Burkina Faso On a BudgetBurkina Faso is an incredibly friendly and welcoming country. Although it is one of the poorest countries on earth, it is still very safe. Robbery and crime are rarely problems for travelers here. Located in West Africa, just south of Mali, Burkina Faso is densely populated with an ethnically diverse population. It's a wonderful place to learn about and experience many of the West African cultures. Despite its openness and the welcoming nature of the people here, Burkina Faso receives very few travelers. Because of this, you are likely to be welcomed with broad smiles and eager greetings. People visit Burkina Faso not for the specific sights, but more for the experience. It's truly a unique and special place, and you are sure to feel that during your time in the country.
Like elsewhere in West Africa, you do not come to this country for the wildlife. If you're hoping to do an African Safari then east or southern Africa are more appropriate destinations. People come to Burkina Faso for the people and the culture. The people of Burkina Faso embrace art, dance and music. It's a great place to take in some concerts and enjoy a variety of different types of music. In the capital, Ouagadougou, there is an excellent two week music festival, Festival International de la Culture Hip Hop. Throughout this period you can experience a variety of hip hop performances. Other times throughout the year there are any number of concerts that highlight the strong music and dance culture that exists throughout the country.
The entire area can be split into four different regions. The capital city of Ouagadougou is in the Volta Delta region which is the area with the highest concentration of people. To the west you'll find the Black Volta region. This is the most lush and diverse part of the country. East Burkina Faso is predominantly Muslim and is home to the most popular national parks. North Burkina Faso is where you'll find the Fulani and Tuareg populations.
Getting around Burkina Faso can prove somewhat challenging. The public transportation system is comparable to what you find elsewhere in West Africa. The buses are generally old, the schedules are almost nonexistent, and the roads can be in poor condition. Some visitors choose to hire a car during their visit but this is generally not necessary, particularly if you're not planning to visit the national parks or any other remote locations.
At A Glance
- Like many countries in West Africa, French is the most common second language for the population. It is also the official national language of the country. Still, outside of the larger cities most people do not speak French and only speak their local dialect. This can make communication challenging, but the friendly nature of the population means they have a lot of patience and are very helpful regardless of communication barriers.
- Music is really at the heart of Burkina Faso. There are many festivals throughout the year that highlight this tradition. The most famous is the Festival International de la Culture Hip Hop in October, but other popular festivals include Festival Jazz in the spring, Festival des Masques et des Artes in the month March every other year, and Semaine National de la Culture, also in the spring months.
- Camel rides that start in Gorom Gorom are a popular activity. You can arrange a guide once you arrive, but be particular and talk to several people before you commit. Also make sure you pack warm clothing as the weather can get quite cold at night.
- A fun souvenir to bring home is a hand made African outfit. You can pick out your favorite colorful fabric and have a tailor take measurements and prepare any item of clothing for you. The best place to have this done is in Ouagadougou.
- There are ATMs in various parts of Burkina Faso. They generally accept Visa cards but not Mastercard. Most places do not take credit cards either, so cash is the best way to pay for almost anything.
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Top Tourist AttractionsOuagadougou: This is the capital and largest city in Burkina Faso. It is an interesting city to explore with modern architecture that is surrounded by traditional residential neighborhoods. There are a handful of good museums and parks that are worth a visit.
The Ruins of Loropeni: This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Loropeni. It's the ruins of a fortified settlement about which there is little information. It's also one of the only examples of this type of settlement in West Africa.
Karfiguela Waterfalls: This is a series of waterfalls near Banfora that are impressive during the rainy season. It's best to visit the area at the very end of the rainy season when the falls are at their fullest. It's also the most popular natural attraction in all of the country.
Popular FoodsThe food of Burkina Faso, referred to as Burkinabe, is similar to food you would find throughout West Africa. The main staples are sorghum, millet, rice, maize, peanuts, potatoes, beans, yams and okra. The most common meats available are mutton, beef, goat and fish, all of which are usually grilled. You'll find the greatest diversity of restaurants in the capital city, but there are also a handful of decent restaurants in most cities and towns. Don't be surprised if they don't have every item on the menu prepared. Instead ask what is available and order from those options.
Fufu: This is a staple of West Africa. It is made from root vegetables which are boiled in water and then pounded until it forms a paste. Fufu is usually eaten with your hands in balls which are dipped in an accompanying sauce or soup.
To: This is a dough that is made from a crushed grain such as millet, sorghum or corn. The dough is usually combined with a vegetable sauce made from tomatoes, peppers, and carrots to create a stew.
Riz gras: This is a popular rice dish that is combined with an onion and tomato sauce. It makes for a filling meal that is available in most restaurants around Burkina Faso.