Burkina Faso

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Introduction to Burkina Faso

Burkina Faso consistently produces silk purses from sows' ears; they come from one of the poorest countries in the world, but they are renowned for their don't-worry-be-happy optimism and have managed to fashion a beautiful and culturally sophisticated country out of the little resources they do have.

The Burkinabés are descended from a long line of regal emperors who have suffered the plebeian indignities of colonialism and blackbirding, but this has only served to strengthen and preserve their cultural identity. Today, they are known for their music, dance, theatre and film.

Full country name: Burkina Faso

Area: 274,200 sq km

Population: 12.6 million

Capital City: Ouagadougou (pop 1,300,000)

People: Mossi, Gurunsi, Sénufo, Lobi, Bobo, Mande, Fulani

Language: French

Religion: Indigenous beliefs (40%), Muslim (50%), Christian (mainly Roman Catholic) (10%)

Government: parliamentary republic

Head of State: President Captain Blaise Compaoré

Head of Government: Prime Minister Paramanga Ernest Yonli

GDP: US$11.6 billion

GDP per capita: US$1,025

Annual Growth: 6%

Inflation: 1.6%

Major Industries: cotton lint, beverages, agricultural processing, soap, cigarettes, textiles, gold

Major Trading Partners: Côte d'Ivoire, France, Italy, Thailand

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Traveler Facts

Visas: Visas are required for all visitors to Burkina Faso.

Health risks: malaria (This is a serious problem in Burkina Faso)

Time Zone: GMT/UTC +0 (GMT/UTC)

Dialling Code: 226

Electricity: 220V ,50Hz

Weights & measures: Metric

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If you're in Burkina Faso in an odd-numbered year, don't miss the Pan-African Film Festival. Ouagadougou tarts itself up and puts on its metaphorical lippy to host this festival that showcases up-and-coming West African film makers. Though none of the participants have Spielbergian fame, a number of Pan-African-winning directors have gone on to collect awards in the more prestigious categories of the Cannes Film Festival. The festival usually begins the last Saturday in February. In even-numbered years Burkina Faso's second largest city, Bobo-Dioulasso, hosts La Semaine Nationale de la Culture. Both traditional and contemporary forms of music, dance and theatre, meet and mix in this week long cultural extravaganza. It begins the last week in April.

Every Friday morning, the Moro-Naba emerges from his palace in scarlet robes and, with due pomp and circumstance, re-enacts what in French is lyrically called la cérémonie du Nabayius Gou and in English, somewhat more phlegmatically, 'the false departure of the emperor.' In a nutshell, the story is of a Mossi emperor who mounted his horse preparatory to going off to war, changed his mind, dismounted, and re-entered the palace. It seems a rather ignominious moment to immortalise by daily repeats, but there are nuances and subtleties to the story, and to a Burkinabé it symbolises the survival struggle of the Mossi monarchy.

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Best time to Visit

As with most of West Africa, the best time to go is weather related. November to February are the cooler months of the year, although the dusty Harmattan winds might temper your enthusiasm between the months of December and February. If you're going in an odd-numbered year, the film festival starts in late February, and if in an even year, the cultural festival begins early April.

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Currency / Costs / Approx. Spending

Currency: Burkina Faso Franc


Budget: CFA500-1000

Mid-range: CFA1000-2700

High: CFA2700-3500

Deluxe: CFA3500+


Budget: CFA1600-3700

Mid-range: CFA3700-18,000

High: CFA18,000-27,000

Deluxe: CFA27,000+

Burkina Faso's currency, the West African franc (CFA), is fixed against the euro. For as little as US$15 a day you can get a decent room (albeit with shared bathroom facilities), clean sheets and a square meal from one of the local hole-in-the-wall diners. If you want to be closer to the centre of the city, are looking for airconditioned rooms, swimming pools, and a bit of ambience with your meal, you'll be paying about US$60 a day. Fancy hotels and French cuisine for breakfast, lunch and dinner will set you back about US$150-200 a day.

Ecobank in Ouagadougou and Bobo-Dioulasso charges little commission on travellers cheques and changes most currencies. It's best to carry euros, in a mixture of cash and travellers' cheques, and it's essential to take some euros in cash. Banks generally require proof of purchase to change travellers' cheques, so tuck receipts away in a safe place. BICIAB in Ouagadougou and Bobo-Dioulasso gives cash advances on a Visa card.

As in most West African countries a 10% tip is expected in the better-class restaurants. Check the bills in restaurants to ensure that a 10% service charge has not already been added on.

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Burkina Faso's capital lies in the middle of the country, standing at the crossroads of several ancient trade routes. There's not a hell of a lot here, but what it lacks in epic monuments and grand buildings it makes up for in wide, shady boulevards, a relaxed atmosphere and friendly smiles.

Burkinabés are gregarious people, always ready for a chat over coffee; hospitality is one of the city's trademarks. Unlike many predominantly Muslim Sahelian cities, Ouagadougou has a lively nightclub scene. A number of reasonably cheap internet cafes mean Ouaga is also a good place to get online.


Downtown Banfora is a bustling hive of inactivity - two main streets with a petrol station, a bank and two dogs deciding which tree to sleep under. But the surrounding countryside is some of the best in Burkina Faso, and it's a great jumping off point for any number of hiking and biking possibilities.

Karfiguéla waterfalls are interesting year-round, but really hit their straps in the rainy season. There is a bit of a bilharzia problem, so swimming in the pools below the waterfalls can be risky. The Dômes de Karfiguéla, an escarpment-type formation, not far from the waterfall, is good hiking grounds.


Bobo-Dioulasso, home to the Bobo people, is another laid-back, friendly city. It's even smaller and easier to negotiate than Ouagadougou but has the same airy boulevards, tree-lined streets and thriving market places. The old Kibidwé district is full of artisans and is well worth exploring.

The Musée Provincial du Houët, housed in a Sudanese-style building, has two sets of exhibitions; one showcasing modern African art, batik, and sculpture, and the other exhibiting traditional art of the region. For a touch of French class, check out the Centre Culturel Français Henri Matisse.

Parc National d'Arli

The Parc National d'Arli was created in the 1950s to stem the environmental effects of desertification and deforestation. The Park itself actually runs into two other reserves, Singou and Pama, creating an expanse of savanna crisscrossed by the impressive cliffs of Tambarga and Gobnangou.

There's a smorgasbord of fauna to choose from - antelopes, baboons, gazelles, monkeys, warthogs, hippopotamus - but the real stars of the show are the elephants and lions. The lions are free-range though so nix the idea of a stroll around the park at dusk.

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Sources: CIA FactBook, World FactBooks and numerous Travel and Destinations Guides.

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