Often overlooked due to its remote location, Ouagadougou is one of West Africa’s most dynamic and exciting capitals.
Ouagadougou was my introduction to West Africa. It was the first West African capital I visited and my gateway for a road trip between Burkina Faso and Mali (I know! Not the easiest countries to travel). I spent a few days here organizing my trip, getting a feeling of the region, and learning more about West Africa’s cultural richness.
Even though my time in “Ouaga” was short, I was able to explore a few bars, try their delicious – but spicy – food, check out some museums, and experience the festive vibe Burkina Faso is known for.
While my stay in Ouagadougou wasn’t long enough for me to provide comprehensive recommendations, I consulted a few local experts to share their top suggestions:
Explore the Cultural Highlights of Ouaga
There are a few iconic spots you can’t skip if you visit this city. Whether you’re here just to apply for some visas or making a quick stopover before your next adventure continues, you need to see at least one of the following places:
La Grande Mosquée de Ouagadougou:
Known as a symbol of Ouagadougou’s cultural heritage, the Grande Mosquée of Ouagadougou is the most important cultural sight of the city. With its impressive mud-brick architecture and traditional minarets, this place of worship is a feast for the eyes. Don’t forget to embrace the local customs by dressing modestly and observing the serene ambiance within its walls.
National Museum of Music:
West Africa is known for its music, and for a deeper insight into Burkina Faso’s rich musical heritage, head to the National Museum of Music, located on Avenue de la Liberté. Explore the diverse rhythms and melodies of the country, showcased through a fascinating collection of traditional instruments and exhibits on the nation’s musical traditions.
Bangré Weogo Park:
Seeking some respite from the city’s bustle? Go to the Bangré Weogo Park, a lush oasis of greenery right in the heart of Ouaga. Stroll along its scenic pathways, admire the lakes, and revel in the harmonious coexistence of flora and fauna. It’s the perfect spot to unwind and connect with nature.
Other cultural sights you might want to visit are:
- The Ouagadougou Cathedral
- The Monument of National Heroes
- The Church Église de Dapoya
Get Lost in Ouaga’s Markets
Ready for some hustle and bustle? Dive headfirst into the vibrant local culture by visiting the Grand Marché Central, Ouagadougou’s bustling central market. This sensory extravaganza will enchant you with its vivid colors, tantalizing aromas, and a plethora of crafts, fabrics, and souvenirs to choose from. Bargaining is a cherished tradition here, so embrace the art of negotiation for a memorable shopping experience. This is also where I got my Burkina Faso football jersey – a tradition I tried to keep during my whole West Africa trip.
On the other hand, if you are looking for crafts and souvenirs, the Artisanal Center of Ouagadougou or the Naba Koom Market are the places to go. Located near the Grand Mosque, the Artisanal Center is a government-operated market that offers an extensive range of high-quality handicrafts made by local artisans. This market is ideal for those seeking authentic and unique handmade products, such as wooden carvings, masks, pottery, and intricate textiles. Burkina Faso is known for its cultural festivals using colorful masks. If you are only visiting Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso, getting a Bobo mask is one of the best souvenirs you can take home.
NOTE: Some sources also mentioned the Zaka Market as a good place to buy local handicrafts and traditional textiles at a good price.
And finally, for a full local experience, the Yaar Market or the Rood Woko Market are the places to go. Here you can find everything you won’t need, from pots, vases, and bicycle tires to fresh vegetables and fish.
Attend a Local Live Music Performance
In Ouagadougou, experiencing the vibrant music heritage of Burkina Faso is a must. From intimate café performances in charming hotels to grand shows around the city, immerse yourself in the soul-stirring rhythms of this country. Here are some exceptional venues where you can witness captivating live performances:
Delve deeper into Burkina Faso’s rich history and traditions by attending a performance at Naba Koom, an open-air cultural center located in the heart of the city. Be mesmerized by traditional dances, captivating storytelling, and music that narrate the tales of the country’s past and present.
Maison du Peuple:
This cultural hub is a haven for artistic events and performances in Ouagadougou. Regularly hosting concerts, theater shows, dance performances, and cultural festivals, the Maison du Peuple showcases traditional music and dance from various regions of Burkina Faso.
Cenasa Cultural Center:
Cenasa stands as another prominent cultural center that presents a diverse range of artistic events. Here, you can savor live music performances, enchanting dance shows, and enthralling theatrical plays. The center’s mission is to promote local and international artists, providing an inspiring platform for artistic expression.
Institut Français de Ouagadougou (French Institute):
This esteemed cultural institution frequently hosts captivating concerts, mesmerizing dance performances, intriguing film screenings, and thought-provoking art exhibitions. It embraces both French and Burkinabé artists, creating a delightful fusion of cultural experiences.
Taste the Flavors of Burkina Faso
Visiting a country without savoring its cuisine would be a missed opportunity to truly immerse oneself in its culture. Embracing new tastes and experiencing local dishes is an essential part of understanding a place. While I don’t suggest diving into the busiest market in Ouagadougou and trying everything you see, I do recommend seeking out a local dish at one of the city’s restaurants.
Burkinabé cuisine offers a diverse and flavorful culinary journey, reflecting the rich cultural heritage of Burkina Faso. The dishes are a celebration of bold spices, unique cooking techniques, and an array of fresh ingredients that have been cherished for generations.
At the heart of Burkinabé cuisine lies “tô,” a hearty porridge made from millet or sorghum, served with an assortment of savory sauces. These sauces boast an assortment of flavors, combining vegetables, meats, fish, or peanuts to create a delightful harmony of tastes and textures.
Rice takes center stage in dishes like “riz gras,” where it is simmered in a savory tomato-based sauce with meats and vegetables. Grilled meats, such as chicken, beef, and fish, are also cherished and seasoned with aromatic spices, tantalizing the senses.
A quintessential dish you must try is “attiéké,” a couscous-like delicacy made from cassava, typically served with grilled meats or fish and an array of flavorful sauces. It delivers a blend of delectable and filling flavors.
Burkinabé cuisine also embraces a wide range of vegetables, legumes, and fruits, ensuring a nutritious and balanced culinary experience. The infusion of spices such as ginger, garlic, and hot peppers elevates the flavors, leaving a lasting impression on the taste buds.
To relish the best of this cuisine, local experts recommend the following restaurants in Ouagadougou:
Restaurant Faso Attiéké: Known for serving signature attiéké, this restaurant is a must for experiencing the national dish at its finest.
La Calebasse: A warm and welcoming restaurant with a modern twist on Burkinabé favorites, using fresh, locally sourced ingredients.
Le Verdoyant: A charming garden setting where you can indulge in both local and international flavors, capturing the essence of Burkina Faso.
La Taverne: A popular eatery offering a diverse menu of grilled meats, tô, and rice dishes, often accompanied by lively live music performances.
Chez Simon: Friendly service and a diverse menu of Burkinabé specialties await you at this restaurant, providing an array of delicious options.
Before you go
Getting a SIM Card in Burkina Faso:
In Burkina Faso, you can easily purchase a SIM card from one of the three main mobile operators: Telecel, Orange, and Moov Africa. Look for mobile phone shops or supermarkets to buy one. The cost of a SIM card varies, typically around 250 XOF (US$0.50). After acquiring a SIM card, remember to top it up with credit, which can be done at various mobile phone shops and supermarkets.
Prepaid Internet Plans:
There are different prepaid internet plans available from each mobile operator, catering to various data needs and durations. Here are some examples:
- Telecel: 2 GB for 30 days at 2,000 XOF (US$4.00)
- Orange: 1 GB for 7 days at 999 XOF (US$1.90)
- Moov Africa: 2 GB for 30 days at 3,000 XOF (US$6.00)
*Prices in August 2023
Moving Around Ouagadougou:
You have several options to navigate Ouagadougou:
Taxi Apps: Convenient options like Taxi Jaune, Taxi Ivoire, and Taxi Vava allow you to book, track, and pay for your taxi through the app.
Street Hailing: While you can hail taxis on the street, it may be more challenging as there is no fixed fare.
Other Transport Options:
- Bus: Ouagadougou has a public bus system, but its reliability may be questionable.
- Bush Taxi: Faster and more reliable than regular taxis, bush taxis are minibuses that travel across different parts of the city.
- Motorcycle Taxi: Ideal for short distances, motorcycle taxis are affordable but can be risky as drivers may not wear helmets.
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Starting Your West Africa Trip in Burkina Faso
If you plan to commence your West Africa journey in Burkina Faso, Ouagadougou is an excellent place to obtain your Mali and Ivory Coast visas. Many travelers find it hassle-free to secure these visas here, making it a convenient starting point for your adventure. While I obtained my Mali and Ivory Coast visas in different countries, other travelers have shared how easy it was to acquire them in Ouagadougou.
Money in Burkina Faso
During my time in Ouagadougou, I encountered significant difficulties withdrawing cash from ATMs. Unfortunately, Mastercard is not widely accepted in the country, and American Express is virtually unheard of. Using my Mastercard, I spent several hours hopping from one ATM to another before finally finding success at EcoBank, the only bank where I could withdraw cash.
As a recommendation, I suggest opening a Revolut account, which works regardless of your country of origin, and obtaining their VISA Debit Card. This trip served as a valuable lesson, prompting me to take this step.
Additionally, as I’ve mentioned in other posts about Africa, I always carry between 400-700 USD and EUR in case of emergencies. This precautionary measure has proven to be a reliable safety net during my travels.
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