Burkina Faso Travel Guide – Everything You Need to Know

Burkina Faso, often referred to as the “Land of Honest People,” is a hidden gem in West Africa, brimming with rich cultural diversity and untamed natural beauty. From the vibrant colors of its bustling markets to the ancient traditions of its indigenous peoples, Burkina Faso offers a unique and authentic experience for intrepid travelers. Explore the rugged landscapes, immerse yourself in the captivating rituals of local communities, and discover the nation’s historical heritage, all while encountering the genuine warmth and hospitality of its people.

What’s the Best Time to Visit? 📅

The best time to visit Burkina Faso as a tourist is during the dry season, which typically spans from November to March. During this period, the weather is more comfortable for travel and outdoor activities, and you’ll encounter less rainfall. Here’s a breakdown of the seasons to help you plan your trip:

  1. Dry Season (November to March): This is the most popular time to visit Burkina Faso. The weather is generally pleasant with cooler temperatures and minimal rainfall, making it ideal for exploring the country, wildlife viewing, and outdoor adventures. Cultural festivals often take place during this season.
  2. Harmattan Season (December to February): The Harmattan wind from the Sahara Desert can bring hazy conditions, but it also provides cooler temperatures. Be prepared for some dust and lower visibility during this time.
  3. Hot Season (March to May): As the dry season transitions into the hot season, temperatures start to rise significantly. March is still relatively pleasant, but by April and May, it can become quite hot. Travelers should be prepared for high temperatures if visiting during this period.
  4. Rainy Season (June to October): The rainy season in Burkina Faso brings heavy downpours, high humidity, and a risk of flooding, making outdoor activities more challenging. Some roads may be impassable. While this season is less popular for tourism, it can be a rewarding time for birdwatching and lush landscapes.

When planning your trip, consider your preferences and the type of experience you desire. If you want to explore cultural events and outdoor activities, the dry season is your best bet. However, if you’re interested in unique experiences like birdwatching and don’t mind the occasional rain, the rainy season can also offer its own charm. Be sure to check specific weather conditions and any travel advisories before your trip, as conditions can vary from year to year.

What’s the Best Way to Get Around? 🚌

Getting around Burkina Faso as a tourist can be an adventure in itself. While the country’s infrastructure is not as developed as in some other tourist destinations, there are several options for transportation. Here are the primary ways to get around Burkina Faso:

  1. Minibuses and Shared Taxis: Minibuses and shared taxis, often referred to as “bush taxis,” are a common mode of transport for both short and long distances within cities and between towns. These are usually the most affordable options, but they can be crowded and not always the most comfortable.
  2. Long-Distance Buses: Several bus companies operate long-distance routes between major cities and towns. These buses are typically more comfortable than minibuses and shared taxis. However, schedules may not always be strictly adhered to.
  3. Rental Cars: Renting a car gives you more flexibility to explore Burkina Faso. Major cities like Ouagadougou and Bobo-Dioulasso have car rental agencies. Be prepared for some bumpy roads and driving conditions.
  4. Motorcycles: Motorcycles are a popular way to get around, especially in cities. Many locals use them for their daily commute. However, be cautious about safety, wear a helmet, and make sure you’re experienced in motorcycle riding.
  5. Bicycle: If you’re an adventurous traveler, consider renting a bicycle for exploring cities and rural areas. Burkina Faso has a relatively flat terrain, making it suitable for cycling.
  6. Domestic Flights: Burkina Faso has a few domestic airports, and taking a domestic flight can save time if you need to cover long distances. Air travel is relatively safe and efficient.
  7. Hitchhiking: While not as common as in some other countries, hitchhiking is practiced in Burkina Faso. Exercise caution and ensure your safety if you choose to hitchhike.
  8. Walking: In cities and towns, walking is a practical way to explore. Many urban areas have pedestrian-friendly streets.
  9. Camel and Donkey Carts: In rural areas, you may encounter camel or donkey carts used for transportation, providing an authentic and slower-paced travel experience.
  10. Guided Tours: Joining guided tours is a convenient way to explore specific regions or attractions, as you’ll have local guides and transportation arranged for you.

Please note that road conditions can vary, and rural areas may have unpaved or rough roads. It’s essential to plan your routes, have plenty of water and supplies, and ensure your safety when traveling in Burkina Faso. Always stay informed about local conditions and any travel advisories.

What’s the Official Language?

The official language of Burkina Faso is French. While French is the language of administration and education, there are also several indigenous languages spoken throughout the country, such as Moore, Dioula, and Fulfulde. Here are some basic French phrases that can be useful for tourists in Burkina Faso:

  1. Hello – Bonjour (bohn-zhoor)
  2. Good morning – Bonjour (bohn-zhoor)
  3. Good evening – Bonsoir (bohn-swahr)
  4. Good night – Bonne nuit (bohn nwee)
  5. Yes – Oui (wee)
  6. No – Non (noh)
  7. Please – S’il vous plaît (seel voo pleh)
  8. Thank you – Merci (mehr-see)
  9. You’re welcome – De rien (duh ryen)
  10. Excuse me / I’m sorry – Excusez-moi (ehk-skew-zay mwah) / Je suis désolé(e) (zhuh swee day-zoh-lay)
  11. How much is this? – Combien ça coûte ? (kohm-byen sah koot?)
  12. Where is…? – Où est… ? (oo eh…?)
  13. Restroom / Toilet – Toilettes (twah-let)
  14. Help – À l’aide (ah leed)
  15. I don’t understand – Je ne comprends pas (zhuh nuh kohm-prahn pah)
  16. I need a doctor – J’ai besoin d’un médecin (zhay buh-zwah duhn may-deh-sahn)

While French is widely spoken in urban areas, you may encounter people who speak indigenous languages in rural regions. It can be helpful to learn a few basic phrases in the local language of the area you plan to visit. This shows respect for the local culture and can make your interactions more meaningful.

Where to Stay? 🏨

Burkina Faso offers a range of accommodation options for tourists, including hotels, guesthouses, and more. The availability and quality of lodging may vary depending on the region you visit. Here are some types of places to stay:

  1. Hotels: In major cities like Ouagadougou and Bobo-Dioulasso, you’ll find a selection of hotels, ranging from budget to upscale. These provide various amenities and services for travelers.
  2. Guesthouses: Guesthouses offer a more intimate and often budget-friendly accommodation option. They can provide a chance to connect with locals and other travelers.
  3. Auberges: Auberges are similar to guesthouses and are commonly found in smaller towns and rural areas. They offer simple rooms and a communal atmosphere.
  4. Lodges: In nature reserves and rural areas, you may find lodges that cater to tourists seeking an immersive experience in the local environment.
  5. Resorts: Burkina Faso has some resort-style accommodations, particularly near the Bagré Dam and other scenic areas. These resorts offer more luxurious amenities.
  6. Campsites: If you’re an adventurous traveler, consider camping in designated areas, especially in national parks and natural reserves.
  7. Airbnb: In major cities, you may find Airbnb listings, which can provide more independent and often cost-effective lodging options.
  8. Homestays: Some local families offer homestay experiences, giving you a chance to live with and learn from Burkinabé families.
  9. Religious Facilities: In some areas, monasteries and religious institutions offer basic accommodations for travelers.

When choosing where to stay, consider factors like your budget, the location you plan to visit, and the type of experience you desire. In urban areas, you’ll have more options, while in rural regions, accommodations may be more limited. Booking in advance, especially during the peak tourist season, is advisable to secure your preferred lodging. Be sure to check the availability and facilities of your chosen accommodation in advance, as amenities may vary.

What to Eat? 🍽️

Burkina Faso’s cuisine is a delicious reflection of the country’s diverse cultures and ingredients. As a tourist, you’ll have the opportunity to savor unique and flavorful dishes. Here are some must-try foods in Burkina Faso:

  1. Tô: This is a staple food in Burkina Faso and is made from millet or sorghum. It’s a starchy porridge that’s often served with various sauces, meats, and vegetables.
  2. Poulet Bicyclette: Literally translating to “bicycle chicken,” this dish features small, free-range chickens that are lean and flavorful. They’re typically grilled and served with spicy sauces.
  3. Riz Gras: A popular dish consisting of rice cooked with vegetables, meat (often goat or chicken), and spices. It’s rich and hearty.
  4. Brochettes: Skewered and grilled meats, such as beef, goat, or chicken, seasoned with spices. They are a popular street food.
  5. Pâte de Sésame: A delicious sesame paste served with tô, giving it a nutty and flavorful twist.
  6. Bissap: A refreshing drink made from hibiscus flowers. It’s often served sweetened and cold, perfect for hot days.
  7. Boussou: A local version of ginger beer, this non-alcoholic beverage is a favorite among Burkinabé.
  8. Ragout: A spicy stew made with meat, vegetables, and peanuts. It’s a hearty and flavorful dish.
  9. **Koko: **A breakfast porridge made from millet or maize, typically served with sugar or spices.
  10. Akpan: A type of fried or grilled cake made from millet or corn and often served with sauce or as a side dish.
  11. Nems: These spring rolls filled with vegetables and sometimes meat are a popular snack in Burkina Faso.
  12. Bana-bana: A peanut sauce with meat, often served with tô or rice.
  13. **Mangue: **Burkina Faso’s mangoes are renowned for their sweetness and flavor. Enjoy them as a fresh and delicious dessert.
  14. Yam: Yam is a popular starch in Burkina Faso, and you’ll find it served in various forms, such as yam fries or yam pottage.
  15. Millet Beer: Try the local millet beer, a traditional and somewhat sour fermented drink often enjoyed in social settings.
  16. Attieké: A side dish made from cassava, similar to couscous, and often served with various sauces.
  17. Grilled Fish: If you’re near a water source, especially in the eastern and southern regions, try grilled fish served with local seasonings.
  18. Dolo: A traditional sorghum beer often consumed during social gatherings and celebrations.

Sampling the local cuisine is an essential part of experiencing Burkina Faso’s culture. Be adventurous and try a variety of dishes to savor the unique flavors and culinary traditions of this West African nation.

What to See? 🔍

Burkina Faso may not be as well-known a tourist destination as some other countries, but it has a lot to offer in terms of culture, history, and natural beauty. Here are some must-see places and attractions in Burkina Faso for tourists:

  1. Ouagadougou: The capital city is a vibrant and bustling place, with markets, cultural centers, and interesting architecture. Don’t miss the National Museum and the Grand Mosque.
  2. Bobo-Dioulasso: Burkina Faso’s second-largest city is known for its rich cultural heritage. Explore the old town, visit the Bobo-Dioulasso Grand Mosque, and experience the vibrant local music scene.
  3. Banfora: Located in southwestern Burkina Faso, Banfora is a gateway to natural wonders. Explore the Karfiguéla Waterfalls, Tengréla Lake, and the Sindou Peaks.
  4. Lobi Country: In the southwestern region, you can immerse yourself in the culture of the Lobi people. Discover traditional Lobi villages and their unique architecture.
  5. Ruins of Loropeni: A UNESCO World Heritage site, these ruins are believed to be the remains of an ancient fortified settlement, offering a glimpse into Burkina Faso’s history.
  6. Nazinga Game Ranch: Located near Po, this ranch is home to various species of wildlife, including elephants, hippos, and antelopes, making it an ideal place for wildlife enthusiasts.
  7. Niansogoni: A village known for its extraordinary architecture, featuring houses built in the traditional Gurunsi style with elaborate decorations.
  8. Domes de Fabedougou: Unique rock formations that have been sculpted by erosion, creating a surreal and picturesque landscape.
  9. Gorom-Gorom: A town in the Sahel region known for its bustling markets and as a gateway to the Sahara Desert.
  10. The Mosque of Bani: Located in the town of Bani, this mosque is known for its distinct Sahelian-style architecture and intricate mud-brick design.
  11. Sindou Peaks: A series of granite formations in the southwest, offering a dramatic and picturesque landscape for hiking and exploration.
  12. Lake Bam: A large artificial lake, perfect for boating, fishing, and birdwatching. It’s also a great place to relax and enjoy the scenery.
  13. Ziniaré: Visit the Presidential Palace, a historical site, and the Sacred Forest of the Nakombas, which is significant in local animist traditions.
  14. Koudougou: Explore this city and its vibrant local markets, known for traditional crafts and textiles.
  15. Gouina Waterfall: Located near the town of Boromo, it’s a beautiful natural wonder that’s worth a visit.

While Burkina Faso may not have the same level of tourism infrastructure as more popular destinations, its authentic experiences, rich cultural heritage, and diverse landscapes make it an appealing destination for travelers looking for unique and off-the-beaten-path adventures. As always, it’s important to stay informed about local conditions and travel advisories when planning your visit.

What to Do? 📸

Burkina Faso offers a range of unique and enriching experiences for tourists who are willing to explore its culture, traditions, and natural beauty. Here are some must-do things for tourists in Burkina Faso:

  1. Attend a Cultural Festival: Burkina Faso is known for its vibrant cultural festivals. If your visit coincides with one, such as the FESPACO film festival or the Nakoja Dance Festival, be sure to attend and immerse yourself in the local traditions.
  2. Visit a Traditional Village: Explore one of the many traditional villages in Burkina Faso, such as Tiebele or Niansogoni, to witness the unique architectural styles and cultural practices of the local communities.
  3. Experience Local Music and Dance: Burkina Faso has a rich musical heritage. Attend a live performance of traditional music and dance to appreciate the rhythms and melodies of the region.
  4. Sample Local Cuisine: Taste traditional Burkinabé dishes, such as tô, riz gras, and poulet bicyclette, in local restaurants and markets. Don’t forget to try street food and regional specialties.
  5. Explore National Parks and Reserves: Discover Burkina Faso’s natural beauty by visiting national parks like Nazinga Game Ranch, where you can spot wildlife, and other reserves, including the Domes de Fabedougou and Arly National Park.
  6. Learn About Indigenous Cultures: Interact with indigenous communities, like the Lobi people, to gain insights into their way of life, traditions, and craftsmanship.
  7. Visit Historical Sites: Explore historical sites like the Ruins of Loropeni and the Mosque of Bani to learn about the country’s ancient past.
  8. Enjoy Ecotourism Activities: Participate in ecotourism activities, such as hiking, birdwatching, and boat trips, in Burkina Faso’s natural reserves and scenic areas.
  9. Shop for Local Crafts: Burkina Faso is known for its craftsmanship, and you can purchase handmade crafts, textiles, and jewelry as souvenirs in local markets and boutiques.
  10. Participate in Traditional Ceremonies: If the opportunity arises, take part in traditional ceremonies, such as weddings or initiation rites, to witness local customs and celebrations.
  11. Explore Ancient Rock Formations: Visit unique geological features like the Sindou Peaks and Domes de Fabedougou for stunning rock formations.
  12. Attend a Masked Dance Performance: Witness a masked dance performance, which is an integral part of local culture and rituals.
  13. Discover Burkinabé Cinema: Burkina Faso is known for its contribution to African cinema. Watch a local film or visit the African Film Library.
  14. Attend a Wrestling Match: Wrestling is a popular sport in Burkina Faso. Catch a local wrestling match and experience the excitement of this traditional sport.
  15. Explore Ouagadougou and Bobo-Dioulasso: These cities offer urban experiences, including museums, markets, and cultural centers.
  16. Learn About Local Religions: Burkina Faso is a country with diverse religious beliefs. Explore local religious practices and beliefs, from Islam to indigenous animist traditions.

Remember to respect local customs and traditions while engaging in these activities and always ask for permission before taking photographs, especially in rural and indigenous areas. Burkina Faso’s rich culture and natural beauty await those who seek to discover the heart of West Africa.

Culture and Safety 🦺

Culture:

  1. Respect for Local Traditions: Burkina Faso is a country with diverse cultural and religious traditions. Be respectful of local customs, practices, and beliefs. Seek permission before taking photographs, especially in rural areas and during ceremonies.
  2. Greetings: Greet people with respect. A common greeting is to shake hands and use phrases like “Bonjour” (good morning) or “Bonsoir” (good evening) when appropriate. In rural areas, it’s customary to use simple greetings and handshakes.
  3. Dress Modestly: In urban areas, casual Western clothing is acceptable. However, when visiting rural areas, especially during ceremonies and visits to traditional communities, dress modestly and conservatively. Women should cover their shoulders and avoid wearing revealing clothing.
  4. Respect for Elders: Burkina Faso places a strong emphasis on respecting elders. When interacting with older people, use formal language and show deference.
  5. Hospitality: Burkina Faso is known for its warm hospitality. If offered food or drink, it’s polite to accept and show appreciation.
  6. Languages: French is the official language, but many locals speak indigenous languages. Learning a few basic phrases in the local language can go a long way in fostering goodwill and communication.
  7. Photography: Always ask for permission before taking photographs, especially of people. Some communities may have cultural or religious restrictions on photography.

Safety:

  1. Travel Advisories: Before your trip, check for any travel advisories or safety recommendations from your government or relevant authorities. Conditions can change, and it’s essential to stay informed.
  2. Health Precautions: Ensure you have the necessary vaccinations before traveling to Burkina Faso. Malaria is prevalent in many areas, so take precautions like using mosquito repellent and sleeping under mosquito nets.
  3. Food and Water Safety: Be cautious about what you eat and drink. Stick to bottled or purified water and consume well-cooked food. Avoid street food in places with questionable hygiene.
  4. Petty Theft: Be vigilant for pickpocketing and petty theft, especially in crowded places and markets. Keep your belongings secure and be aware of your surroundings.
  5. Travel Insurance: It’s advisable to have comprehensive travel insurance that covers health emergencies, theft, and other incidents during your trip.
  6. Road Safety: If you plan to drive, be aware of local driving practices. Roads may be in poor condition, and traffic can be chaotic, especially in urban areas.
  7. Local Laws and Customs: Familiarize yourself with local laws and customs, and adhere to them. Drug use, including marijuana, is illegal and strictly enforced.
  8. LGBTQ+ Travelers: While Burkina Faso is more accepting of LGBTQ+ individuals compared to some other African nations, it’s essential to be discreet about your sexual orientation to avoid potential discrimination.
  9. Emergency Contacts: Know the local emergency numbers, the location of your country’s embassy or consulate, and have a way to communicate in case of an emergency.
  10. Avoid Demonstrations: Avoid participating in or being near political or social demonstrations, as they can occasionally turn violent.

By respecting local customs and following safety guidelines, you can have a rewarding and safe travel experience in Burkina Faso. The warmth of the Burkinabé people and the country’s unique culture and landscapes make it a memorable destination for those willing to explore off the beaten path.

Conclusion

In conclusion, a journey to Burkina Faso promises an adventure like no other. This West African nation captivates with its vibrant cultures, stunning landscapes, and a true sense of authenticity. From the bustling markets of Ouagadougou to the enchanting ceremonies of the indigenous tribes, Burkina Faso is a destination that offers a glimpse into a world steeped in tradition and natural beauty. With its warm-hearted people and untamed wilderness, this off-the-beaten-path destination is a treasure for those seeking a genuine and unique travel experience.