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 94,000f at the airport (it would appear that the same applies at borders), which is roughly double what you would pay back home. This can then be converted to a three-month single-entry visa at the Service des Passeports in Gounghin, a process that takes at least two days (leave it in the morning one day, collect it at 16.00 the next; no service over the weekend). Should you wish to stay for longer, or need multiple entry, there will be further expensive charges. So, the message is clear: get one before coming. They’re still not cheap as African visas go, but you will save time as well as money. All visas require two passport photos.
Getting to Burkina is likely to be the single biggest cost. Most connections go through Paris, and Air France has the best and most frequent service. Cheaper options include Point Afrique, Royal Air Maroc and Afriqiyah Airways.
Crossing into Burkina from neighbouring countries now seems to be subject to the same massive 94,000f fee as at the airport. If you have a visa already, you should have no problem.
If you are coming from Mali, the main tourist crossing point is close to Dogon country, between Koro in Mali, and Thiou in Burkina. The main entry point from Niger is between Makalondi and Kantchari; from Benin it is between Dassari and Tindangou; from Togo between Senkanse and Bitou; and from Ghana at Paga.
There are an increasing number of good tarmac roads in Burkina; once the Koudougou–Dedougou stretch is finished (scheduled for 2013), all the main arteries heading out from Ouaga and Bobo will be covered. The quality of unpaved roads varies enormously, depending on volume of traffic and time of year.
There is a good network of coach companies, many of which run decent services and leave on time. Moped is the favoured vehicle for locals in town and for short spurts between towns as well, and it is easy to hire them wherever you fi nd yourself. For some destinations, car or 4×4 will be the only option, however, and even then some smaller roads will be ropey if not impassable, especially in the rainy season. Only train enthusiasts should try the rail network.
If none of the above applies, there will always be a bush taxi, or local vehicle passing between towns on market days or delivering the post.
Burkina is brimming with coach companies, and Ouaga is the central departure point. Th ere is competition on all routes, with daily departures; and although companies tend to co-operate on setting prices, fares have dropped a little over the last fi ve years. Budget on about 1,500f for every 100km. Nearly all allerretour (return) tickets are cheaper than the price of two singles. Timetables are generally adhered to, and it pays to arrive at least half an hour before the allotted departure time.
Local opinion tends to vary about which lines are flavour of the month. Companies operate their very worst vehicles on specifi c routes, though with more tar roads being completed and coaches abandoning those that aren’t, this is less of an issue these days. Th ere are five companies – TCV, STAF, Rakieta, TSR and STMB – that will meet most travellers’ needs; they all pride themselves on reliability and punctuality, and generally achieve both. Overall, STAF has a reputation for fast drivers and loud music, while STMB’s buses, once the best, are now the most run-down.
There will be a supplement for extra luggage, such as a bicycle (250f) or moped (500–1,000f) on the roof.
In addition to main depots, buses have secondary garages, so it’s worth checking the departure point in advance. Tickets are usually valid for one month, so buy them in advance on busy routes if you want to be sure of getting a seat. If you’re a little perplexed by the range of companies on offer, work out where you want to get to and stop someone to ask which company you need and where to go. There is always an answer.
By bush taxi
Bush taxis are a great option when coaches don’t dare service a particular destination, or for local hops from market day to market day.
It’s easiest to pick up a bush taxi at a town’s local gare routière, where you will spot Toyota minibuses and Peugeot 504s. If not, try the poste de police at the end of town since all cars and trucks have to stop here. It’s wise to approach the police officers, shake hands and explain your presence. Then just sit and wait. Prices depend on distance and state of the road, usually about 1,500f for a 100km stretch on tarmac. Count on paying up to twice as much for dilapidated dusty roads. Hiring an entire bush taxi means you get to choose the destination (known as a déplacement), but you pay for all the seats.
By moped and motorbike
The motorbike (commonly called a moto, whatever its size) has replaced the horse as a Burkinabe’s pride and joy. They are everywhere, from put-put mobylettes that are part-bicycle, part-moped, to heavy-revving Yamaha beasts. They are vulnerable to road accidents, particularly in Ouaga.
Outside Ouaga, Bobo and Banfora, there are few official moped-hire outlets.
Ask at your hotel, however, and invariably a battered machine will turn up within minutes, exhaust on the verge of falling off, petrol tank relying on fumes only. You may have to bargain, since owners are occasionally loath to lend their only means of transport to strangers. Expect to pay 2,500–5,000f per day (excluding petrol) for a P50, the dinky little 50cc models that are easy to use and most commonly seen around town, and more for bikes with gears and clutches. Prices are cheaper if you want to hire something for a longer period of time. When hiring, ask for the bike papers, as you may need to produce these if stopped by the police to prove the vehicle is not stolen. Failure to produce valid documents may lead to a fine or to the bike being impounded.
It will certainly make life easier to have a 4×4, but it’s not your only ticket for getting around. In the wet season, however, many roads become impassable, especially to the north and in the far southwest.
If you’re hiring a car, check it well. Make sure you have all the proper paperwork – international driving licence, registration, MOT, insurance – or risk paying fines several times if you are stopped by police. Agree price and terms in advance, especially in case of damage, and sort out whether you will be reimbursed for any repairs you pay for on the road. If you want to drive outside Ouagadougou or Bobo, many companies will rent out a car only on condition that it comes with a chauffeur – which has both advantages and disadvantages. Cars tend to cost around 20,000–30,000f a day, 4x4s 40,000–70,000f. Prices often include chauffeur but exclude fuel.
Despite the war in neighbouring Côte d’Ivoire, SITARAIL trains go regularly between Ouaga and Abidjan. Services leave Ouaga on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at 07.30 for Abidjan, stopping at Koudougou (1,500f), Bobo (5,000f) and Banfora (8,000f). The return journey from Abidjan should pass through on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday in the evening.
For the wealthy or those in a hurry, Air Burkina (Tel: 50 49 23 45/46/47) has internal flights to Bobo. You can also hire a small Cessna and pilot for trips from Ouagadougou to tiny airfields in far-flung corners of Burkina and beyond. Richard, at Hotel Ricardo (Tel: 50 30 70 72), is your man, with prices from 160,000f an hour (petrol price permitting).
This is the preferred method of transport for millions of Burkinabe. In Ouagadougou, bikes of all shapes and sizes throng the streets, sometimes five or six abreast at rush hour. You can always find someone prepared to hire out a bike for a day or two if you want cheap transport to explore dusty streets or surrounding countryside. The quality varies enormously, but don’t expect anything flash.
Planning a tour of the country by bike is a different matter, but equally feasible. Topographically, Burkina won’t leave you gasping to get to the top of mountains. It is on the whole quite flat, with the odd undulation, which makes daily distances of more than 100km possible on tarmac. Off-road excursions can be much more pleasant. In particular, the forested regions of the southwest, criss-crossed by smooth red-earth roads, make great cycling country. You may even enjoy some shade from overhanging trees, as well as respite from fast traffic. Much of the following advice comes from Anna Heywood and Luke Skinner, who toured Burkina in spring 2005.