- Seeing the miniature Tata Somba (mud house) models
Prepare in advance
It may be worth calling ahead to be sure that the swimming pool at Hotel Totora is open.
Good to know
It's best to do this tour on your first day in Natitingou, as it will provide some great background insight into the Somba lifestyle. Transportation around town is mostly via moto-taxi. The small motorcycles go quite slow, but they don't have a helmet available to passengers. If you're opposed to your child riding on a small motorcycle without a helmet, ensure you make arrangements for a car to get you around town.
The evening is the best time to visit the market. Ensure you're finished swimming by about 3 or 4 pm so you can visit the market as the sun is setting.
Recommended time of the year
It can get very hot, especially from February to April. Try to plan your trip at any time other than these months!
About This Day
Visit Benin and one must travel to Natitingou to explore the Somba tribe and its culture. Its traditional Tata Somba mud houses are fascinating and fun. This Benin family itinerary begins with a visit to the small Musée Regional de Natitingou, where you can see miniature structures of the region's Tata Somba houses, as well as other commonly used tools, clothing and instruments. After learning about the region’s history and culture, spend some time cooling off in the afternoon at the nearby Hotel Totora's pool before wandering the Grand Marché, a local outdoor market. This Benin day trip gives you a bit of background for a future trip to see the Tata Sombas in the countryside. If you are unable to venture out of town to see the houses, this itinerary offers a glimpse into what traditional life is like for the Somba people.
This museum provides a lot of information about the Somba people of Northern Benin. The price of admission includes an English-speaking tour guide, who will explain what you're looking at and be happy to answer any of your kids’ questions. The museum is small, just a handful of rooms, so the tour is quite fast. It takes approximately 30 minutes. The separation of the rooms ensures there's always something new to look at so kids don't get bored. There is a small room with miniature replicas of the different kinds of Tata Sombas (traditional mud houses) found in the region. This was a favourite for my girls - mostly because they like small things! If you're planning a day trip into the surrounding area to visit the Tata Sombas, I highly recommend visiting this museum first. The museum is housed in a large garden complex with large trees providing ample shade. After the museum visit, you can tour a small souvenir shop filled with locally made handicrafts or grab a cold soda and sip it in the shade. Or you can do both! There's also lots of space for your kids to run around and let off some steam.
DIRECTIONSThe museum is on the north end of town, just east of the main highway. Turn off the main highway at Hotel Bourgogne, and then take your first left into the museum grounds.
TIP This is one of the few locations in all of Benin where it's possible to run into other tourists. It is possible that your visit will coincide with a tour group. If this is the case, spend time wandering the gift shop before going into the museum. It only takes a short time to tour the museum, and by the time you're done at the souvenir shop, the tour group should be almost finished in the museum. This way you'll have it all to yourself.
Hotel Totora has a large pool that is available to non-guests at a day rate. The location is lovely, with a sweeping view of the valley below. It can get so hot in Benin that it's nice to cool off and relax. We spent our afternoons relaxing at a pool any time we could. This pool was one of the nicest we found in all of Benin. There was staff on hand, cold drinks available, comfortable chairs and a few small, shaded tables. They even had swimsuits available to rent if needed, although I'm sure they only had adult sizes. The pool itself was a bit cold, but it's so hot outside that the cool water was refreshing. An added bonus was the Wi-Fi! The hotel has a lovely terrace, with tables in the shade and a decent Wi-Fi signal. We were even able to use FaceTime from here. It was one of the only locations during our entire trip where the wifi was powerful enough for FaceTime.
DIRECTIONSTo get to Hotel Totora from the museum, head north on the main road. Right away, you'll come to a fork in the road, take a left here. Almost immediately, you'll come to another fork in the road, take another left. This should lead you to a small road up the mountain. If your moto-taxi driver doesn't know the hotel by name, he'll likely know it by "the new one on the hill with the pool!”
TIP There was an extra charge to rent towels, so bring a towel along if you have one with you.
The Grande Marché in Natitingou is a large outdoor market with a variety of vendors. You can find live animals, grains, homemade sweets, cooking pots and more. A market is a great place to interact with locals, and get a small glimpse into what locals eat and how they live. I like to give my kids a small amount of money to spend in the market. They learn the value of the local currency by comparing the local costs to our costs at home, and they become more interested in what they're looking at if they are able to purchase something. It's also interesting to watch them barter with the local merchants. My youngest drives a much harder bargain than I do! A visit to the market in the evening will be much cooler than earlier in the day. Just watch out for the large burn piles at the end of the rows. The evening brings cleanup, and cleanup means burning the waste.
DIRECTIONSFrom Hotel Totora head back into town. Once you're on the main road (RN1E3) watch for Hotel Bourgogne on the left. Take the first left (east) after the hotel, and the start of the market should be straight ahead to the right.
TIP Wear closed-toed shoes, as the ground can be dirty and dusty.
WE LOVEDThe rooms were as quiet as is possible in West Africa, and the shaded courtyard provided a lovely place to work and play. There's also a roof-top terrace overlooking town where parents can read or play cards after the kids go to sleep.
WE DIDN'T LIKEThe larger family room didn't have air conditioning. There were fans available but it was still a bit hot for sleeping.
TIPBook ahead for the air conditioned room. It may be worth staying in two smaller rooms with A/C rather than the large room with fans only.
STAYED10 November, 2016 with 4 year old, 6 year old