When you think about African safaris, does West Africa come to mind? Up until about three years ago, Yankari Game Reserve in northern Nigeria was the closest thing to a safari that I knew of in the area. Then I found out about Pendjari National Park and Mole National Park in the Benin Republic and Ghana. Since then, I have itched to visit both parks.
I finally got to visit Pendjari with Mark over the past holiday and I’m so glad we were able to make the trip. Well, when I say we, I really mean I. This was Mark’s second visit and my first. Even though I have been on a few other safaris in the past, I was really excited about going for my first one in West Africa.
Getting to Pendjari National Park from Cotonou
Our journey to Pendjari National Park began in Cotonou. We got up early to catch the 7:00 am ‘La Poste’ bus going to Natitingou, northern Benin. The buses were really cool and comfortable. They were also fully air-conditioned and had WI-FI in them. We didn’t ride it up to Nati though, we decided to stop at Dassa first. This leg of the journey took about 4 hours.
We left Dassa at about 2 pm the next afternoon and got another bus to Nati. Because we left late and the route the bus took was quite bad, we arrived very late at night. Mark contacted our guide, Kunta, after we checked into our hotel and the next morning, he was there to pick us up and drive us to the park.
Are we there yet?
It took another 3hours+ to get from Natitingou to Pendjari and most of it was done on dirt roads. I was very pleased to see the park’s gate after our long ride. We paid the entrance fees, Kunta explained the routes we would take and soon we were through the gates and off to begin our safari.
Completely aware that the animal population in this park is, (at the time of this writing), nothing compared to parks like the Serengeti in Tanzania or Kruger in South Africa, I had very realistic expectations visiting Pendjari. In any case, I was really hoping to see two animals in particular – elephants and lions.
So how did it go?
On our very first outing, we saw lots of baboons, hippos, crocs, warthogs, waterbucks antelopes and a few other animals. Our first sighting of elephants was in the lodge. We pulled in just as they were leaving the water hole. Still, that was very exciting for me to see.
After a few hours, we returned to the lodge to rest for the afternoon before setting off again for an evening safari. During that safari, we saw more elephants (in the distance), more antelopes, a jackal… but no sign of any lions or cheetahs. Eventually, I gave up looking (for lions) and just enjoyed the ride and the views from the top of the vehicle.
Accommodation: Camping in the heart of the Savannah
Our accommodation for the night was a tent in the Pendjari Lodge (different from the Pendjari hotel). It was better than the one we stayed at in the Serengeti and just being here was a highlight for me. The tent came complete with an actual bed and a nice bathroom. So I guess I can’t really call it camping? Anyway, the only ‘downside’ was that it got really hot in the afternoon and our solar-powered fan stopped working. Dinner was also quite pricey but other than that, I enjoyed my stay here.
…And how much did this cost?
Compared to its counterparts in East and South Africa, this safari is extremely cheap. At the time of this writing, the entrance fee for foreigners is 10,000 CFA (N7,000) plus 3,000 CFA (N2,000) entrance fee per vehicle. This is valid for 24hours. There is a penalty you pay if you don’t leave the park on or before the same time at which you entered it the following day. So we ended up paying for 2 days instead of one. This gave us time the next morning to enjoy another game drive and move at a slower pace.
Accommodation at the Pendjari Lodge cost 70,000 CFA (N47,000) for a night and dinner was about 6,500 CFA each. We skipped breakfast (which cost around 4,000 CFA (N2,700) the next day and munched on snacks we brought in instead. Our guide also came at a cost. Overall, the entire (8-day) trip – including our stay in Cotonou and Dassa and excluding our transport into the country, cost us about $500.
A few other points to note…
There is an option to visit the waterfalls in Tanongou or the villages around the area during your trip. We skipped this during ours, but it may be of interest to you. Also, the park shares a border with Burkina Faso, which you can walk across and technically visit a new country (or be in two places at once :)).
If you’re going to do a self-drive, be sure to fill up your gas tank as there are no stations after Tanguieta. Don’t forget to bring enough snacks and water but you may want to keep them away from your tent.
The best time to visit Pendjari is during the dry season between November and March. Once it begins to rain, it becomes more difficult to see the animals.
I would certainly recommend a visit to Pendjari, especially now that it’s getting more attention from conservationists. Like many parts of West Africa, you’d need lots of patience and perseverance just to get there. But if you’re looking to go an authentic African safari without shelling out thousands of dollars, this is the definitely the park to visit.