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The floating silt village of Ganvié is one of Benin's most famous attractions © Laurent Nilles
Ganvié seems to be nothing short of an organic creation – a town where nature went a little off the rails and the reeds and weeds just grew up into living houses, shops and a marketplace.
Created with the aid of crocodiles, egrets and more than a little magic, the extraordinary aquatic stilt village of Ganvié has been called ‘the Venice of Africa’. This isn’t an entirely fair comparison, as you wouldn’t choose Ganvifor a romantic weekend, but it does get across the point that the village, sitting pretty on the 26,000ha Lac Nakoué, is one of a kind. Like in Venice, water and beauty are the overriding impressions, but unlike Venice, which feels like a manmade city in which water just happens to be all around, Ganvié seems to be nothing short of an organic creation – a town where nature went a little off the rails and the reeds and weeds just grew up into living houses, shops and a marketplace.
If Venice is dominated by water then Ganvié is positively drowning in the stuff and almost all of the houses are built not beside the water, but on it and above it. The locals eat on water, sleep on water and work and play on water. There can be few people so easy in the company of water as a Ganvié resident and, as a tourist attraction, it is second to none. This is a fact that has not gone unnoticed by Benin’s fledgling tourist industry and, alongside Abomey and Ouidah, Ganvié has become one of the highlights of Benin that you can be sure is on every visitor’s list of places to tick off. So, be prepared to rub shoulders with, well, maybe one other pirogue full of visitors. Yet, despite it being one of Benin’s, or maybe even West Africa’s, top attractions, you would be unfortunate if you found yourself sharing your visit here with more than half a dozen others.