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Burkina Faso, in pre-French days, was home to a remarkably structured and effective social order which bravely maintained its culture. French colonialism did its very best to suppress notions of nationalism, but the Burkinabe were adamant in their demands for independence in the late 1950s. Despite political turmoil in the 70s, Burkina Faso has emerged as a nation that is still proud of its culture and tradition.
This sense of cultural pride informs much of modern Burkina Faso's way of life. The country is a leader among African nations for its energetic support of African art: it stages Africa's primary film festival every second year, as well as a festival devoted to music, dance and theatre. It even lays claim to the largest craft market on the continent. Not bad for such a small country. Sometimes good things come in small packages.
Burkina Faso was populated early, between 14,000 and 5000 BC, by hunter-gatherers in the northwestern part of the country. Settlements with farmers appeared between 3600 and 2600 BC. Relics of the Dogon are found in Burkina Faso's north and northwest regions. Sometime between the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the Dogon left the area to settle in the cliffs of Bandiagara. The central part of Burkina Faso included a number of Mossi kingdoms, the most powerful of which were those of Wagadogo (Ouagadougou) and Yatenga. These kingdoms emerged probably in the early sixteenth century from obscure origins veiled by legend featuring a heterogeneous set of warrior figures.
After a decade of intense rivalry and competition between the English and the French, waged through treaty-making expeditions under military or civilian explorers, the Mossi kingdom of Ouagadougou was defeated by French colonial forces and became a French protectorate in 1896. French Upper Volta was established on March 1, 1919. This move was a result of French fears of the recurrence of armed uprising along with economic considerations, and to bolster its administration, the colonial government separated the present territory of Burkina Faso from Upper Senegal and Niger. The new colony was named Haute Volta and François Charles Alexis Édouard Hesling became its first governor.
The decision to split the colony was reversed during the intense anti-colonial agitation that followed the end of World War II. On September 4, 1947, the colony was revived as a part of the French Union, with its previous boundaries. On 11 December 1958, it achieved self-government and became the Republic of Upper Volta and a member of the Franco-African Community. Upper Volta became an autonomous republic in the French community on December 11, 1958. Full independence from France was attained in 1960. The first government lasted until 1966 when after much unrest - mass demonstrations and strikes by students, labor unions, and civil servants - the military intervened.
After several coup d'états in the 1970s and early 1980s, on August 4, 1984, as a final result of President Sankara's zealous activities, the country's name was eventually changed from Upper Volta to Burkina Faso, which translates to "land of honest people.
Burkina Faso lies mostly between latitudes 9° and 15°N (a small area is north of 15°), and longitudes 6°W and 3°E. It borders Mali to the north and west, Côte d'Ivoire to the southwest, Ghana to the south, Togo and Benin to the southeast]] and Niger to the east. It is made up of two major types of countryside. The larger part of the country is covered by a peneplain, which forms a gently undulating landscape with, in some areas, a few isolated hills, the last vestiges of a Precambrian massif. The southwest of the country, on the other hand, forms a sandstone massif, where the highest peak, Ténakourou, is found at an elevation of 749 metres. The massif is bordered by sheer cliffs up to 150 metres high. The average altitude of Burkina Faso is 400 metres and the difference between the highest and lowest terrain is no greater than 600 metres. The country owes its former name of Upper Volta to three rivers which cross it: the Black Volta (or Mouhoun), the White Volta (Nakambé) and the Red Volta (Nazinon). The Black Volta is one of the country's only two rivers which flow year-round, the other being the Komoé, which flows to the southwest. The basin of the Niger River also drains 27% of the country's surface. The Niger's tributaries – the Béli, the Gorouol, the Goudébo and the Dargol – are seasonal streams and flow for only four to six months a year. They still can flood and overflow, however. The country also contains numerous lakes – the principal ones are Tingrela, Bam and Dem. The country contains large ponds, as well, such as Oursi, Béli, Yomboli and Markoye. Water shortages are often a problem, especially in the north of the country.
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Bobo Dioulasso is one of the best cities in the country to visit. It is the second city of Burkina Faso and is famous for its nightlife. The city is also known for its Djembé music that originally came from this region. There are several more options if you are a culture freak, like the Provincial Museum de Houët, where you can find necklesses, statues, masks and tradition clothing. In the garden of the museum you can find some original huts of local tribes. In the old part of town (called Ibidwe) is the Grand Mosque, a good example of Sudanese mudbrick architecture. Great souvenirs are to be found at the big and colourful market 'Le Grande Marché'.
Although Burkina Faso might not be as famous as many of the national parks mainly in the east and south of the continent, there are some great national parks to explore. There are three national parks: Parc National de l’Arli, PN de Po en PN Du W. During a safari in these parks you can be a witness of many animals like baboons, other species of monkey, lions, warthogs, many species of bird, antelopes, buffaloes, gazelles and elephants. There is also a park which is controlled by Canadian people: Resérve de Nazinga, where you can find the largest population of elephants.
The north of Burkina Faso is part of the southern outskirts of the Sahara Desert, but it is mainly part of the so-called Sahel, the transition zone between the Sahara and the savannahs of the south. If you are a desert freak you can join some excellent tours by foot or by camel and visit some remote villages. Be sure to bring some 'cadeaus' (presents) for the nabas (the local equivalent of the major). Gorom-Gorom and Ouahigouya are the best places to start.
In addition to Ramadan and the Feast of Eid al Ftir, Muslims of Burkina Faso also celebrate the Tabaski Festival, which involves sacrificing a ram. Traditionally, fathers of the house are tasked to purchase, slaughter and prepare the animal, while the women cook rice and sweet drinks. The date is dictated by the lunar calendar.
Otherwise known as Waga Hip Hop, this annual festival is one of the biggest of its kind in West Africa. This celebration of urban cultures is usually held in mid-October, attracting thousands of international artists and media. In addition to hip hop, the festival also celebrates beat-boxing and other forms of vocal tunes not only in Ouagadouga, but in other cities such as Bobo-Dioulasso, Koudougou, Fada N’Gourma, and Pô.
Held in Ouagadougou and Bobo, the Jazz Festival of Burkina Faso features some of the biggest names in music on the continent. It is marked by performances from established names, as well as rising stars.
FESTIMA or the Festival of Arts and Masks feature inspiring performances from different masked dance troupes hailing from West Africa. The main objective of this biennial event is to protect and promote the rich tradition of mask-making in Burkina Faso.
Held in various countries throughout Africa, FESPACO or the Panafrican Film Festival celebrates film and filmmakers screening their best work and builds stronger connections and relationships between industry professionals. FESPACO attracts participants from all over Africa and beyond. The top prize is the prestigious Etalon de Yennenga award, which honors the best national film to showcase “Africa’s realities.”
Also known as National Culture Week of Burkina Faso, this festival is the most widely celebrated cultural event in the country. It alternates with the Panafrican Film Festival and features a wide range of spectacles including trade fairs.
Burkina Faso is hot yearround. The hottest months are March to May, when average daytime temperatures are around 38º C and nights rarely drop below 25º C. Temperatures are known to have reached close to 50º C in large parts of the country. The wet season lasts from the end of May well into September, early October. Although temperatures are a bit lower, the high humidity makes this time even more severe to travel around. From December to February is the driest period of the year, but at this time the hot, dry and dusty Harmattan wind can make things feel uncomfortable. On average, the north and east are somewhat hotter and drier compared to the central and (south)western parts of the country.
As you see, it can become difficult to choose a certain time of year, as there is almost always either heat, humidity/rainfall or dusty winds, or sometimes a combination. November might be the best month, when the rains are over, the Harmattan has to start and temperatures are not at their highest.
Air Burkina is the national airline of Burkina Faso and is based at Ouagadougou Airport (OUA). International destinations include Abidjan, Accra, Bamako, Cotonou, Dakar, Lomé, Niamey and Paris. Air France flies to the latter as well. Other destinations are Brussels with Brussels Airlines, Casablanca with Royal Air Maroc and Algiers with Air Algérie and Tripoli and Libreville.
If you are lucky enough to manage it to Burkina Faso by car, there are possibilities of getting to other countries from here. Border crossings are at Niangoloko for Ivory Coast, Porga for Benin, Hamale for Ghana, Sinkasse for Togo, Kantchari for Niger and Koloko or Tiou for Mali. Borders usually are open during daylight hours and closed when it is dark as a general rule.
There are frequent bus connections to neighbouring countries. Buses leave from Ouagadougou to Cotonou (Benin), Acrra via Tamale and Kumasi (Ghana), Bobo-Dioulasso to Hamale (Ghana), Ouagadougou to Bamako via Sikasso and Segou taking 15 hours to Bamaoko (Mali), Bobo-Dioulasso to Mopti taking 15 hours (Mali), Ouahigouya for Koro taking 2-4 hours (Mali) and onwards to Mopti, Ouagadougou to Niamey taking 10-11 hours (Niger, also minibuses available) and Ouagadougou to Lomé taking 18 hours (Togo, also bush taxi's available but this takes more time).
Between Bobo-Dioulasso and Ouagadougou there are flights with Air Burkina.
There is a daily services between Ouagadougou and Bobo-Dioulasso, but services can be crowded and uncomfortable.
The road network in Burkina Faso is generally in an agreeable condition, although many side roads are unpaved and can be impassable after heavy rains. Car rental services in Burkina Faso are limited, but you can also rent one with a driver. Traffic drives on the right and you need to buy a temporary driving permit which you can get after showing your national or international driver's license. It's best to rent a 4wd and to try the car a day or so first, as renting cars is a new phenomenon in the country.
There are plenty of buses and minibuses (all of which are locally known as 'cars') plying the routes between all major cities and towns at least daily, but often much more. Buses are relatively comfortable, cheap and fast.
No useful boat connections exist in Burkina Faso.
Nationals of most West-African countries (Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS) do not need a visa when visiting Burkina Faso.
A passport and a visa are required for other nationals to enter Burkina Faso. You generally should obtain your visa in advance, although European Union citizens can obtain visas upon arrival at the airport (XOF10,000). French citizens now require to get a visa in advance at €70 for one entry. If you are not from the European Union, the cost of a 3-month, single entry visa is XOF28,300 and must be acquired in advance of your journey. The Burkina Faso embassy in Washington offers six-month, multiple-entry visas for USD100. US citizens only are eligible for a five-year, multiple-entry visa for USD100.
If coming by land, EU and US citizens are able to get a seven day single entry visa for XOF10,000 at the border.
Check the nearest embassy or consulate of Burkina Faso for more details.
See also Money matters.
Burkina Faso uses the CFA Franc as a currency. The CFA Franc is divided into 100 centimes. Coins come in denominations of 1, 2, 5, 10, 25, 50, 100, 500 francs while banknotes come in denominations of 500, 1000, 2000, 5000, 10,000 francs
The exchange range is fixed at approximately 656 CFA Francs for one Euro.
In Burkina Faso the West African CFA Franc (XOF) is used which has the same value as the Central African CFA Franc (XAF), but it's not possible to use both currencies in the same country.
Fourteen countries in Africa use this currency, eight in West Africa and six in Central Africa. The West African CFA Franc can only be used in Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d'Ivoire, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo, while the Central African CFA Franc can only be used in Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.
If you are interested in helping to save lives in Western Africa then Burkina Faso, hit by severe drought and poverty in the last decade, would be ideal for a charity-holiday. Medical staff are also sorely needed, so any volunteering doctors would be greeted warmly.
The Peace Corps is active in Burkina Faso and constitutes a large proportion of Americans living in the country.
Burkina is a great country if you are interested in learning West African drumming. Bobo-Dioulasso, the second largest city, is perhaps the best place to learn to drum.
The official language is French.
Mossi, Mooré, Dioula, Peul, Fulfuldé and Gourmantché are also spoken.
Main dishes include:
All the main cities and other populous areas have hotels, ranging from a few luxurious ones to basic.
See also Travel Health
Proof that you had a yellow fever vaccination is required upon entering Burkina Faso. Also you have to have a cholera stamp (proof of the fact you don't have the disease) when entering Burkina Faso overland.
It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Burkina Faso. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also both hepatitis A as well as typhoid would be recommended.
If you are staying longer than 3 months or have a particular risk (travelling by bike, handling of animals, visits to caves) you might consider a rabies vaccination. Vaccination against Tuberculosis as well as hepatitis B are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months. When staying longer than 6 months, vaccination against meningitis might be recommended, depending on your contact with other people and time of year. From December to June and in contact with people, this applies for stays of 6 weeks and longer already.
Like most African countries south of the Sahara, Malaria is prevalent in the country. Don't underestimate this tropical disease and take precautions. Buy repellent (preferably with 50% DEET), and sleep under a net. Dengue is present as well, especially in urban areas, but there is no vaccination.
Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.
See also Travel Safety
Burkina Faso is one of the safest countries in West Africa. However, be aware of thieves in the big city. Violent assault is rare. Pickpockets and purse snatchers are something to watch out for in big cities, especially in Ouagadougou, where it is recommended not to carry a bag with you when at all possible. The common, cheap green taxis in the big city can sometimes host thieves. Hold on to your purse, and keep your money safely tucked away. If you want to carry around a camera or other item that requires a bag, it is often safer to put it in one of the ubiquitous black "sachets" (plastic bags) that you get when you purchase something in a store, so that potential thieves will assume there's nothing of great value inside.
You should always take precautions when traveling, but Burkina is a remarkably safe and respectful country. Women travelers rarely experience any problems. Foreigners, especially white foreigners, frequently attract significant attention, but the interest is mainly an attempt to sell you tourist items or overpriced goods. Indeed, the Burkinabé will show more patience and friendliness to the foreigner than to another Burkinabé, be it in a small village or in a big city.
See also International Telephone Calls
The country calling code to Burkina Faso is 226.
To make an international call from Burkina Faso, the code is 00.
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