the venice of africa

Family life.

Less than an hour outside of Cotonou there’s a fascinating little town, population 20,000, that’s different from all other towns in Benin. It’s built entirely on stilts.

According to local legend this town came to be about 400 years ago in an attempt to escape slavers, who either couldn’t swim or wouldn’t fight on water for religious reasons — the story is a little unclear. But the name Ganvie comes from the Tofinu words “gan,” which means “we are saved” and “vie” which means “community.”

These days Ganvie is best known as “the Venice of Africa.” That may be a little optimistic, but it’s certainly an interesting place.

With the obvious exception that it’s built on stilts and its residents get around on boats, it’s really just like any other Beninese village. There are vegetable markets. Dozens of women moor side by side and sell goods out of their canoes.

Get your tomatoes here.

There are shops, both big and small.

Playfully named Dantokpa, just like the giant market in Cotonou.

There are places to buy clothes.

Here's a store called Haute Couture.

There’s a community center.

Maybe the biggest building on stilts.

Women gather to chat as they go about their daily chores, which include waiting at the community pump where they fill up jugs with clean water for about ten cents a gallon.

Just hanging out.
Another family home.

It’s about a 15 minute row between Ganvie and dry land. This kid is enjoying the ride.

Splash guard.

Ganvie’s economy thrives on fishing, tourism, and trade with nearby Nigeria.

Casting a net.

Our tour guide explained that Beninese people are just as fascinated by Ganvie as we are. They love to come and visit and see this strange place for themselves, but they would never want to live here. They consider it too isolated. Plus, they don’t really like water.

Out and about.

But if this lifestyle appeals to you, take note. You can buy your own boat for about $200, and there are plenty of new houses under construction too. I must admit I was a little tempted after doing the math and realizing if I moved to Ganvie I could never work again.

Stake your claim now.

I call dibs on the big one.

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7 Responses to the venice of africa

  1. Donna says:

    That is so cool. Who knew?

  2. bfiles says:

    so interesting, I didn’t know about this when I visited benin or I definitely would have gone to visit.

  3. Anne says:

    What a cool city!

  4. Dani says:

    I don’t know why I find this city so fascinating but I totally do, how cool!!

  5. Sarah says:

    Love it!!! What a fabulous and interesting place.

  6. Asha says:

    Hi Alex –
    This Benin story is awesome! For a new nonfiction anthology, The Places We’ve Been, we are currently looking for submissions and would love to invite you to take a look and consider if you might like to participate. A bit of info from the general call for submissions is available at The deadline is stated as October 15, but we have a special invitation/extension through November 15 for invited bloggers.
    Thanks for your consideration, and feel free to be in touch for more information!
    The Places We’ve Been – indie books

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