From sitting next to wild crocodiles, to ceremonies celebrating the death, these are some of the most bizarre and weird experiences you can see in Burkina Faso.
There have been only a few places that have surprised me as much as Burkina Faso. From its untouched landscapes to its mystical and colorful cultural heritage and unique cuisine, Burkina Faso has quickly become one of my top countries. I visited this fascinating part of the world last summer and embarked on a road trip from the capital, Ouagadougou, heading west all the way to Mali. I spent 10 days on the road, accompanied by my local fixer/guide Marlon, and together we experienced a wonderful mix of natural getaways, village visits, and city life.
Unlike most destinations where things have to be meticulously planned, during my trip to Burkina Faso, the most intriguing and “bizarre” experiences seemed to unfold at the least expected moments. From unexpected invitations to attend two different funerals, to hearing about a waterfall where animal sacrifices take place, Burkina Faso offers an entirely unique perspective, making it a new frontier for those seeking to delve deeper into cultural traditions.
After spending 10 days exploring this country, I came across some truly bizarre travel experiences:
Spending some time with the sacred crocodiles of Bazoule
About 30 kilometers from Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou, lies the village of Bazoule, home to something truly remarkable. It’s one of the rare places in the world, if not the only one, where wild crocodiles coexist with humans. Yes, wild crocodiles—the very creatures that can eat a person in a single bite, challenge a lion, or take down a cheetah without breaking a sweat.
In Bazoule, I witnessed kids swimming alongside enormous crocodiles, and adults casually petting these sunbathing reptiles. As a travel photographer familiar with Africa, I was both fascinated and incredibly intimidated about getting close to these massive predators.
According to a local legend, over 600 years ago, when the first nomads arrived in Bazoule to establish a community, they faced a water scarcity issue. It was a crocodile that appeared and guided them to the lake. Ever since, this village of around 150 people has coexisted with approximately 100 crocodiles in the vicinity. The villagers even feed them with chickens, leading to a rather extraordinary form of domestication for these wild creatures.
Remarkably, as my local guide, Pierre, informed me, there has never been a recorded crocodile attack in Bazoule.
How to get there:
I visited Bazoule with the help of my contact, Marlon. He organized our visit, enabling us to spend time with the crocodiles and gain insight into village life.
Given the proximity to Ouagadougou, many tour agencies are likely to arrange visits to this place. Upon reaching Bazoule, a guide will accompany you, allowing you to approach the crocodiles as closely as you feel comfortable. It does require patience, but after about 30-45 minutes of hesitation, I even petted and cuddled with one of these creatures.
Immerse yourself in the festive atmosphere of a Burkinabe funeral.
These ceremonies are a far cry from Western funerals, with no black suits or somber faces in sight. Instead, in Burkina Faso, a funeral is a grand celebration, a festive gathering where around 200-300 people come together to enjoy food, drinks, music, and dance. And the highlight? It’s one of the rare occasions when you can witness a stunning display of tribal masks.
I had the privilege of attending two distinct Bobo funerals. The first was a collective tribute to several individuals who had passed away throughout the year, commemorated with a massive party. The second marked the passing of a prominent community member. At both events, I was invited to observe, though I refrained from taking photographs. I was able to join the drummers, engage in conversations with family members, and share meals with them.
The atmosphere felt more akin to a lavish wedding than a somber funeral. Yet, the pinnacle of the experience was when family members of the deceased emerged adorned with ritual masks and garments, and danced before the assembled crowd. They explained that these were the spirits of the departed, temporarily inhabiting human bodies for a single day.
It was undoubtedly one of the most captivating, albeit eerie, moments of my travels.
How to get there:
Organizing such a funeral is no simple task. It doesn’t occur spontaneously. Having a good knowledge of of Bobo masks and ritual dances ahead of my visit, I had informed Marlon to be on the lookout and inquire in the various villages we passed through if any funerals were scheduled. Luck was on our side, and we were fortunate to witness two of these unique events. Marlon shared that I was the first traveler in 10 years to experience a funeral while visiting Burkina Faso.
Test your culinary limits with a caterpillar worm sandwich
The once unconventional act of eating insects has gradually found acceptance, even in urban hubs like Berlin and London, where the environmentally-conscious seek alternative protein sources to replace conventional red meats.
My personal insect-eating journey didn’t start in Burkina Faso. I have eaten insects in Thailand, Colombia, Germany, and Namibia before. While in most of these places, insect to eat were mostly displayed for the adventurous tourists and not the locals, it was in the city of Bobo-Dioulasso that I stumbled upon a sandwich vendor specializing in caterpillar worm sandwiches.
These sandwiches had fried caterpillars, accompanied by a spicy local sauce. I’ve previously sampled caterpillars, the popular mopane worms in Namibia, but this sandwich left a lasting impression I doubt I’ll do again.
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How does it taste:
The flavors, mostly coming from the sauces and seasonings, don’t offer anything particularly distinctive. The biggest difference to other insect meals lies in the texture, which, post-frying, retains a chewiness – like calamari. It was for sure something I’m happy to try, but probably won’t do again.
Some days after, Marlon invited me to his house, and of course, we had also some caterpillars to snack with beer.
Feel Burkinabe’s connection between life and death
When we heard about the chance to visit a sacrifice site near a waterfall, I was thrilled. It felt like being in an Indiana Jones movie. I had to navigate through the dense jungle of Burkina Faso and climb rocks to reach a 10-meter waterfall where the sacrifice area was situated.
But when I got there, reality hit me hard. I was shocked by the place I found myself in. The atmosphere was quiet, eerie, and somewhat peaceful. Some people were crying, some very quiet, while others waited in line to talk to the priest. I saw a young man with a squirrel, and a woman dealing with marital issues was carrying two live chickens.
Around the waterfall, there was a strong smell of death, and the remains of dead goats, cows, and chickens were scattered all over. I felt utterly lost at that moment. My travel companions couldn’t handle it anymore and had to leave, but I stayed. I watched as the priest took each animal, one by one, and cut their heads, using their fresh blood to wash his hands. After a brief prayer to the sky, he discarded the bodies in a corner and went to pray for the women.
This was a moment I won’t forget anytime soon, and it was an experience I couldn’t have planned for. It showed me the significance of life and death in Burkina Faso, and how the Burkinabe people seek a connection between these two worlds.
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How to get there:
Arranging this part of the trip was not easy. My guide knew I was interested in these kinds of stories and inquired in Bobo-Dioulasso, where a pagan sacrifice site was active. I had to be incredibly respectful of their traditions, pay a fee, and seek additional permission from the priest and the visitors to be an observer.
Taking photos was not allowed, and I’m glad that was the case. Currently, there is almost no information about these ceremonies happening regularly, and I felt fortunate to be among the few who experienced it.
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Remember that these “weird experiences” can often be a subjective term, and these encounters, while different, contribute to the rich cultural tapestry of Burkina Faso and made my travel experience all the more memorable. While I didn’t agree with some of them, I think it is very important to approach all these encounters with an open mind, respect for local customs, and a willingness to learn and appreciate the uniqueness of the country.