Howdy all, it’s time for some more awesome travel tips to a country I’ve been to. Not just been to, but also returned to! Yes, it’s perhaps the unlikely tourist destination of the landlocked West African Nation of Burkina Faso! You may not know a lot about this country, it lives just north of Ghana, but actually it’s a pretty cool, if at times challenging place to visit.
The Basic Things!
Well okay, as I said, Burkina Faso is landlocked country right in the heart of West Africa. I personally visited in 2006 and 2007, so it’s been a while and there’s been a lot of things that have gone on in the country since I was there. It’s population is a smidge over 20 million, and the capital is Ouagadougou, a name which has given joy to many people every time they say it.
It’s a dry country, Sahelian, and it’s not a country with big tourist attractions, which probably won’t surprise you that much. It was previously colonised by France, and as such the most useful language to have in your armoury in Burkina Faso is French.
Climate-wise it’s pretty warm January, high-20s or more, but it just gets hotter and hotter. I was there March 2006 and it was high-30s every day if not forty plus. The heat is pretty brutal and so pack accordingly.
Getting to Burkina Faso and Visas
Burkina Faso is not too badly connected considering where it is and relative lack of popularity it has as an international destination. You’ll be accessing Burkina Faso through Ouagadougou, and there are direct flights basically from Paris and other countries in Africa. You might get direct flights to/from Belgium – but possibly not even once the pandemic is in the past. So if you are coming from outside Europe and Africa you will need to connect to get to Burkina Faso. You’re best bet is to fly through Paris with Air France. There’s also Royal Air Maroc who are good for connections, although the flight I took with them to Ouagadougou in 2007 also stopped in Niamey (origin was Casablanca).
Crossing by land, well being totally landlocked there are plenty of land borders to cross! Ghana has a few options in the north, Cote D’Ivoire, Mali, Niger, Benin and Togo all border Burkina Faso, however I’m, not 100% on Benin and Togo’s border is short and people are not encouraged to use this border (people not from the two countries in question) due to safety concerns. The border I have used were the one from Niger to Burkina Faso, which I don’t remember particularly but I was on a long bus ride and I can’t even remember if I had to get out of the bus or if passports were collected and then returned.
In 2007 I crossed Ouguiya into Mali towards to the Dogon country. That part of Mali I believe is presently off limits due to security in Mali. It’s a dusty border and you get off at one hut to get out of Burkina and again in Mali. Bush taxis take you across the border doing the whole trip in one vehicle which is handy.
In 2006 I was on a bus from Bobo-Diolosso to Mali, but I was ill and returned to Bobo-Diolosso without crossing the border. I had a Mali visa which I had gotten in Ouagadougou already. The visa process was easy enough both in 2006 and 2007 for Mali, both times I got the visa in Ouagadougou.
In 2006 I got what is a great deal, a five-country visa (I got it in Accra, Ghana) which includes Togo, Benin, Niger, Cote D’Ivoire and Burkina Faso. I went to four countries on that one visa which is fantastic. In 2007 I wasn’t intending on going to Burkina Faso, but had to as the airport in Bamako, Mali, was suddenly closed down to re-surface the runway! (Be aware that in this part of the world, things like this can disrupt your travel out of nowhere) I had to get a visa in the UK, and went out of London on a two-hour train ride to this guy’s shed. There Burkina Faso visas were processed basically on the spot! It was so cool!
Safety and Health
I think this is the most important part of the blog today. Firstly, security is a real problem today in Burkina Faso and Mali. Mali has been going through this for a decade now, Burkina it’s been an issue probably the last five or so years. It’s sad really – when I was there it seemed, felt and was very safe. But today Boko Haram, the terrorist group from Nigeria, have infiltrated Burkina Faso and in reality most governments advise against all travel to Burkina Faso. I so, reluctantly so would I. But I hope that this situation is reversed in the next few years and this blog will be of use to someone. But the threat of kidnapping foreigners is pretty real, and so if you do visit, you are going to want to exercise extreme caution, especially outside the capital Ouagadougou.
When I was in Burkina Faso in 2006, I fell foul to the disease that has destroyed millions of lives and families across Africa – malaria. Obviously I recovered, but over 400,000 people die per year in Africa from malaria, with children under five being in the highest risk group. It’s a disease spread by certain mosquitoes, mostly at dawn and dusk. You need to guard against it by doing everything you can to avoid getting bitten – covering up, repellent, coils, mosquito nets are a must. I was shocked to find that as far as incidences of malaria goes across the globe, Burkina Faso has one of the highest rates of infections per person.
You should take a preventative, in pill form. There are a few options, Larium, Doxy-cycline, Malarone are the three best known. But they don’t actually prevent malaria, I was on doxy when I got it. What they do do is prep your body to fight it, and usually people don’t get it nearly as badly. However, you will want to get the best treatment on hand if you do get as possible. So health insurance – travel insurance with unlimited health – is a must wherever you travel really, but even more so in Burkina Faso. It paid for all my treatment I spent 7 nights in hospital. Some will give you the ‘three-day cure’, it didn’t work for me but it does for some. That has a super-high dose of Mefloquine (Larium) in it which can have mental health side effects.
Protect yourself from the sun too, and the heat. Carry bottled water and drink loads of it, take rehydration tablets too to add which will replace minerals you might be missing out on. Also be careful of your stomach – I generally didn’t have a lot of trouble with the food, and in India I do so maybe it’s not so bad, but others get very sick indeed from food poisoning etc. Also check all the vaccines you need, Yellow Fever is probably compulsory to enter Burkina Faso as it is for many African countries.
Transport, Costs & Accommodation
Getting around you have buses and bush taxis – minibuses or vans that fit in as many people as they can. You also can get share taxis. Big buses ply a few routes between cities, and are probably more comfortable (if you go ‘VIP’) than bush taxis and even shared taxis where if you’re in the back you can be really squashed up with fellow passengers. There are limited domestic flights which aren’t so cheap.
I can’t say that I stayed in any hotel that I would recommend. It was hard if not impossible to book ahead online in the days I went, I remember never getting a reply from a hotel in Ouagadougou in 2007 that I tried to book with. I expect it’s a bit better today.
Always look for hotels with mosquito nets, which is pretty standard amongst the better hotels in West Africa. You’ll probably want air conditioning too. I really don’t have any recommendations for you as I don’t feel like I stayed in any place worth recommending.
Burkina Faso is not a very expensive place and if you’re budget travelling $50USD should see you comfortable each day, although maybe not the best accommodation. I remember that for a double my mate and I spent around $70USD for a hotel that looked to be a good place to stay but was actually a bit dusty and basic. That’s Ouagadougou and outside it’s a bit cheaper. I also found dorm accommodation in Ouagadougou for next to nix. However, I can’t find the place online today. But it was $5 or less for a bed in the dorm, and they had a couple of private rooms too.
Eating out need not put you back more than a few bucks for a meal, transport unlikely to cost much more than 10 bucks to another place in the country if you’re taking a bus or bush taxi. And museums and so forth are rarely more than a couple of bucks as well.
So, Burkina Faso. Probably not a place to go right this very moment, I admit, but an interestingly curious country – next week I’ll talk about what to do and see. Thanks for reading, take care – and May the Journey Never End!