paid by each tourist and even more by the brave ones among them who hang the snakes on their bare necks to take pictures for remembrance and for social media.
The intrigue for most first-time visitors is that the temple is opposite a church, and faithfuls of both places of worship see no harm in it.
However, Ouidah is beyond the sacred python temple, the city is full o many tourism trappings.
The city, which played active role in the 17th to 19th century Atlantic slave trade, now lures tourists, especially African diasporas and lovers of adventure with its the Slave Route project.
Lined with monuments, the Slave Route takes tourists down the memory lane on the same tracks slaves were taken to the slave merchant ships. It starts at the Chacha Palace where the slaves are gathered, selected and bought, then to the Forgetting Tree, where salves are forced to circle the tree (male nine times and female seven times) for memory of their place of birth to wipe off.
From there you trace the route further to The Silent Place in Zougbodji where weak slaves were left to die and dead ones were buried.
Next is the Djegbadji Salt Village that leads to the Door of No Return, and finally to the slave ships heading to the Americas.
Like other doors of no return, the Ouidah door is a huge memorial arch on the waterfront, which offers platform for reflection and background for photographs.
Several artists and designers collaborated with Yves Ahouen-Gnimon, an architect, to realise the project. The columns and bas-reliefs are by Béninois artist Fortune Bandeira, the freestanding Egunegun are by Yves Kpede and the bronzes are by Dominique Kouas Gnonnou.
Going by its authentic historic account and preservation project, the Slave Route site under La ville d’Ouidah : quartiers anciens et Route de l’Esclave, was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List on October 31, 1996 in the Cultural category.
But meters away from the Point of No Return is a huge cross marking the point of entry for Christian missionaries and Christianity in Benin Republic.
As well, you need to visit Ouidah Museum of History, which is housed in an 18th-century Portuguese fort to read the chronicles of the city’s slave-trading past.
What seems the ugliest account of the infamous slave trade happened in 1716, when Whydah Gally, a massive English slave ship, arrived to purchase 500 slaves from King Haffon to sell in Jamaica, and making Ouidah the second largest slave port in the trade.
Aside hosting the Sacred Forest of Kpasse dotted with bronze statues, Ouidah is home for religious pilgrimages. It is the spiritual capital of the Vodun religion and hosts an annual international Vodun conference.
As well, you need to visit the Basilica of the Basilique de l’Immaculée Conception, a Catholic minor basilica to dedicated to the Immaculate Conception.
After a day’s tour, visitors can rest in any of the several accommodation options on offer at various hotels and resorts in Ouidah.
Top among them is La Casa del Papa, which sets between the sea and the lagoon, Djegba Hotel, Hotel de la Diaspora, Le Jardin Secret among others.
For outdoor dining, Le Musee, located in the heart of the town, is a good bet.
The more adventurous can also enjoy undisturbed swimming at the bank of the ocean, while watching the local fishing community drag their fishing net (full of fishes) out of the salty ocean water may be the highpoint for you.
Of course, you will be appreciated with peeled coconut by the locals.
Before you go, visit craft shops at the market centre, art galleries and fashion boutiques to buy souvenirs for your loved ones and remembrance of your trip to Ouidah.
You will be glad you did!