My heart melts down writing this post, Burkina was the country that I liked the most during my west african trip. Beautiful landscape, astounding sights, great vibe and foremost the most amazing people in the world. Here I became “sure et certaine” that I loved Africa.
Coming to Burkina…rather a horrifying experience
Our arrival to this amazing country wasn’t that great though. Actually, it was the worst journey so far. Oh no, sorry, the second worst-the worst was about to come soon, here in Burkina as well. We started at Cinkassé, the border town in Togo/Burkina. We didn’t pick a good day for traveling, since it was the muslim celebration of Tabaski and thus a bank holiday. Which in Burkina meant, as we were to find out soon, that there was almost no transport aside from the taxis, which are quite expensive for the long route between Cinkassé and the capital, Ouagadougou (lovin the name), where we were heading. After some time wandering around the town looking for a cheap vehicle that would take us to Ouaga (that’s how the locals call it, still lovin it), we finally found a beaten-up minibus. Yay. It filled up pretty soon and it filled up way far beyond its limit, even beyond the african standard. Well, it was the only vehicle and many people still needed to commute, no matter if there was a holiday or not. So we squeezed in with all the people, without high expectations. But what was about to come was beyond our worst imagination. Not talking about the high discomfort, which even the fellow burkinabé travelers were complaining about, the vehicle broke down 3x times, the driver obviously having no idea what to do with it, smoking a cigarette while trying to repare the engine, shrugging his shoulders afterwards, then continuing for 10 minutes only to have the engine broke down again. During the second “reparation” it started to rain. No need to mention that this is Africa during rainy season. This isn´t the European rain. What we call heavy in Europe, is nothing compared to what you see here. Whenever it starts to rain, you feel like an apocalypse is coming. Anyway, after some time waiting under a beaten up roof of a small “boutique”, squeezing with all the other passengers, it finally seemed that the minibus is good to go again. Everything was pretty much fine except for the numerous police checks every few kilometres. Then, the hunger came. I hardly ever pack anything when traveling in Africa, because there are the street sellers basically everywhere and once a car or a bus stops, it is immediately surrounded by them. But oh, that day was Tabaski, a muslim feast and a bank holiday, so there was literally no one in the streets. The torrential rain played its part too, for sure. And the journey just didn´t seem to come to an end. Eventually, it took more than 10 hours. The distance was…wait for it…300 km! Well, cuz this is Africa. I think I´ve never been so hungry in my life. I might reconsider my food packing habits.
The atmosphere: the land of les maquis
Unfortunately we hit Ouagadougou on a national holiday, fortunately it was Saturday. That means- as soon as we saw the city lights, we could already feel the capital’s vibe. That city rocks! The maquis, cozy restaurants serving small selection of food (usually spaghetti, omelettes, tô or rice, sandwiches) and beverages on basically every corner. Maybe on every meter. The 50% of Burkinabés who are not muslim love beer. They have their own, Brakina, and I’m not gonna comment on the taste. These people love coffee as well, it felt like there was a whole coffee culture going on in the country. Typically you can choose between espresso, nescafé or a black tea. Accompanied with the sandwich omelette, you have a great breakfast together with the fellow locals. Screw fancy hipster bistros with their vegan breakfast menu, this is the real breakfast experience! But back to the story. We arrived around midnight and all the maquis were just bustling with life. There are also many places for dancing and at it just feels like that this city never sleeps. Arriving late in the night hungry as hell and wondering where to eat? Don’t worry, just go to Matata, the area with all the clubs and bars, go to one of the food stands where you basically sit around the open kitchen on bar chairs watching the young cook preparing your spaghetti and omelette with African flair and fairness right in front of you. So far so good Burkina!
Burkina is known to movie lovers thanks to the FESPACO festival, the African version of Cannes film festival. We went to see a movie to the Ciné Burkina, , one of the locations where the festival is held, to see the african settings of such event. Definitely recommended by the way, I guarantee you will go back in time once you enter the cinema space-in a nice way though! We saw an Ivorian romantic comedy that day and it was…well, pretty much how you would imagine that it could be. Let’s say that it was a unique experience.
The people: Africa at its best
We knew that the Burkinabés are one of the nicest people already in the bus to Ouagadougou. They are warm-hearted, helpful, kind and genuine. The crazy driver repairing the engine with a cigarette in his mouth whp eventually locked himself up in the minibus, struggling to get out and ending up crwaling outside through the window (no explanation for this) was a great ice-breaker. Both Burkinabés and us were trying not to laugh loud at him, so most of the people were on the verge of crying, choking red. Shared laughter is always a good way to make new friends. It’s strange how close you become with the fellow 20 passengers during the few hours on the road, when you’re united by the hatred towards an asshole driver. Once we got of the minibus in the outskirts of Ouaga, having no idea how to get to our auberge, some of the fellow travelers offered us to share a taxi with them to downtown. No hassle, no higher price for a whiteman. When asking at the accomodation where to eat at midnight, we were accompanied by one of the hostel staff to the place. And this isn’t Senegal, so without being asked for anything for such service.
Generally, there is zero hassle when strolling around the cities, there is an occassional bonjour and nansara! (a white person), but otherwise the lovely Burkinabés leave you be. On the other hand, once there is a conncection, they are genuinely interested in you and always willing to help. They are genuinely warm-hearted and peaceful. Honestly, I haven’t felt that good in many other places.
Landscape: from dust to nature wonders
Ougadougou and Burkina in general are very dusty, even in the rainy season. No wonder, since the country is landlocked and it lies in the Sahel region. Nevertheless, it is home to several truly stunning natural sites, which I now count among the places I liked the most during my travels. The gems of Burkina’s nature are to be found close to the city of Banfora, some 450 km south west from Ouagadougou. The bus connection is good, take the Rakieta company if you want to have a pleasant, almost European-standard like journey. Considering the beauty of the natural sites around Banfora, one would have thought that this would be a touristy place, but we were the only white people in the 90,000 inhabitants city. Which makes the experience even more unique.
You can see many beautiful things around Banfora: the Karfiguela waterfalls, the Fabedougou domes and the Sindou peaks. You can go by car (too expensive) or by motorcycle, either with a guide or by yourself. We went with a guide, one of us on his moto, the other one on a different one. I’ve never riden a motorbike before, but this is Africa and so nothing is a problem and everything is easy. 5-minutes course of “this is how you speed up, this is how you slow down and here you change the gears” – and there I was on the road mingling between the other Burkinabé motorbike riders, goats, cows and chicken. Once you leave the city, the roads are basically empty, and it’s a truly breathtaking experience. The landscape is different than the dusty rest of the country; so abundant, lush, green, you are surrounded with sugar cane and rice fields, the sun is shining and you are enjoying the excitement of your first kilometres on a vehicle you’ve never riden before…doesn’t it sound just amazing? And it’s not finished yet, the best is about to come. After some 20 mintues you reach the Domes of Fabedougou, which is just spectacular and leaves your mouth open. Once again, we were there alone and this fact further improved the experience, but I’m sure that even with few people, this place is a bomb. No need to describe the undescribable (does this word exist?!), just see the pictures.
The waterfalls are beautiful too, but the highlight was neverthless the Sindou peaks-a strange formation of sandy cones suddenly appearing out of nowhere. Getting there is an unforgettable experience already. The road is completely new and there is literally no one using it; just an occassional car or bike every 2 minutes or so. Ideal for someone riding a motorbike for the first time in their life. The journey is spectacular, with lush green endless landscape along the road. After some 40 minutes of driving from Banfora, you’ll begin to see the “peaks of the Peaks”. To me, it was such a beautiful sight that I almost started crying. It’s like a fairy tale, or rather some fantasy movie. I guess nothing more is needed to see how Burkina’s nature impressed me.
You’ll need a guide for the sights around Banfora. To make sure you have the best one, contact Djibril: 00226 72 81 83 82 or firstname.lastname@example.org
He was the best guide ever!
For the hotel, I recommend Hotel Aux Roniers plus. 8500,- CFA for double room, good wifi and great food.
Other sights: The beauty of Bobo Dioulasso and Tiébélé
Apart from the natural sights, Burkina has a lot more to offer in terms of interesting places. Bobo Dioulasso, the second biggest city, is a must-the old mosque is just something out of this world. I have never seen a building like this. Definitely get a guide and go to see the inside and also the top.
Another thing not to be missed is the Tiébélé village. When you search for it on a map, it looks a bit hard to access, but surprisingly there was a direct minibus from Ouagadougou. The village is something truly delightul for one’s sight. All the houses are painted with colours (red, black and white) and decorated with delicate folklor patterns. You have to get a guide and pay an entrance fee, which definitely worths it because you can enter some of the houses to see the interior.
Overall, Burkina is a stunning, warm-hearted, beautiful country and it’s no wonder that it became my number 1 African country. I’m so happy that we didn’t get discouraged by the media craze after the terrorist attacks in Ouagadougou that happened like 2 weeks before our arrival. There are of course some areas where you better not go, but in general I’ve never felt unsafe even for one second in this country and I have only the nicest memories of this beautiful country and its amazing people.