Take A Spiritual Vacation To The Underrated City Where The Voodoo Religion Was Born

When you think of Voodoo, there's a high chance that New Orleans pops into your mind. The city abounds with its influences and media often depicts practitioners living there. Despite its popularity in New Orleans, its origins are elsewhere, across the Atlantic Ocean in the modern West African country of Benin.

Benin is home to just under 14 million people, with about 11% still practicing Voodoo. However, like with New Orleans, you can see Voodoo's presence in many aspects of the country's culture.  Particularly in the festivals held in the city of Ouidah.

Voodoo itself is a commonly misunderstood practice. It's been demonized in Western media for years, so naturally, many have negative or exaggerated perceptions of this religion. Visiting Benin is a wonderful way to challenge those narratives. With that being said, traveling responsibly and being respectful is critical when venturing into new cultures and learning about new religions, meaning, you should engage in proper research before you go. One place to start is by learning about the foundational beliefs and how they relate to the places you're visiting.

Voodoo basics and a celebration

Voodoo is an animistic religion, which means that it follows the belief of spirits inhabiting everything and that they are involved with humanity. "It all points back to the idea that we don't live in a world where the only actors are the human ones," cultural anthropologist and director of the University of Washington's Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies Danny Hoffman told the Associated Press.

This understanding is seen in the symbols, clothing, and festivals. For example, you'll see dances and rituals that honor and celebrate the spirits during festivals like Fête du Vaudou on January 10. This annual festival brings in people from all branches of Voodoo as well as visitors from near and far. "It is really quite spectacular. It's become slightly touristy over the last few years but it's still worth seeing," travel expert Jim O'Brian told Responsible Travel. "All the Voodoo churches come down. People dress up as gods and they believe that they become that god during that time. So you get a particular sect of Voodoo and they take on the characteristics and personality of that god." You'll find festivals and celebrations all over the southern region of the country for Fête du Vaudou, but the city of Ouidah, which is a central location in Voodoo's history, holds the largest celebration.

Seeing the country

While you're in Ouidah, whether for the festival or at another time of year, be sure to stop by the Temple of Pythons. This place of worship houses live, sacred pythons known for ushering in luck and protection. You can witness ceremonies led by Voodoo priests here. This city is considered the birthplace of Voodoo.

When you plan your trip to Benin, you can either go on your own and build your own itinerary or, if you have the funds and want to maximize educational opportunities, you can go with a tour group and have a more in-depth experience. For example, Ashanti African Tours offers a trip to Benin that allows you to see for yourself and learn about the many influences of Voodoo in the country. You'll also visit other historical sites and museums and experience the culture firsthand. Palace Travel is another agency that offers tours of Benin where you'll be able to tour Voodoo temples and museums that highlight African history.