There is a remarkable absence of barriers between you and anything you come across. The hypnotic, breathtaking dances and frantic contortions of a mask festival, for example, are not put on for the benefit of visitors – they exist for the village, and the ancestors.

Read The author’s take

We arrived in Burkina Faso with enough French to order a sandwich but not much else, and somehow found a place to stay within three days. Within no time, we made friends with some guys from the area – which was at one time legendary for its skilled horseback riders (Burkina Faso is obsessed with stallions) – who helped us spruce the place up, devour delicious grilled garlic chicken, and swing tea with hot coals at full arm’s length in the empty living room.

But the best was yet to come. Living in the capital Ouagadougou (Ouaga) was a wonderworld of open-air cinema, live music in late-night bars and the thrill of pleasanterie – teasing banter that makes immediate friends of strangers. Leaving the capital took us deep into the unknown – tracking lions in the east, watching bronzemakers and leatherworkers at work in the central belt, and disappearing into thousand-year-old ruins in the far northern sands of Bani, where blues guitar mingled with the starry night. The lush green habitat of elephants and brightly painted, booby-trapped homes in the south was the final revelation.

And then of course there were the festivals in this richly cultured country, which seemed to take place every other week. Highlights included watching synchronised equine dancing in the northeastern land of historic warrior horsemen, and walking down the red carpet to Africa’s premier film gala, flush with having learned the French for 35mm film (pelicule).

Katrina Manson & James Knight

At a glance

Burkina Faso at a glance Location Lies on Greenwich meridian, between 9°N and 15°N Neighbouring countries Clockwise from north – Mali, Niger, Benin, Togo,Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire Size 274,200km² Climate Hot. The dry season runs from October to February, with temperatures of 29°C in October–November, falling to the year-round low of 25°C in January, before beginning […]

Bani

Bani is famous for its hilltop mud mosques © Jim O’Brien Arguably one of the most memorable villages in the country, Bani is famous for its hilltop mud mosques, which controversially face the opposite direction to Mecca. To some visitors, Bani is one of the most memorable villages in the country, with its stunning collection of […]

Bobo-Dioulasso

The Grand Mosque in Bobo-Dioulasso © Trevor Kittelty, Shutterstock  Burkina’s second city and live-music capital, Bobo-Dioulasso is a great hangout in its own right and brings sweet relief from the arid climate of the central plateau. If you have the time for only a few days in the country, it may make sense to base […]

Calendar

February Cannes in Africa Every odd-numbered year, the glitterati of Africa’s film industry come together in Ouagadougou to celebrate the best of the continent’s varied, vibrant cinema. March Bobo culture week Every even-numbered year, Burkina Faso’s second city Bobo-Dioulasso hosts Semaine National de la Culture, a literary and arts festival that is the envy of […]

Domes de Fabedougou

The Domes de Fabedougou are over 1.8 billion years old © Jim O’Brien Dating back around 1.8 billion years, these hauntingly beautiful domes are both an excellent view and climbing spot. In western Australia, the bulbous rock formations of the Bungle Bungles draw thousands of tourists every year. Burkina has an almost geologically identical feature, […]

Eating and sleeping

AccomomdationEating and drinking Accommodation Burkina’s hotel industry is dominated by well-equipped but slightly bland hotels that pick up a healthy trade from the endless conferences that criss-cross Burkina. That said, there is some excellent budget and not-so-budget accommodation across the country that combines comfort, ambience and service. Plush lodges, lush courtyards, cosy traditional huts, roof […]

Giving something back

© Ollivier Girard, CIFOR Giving something back Burkina Faso ranks among the poorest countries in the world – assessed as 161st out of 169 countries in the UN’s latest survey of human development. Fewer than 40% of those aged 15–24 can read. Nearly 17% of children under five die every year. About 82% of Burkina’s […]

Gobnangou escarpment

These stunning cliffs are an excellent visit for any keen climbers or birdwatchers. The Gobnangou massif (Falaise de Gobnangou) extends from the Arly Reserve to Niger, looming over the plains of Gourmanche country in great fissured cliffs and descending slowly to a low rise further east. The cliffs shelter vulture colonies and are good for […]

Health and safety

HealthSafety Health With Dr Felicity Nicholson. For up-to-date information on health issues across Africa, click here. People new to exotic travel often worry about tropical diseases, but it is accidents that are the biggest danger. Road accidents are very common in many parts of Burkina Faso so be aware and do what you can to reduce risks: […]

Nazinga Game Ranch

Nazinga’s 94,000ha contain more than 20,000 animals, with 10,000 primates, 800 elephants and 275 species of bird. With 800 elephants in this smallish park, an encounter is basically assured. During the height of the dry season, when water elsewhere is hard to come by, you simply need to turn up at the lakeside camp at […]

Ouagadougou

Although not much in the way of sightseeing or architectural marvels, but as far as people-watching, eating and dancing goes, its dust-choked streets and endless selection of gardens and outdoor bars offer a brilliant bazaar of modern west African life. It’s not just the spectacular name that makes Burkina’s capital so enticing. There might not […]

Pama

A gentle haze of peace and tranquillity, Pama hosts numerous lakeside retreats which can be used as great stageposts for a visit to Benin’s Pendjari National Park. Once capital of the region, Pama now languishes under a gentle haze of quiet and reverence. A selection of elegant resthouses nearby makes for a tranquil retreat, and […]

Sahel

Travellers lose themselves in Sahel, as whilst they traverse the dunes of the barren desert and sleep under its enormous canopy of stars, a part of them never comes back. Mention the north to anyone who knows Burkina well and a misty look may come into their eyes. ‘Ah,’ they’ll whisper, barely audible in their […]

Senoufou villages

Visit the mysterious yet magical Senoufou villages, where the monumental sculptures of the Sindou Peaks can be found. Squeezed into the west of Burkina and overflowing into Côte d’Ivoire and Mali, the Senoufou are revered as a magical and mysterious people. They are held in such awe that some credulous Mossi are prepared to tell […]

The author’s take

Author’s take A local woman and her donkey © Ollivier Girard, CIFOR The Land of Honourable Men (the translation of Burkina Faso) has a nobility borne from much more than its name. It comes from a shared identity that unites 60 ethnic groups in religious and social harmony, a love of talk and tradition, and […]

Travel and visas

VisasGetting there and awayGetting around  Visas If you are not a citizen of ECOWAS (the Economic Community of West African States), you will need a visa. In 2010, there was a massive price hike, especially for visas on arrival; so if you fail to get one in advance, you will have to pay a whopping […]

When and where to visit

ClimateWhen to visitHighlights and itineraries Climate West Africa does not really have weather, in the sense of the daily changes experienced in temperate regions. It has climate instead, created by enormous air masses shifted by global forces across the region as a whole. Burkina sits across three climatic zones, which experience a decline in rainfall and […]

Back to the top