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One of the highlights of a trip to Africa is the wildlife. West Africa isn’t quite like East or South Africa when it comes to animal spotting, and it’s definitely not top of mind for African safaris. But if you’re wanting to get right off the beaten path and explore beautiful, untouched nature, it’s possible to go on a safari in Pendjari National Park in Benin.
Our guide, Isaac, organized our 3-day safari while we were in Natitingou. The day before leaving we met our driver and had a look at the vehicle. It was an older Toyota 4-Runner, but it had a roof rack. We paid the deposit and arranged a time to meet first thing the next morning.
And we’re off…almost
All packed up and ready to go, we sat on the front steps of our hotel waiting for our driver to pick us up. Our meeting time came and went with no sign of him. Isaac was starting to get nervous! Finally, almost an hour after he was supposed to arrive, we loaded into the vehicle ready to start on our way. As with everything in Africa we had to stop for money, a few groceries and gas before leaving town.
It was late morning by the time we finally left Natitingou. The good thing about leaving later was that we were in Tanguieta for lunch. Being the last moderate-sized town prior to entering the park it was the best place to stop for lunch. We opted for a local meal and watched a handful of ladies freshly pound our igname pile. It was delicious! Randy got a great video of them making our lunch…watch out for it on the YouTube channel!!
A quick pit-stop
After the stop in Tanguieta I thought we’d beeline to the park. Not so much! The only way we were able to get money was by using our Visa. This required us to immediately pay it off to avoid crazy interest charges. Randy was supposed to do that before we left Natitingou…but he forgot. So, when we got to Tanougou, a village even smaller than Tanguieta, we pulled over. Randy, Isaac and our guide climbed up a hill to find cell service so he could transfer money to our Visa! There never seems to be a dull moment, and nothing ever goes as planned.
While we waited we watched a bit of the city life go by.
A few ladies walked by carrying water and washing on their heads. I’m always amazed at how easy they make it look.
We also watched a few cows meander past us.
The villagers in Tanougou have begun growing cotton in the past few years and their wealth has increased substantially. Many of the thatched roofs have recently been converted into sheet metal. It’s a sign of improved prosperity. As good as it is to see them doing well for themselves, it’s a bit sad to see some of the traditional ways of living fade away.
With the Visa paid off we were FINALLY on our way to the park gate.
Our Safari in Pendjari National Park
Once through the park gate we kept a watchful eye out for wildlife. The first thing we saw was a troop of Baboons.
This was enough to get us all excited for what was to come!
We visited during the very beginning of dry season, so the grass was still quite tall in some places. Some has been burned already leaving the land dry, parched and barren. On our drive in we saw burned patches, grassy patches and wooded savannah with the Atakora mountains in the background.
The animals all sleep during the heat of the day, so it only makes sense to head out on safari drives right after the sun comes up, and right before it goes down. We ended up with two sunrise safari drives and two sunset safari drives. The benefit of an early morning safari is a spectacular sunrise.
My favourite part was riding on the top of the vehicle. There was a metal rack welded to the top with a couple cushions. It got a bit sore on the bum after bumping down the road for a few hours, but it sure was fun!
The girls sat on our laps some of the time, and rode inside the car some of the time. It was such an amazing way to see the animals! I only wish I’d brought some great safari binoculars with me as it would’ve been fun to try and be the animal spotter (which I’m awful at!).
Almost immediately outside the hotel was an entire herd of Kob antelope. They always seemed somewhat interested in us when we drove by, but they never went anywhere.
Of course, Kacela’s favourite were the ‘babies’!!
The spotted Bushbucks were my favourite. We managed to see a few of them although they’re relatively rare in the park.
The other antelope we saw was the Waterbucks, whose number in the park is rapidly decreasing.
The girls were excited to see Pumba, even if he was wallowing in the mud.
I love seeing animals in their natural habitat as it offers a phenomenal wildlife spotting experience. Even though we didn’t get a fantastic elephant spotting in Pendjari, we saw lions! The West African lion is a bit different than those of East and South Africa as the males don’t have much of a mane. They’re still quite spectacular to see in the wild, especially from the top of a vehicle!
We saw one lone male on our first night drive. I thought that was pretty good. As luck would have it, the next morning we came across 4 more lions!
One was just lounging in the shade on the side of the road. He was so close we almost didn’t see him cuz we were looking further off into the brush.
Shortly after seeing him, we ran into two males vying for the attention of a female. The younger male won the contest without a fight, and we watched them for nearly a half hour. It was like our own private show as there was nobody else in the park.
Watching the lions was definitely the highlight of our safari. They’re such majestic creatures!
Poaching is a big problem in Pendjari. While we were there a military group from the UK were training the park rangers on effective ways to combat poaching. Spotting elephants on a safari in Pendjari National Park was almost guaranteed a year ago. We only saw two from a very long ways away. The military guys were excited to hear that we had seen elephants. They hadn’t heard of any sightings recently. Randy and I were slightly disappointed with our elephant spotting, but the girls thought it was pretty good. They saw elephants, it didn’t matter if they were near or far. Although, Kacela did make a comment that she didn’t hear them go “boom, boom, boom”!
Our final morning safari resulted in no further elephant spotting. Although the girls were happy with the elephants they saw, I made the decision to leave from Tanguieta the next day. This would give us the opportunity to search for elephants at the Reserve Nazinga in Burkina Faso.
Although a safari in Penjari National Park isn’t quite like a Masai Mara Safari, it was still a great first safari experience for the girls!
The drive from the park to Tanguieta is only an hour or so, but since we’d been driving around all morning on safari we were hot, sweaty and ready for a break. We decided to stop at Tanougou to go on a short hike to the waterfalls.
It was nice to have a break from sitting in the car, and to stretch our legs a bit. The road up to the falls was rather treacherous. There’s no way we would’ve made it if we weren’t in a four-wheel drive vehicle. There was a man and his guide walking, but I’m sure he got his feet wet. We had to traverse a few creeks along the way.
Hiking up to the falls was pleasant enough. The water was cool and we were in the shade most of the time. There were half a dozen men around to “guide” us to the top. I was once again thankful for Isaac, our guide. He negotiated a fair rate with them and saved me the hassle. I’m sure he also saved us a bunch of money too because I always seem to overpay!
A slippery walk
We took our shoes off at the bottom of the falls and started to ascend. It would’ve been easier if we were wearing more Safari appropriate shoes, but that definitely wasn’t the case! The girls were adamant about going on their own on the way up, but they each had a guide holding their hands to keep them steady on the slippery rocks. We climbed right up the river-bed in some spots.
It was well worth it, although we all wished we had our bathing-suits. The girls desperately wanted to go swimming but made do with just putting their feet in the water.
The men who guided us to the falls also climbed up and demonstrated their cliff-diving skills. It was fun to watch them climb up the side of the falls, hanging on the various vines that wind their way up the rocks. I don’t have a picture, but I got a great video. Watch for it on the You Tube Channel!!
We enjoyed the cool shade and spray coming off the waterfall. The girls enjoyed exploring the area looking for whatever treasures they could find. They found walking sticks for the trek back down the hill, but not much else!
They also enjoyed being goofballs for the camera!
The falls weren’t running at their fastest since we were visiting during dry season. I can imagine they are quite spectacular during rainy season. I also think the trek up to the falls would be a lot more treacherous! The trade-off of a less-spectacular waterfall for an easier trek was an easy win for me, especially since I was the only one who fell (on the way down)!
We made it back to Tanguieta in the late afternoon, in time to check in to our hotel room and grab a bite to eat. Our driver dropped us off and then made his way back to Natitingou. Isaac came with us for dinner and then hurried off to organize our bus ride for the following day. This was another time that I was incredibly thankful to have him! It just made my life so much easier.
If you’re thinking about a safari in Benin, or anywhere else in Africa, I highly recommend checking out these Top Safari Tips. They’ll save you time and money, and ensure you’re adequately prepared to enjoy your safari to the fullest!
Where We Stayed
Pendjari Hotel – There are only two lodging options in Pendjari National Park. The Pendjari Lodge is a private eco-hotel owned by a lovely French couple. The Pendjari Hotel is a government run establishment. We tried to stay at the Pendjari Lodge but it was completely booked up by the UK Military Group. The first night we were the only guests at the Hotel. The second night there was one other man. It was the very beginning of tourist season, but it sure was quiet!
Both options are rustic. They have cold running water and a generator that’s on for a few hours a day. Our room was air conditioned, however the generator turned off part way through the night so it didn’t really count. It’s a long ways into the park, but right in the middle of where the best animal spotting is. There’s also a pool, which we would have loved, however the whole place has fallen into a bit of disrepair in the last few years and the pool isn’t useable. The food was passable, but not fantastic. According to one of the military guys it’s comparable at both places. I guess they have pretty limited supplies in the middle of the wilderness!
The Lodge overlooks a watering hole so it’s possible to occasionally see animals there during down-time in between safari drives. We visited mid-afternoon and didn’t see any animals, although the view was lovely. There’s no AC at the Lodge, but the lack of generator at the Hotel makes this a neutral. The tents at the lodge were super cute, and the owners very incredibly friendly. If I were to go back, I’d definitely pick the Lodge over the Hotel.
Cost: 30,000 CFA/night ($65 CAD)
Where We Ate
Tanguieta – In Tanguieta we ate at a great little local restaurant. It was on a backstreet with no signage. I’d never find it again even if I tried!
Cost: a few dollars each
Safari – During our Safari we ate at the hotel as it was the only option. The food wasn’t very good but it was edible. We at dinner 2 nights and lunch once. We never had breakfast at the hotel. Instead we bought a bunch of snacks in Natitingou to eat while on safari. It was much easier since we were up and gone so early in the morning. We lived off cow cheese and “Tuk” crackers, with some fruit and juice for breakfast. It worked.
Cost: Set Dinner Menu 14,000 CFA ($30 CAD). We found that 2 plates could feed our family of 4. Our girls are little and don’t eat too much!
What We Did
We went on a Safari in Pendjari National Park!! This was a must on our list, and it was well worth it. The wildlife wasn’t as spectacular as East or South Africa, but the lack of other tourists made up for it.
Cost: Guide/Driver & Vehicle (Gas included) 65,000 CFA/day X 3 ($420 CAD total + small tip). Entrance to the park was 10,000 CFA per person, kids were free, the vehicle + driver was 3000 CFA ($50 CAD total).
Hike to Tanougou Falls. It was nice to go on a bit of a hike after 3 days sitting in a vehicle. The only thing I’d do differently is that I’d bring my bathing suit next time!
Cost: 1000 CFA per guide to the falls, + 500 CFA each for a soft drink after the hike.
Are you thinking about taking your family off the beaten path in Benin? Pin me for later!