Straddling a crucial crossroads in the heart of Ivory Coast, Bouaké sits 310km west of the Ghanaian border. Snuggled in the Vallée du Bandama, an interzone between verdant forest and the drier savannah, Bouaké has the feel of both a big city and a provincial town.

In its west-central area, the university (home to 21,000 students), the two football stadiums (Premier League superstars Yaya and Kolo Touré were both born in Bouaké) and the government offices are appropriately large for Ivory Coast’s second city. However, the quiet cafés and low-key markets of Quartier du Commerce smack more of a sleepy southern French ville circa 1960.

Bouaké couldn’t be easier to navigate. Most of the bus stations, accommodation options, shops and eateries are located in the petite Quartier du Commerce at the crossroads of the two busiest roads, Avenue Houphouët-Boigny and Avenue de la Fraternité. The district’s northeastern corner is occupied by the bustling Grand Marché and is roughly delineated by the Stade de la Paix Bouaké to the west, Place de la Paix to the east and Le Black and White restaurant to the south.

What to see and do

Wholesale Market of Bouaké 

This giant wholesalers’ market is worth a peek even if you’re not interested in making a bid for a job lot of yams. Essentially a small town with its own school, police station, post office and accommodation for its numerous workers, the central area is given over to big silos with Islamic crenellations and inverted V roofs that are used for storing industrial quantities of yams, kola nuts, groundnut, onions, peppers, chillies and other foodstuffs. Long human chains toss these items either on to immense piles inside the silos or into the back of parked lorries. Farmers come and sell their produce here and merchants from cities as far away as Korhogo buy it in bulk.

Cathédrale Sainte-Thérése

Sited at the point where Quartier du Commerce peters out into the Grand Market, this weather-beaten, 1970s-built concrete wedge of modernism could have been imagined by J G Ballard. Its grey, angular clock tower is similarly dystopian. The interior of the cathedral is more traditional, featuring a bronze figurine of Jesus over the font and murals of Biblical scenes.

Club Amicale Franco-Ivorienne

Established in 1958, this sports and social club is a captivating leftover from Bouaké’s halcyon days. It has a decidedly retro look now and could do with some refurbishment, but on the whole its facilities remain impressive. There are tennis courts, a five-a-side football/volleyball pitch (cheekily dubbed ‘the Maracanã,’ children’s swings and roundabouts (which could do with oiling), an indoor squash court and even a karate dojo. Weekend barbecues take place around the outdoor splash and swimming pools. The shuttered, colonial-style bar hosts cocktail parties, wedding receptions and business meetings. Visitors can just show up and take part in the sports activities, although you will need to provide your own equipment.

Getting there and away

By car

Notwithstanding traffic delays, it should take 4½ hours to drive the 344km from Abidjan to Bouaké. The tarmac roads between the two cities are comfortable enough, although they get bumpier between Bouaké and Yamoussoukro. Thanks to recent investment, the 250km highway north to Korhogo is, by Ivorian standards, a smooth ride.

By bus

From the UTB bus station near Ranhotel, large air-conditioned buses leave daily every hour from 06.00 until 17.00 for Abidjan (5,000–6,000F) and Yamoussoukro (2,000F); 08.30 and 10.30 for Daloa (5,000F); and 08.45 and noon for San-Pédro (8,000F). For other destinations south, east or west of Yamoussoukro you’ll have to change in the capital and purchase a new ticket. Pokey gbakas depart from the B-Trans depot south of Route de Béoumi several times a day whenever they are full.

Buses for Bouaké leave daily from Abidjan’s Adjamé (6,000F) bus station at 06.00, 07.30 and 08.30, and Koumassi (5,000F) bus station at 8.00, 10.30 and 13.30.

By train

The Abidjan–Ouagadougou Sitarail train to Bouaké departs from the station at Treichville at 10.30 every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. While the seats are comfortable, as you travel out of Abidjan into the countryside be prepared for the train to get crowded with Burkinabé merchants and their various wares. Bouaké’s station is just to the east of Ranhotel.

By air

Air Côte D’Ivoire operates flights between Bouaké and Abidjan four times a week, leaving on Tuesdays at 16.15, Wednesdays at 20.25, Fridays at 12.55 and Sundays at 14.50. There are three flights a week from Abidjan to Bouaké, on Tuesdays at 13.25, Wednesdays at 07.00 and Fridays at 11.30. Bouaké’s small but perfectly formed airport is 7km northwest of Quartier du Commerce in the Konankanro district. A taxi to and from the city centre costs around 1,500F, and they drive around outside the airport touting for business throughout the day.