Going on Safari in West Africa: A Visit to Pendjari National Park

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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 and Mole National Parks in 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 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 7:00am ‘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 2pm 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.

The 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.

Final thoughts…

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.

33 Comments

  1. Amarachi,
    I love love your blog. I’m planning to go to Pendjrai in Nov. Trying to draw a budget.How many days did you spend in Benin? How much did your trip cost totally?

    • plus i will really like Kunta’s contact . you didnt say how much his expertise cost.

    • Hi Tayo, thanks for your comment. I included the estimated amount for the trip in the post (excluding our flights/land transport into Benin). The price includes Kunta’s fees – which I don’t have the exact figure for as Mark covered this. I don’t have his contact details as well but I’ll try to get it and edit this comment afterwards…

  2. Hi Amarachi! I love your photos of Pendjari Camp and we have just started selling trips to Benin (check out our website https://ker-downeyafrica.com/) Am I able to use your photos in our trip itinerary with full photo credits? Maybe we can do a social share on our Instagram as well of your account. Let me know what you think!

  3. Cheers to you for showing love to our region after experiencing some of the best safari options in Africa!! Your photos are great and your writeup is insightful. The camp looks comfortable/ worth the wahala so I hope to follow in your footsteps one day and go on safari at Pendjari.. Great post! || http://www.lorikemi.com

    • Amarachi

      Thanks LK! Looking forward to your documentary of Pendjari already, Mama Africa 🙂

  4. jennietobbie

    Amazing trip!!!!! Thank you for sharing your travels as I enjoy reading from you; and nourishing my adventurous spirit.

  5. Why should one keep snacks and water from the tent?

    • Water is fine but food is.. you know what, let’s organize a trip for you. And then you put food in your tent – for research purposes. We can also leave the tent open just to enhance the research. Are you in?

  6. Very good write up as usual. I’m very interested in how you do your research, you visit places off the radar.

    Things I want to learn from Amarachi,
    1. Pattern of writing
    2. Research of attractions off the radar

    Also, I’m curious, did you happen to find love there? *runs*

    • Thanks Bukayo. Haha, well, let’s just say Benin will always have a special place in my heart. 😉

      About visiting off the beaten paths, I guess just searching for things to do in the country will pop up options and you’re likely to see what other people miss. Having a local to guide you as well will make the difference. Mark was the difference for Benin.

  7. Wow, I love this. Though I’m scared of going to a Safari, I’ll try to visit this one when next I plan on going to Togo. I’ll drop there for a day and head over to Lomé.

    • Thanks Seiyifa. Safaris aren’t so scary :).. and if you’re scared, you can sit inside the vehicle rather than on top of it.

      Also, Lome to Pendjari will take quite some time, I don’t think it can be done in a day. The park is in the far north of Benin. It takes about 9hours+- to get to the town closest to it (from Cotonou) and another 3hours+ to get to the park.

  8. Thank you for always breaking down your trips 😀

  9. I really love your travel reviews.
    They have the right amount of information and leaves the travel desire aflame.

  10. I would never had considered West Africa! Plus the tent looks so comfy! Thanks for enlightening us!

    Madeline
    http://www.madelinewilsonojo.com

    • You’re welcome Medeline. I hope to visit Mole National Park (in Ghana) as well. Somehow, I think that’ll be less stressful and equally exciting as this visit.

  11. That tent looks lush!! Wonder if we’ll ever get anything like this here in Nigeria.

    The trip looks fun even though I know there was an element of stress to it plus like Desire pointed out, I love how you keep exploring places that are not exactly popular.

    • It didn’t even feel like it was a tent. Loved it. Yankari would be a good place to have this, maybe LCC too. It was certainly a mix of fun and stress, haha. I’m glad we went.

  12. Amazing post darling👏🏽👏🏽👏🏽. Thanks for always adding to my knowledge😉😊

  13. I love the fact that you keep bringing detailed reviews of relatively unpopular places. It really helps me add to my already long wish list (but we will overcome!).
    The journey sha… Why must these places be so far though?
    Was sitting atop the car scary? It looks really fun though!
    http://www.desireuba.WordPress.com

    • Thanks Desire. I’m always excited to share details of places I visit. Glad you found this interesting enough to add to your list. Lol, I agree about the journey. Spending time to relax in between cities will make it more bearable. Riding atop the car was one of the highlights of the safari.. I loved it! haha and I felt very safe…I did see other car models in the park, so when you get to visit, you’re not stuck with this option.

  14. This was everything I needed to know. Thank you for always being you

  15. Wow! Another place I’d never heard about! I’m also loving the prices here compared to Southern and Eastern Africa. I have to say though, your seat atop the vehicle didn’t look the safest but looks like you were okay! Thanks for sharing this, hopefully visits to places like this also start picking up in West Africa, but we’ve been warned not to expect the same level of game viewing. I think we can officially call you the Safari Queen though!

    • Haha, the seat was the best part of the game drive! This was the most exposing safari vehicle I’ve been in so far but surprisingly, I didn’t feel unsafe for a single moment. And yes, I hope they start to get more visitors. For that to happen, I still think there’s a lot to be done. Standardizing operations and making the parks more accessible by fixing the road leading up to it would be good first steps.

  16. Still don’t know how you manage to make it look so easy.

    Where should we now leave our snacks if not inside the tent? 😩

    Thanks for the hints here and there , def needed.

    Great post

    • Haha, we left ours in the car, which was locked and parked away from the tents. And this was definitely not the easiest trip we’ve had to make, even getting into Benin was a hassle but all is well that ends well!
      Thanks for the comment, Bukie

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