A small landlocked country in Western Africa, Burkina Faso is poor even by African standards. However, despite its lack of wealth, it maintains a decent tourist infrastructure and is one of the more hospitable nations on the continent. A cradle of African art, from weavings and textiles to theater, dance and music, Burkina’s is best traveled using the ubiquitous green taxi cabs, but don’t expect to be the only passenger. Cramped cabs may be the least of your worries alongside constant health alerts and poor road conditions, but tourists who make their way to come to see the wildlife parks and reserves, the intriguing Sindou Rock formations and the international film festivals at the Popular Theater will be well rewarded.

When to Go

Burkina Faso is tropical, with dry season lasting from November to March and rainy season from June to October. The best time to visit is from November to January, when the weather is cool and dry. December to February is a bad time for those with allergies, as the Harmattan haze from the Sahara makes the air thick and dusty.

Getting There & Away

The international airport is about eight kilometers from the capital; there are taxi and bus services connecting the airport to the city. A second airport, Borgo, is located near Bobo Dioulasso and serves mostly domestic flights. There is a rail service connecting Ougadougou and Bobo Dioulasso, but they can get overcrowded on busy hours. Most hotels offer car hire, but some cars are in poor condition. The roads are poorly lit at night, and hijackings are common in the capital. If possible, limit your travels to daytime and travel with a guide or trusted local.

Health & Safety

Safety will not be your main concern here, but health alerts will, with malaria, typhoid, polio and yellow fever rife. A vaccination certificate for yellow fever is required upon arrival at the airport. Tap water and milk may be contaminated, but bottled water and tinned milk are readily available as alternatives. Overdosing on the local dish to may also have some nasty consequences. Have a first-aid kit and medical supplies handy as medical facilities are very limited. In serious cases, hospitals usually evacuate patients to Europe.

Food & Hospitality

The capital boasts a wide variety of cuisines including Indian, Chinese, Italian, Middle Eastern and French. And it’s a good job, as dining on local dishes can be an acquired taste with to being a common dish, a jelly-like substance made with millet or corn flour, and dipped in a variety of sauces. You can eat it with a spoon or your hands, but remember to use your right hand if you want to keep any new found friends as Muslims consider the left hand as designated for something else.

Most hotels are budget to mid-range, with the best ones located in Ougadougou, Gorom Gorom, Bobo Dioulasso and Gaoua. Not all rooms are air-conditioned, and facilities like valet and airport pick-up are virtually unheard of outside the capital. There are also some small lodges and youth hostels, but beds are limited so booking in advance is recommended. An attractive option for tourist groups is the tourist-class bungalows at Arly Park. Camping out is usually allowed only for excursion groups. Don’t expect any service between midday and 15:00 when the locals go on repós, which means they will be quietly snoring in a corner somewhere.

Itineraries

Two days in Karfiguela
Three days in Ougadougou

Additional time
Two days visiting national parks

Highlights

Museums: there are a number of interesting museums in Ougadougou, the capital. Some of the more interesting ones are the Ethnography Museum, Snake Museum, and the National Museum.

Karfiguéla Waterfalls: an attractive mango-lane leads to this 20-meter high waterfall in Banfora. Avoid swimming in it though, as you can disturb some of the local animals, which could have nasty consequences!

Sindou Rock Formations: the African equivalent of Stonehenge, these giant rocks look like one grand castle when viewed from a distance. They’re just a short drive from Karfiguela, and they make a nice hiking site if you can actually manage to hike in the heat.

National parks: come face to face with African wildlife at the many national parks and reserves – the most popular are Kabore Tembi, ‘W’ National Park and Arli. Also worth a mention is the Ranch de Nazinga, where you can find antelopes, baboons, elephants and warthogs.

Popular Theater: also found in Ougadougou, this theater is a major hub for African cinema, dance, art and music. The Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou (FESPACO), Africa’s own version of Cannes, is held here every year. Just don’t expect to see Tom Cruise walking the red carpet.

Activities

Hiking: Banfora is a popular place for avid hikers. You can take up to a three-day hike from the Sindou Rocks, but remember to bring food and other supplies or you might find yourself on a crash-diet. If possible, come with a guide or a trusted local.

Shopping: the Grand Marche in Bobo Dioulasso, one of the largest Mossi towns, is both attractive and full of great finds from cheap local souvenirs to rich African textiles and sculptures. From October to November, there’s the International Arts and Crafts Fair, a showcase and bazaar featuring classic and contemporary African art.

Mountain biking: if you’re not up for a hike, join a mountain bike trip and tour the scenic towns of Bobo Dioulasso, Banfora and the Lobi region south of the capital.

Wildlife tours: if you can’t afford a real African safari, a wildlife excursion is the next best thing. Guided tours will take you around some of Burkina Faso’s famous reserves including the La Mare aux Poissons Sacrés de Dafra, a sacred fish pond, and the Mare aux Hippopotames, where you can see hippos in their natural habitat. Have some cash ready, as you’ll have to pay entrance fees at most sites.