Tips and Hints on Backpacking and Travel in Burkina Faso
Burkina Faso, in my opinion, is a very tranquil country with incredibly kind and welcoming people. You will meet smiling people saying bonne arrivée all the time. Among all African countries that I have visited so far, Burkina Faso is on top and I definitely want to visit it again in the upcoming year.
In November 2015, I travelled through Burkina Faso for two weeks. Most important first-hand information on prices, safety, transport, things worth visiting etc. are listed below.
Things to See in Burkina Faso
A quick overview of places worth visiting in Burkina Faso, with short description. You can read more about each place in individual posts on this webpage.
Ouagadougou – The capital of Burkina Faso, best for listening to traditional Burkinabé music, visiting film and music festivals like Rock à Ouaga and Jazz à Ouaga (usually take place between February and May), partying and shopping for African art, clothes, souvenirs (check out Village Artisanal de Ouaga, Nimba Art, Grand Marché).
Bobo-Dioulasso – its Grande marché has a bit of Arab spirit; fabulous Grande mosque made from mud; Kibidwé – an interesting neighbourhood with mixture of all lifestyles.
Tiébélé – an adorable village with traditional wall paintings that are difficult to find elsewhere.
Karfiguéla Waterfalls – a nice walk to the waterfalls that should end up with a shower under a fresh waterfalls.
Domes of Fabedougou – wonderful limestone formations in the middle of nowhere, strongly remind of Australian Bugle Bungles, are free of tourists!
Sindou peaks – another remarkable limestone formations, much bigger than previously mentioned domes, which makes scenery even more astonishing.
Niansogoni – remote and abandoned village made in a rock, near Malian border, with stunning scenery around.
Local transport in Burkina Faso
Bus is the best option for long distances. There are many bus companies, especially in Ouaga and Bobo, but many of them are not reliable and use old, uncertain buses. Rakiéta and TCV are two most reliable companies, although their prices are usually a bit higher (but only around 1000 CFA), their buses do leave and arrive on time, plus they don’t need to stop and spend time at customs check points, which can be every 30 minutes. Rakiéta and TCV bus stops are separated from main bus station (gare routière).
Minibus is called taxi-brousse in French. It doesn’t have time schedule, but leaves when it is full. Used for short distances as for long distances between villages or cities. They move slower than buses and prices are cheaper. Parked at gare routière, mostly depart in (early) mornings.
Shared car – used for shorter distances, much less common than minibus.
City taxis are coloured bright green so you can easily find them (in case taxi drivers don’t find you first). In order to stop a taxi, make a “tsssss” or a loud kiss (yes, this is how they draw attention in Burkina). Standard taxi fares around the city cost 300 CFA.
Motorbike – you can always rent a moped for only 5000 CFA/day (not including fuel). Also, to visit some tourist places, there are always local guides that offer organized tours with motorbike around.
Prices for Local Transport in Burkina Faso
Bus from Ouagadougou to Bobo-Dioulasso 7000 CFA (bus)
Bobo-Dioulasso – Banfora 1500 CFA (bus)
Banfora – Sindou 1500/2000 CFA (bus/minibus)
Paga (Ghanaian border) – Pô 2000 CFA (shared car)
Pô – Tiébélé 1500 – 2000 CFA
Tiébele – Ouagadougou 4000 CFA (minibus)
Sachet of water 0˙5 L: 50 CFA
Bottled water 1˙5L: 500 CFA
Bottle of Coke: 400 CFA
Bottle of beer: 650 CFA
Banana: 50 CFA/piece
Simple African meal in a restaurant: from 800-2000 CFA
Sandwich from street sellers: 200-400 CFA
Coffee with milk: 150-300 CFA
Motorbike rent for one day (without fuel): 5000 CFA
Hotel room: 5000 CFA (very basic one, out of the city center), more likely from 8000 CFA on/room
Entrance fee for sights: 1000 CFA
Eating and drinking in Burkina Faso
After spending 2 months in Ghana, Burkinabé cuisine was a real heaven for me. Commonly available coffee with milk, sandwiches, salads, spaghetti, baguettes, brochettes (grilled meat), non spicy local meals etc. make it much friendlier to European traveller. Most common local main dishes are rice or staple foods accompanied by meat/vegetable/groundnut sauces. Among local drinks, try toédo (baobab juice), sobolo (hibiscus juice), banji (palm wine). Many foods can be bought as well on streets for very cheap prices as well in restaurants and maquis. Also, many Western style restaurants can be found in Ouagadougou and Bobo-Dioulasso.
Internet in Burkina Faso
Mobile internet in Burkina Faso is extremely expensive in Burkina. I used Airtel mobile operator, which offers data usage from 250 CFA on. For instance, you can get only 30 MB/500 CFA; 65MB/1000CFA; 100MB/1500 CFA. There are also other operators, like Telemob, Telecel (less used). When in towns, you can head to internet cafes (cybercafé), price vary from 250-500 CFA/hour.
Taking Photos in Burkina Faso
For photography addicts like me, Burkina was a perfect place. People don’t really mind when someone photographs them, some of them even ask for it. But you should always use your common sense and I still recommend you to ask for permission, since you never know what can follow.
Safety in Burkina Faso
In end of November 2015, presidential and parliamentary elections took place in Burkina Faso. In September 2015, there was a failed military coup in Ouagadougou and just one month later, near to Burkina’s second largest city Bobo-Dioulasso terrorist attack, where 3 gendarmes died.
Due to political instability, many travellers fear to travel to Burkina in these days, so I haven’t met many of them. I felt completely safe and did not feel any danger or risk, but everywhere in the country there was a pre-election spirit, political campaigns and everyone talked about upcoming elections.
Skip Sahel Region
Another thing is Northern part of Burkina Faso, so called Sahel. These areas (including the part across the border in Niger and Mali) have not been really safe in last few years. Due to recommendations by many locals, I decided to skip visiting Gorom-Gorom, a colourful place with a spectacular Thursday market that gathers many ethnic group from close and far.
You can always check Gov.UK for updates on safety, but bear in mind that it is always a bit exaggerated.
Female Travellers in Burkina Faso – Is Burkina Faso Safe for Women?
As a female solo traveller, without any doubt I did hear men saying “Madam, ca-va”, “la blanche” (white woman in French), “nasara” (white person in Mosi), “toubabou” (white person in Bambara) and similar all the time. Everywhere in Africa men like to greet women travellers, want to become their friends and have their phone numbers. Don’t give your number, if you don’t want them to disturb you all the time. But, comparing to Ghana, where men can be annoying to a great extent, Burkinabé men are much less bold. Dress code: Burkina is ethnically and religiously very diverse, so you can see everything from women wearing burkas to showing their breast. Just use a common sense and don’t dress too provocative.
Money Matters in Burkina Faso
Currency used is West African Frank, CFA. The best exchange rate you can get at the black market. ATMs are available in all towns, surprisingly even in some touristy villages (like Sindou). ATMs mostly accept only Visa cards, although in Ouaga and Bobo you can find some that also accept Mastercard/Maestro.
If coming by air, it is strongly advisable to get visa before your arrival. If coming by land, you can get it at the border, for example Ghana-Burkina Faso border, for about 100000 CFA. In this case, it is much cheaper if you apply for it in advance if you first travel to Ghana, Ivory Coast, Mali, Togo etc.
For more information on getting Burkinabé visa in Accra, Ghana, see one of our previous posts.