Ouagadougou

Overview

Introduction

This ancient capital city (pronounced wah-gah-DOO-goo) of 1,038,000 is home to the Mossi, the largest ethnic group in the nation. In the center of the country, "Ouaga," as it is known to the locals, has wide, tree-lined boulevards and several interesting places, including the National Museum, with its collection of traditional masks and art and craftwork; the Village Artisanale of Arts and Crafts, and Faso Park, an urban park with some birds and animals. The interesting Central Market was damaged by fire in 2004 and remains closed. The stallholders, however, are scattered around the streets nearby, with a good selection of handicrafts.

Although the Moro Naba Palace is not open to the public, you can view a traditional ceremony outside the palace on Friday morning at 7 am. The king of the Mossi people emerges from the palace, dressed to go to war. His chief advisors plead with him to stay, and eventually he returns to his palace to change into his daily royal attire, then re-emerges to govern his people. Since the Mossi are the largest ethnic group in Burkina Faso, representing more than half the population, this historic ceremony is a well-attended event, and tourists are usually outnumbered by local elders and youth alike who've all come to celebrate their regal heritage.

An enjoyable (and tasty) way to meet the Ouagalais is at one of the many pastry shops about town. For another dining treat, visit the Silmande Hotel for Sunday brunch and an occasional African fashion show.

The nightlife in Ouaga is good year-round. Be sure to hear some of the great local music. The French cultural center also has regular concerts of African dance and music.

African film buffs shouldn't miss FESPACO, the Pan-African Film Festival, held in late February of odd-numbered years. Luring celebrities and fans from around the globe, this festival—the world's largest African film festival—electrifies Ouagadougou with a carnival-like energy. The party spills out of the crowded cinemas into the streets in the form of dances, food festivals and general hilarity. The streets become pedestrian malls, where the shopping is fantastic—everything from Nigerian leather bags and Tuareg silver to handmade cloth dolls from Benin and traditional clothing from Ghana (http://www.fespaco.bf).

When FESPACO is still a year away, Ouagadougou's SIAO, the largest African arts-and-crafts show on the continent, brings another wave of celebrants into the city. With an influx of 300 African artisans and more than 100,000 visitors, the modest city is again turned into a giant festival of food, fashion, music, dance, theater, art and fun.

Koudougou, 60 mi/98 km to the west of Ouaga, is the third- or fourth-largest city in Burkina Faso (depending on how the population is counted) and has an excellent market and several good cinemas and discos. The "Nuits Atypiques de Koudougou" is an annual festival of music and dance. Just a few hours' drive outside of Ouagadougou, the ethnographic museum in Manega (masks, ancestral fetishes, traditional tombstones and other sacred and decorative objects) offers a good introduction to the culture and religion of several of Burkina's ethnic groups (http://www.musee-manega.bf).

A day trip can be taken to Sacred Crocodile Lake in Sabou to see the crocs, or to the granite stone sculptures at Laongo.

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