The country of Burkina Faso in West Africa is a hidden gem for any intrepid traveller. A former French colony, the country was known as the Republic of Upper Volta when it gained independence in 1960.
Filled with some of the friendliest people you are ever likely to meet, Burkina Faso is a beautiful example of West African culture. The term “melting pot” certainly explains the range of cultures and ethnic groups you will find here. In fact, your Burkina Faso guide will tell you there are over 60 different ethnic examples, including the nomadic Tuareg in the extreme north of the country to the Voltaic Mossi, who make up over 50% of the population.
Vibrant Ouagadougou Burkina Faso
The capital city of Ouagadougou simply known as Ouaga to the locals (just say Wagha to pronounce it perfectly) is found right in the centre of the country.
As the major travel hub in Burkina Faso, Ouagadougou is the perfect base to start your trip.
And a great way to do this is by getting into contact with a local guide from the city. Staying in one of the local homes not only gives you an insight into the daily lives of the inhabitants but also leads to a wealth of information about the activities and locations in Ouaga that should not be missed out on during your stay.
Ouaga is filled with hundreds of cafés that not only serve to steam hot, delicious coffee but the most amazing eats as well, usually in the form of simple pastries. Take your time and sit and watch the world go by.
Fancy a movie?
Ouaga is home to a thriving film industry. If you are a bit of a film buff, schedule your visit to the city around the Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou, a cinematic event that has been held for over 50 years! Held biannually, over 150 movies compete for the prestigious Étalon d’Or de Yennenga award.
Try the local cuisine
All seasoned travellers know, you haven’t really experienced a city till you try the local cuisine. And in Ouaga, a favourite of the local street food vendors is meat prepared on a stick, a kebab if you like. Called "brochettes", the smells will draw you in and the taste will have you coming back for more.
There are a host of other local dishes that should be sampled to get the true taste of Burkinabe cuisine. “Tô” is made from ground corn or sorghum. This is served as a carbohydrate with most meals and usually covered in a sauce made with vegetables. For lovers of seafood, “babenda” is a fish stew with beans and cabbage while “poulette bicyclette” is a dish made from grilled chicken which is usually accompanied by carrots and potatoes. Another local stew is “ragout d'Igname”, a stewed meat dish, usually beef, with added vegetables.
This is simple food done right. And to wash it down, why not try the local beer, called dôlo which is produced using sorghum or pearl millet or perhaps try gapolo, another local drink which is soured milk with grains of millet. These are just a few examples of popular dishes and drinks in the capital. Ask your local Ouagadougou guide to show you even more!
Bangr Wengo Park
Covering 240 hectares in central Ouaga itself, Bangr Wengo is an urban park and a perfect place to take some time to relax. Or if you are feeling a little more active, try one of the many walking or running trails found here. Don’t forget to set time aside to visit the local museum and zoo found in the park itself.
Other attractions in Ouagadougou
There still so much more awaiting the fearless tourist in this fantastic city. Make your way from Ouagadougou Cathedral, the local Roman Catholic place of worship with its impressive architecture, to any of the craft markets where you can barter with locals to buy some beautiful jewellery, sculptures and paintings. Markets to visit include Central Market, one of the biggest in the city as well as the Salon international de l'artisanat de Ouaga, held biannually, which attracts over 2,500 exhibitors. At the Grand Marché, not only will you find the freshest produce; many sights and sounds also await along with exhibits of Burkina Faso jewellery work and other curios.
At sundown, unwind with a drink at the cultural park of Jardin de l’amitiéas as you listen to local musicians play deep into the night.
Travel Burkina Faso: Other attractions outside the capital
Outside of the capital, consider planning trips to the following attractions:
Gorom Gorom market
Found northeast of Ouaga, the town of Gorom Gorom offers one of the biggest markets in West Africa that takes place on a Thursday. All sorts of local curios are for sale here including African prints, silverwork and leatherwork of the highest quality to name a few. An extravaganza of sounds, sights and colours, the market is the perfect place to see the vast array of cultures and ethnic groups Burkina Faso has to offer and is regularly visited by Tuareg, Bella, Mossiare and Peul Fulani. Keep a lookout for the Peul Fulani tribe with their tattooed mouths and stunning ethnic jewellery.
The town of Sindou is popular with tourists thanks to the amazing rock formations known as the Sindou Peaks, best seen as the sun sets low across the horizon. Guides in Sindou will also show you around the town which is little affected by tourism and just gets on with everyday life.
If hiking or walking through nature is your thing, a visit to the Karfiguela Waterfalls near the town of Banfora is a must. Not only do the Cascades de Karfiguéla epitomise natural beauty at its finest, but after a long hike, you could cool off in one of the many rock pools found below them. This is an unspoilt part of Africa that has to be seen to be believed.
Arli National Park
For tourists who want to see the splendour of the African outdoors, its wildlife and flora, visit Arli National Park. Here the African lion, hippopotamus, elephants, various primate species and a number of antelope roam the 700 km2 park. And the best way to see them? A guided tour to the Tounga watering hole, a spot where most animals come to drink.
Home of the Kassena people, Tiebele is characterized by the colourfully decorated huts made of mud in which they live. Local guides will take you on a tour of the village, which covers over a hectare. These brightly decorated houses, usually painted by the women in the tribe, will greet you around each corner, with no mud hut decorated in the same manner. Each home has a flat roof, which is often used to dry grain.
W National Park
A UNESCO World Heritage site that has shown evidence of early Neolithic settlers, W National Park stretches across three African countries, including Burkina Faso. It is home to the fastest land animal in the world, the cheetah along with a host of other animals that call the park home including giraffe, hippos, buffalo, aardvarks, warthogs, West African lions and many flocks of migratory birds.
Note to the reader; Please read up about the travel advisory on Burkina Faso before planning a trip!
"Craig Taylor is a freelance writer and blogger. A lover of wildlife, he loves to travel and have as many new experiences as possible, particularly with food! His other passion is photography."
Image details and licenses
Sindou Peaks: https://flic.kr/p/6mYaXC (Jurgen, CC BY 2.0), Arli National Park: https://flic.kr/p/5p1Tfs (Carsten ten Brink, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0), W National Park: https://images.app.goo.gl/WUn5HizjdQ19SEsRA (Júlio Reis, Tintazul)