The Ganvié lake dwellings village is the most visited attraction in Benin.
We are in Central Africa in the Gulf of Guinea, in an area still less known and less visited by tourism.
One of the main reasons is certainly the lack of services for tourists.
Ganvié, the lake dwellings village
Ganvié is a lake dwellings village located in the south of the country, one of the greatest and largest ones in the world.
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As it happens for really many other sites located in remote places in the world, people know less about its history, or maybe there’s less to say about its history. Practically, the inhabitants went away from the sea to escape the slavery and transportation to Americas.
We arrive early in the morning at the leaving point. Of course, the expression “early in the morning” always has to be contextualized to Africa.
Passing by here by our jeep we immediately realize to be near a very tourist locations. People in generally and above all children, become very persistent in demanding money: it’s a sign of a very crowded area by tourists.
We arrive at the living point where a line of stairs allows to the really many tourists to get on board the boats taking them to the village.
In the surrounding area there’s a crazy back and forth of pirogues and all sorts of boats. 4-5 years old children steer the boats alone.
This young girl stops in an imprecise point in the middle of the water: she pulls out her dish and spoon and when she’s finishes to eat, she leaves again towards the village.
We’ll see her arrive home at the end of our tour.
The lake is made of brackish water, less deep, two meters max. Here almost nobody can swim.
We get onboard the boat that was previously booked, even if here the concept of booking is a very uncertain thing. The boat is completely for us.
How much is it to visit the lake dwellings village?
It’s impossible to know how much is it: neither our driver nor the boat driver and the guide with us know it. Everybody tells us the same thing: the price is made by the lady of the hotel.
We leave by boat. It takes about half an hour to reach the main heart.
Along the route there are several fishermen that, properly located, throw the nets when we pass in exchange for money. Any amounts you’ll give them, they will tell you it’s too less.
We run into men fishing into the water, children steering hardly their row boats, women hiding and turning their own head at our passage to not be photographed, but then they ask for money anyway.
Don’t think to arrive to an uncontaminated place and out of time.
Out of time certainly yes due to their lifestyle…uncontaminated…well, we can say contaminated by money!
Actually, the photos we can take and the videos are so particularly beautiful: the colours, the water, these wood constructions, children, life running with aims and actions so incomprehensible for us…
The other face of the medal are the inexistent hygienically and healthy conditions: everything is dumped into the lake, the power comes from noisy and not well working generators and the water is supplied by small little fountains in the village.
The tour provide to go throughout the village as far as a concrete bed where there are the hotel and the souvenir shop.
Hotel at the lake dwellings village
The hotel has the same standards compared to the many places where we have slept inthroughout Africa: a bed, a battered fly screen and the “bathrooms” in common.
The souvenirs shops has a small higher quality level of the products facing prices really very higher. Prices that…are made by the lady!
One of the usual situations in which we often find ourselves in this part of Africa. We go into the small shop where there’s everything haphazardly, even some nice objects. I bet I have seen also corals and ivory…I’m sure it wasn’t plastic!
After not more than ten minutes of stay and not having in our hands a basket full of things to buy, the lady comes close and asks us if we don’t buy anything and if we have done.
You cannot stay too much inside, the space is small, many other tourists are coming and she has to optimize. So: or you buy something or you leave the place to people who buy. Pay the tour and go away.
The price is made according to the purchasing you’ll do, of course.
Perhaps it’s the only place where they want make Valeria pay, too: usually under 18, young people pay nowhere, even the hotels.
Our money provides for the community’s maintenance
We pay off our debt after have negotiated a bit and got a ridiculous reduction. We go away.
The lady, the guide and all the others inform us that money is not theirs: it provides for maintaining the community, helping the building of services and hospitals, for children’s education…the usual well-played toy-theatre for tourists.
Except that then I have in my hands a receipt with a very lower amount in comparison withwhat I paid. My persistent explanation requests are regularly ignored.
It’s better not to think about what it can correspond to and what the only amount declared on the receipt can buy. Multiplying it by the tourists number, probably golden floors should be seen!
Exploring a bit more the lake dwellings village
The boat is waiting for us, we have to get onboard quickly, free the berth to leave space to the others.
For them the tour is finished. We come back to the base. We ask for another additional tour by boat, among the lake dwellings, discovering a bit less tourist piece.
Probably the best solution it would be to come to an agreement directly with a row boat owner at the quay.
They are the cheapest one and less used to, but the time it takes by row boat is endless under this scorching sun. It’s not sure you can see more compared to a quick tour by motorboat.
They chat a bit and say “no” to us. They don’t want because filling again the boat with other tourists is more profitable for them.
We insist quite a lot. They are only simply negotiating, as usual.
We solve the situation airing we are not satisfied and that the tip could skip at all. So we agree for an extra tour and the guide underlines many times they’re ready to satisfy us.
Why did the lake dwellings village remain like that?
The village is very big, more than you can think. The parts a bit less crowded by tourists are the most beautiful ones, always trying to lobotomize our brain and not think about the conditions which these people live in.
Do these people still live like that for tourists? Who has the greater interest in perpetrating this situation over time? Could it be different? Or are they the first not want to change? On the other hand the situation is not so much unlike in the rest of the country…
All the usual questions that in Africa remain unanswered.
We continue to sail. The guide makes effort to explain the nothing this place has to tell. We can only watch these views that have really something wonderful in their own extemporaneousness, if we are able not to think.
Some children greet us happy, some ladies smile at our passage and to our request of taking photographs.
Other ones get angry, ask for money, turn to the other side and quarrel with our guide.
The zoo effect in these places reaches incredible levels.
In this additional half an hour we go discovering other areas.
The village is huge and it seems to keep growing.
Certainly, decide to spend an entire day, taking with you food and beverage and all the necessary things would allow you to enter more this places and visit the furthest areas which are not crowded by tourists.
Anyway, everything has to be planned before and it has to be done insistently since their standard is a tour of about 2 hours and they try to strictly keep to that.
Maybe the requests to stay more are even not so frequent.
Useful info to visit the lake dwellings village
Certainly it’s an attraction not to miss in Benin. It’s not a place but a real attraction.
During our on the road in Ghana, Togo and Benin we also visited a small lake dwellings village in Ghana: they aren’t absolutely comparable.
Ganvié is the best and the most beautiful one from every point of view.
Usually 2 hours are enough to visit it. Whether you want to enter more, directly you plan and negotiate with a boat owner before leaving.
Keep in mind that more people you involve, more it will cost to you: everyone will ask you for one’s part and one’s tip.
Take with you beverage and eventually food if you want to explore more. It’s not possible to buy anything and there’s nothing.
You cannot go alone and you cannot plan the visit alone. Keep in mind the boat driver will often quarrel with the locals who will try to get out further money from you.
Besides all what I showed you, this is a magic place taking you to another dimension, to another completely different life. To one among the most beautiful places where to take photographs and shoot videos that, once got home, will make you set many considerations aside in order to enjoy the colours and the cacophony of this small piece of Africa!