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Geography of Benin

Related subjects: African Geography

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Benin's cities and main towns
Satellite image of Benin
Topography of Benin

Benin, a narrow, key-shaped, north-south strip of land in West Africa, lies between the Equator and the Tropic of Cancer. Benin's latitude ranges from 6°30′ N to 12°30′ N and its longitude from 1° E to 3°40′ E. Benin is bounded by Togo to the west, Burkina Faso and Niger to the north, Nigeria to the east, and the Bight of Benin to the south. With an area of 112,622 square kilometers, roughly the size of Pennsylvania and slightly bigger than Bulgaria, Benin extends from the Niger River in the north to the Atlantic Ocean in the south, a distance of 700 km (435 mi). Although the coastline measures 121 km (75 mi), the country measures about 325 km (202 mi) at its widest point. It is one of the smaller countries in West Africa, about one eighth the size of Nigeria, its neighbor to the east. It is, however, twice as large as Togo, its neighbour to the west. A relief map of Benin shows that it has little variation in elevation (average elevation 200 meters).


The country can be divided into four main areas from the south to the north. The low-lying, sandy, coastal plain (highest elevation 10 meters) is, at most, 10 km wide. It is marshy and dotted with lakes and lagoons communicating with the ocean. The plateaus of southern Benin (altitude comprised between 20 meters and 200 meters) are split by valleys running north to south along the Couffo, Zou, and Oueme Rivers, an area that has been categorised by the World Wildlife Fund as part of the Guinean forest-savanna mosaic ecoregion. Then an area of flat lands dotted with rocky hills whose altitude seldom reaches 400 meters extends around Nikki and Save. Finally, a range of mountains extends along the northwest border and into Togo; this is the Atacora, with the highest point, Mont Sokbaro, at 658 meters.

Benin has fields of lying fallow, mangroves, and remnants of large sacred forests. In the rest of the country, the savanna is covered with thorny scrubs and dotted with huge baobab trees. Some forests line the banks of rivers. In the north and the northwest of Benin the Reserve du W du Niger and Pendjari National Park attract tourists eager to see elephants, lions, antelopes, hippos and monkeys. Previously Benin offered habitat for the endangered Painted Hunting Dog, Lycaon pictus, although this canid is considered to have been extirpated from Benin, due to human population expansion. Woodlands comprise approximately 31 percent of the land area of Benin.

Location: Western Africa, bordering the North Atlantic Ocean, between Nigeria and Togo

Geographic coordinates: 9°30′N 2°15′E

Map references: Africa

total: 112 620 km²
country comparison to the world: 108
land: 110 620 km²
water: 2 000 km²

Area comparative

Land boundaries:
total: 1 989 km
border countries: Burkina Faso 306 km, Niger 266 km, Nigeria 773 km, Togo 644 km

Coastline: 121 km

Maritime claims:
territorial sea: 200 nautical miles (370.4 km)

Climate: tropical; hot, humid in south; semiarid in north

Terrain: mostly flat to undulating plain; some hills and low mountains

Elevation extremes:
lowest point: Atlantic Ocean 0 m
highest point: Mont Sokbaro 658 m

Natural resources: small offshore oil deposits, limestone, marble, timber

Land use:
arable land: 23.53%
permanent crops: 2.37%
other: 74.1% (2005)

Irrigated land: 120 km² (2003)

'Total renewable water resources: 25.8 cu km (2001)

Freshwater withdrawal (domestic/industrial/agricultural):
total: 0.13 cu km/yr (32%/23%/45%)
per capita: 15 cu m/yr (2001)

Natural hazards: hot, dry, dusty harmattan wind may affect north in December to March

Environment - current issues: inadequate supplies of potable water; poaching threatens wildlife populations; deforestation; desertification

Environment - international agreements:
party to: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Wetlands, Whaling
signed, but not ratified: none of the selected agreements

Geography - note: sandbanks create difficult access to a coast with no natural harbors, river mouths, or islands.


Benin's climate is hot and humid. Annual rainfall in the coastal area averages 1,360 mm (53.5 in), not particularly high for coastal West Africa. Benin has two rainy and two dry seasons. The principal rainy season is from April to late July, with a shorter less intense rainy period from late September to November. The main dry season is from December to April, with a short cooler dry season from late July to early September. Temperatures and humidity are high along the tropical coast. In Cotonou, the average maximum temperature is 31 °C (87.8 °F); the minimum is 24 °C (75.2 °F). Variations in temperature increase when moving north through a savanna and plateau toward the Sahel. A dry wind from the Sahara called the harmattan blows from December to March. Grass dries up, the vegetation turns reddish brown, and a veil of fine dust hangs over the country, causing the skies to be overcast. It is also the season when farmers burn brush in the fields.

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