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Burkina Faso - 10 days
Festival of the Dancing Masks
Prices from £2,099
Festival of the Dancing Masks
Prices from £2,099
Burkina Faso really is West Africa’s hidden gem, a small landlocked nation with a wealth of attractions that belie its modest size. Its unusual name means ‘the land of honourable men’, and the country is rich in proud and ancient traditions that accompany the visitor wherever you go. Starting in the capital Ouagadougou we get to grips with modern urban Africa before leaving the city behind and heading into the bush, visiting the stunning painted houses of the Kassena people – surely some of Africa’s most impressive architecture. We then travel through the homelands of the Lobi and Dagarti, discovering their incredible fortress houses, uncovering a set of mysterious ruins in the forest, and meeting the king of the Gan people. In the far west we visit Bobo Dioulassou, a relaxing city steeped in history. But the highlights of this tour are the incredible local mask festivals, a colourful display of local culture that shows Burkina Faso at its best. Burkina is one of our all time favourite countries – join us and discover why.
Day 1 – Ouagadougou
Arrive in Ouagadougou.
Day 2 – Ouagadougou – Po
Spend this morning exploring and soaking up the atmosphere of Ouagadougou. From here we head south to Po.
Day 3 – Tiebele –Leo
Head to Tiebele to see the remarkable painted houses of the Kassena people, and then Leo in the west of Burkina.
Day 4 – Gaoua
From here we drive west to Gaoua, travelling through the lands of the Dagarti people. This area is also home to the Lobi people, whose villages we explore.
Day 5 – Loropeni
Visit the UNESCO listed site of Loropeni, and at nearby Obire we meet the chief of the Gan people.
Day 6 – Banfora
Drive to Banfora and take boats out onto Tengrela Lake to see hippos.
Day 7 – Bobo Dioulassou
Visit the Domes of Fabedougou, as well as the pretty Karfiguela Falls. Then drive to Bobo Dioulassou, Burkina’s second city, and spend the rest of the day exploring it.
Days 8-9 – Festima Mask Festival
We spend two days in the company of local villagers witnessing the extraordinary Festima mask festival which takes place every two years.
Day 10 – Ouagadougou
We head back to Ouagadougou where day use rooms are available to allow you to freshen up before transferring to the airport for departure.
Day 1 – Ouagadougou
Arrive in Ouagadougou. Depending on when you arrive there may be time to explore the city. Overnight Hotel Grand Calao or similar.
Ouagadougou has to be a contender for the most oddly named city in the world. A small and rather modest city, it came into being around the 17th century when it was chosen as the site for the palace of the ruler of the Mossi people, the Moro Naba, and has grown since then to become a modern African city, although like most still retaining elements of its past. Ouaga, as it is known to locals, doesn’t have too many sights but it’s a pleasant place to wander around and get to grips with Burkina Faso – the artisan centre is worth a visit and is a great place to pick up souvenirs and examples of West African art. Ouaga has numerous bars and open air restaurants where locals come to eat, drink and socialise, and you can often see live music being performed at some of the better places.
Day 2 – Ouagadougou – Po
Spend this morning exploring and soaking up the atmosphere of Ouagadougou. From here we head south to Po. Overnight Hotel Envol or similar. (BLD)
Day 3 – Tiebele –Leo
Head to Tiebele to see the remarkable painted houses of the Kassena people, and then Leo in the west of Burkina. Overnight Auberge de la Sissili or similar. (BLD)
The Kassena live in the south of the country around the border with Ghana and are a small but fascinating ethnic group. The main attraction for spending time here are the intricately patterned houses, which are painted with abstract patterns as well as representations of animals which hold spiritual significance within Kassena society, such as bats, hawks, snakes and tortoises. Each village is centred around a chief, who tends to have the best decorated house, outside which is a sacred shrine. The Kassena make their living from farming but like many rural people in this region supplement this with hunting, and you can often see groups of Kassena men heading off into the bush with their dogs to look for gazelles and rodents.
Day 4 – Gaoua
From here we drive west to Gaoua, travelling through the lands of the Dagarti people. The Dagarti are a traditional people who live in villages consisting of fortified houses, and we stop along the way to learn about their lifestyle. This area is also home to the Lobi people, who have practiced the same customs for centuries. We take time to explore their villages, accompanied by a Lobi guide in order to gain the trust of this rather shy group of people. Overnight Hotel Hala. (BLD)
The origins of the Lobi are uncertain but currently the best theory is that they arrived from Ghana in the 18th century – there are similarities between their way of life and that of the Dagarti in northern Ghana. A shy and secretive people they live in small villages made up of mud built ‘fortress’ type houses, easily defendable against slave raids, and they were one of the last groups in the region to submit to French rule. The Lobi live largely outside the mainstream of society, following ancient traditions, the most interesting of which is the initiation ceremony for young men and women about to come of age. This involves heading out into the bush for several weeks and learning the secret rituals and language of the initiated, the exact details of which are never revealed to outsiders. It is said that this initiation is so hard that some may never return. The Lobi are primarily farmers although you may also see women panning for tiny grains of gold in the surrounding rivers and streams.
Day 5 – Loropeni – Gaoua
From here we head to the UNESCO listed site of Loropeni, a mysterious complex of stone ruins engulfed in the forest, and at nearby Obire we meet the chief of the Gan people. Return to Gaoua in the late afternoon. Overnight Hotel Hala or similar. (BLD)
The enigmatic ruins of Loropeni have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, although very little is known about them. Half hidden in the forest the ruins consist of massive stone walls, unusual in Africa, and theories about their origin range from them being constructed by ancient Egyptians to being a holding cell for slaves, although no-one yet knows the truth. Whatever lies behind them, their location among the trees gives them an air of mystery and coming to your own conclusions is part of the fun of visiting.
Day 6 – Banfora
Drive to Banfora, meeting communities of gold miners on the way. This afternoon we take boats out onto Tengrela Lake, a pretty lake where we hope to see hippos. Overnight Hotel Canne a Sucre or similar. (BLD)
Day 7 – Bobo Dioulassou
Explore the surrounding area, visiting the striking rock formations known as the Domes of Fabedougou, as well as the pretty Karfiguela Falls. Then drive to Bobo Dioulassou, Burkina’s second city, and spend the rest of the day exploring it. We visit its beautiful Grand Mosque, built in the unique West African style, as well as exploring the traditional old quarter nearby, and the unique train station among other sites. Overnight Hotel Auberge or similar. (BLD)
In the south west of Burkina lies Bobo, the second largest city in the country and with a much more laid back feel than the capital. Its unusual name is derived from the two ethnic groups which originally settled here – the Bobo and the Dioula – and its quiet leafy streets make it a great place to wander around and soak up the atmosphere. The Grand Mosque on the edge of the old quarter is one of the most picturesque buildings in all of West Africa, constructed in the ‘Sudanese’ style and flanked with tapering columns and with weathered logs poking out of its walls. On Fridays hundreds of men congregate here for prayers, spilling out into the surrounding area – photos of this spectacle are a no-no, but it’s an impressive sight nonetheless. Just next door is the old quarter of Dioulassoba, a maze of dusty streets with women preparing food and chatting outside, fetishes in hidden corners, and a river that is home to sacred catfish. Also worth seeing is the French built railway station which connects the city to Cote D’Ivoire – built in the traditional style it is not too dissimilar from the mosque. Bobo rewards casual exploration, with bars and restaurants in its shady streets, many of which are venues for live music in the evenings. It is also one of the best places in Burkina to shop for local arts and crafts.
Days 8-9 – Festima Mask Festival
We spend two days in the company of local villagers witnessing the extraordinary Festima mask festival which takes place every two years. People from around forty different villages attend, bringing their own styles of masks, and mask dances take place throughout the day. The costumes range from simple affairs to full body outfits made from grass, with masks up to two metres long perched on the heads of the performers. This is also a time for music and storytelling and a celebration of traditional culture. Few outsiders get to see this, and we are privileged to spend time here and learn about the spiritual traditions of this region. Overnight Hotel Diara or similar. (BLD)
Please note that the program for these days is flexible – celebrations and ceremonies in this part of the world are rarely structured and we will do our best to experience the most interesting parts.
Day 10 – Ouagadougou
We head back to Ouagadougou, visiting the giant granaries that re typical of this region on the way. Upon arrival in Ouaga, day use rooms are available to allow you to freshen up before transferring to the airport for departure. (BL)
Please note that we sell this trip in conjunction with our local partner and therefore you should expect people of different nationalities on this tour.
Airport transfers – We include arrival and departure transfers regardless of whether you book flights yourself, or we book them for you. If you’re booking them yourself, then please let us know the details so that we can arrange the transfers.
Please note though that if you arrive earlier than Day 1 of the tour, and leave after the final day, we may need to make an additional charge for an airport transfer.
Accommodation – Accommodation as listed in the dossier. The nature of the destinations that we operate may sometimes mean that we need to change hotels, but we’ll always endeavour to keep the same standards. Please be aware that as we operate in many countries where tourism is in its infancy, hotel standards may not be the same as you’re used to elsewhere.
Guides – In most cases you will be accompanied by one guide from start to finish. However there may be occasions when this is not practical, for example if your trip covers a number of different countries. In these cases it often makes more sense to include different guides for each place, to take advantage of their specific knowledge of the destination.
Meals – As listed within the itinerary / dossier (B-Breakfast, L-Lunch, D-Dinner). These will vary from trip to trip – in some areas it makes sense to include all meals while in others there is a good choice of restaurants and we feel people might like to ‘do their own thing’ now and again.
Entrance fees – Entrance fees are listed for those sites that we mention within the itinerary. If there are any other sites that you’d like to see, these would be at your own expense.
What’s not included:
Visas – We don’t arrange visas for our travellers, but if an invitation letter is necessary then we will arrange this for you. If you need any advice with visas then just give us a call, or alternatively a visa agency such as Travcour (www.travcour.com) can assist.
Airport taxes – If there are any departure taxes to pay that are not included within the cost of your ticket, you’ll need to pay these yourself.
International flights – Many of our travellers arrive from different destinations and so we don’t include international flights in the cost of our tours. If however you would like us to book flights for you, then just give us a call and we’ll be happy to discuss your options.
Travel Insurance – If you need any assistance with this, then let us know – although we can’t arrange it ourselves we can point you in the direction of a reputable provider that can assist.
Most travellers will require a visa to enter Burkina Faso. You may need an invitation letter in order to obtain this, depending on the requirements of the embassy that you apply at – we can provide this for you. Visa regulations can change however and so we recommend that you contact your nearest embassy for the most up to date information.
Health and vaccinations
We are not medically qualified and so we recommend that you speak to your doctor or nearest health professional for advice concerning recommended vaccinations. For more advice on vaccinations you can also visit www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk.
A Yellow Fever vaccination certificate is required for entry to Burkina Faso and you must bring this with you.
It is a condition of joining our tours that you have suitable travel insurance in place, and we cannot accept travellers without insurance. All policies differ in terms of what they will cover, but as a minimum you need medical and health cover which will cover you for the whole time that you are away. Most policies will also include cancellation cover, which will cover you if an unforeseen circumstance obliges you to cancel your trip. We recommend that you obtain your insurance as soon as you book your trip.
Please note that government travel warnings often affect the validity of your travel insurance, and you should check this with your insurance company.
Arrival and departure taxes
There are no arrival or departure taxes applicable for Burkina Faso.
The local currency in Burkina Faso is the West African CFA, a currency that is shared with many other countries in the region. It is not however the same as the Central African CFA, and the two are not interchangeable. It is best to bring Euros for exchange purposes as the CFA is not obtainable outside of the region.
It’s not difficult to change money in Burkina Faso, either at banks or the hotels and your guide can assist with this. There are also an increasing number of ATMs in larger towns. However these are not always reliable and so it is best to think of them as a back up rather than a main means of obtaining money.
Credit cards are accepted in larger hotels and better restaurants (usually in Ouagdougou only) but are not commonly accepted elsewhere.
When to go
Burkina Faso experiences two distinct seasons. The dry season runs from October until April, and the wet season from May until September – these can change by a few weeks either side depending on climate variations. Although most people choose to visit in the dry season, it’s also feasible to visit in the wet season – the rains, although heavy, do not last the whole day and usually take the form of short sharp bursts. Some roads can be difficult during the wet season though.
Culture – language and religion
Burkina Faso is fairly evenly split between Islam and Christianity, with the north being predominantly Muslim. However, indigenous beliefs are still widely practised, even by those who profess to be Christian or Muslim – old traditions die hard here. The official language of Burkina Faso is French, but with over sixty different ethnic groups there are a huge amount of individual languages.
Eating and drinking
Burkina Faso’s cuisine is generally dominated by the usual African fare of starch plus vegetables and / or meat. A popular and ubiquitous dish is riz gras, a rice and meat dish with a mildly spicy sauce and cabbage or greens. Hotels will serve some sort of western fare, although it may be fairly limited in variety.
In Burkina Faso, the maquis is a popular institution – these are open air restaurants, sometimes with live music, where Burkinabes gather to eat and socialise. Barbecued meat is popular here.
You should advise us when you book if you have any special dietary requirements. We will try to accommodate you as much as possible, but we cannot always guarantee this.
Luggage and packing
The first rule of packing is not to bring too much. There will be plenty of occasions where you’ll need to carry your luggage yourself and so you should be able to do this without help. Most people are surprised at how little they actually need to bring, and it’s normally possible to get laundry done along the way. It doesn’t matter whether you bring a suitcase, rucksack or holdall, but please don’t bring more than 20kg of luggage as this may be difficult to accommodate in the vehicles we use. You’ll also need a day pack.
There are no special dress rules for Burkina Faso, but you should dress respectfully when entering any religious buildings – legs and upper arms should be covered. The north of the country is predominantly Islamic and so its recommended to dress a little more conservatively here.
You’ll be walking around a number of sites and villages when in Burkina Faso, and probably rocky surfaces, so do consider this when selecting shoes or boots.
You don’t need to be especially fit to join our trips in Burkina Faso, but there will be stairs to climb, hills to walk and sites to explore, so you’ll enjoy it more if you have a reasonable level of fitness.
In Burkina Faso, like many of the destinations we offer, environmental thinking is not at the forefront of everyday life and you will see a lot of litter in places. However, we ask that you don’t contribute to this and to please take all litter back to the hotel where it can be disposed of properly, including cigarette butts.
Especially in the larger cities, you may come across beggars. Thereís no hard and fast answer on this and everyone has a different view – some feel that giving simply encourages begging while others see it as helping someone in need. Some guidebooks will tell you that you should only give if you see a local person also giving, to determine whether the beggar is genuine. The issue is particularly difficult when it comes to children, but we’d ask that you don’t give to children as in poor communities this can often act as a discouragement to going to school. If you feel that you’d like to contribute then speak with your guide who will be able to make appropriate suggestions.
Most people like to take photos, and it’s sometimes easy to forget that the photogenic person in front of you may not want their picture taken. Always ask if it’s okay, and respect their wishes if they say no. You’ll often find that in remote villages or among more traditional communities the older generation, and women in particular, are not comfortable with having their picture taken.
On the subject of photography, it’s often forbidden to take photos of ‘sensitive’ areas such as military buildings or border posts, and doing so can land you in trouble with the authorities. If youíre not sure, ask your guide.
If you’re happy with the services of your guide and driver then we would recommend leaving a tip for them at the end of your trip. The amount is entirely up to you, but a reasonable amount for a group to tip would be between CFA40-60,000 to both the driver and guide – however it is not obligatory and if you do not wish to tip then this is up to you.
When travelling to some of the destinations we offer you need to bear in mind that things won’t always work here as we’re used to them working at home. Travelling in underdeveloped and untouristed destinations requires both patience and a sense of humour. There may be problems with infrastructure, attitudes may be different, and maintenance may not be as high a standard as we would always like, but this is very much part and parcel of travelling in such a place. We aim to resolve any issues as quickly as possible, and thank you for your patience.
We keep a very close eye on the travel advice issued by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office so that we can keep you up to date with any warnings. At the time of writing the FCO advises against travel to all parts of Burkina Faso.
We work very closely with our local team and are fully confident that we can operate tours safely in Burkina Faso. Should you have any concerns over safety please do not hesitate to contact us and we can address your concerns.
This relates to advice from the British government – other nationalities need to check the stance of their own governments.
Burkina Faso – The Bradt Guide
Katrina Manson and James Knight
The State of Africa
Please note that the information contained above is highly susceptible to change, and while we endeavour to keep up to date we recommend that you use this as a guide only. Should you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
Updated 29 January 2016
Really pleased with the trip and felt that we saw a huge amount of Burkina Faso in the time that we were there, yet it felt well paced and not too hectic. Noah is an outstanding guide and his love and passion for the region really comes through in his work.
The festival was quite a spectacle, and one of the most colourful and interesting ones I’ve seen in Africa. As you know I’d had some concerns about the authenticity of the festival, but these weren’t justified – this was ‘the real thing’ and I’m very glad that I took the plunge and visited!
Accommodation was good throughout, as was the vehicle – the driver was very good at negotiating the often bad roads that we had to contend with. Please pass on my thanks to Noah, who went out of his way to accommodate the diverse wishes of the group.
For me the highlights were the masks festival and the visit to the Lobi tribe, where I felt privileged to be so close to their fetishes and the rooms where they keep them and treat sick people, etc. It was a bit of a shame perhaps that due to some cancellations the dancing masks on day two were pretty much a repeat of day one, but still very much worth being there.
I really liked as well to have a bit of a break from visiting tribes, and as a nature lover, really enjoyed the visit to Tengrela lake, the waterfall and the domes.
I also feel I was lucky to have such well travelled fellows in the group, they had so many stories to tell and a quite chilled attitude, not making a fuss about non important stuff and enjoying the experience. We have shared experiences and I have definitely changed my priority list for future destinations after listening to their tales.
Excellent food. I was amazed that we could eat salad and fresh vegetables since we were booked in hotels with high standards and John the cook did such an amazing job cooking for us. I would not change anything about it. Good accommodation as well. Brilliant to stay two nights at the lovely hotel in Cane du sucre hotel in Banfora, after the dustiest bus ride in history.
I am aware that his holiday woud not be everybody’s cup of tea but for me has exceeded my expectations and I am impressed with the standards.
Thank you very much for running such a smooth operation.
|22 February 2018||£2,099||£185||Guaranteed||