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Burkina Faso

If you are looking for a reachable destination but on unbeaten tracks and far from the touristic places, then Burkina Faso is a good choice.  The country has some solid assets: the country is stable, the habitants are incredibly kind, and the nature is stunningly beautiful. Descendants of a long line of kings and emperors, the Burkinabe people have in common a strong sense of cultural identity inflated by many years of colonization. Although Burkinabe people are living in one of the poorest country of the world, they have so much joy in them and are so hospitable that they have made their land which is lacking of natural resources a beautiful cultural jewel.

Despite the widespread political unrest and the poverty plaguing the country for years, Burkina Faso is nonetheless considered as a first-rate cultural destination in West Africa. In addition to its traditional feasts, Burkina Faso hosts the FESPACO (Pan African Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou) which is the largest film festival in Africa (held biennially in Ouagadougou).

Key facts

  • Capital: Ouagadougou
  • Languages: French (official language), Mooré, Dioula
  • Time difference: GMT/UTC + 0h
  • Entry requirements: A visa is required for travelers from some EU countries, Canada and Switzerland but not required for USA Citizen, CEDEAO countries.
  • Electricity: 220 V, 50 Hz
  • Telephone:+ 226
  • Health: There are several cases of malaria in Burkina Faso. You must take a preventive treatment before going to Burkina Faso and use mosquito nets and mosquito repellents. The yellow fever vaccine is required. Make sure your tetanus, diphtheria and poliomyelitis vaccines are current. We recommend protection against typhoid, hepatitis A and B, meningococcal meningitis, rabbies. In august 2005, a cholera epidemic affected thousands of people. You should be careful to food hygiene and never drink tap water. Do not swim in stagnant waters, walk bare feet on the sand or humid ground, and touch the animals.

Money

The CFA franc is indexed to the Euro (1 euro = 655.957 FCFA).  For 10 USD per day you can rent a decent room (shared bathroom) with clean sheeted beds. You can also buy a good meal (take away) in the nearby shops. If you want to live in downtown, with a room with AC and swimming pool, and good quality meals you will need around 60 USD daily. If you prefer to rent a room in a high end hotel, 3 daily meals, you will need 150/200 USD per day. The bank Ecobank (Ouagadougou and BoboDioulasso) charges a discounted commission fees on traveler’s checks and exchange most of international currencies. Prefer American Express Travelers Checks in Euros. Do keep the receipts of purchased traveler’s checks. You might need to show the receipts when exchanging your money. With your visa card, you can withdraw cash at the BICIAB bank of Ouagadougou and Bobo-Dioulasso. Most of people tip 10%. If you are eating in a restaurant, make sure the 10% gratuity is not already included in the bill.

Currency: CFA (XOF)

Food (Daily budget)

  • Lower budget: < 3 USD
  • Average budget: 3-10 USD
  • Upper budget: > 10 USD

Accommodation (Daily budget)

  • Lower budget: < 10 USD
  • Average budget: 10-40 USD
  • Upper budget: > 40 USD

Best time and climate

Best time to go: The four-month period from November to February has a moderate climate. The “Harmattan” (a dust storm from the Sahara Desert) is blowing during this same period. During odd-numbered years the film festival begins at the end of February. During even-numbered years cultural festival starts early April.

Feasts and festivals: If you planning your trip to Burkina Faso during an odd-numbered year, do not miss the famous FESPACO film festival. Ouagadougou is proud to host this renowned festival which gathers all filmmakers throughout Africa. Many FESPACO award-winning film directors have also won awards in the Cannes Film Festival. The FESPACO film festival starts the last Saturday of February. During the even-numbered years, Bobo Dioulasso, the “cultural capital of the country”, hosts the “National Culture Week” (last week of April). This cultural festival gathers music shows, dance performance, traditional and contemporary theatres. Every Friday morning, the “moro-naba, traditional chief of “mossie aristocracy leaves his Palace entirely dressed in purple accompanied by his court, to lead the traditional Nabayius Gou ceremony (“the false departure of the Emperor for the War”). This ceremony illustrates the story of the Mossi Emperor who was riding his horse going for war and then suddenly changed his mind and returned to his Palace. This ceremony symbolizes the fight of the mossi monarchy for its survival

Climate: Burkina Faso climate is characterized by two distinctive seasons. The dry season goes from November to May and the rainy season starts in June and ends in October. The period from March to June is the hottest. The “Harmattan” blows continuously from December to February covering the country with tiny dust particles. The “Harmattan” wind is called “the wind which drives crazy”

Transportation

Getting there: Direct flights serve Ouagadougou from Paris and Brussels. The airport is located 8km from downtown, reachable by taxi or bus. The country being land-locked, land transportation is very frequent and cheap. Trucks, buses reach regularly Ghana, Ivory Coast, Niger, Togo, and Mali.  A train connects 3 times per week Ouagadougou to Ivory Coast (same price as bus fare). Entering or leaving the country with your own car is not a problem at all.

Moving around: Burkina Faso has one of the best road infrastructures in West Africa… Moving around inside the country is very easy and convenient. Small buses and bush taxis are found everywhere. “L’Étalon“, a very comfortable train, connects 3 times per week Ouagadougou and Bobo-Dioulasso.

Must see

Must see in Burkina Faso: towns, monuments, national parks

Ouagadougou: Located at the heart of the country, Ouagadougou (Ouaga), the capital city is at the junction of many ancient commercial roads. Ouagadougou looks more like a countryside town than a megacity. The city center is easy to walk around. But there are no spectacular monuments or architectural buildings to visit. On the other hand, the wide shady avenues and a very warm and friendly atmosphere make the city worthwhile to visit. Burkinabe people are quite pleased to chat with foreigners and telling daily news while having a drink. Hospitability is the main characteristic of this town.  Unlike other Sahel cities, Muslims do not represent the majority of the city, and nightlife is very lively. Cheap Internet cafes are flourishing in every corner of the city. Ouaga is perfect to take a relaxed walk in the streets without any precise goal. The cathedral close to the moro-naba palace is the biggest in West Africa.  It has been built between 1934 and 1936 on the initiative of Mgr. Thévenoud.

Bobo-Dioulasso: Remote and welcoming city, Bobo-Dioulasso is homeland of bobo tribe. Smaller than Ouagadougou, the city has also wide and lively avenues. Houët Provincial Museum houses two different cultural collections. The first present modern African art with batik and sculptures and the second collection shows local traditional art. We recommend you stop by the French Cultural Center Henri-Matisse where you can read French books and magazines. The Great Mosque is the most impressive Bobo architectural monument of the city. The guard can make you visit but the price is very high. Just visit the inner room. Visiting the rest of the mosque is not really a must do. The old district of Kibidwé is full of crafts workshops (essentially blacksmiths, potters), on the other hand, is very interesting to visit. An accessible city, Bobo-Dioulasso is located 300km South of Ouagadougou. From the capital city to Bobo-Dioulasso, planes serve 4 times a week, whereas trains commute 3 times a week, and buses make the journey daily.

Arli National Park: Located southwest of the country, the park was created is the 1950s with a mission to stop desertification and regional deforestation. Relatively small, the park covers two others reserves (Singou and Pama) and resembles vast savanna landscapes punctuated by the huge cliffs of Tambarga and Gobnangou. The park is home to very varied and plentiful fauna (antelopes, baboons, monkeys, gazelle, warthogs, and hippos. Lions and elephants are the big stars of the park. Wild lions walk around free…so better not going for a night romantic walk in the park. Particularly luxurious, the main hotel of the park is also very expensive. A room and a meal will cost easily 50 USD. Camping nearby the hotel is available, or you can stay by “Chez Madame Bonazza significantly cheaper (located at the neighboring reserve “Pama”) run by Italians expats. The rooms are decent and the food very tasty. If you want to reach the park with your own car, follow the road Ouaga-Niamey 389KM towards east, until Kantchari. Bend your route to the South towards Diapaga, and then go south west until the park entrance. The park is 130 KM far from Diapaga.

Banfora: Banfora, a sleepy town, has only one gas station, one bank, and few wandering dogs. You will however appreciate the landscapes around the town. They are among the most spectacular of the country and are ideal for hiking and cycling tours. Karfiguéla Falls are impressive during the rainy season. If there are reported cases of bilharzia, we do not recommend swimming in the waterfalls pools. Bring your own supply of water in the dry season, because the main drinking water supply is unsafe to drink.

Karfiguela Domes: A rock formation around the falls is perfect for hiking. 10km away, Tengréla Lake offers a delightful spot to take a good rest.  Fishermen of the neighboring village will gladly take you on dugout canoe tour in exchange for a few francs CFA (do not hesitate to bargain firmly). The tour will allow you to have a closer look to the birds and hippos. Not very far, you will see the strange Sindou cliffs which look like upside down sculptures. From Ouagadougou, take the train to Banfora or Bobo. From there take a bush taxi or a bus. After a 80km ride you will finally reach Banfora. There, you can rent a bike or motorcycle for the day.

Gorom-Gorom: Located at the north-east of the country, Gorom-Gorom is a typical Sahel town at the gateway to the Sahara Desert. Beyond the city, you will reach the world of windswept sand dunes and silence. You will stay in the traditional Sudanese houses. The feeling of being away from everything is complete. The population is made up mainly of Touaregs, Peuls, Maures and SonghaïsGorom-Gorom market is the most important in the country. Various tribes gather and mix in the market creating an astonishing play of colors. The unique Touareg pastoralist’s indigo mixes with the red and yellow turbans of Peuls and Songhai, while Peuls women dressed with colored boubou with sophisticated coifs richly decorated of jewelry and large gold or silver earrings. The men wear sumptuous leather belts with silver swords beautifully crafted. There are not enough words to describe the unbelievable beauty of the crafts and the variety of the food brought from the desert by these different tribes. Gorom-Gorom is located 290km north-east of Ouagadougou. You can reach it via bush taxis or buses

Tiébélé: If you going to Nazinga reserve, we recommend you stop by Tiébélé. Located at the heart of gourounsi territory, Tiébélé is located 40km east to , on a dirt road. Traditional gourounsi houses look like fortresses decorated with white, red and black geometric patterns. The houses are painted by the gourounsi women with guinea fowl feathers. You can access Tiébélé with a car 4×4 (140km South to Ouagadougou)

Nazinga Reserve: Going South of Ouagadougou, nearby city, at the Ghanaian border, you will discover the Nazinga reserve run by Canadians expats. Burkina Faso has the largest population of elephants in West Africa, thanks to the efforts accomplished by the Reserve officials.

Ouahigouya: If you are planning on travelling to the Dogon land in Mali, it might be a good idea to stop by Ouahigouya (north of the country). This very picturesque city, established on a long stretch of land and cut off from the rest of the world, can be visited in one day. The naba kango palace of Yatenga Kingdom is big enough to accommodate the thirty wives of the naba, many granaries, and a room for witchcraft fetishes. No one knows what is inside that room except for the naba (even the children of the naba don’t have access). NB: During the pre-colonial era, Yatenga and Mossi Kingdoms were great enemies. Visitors usually bring gifts and money when they come to greet the naba.

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