Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso

Photo: Bravia Hotel

So far, you’ve approached West Africa from the Atlantic coast. Ghana. Senegal. The Gambia. It’s the way so many explorers accessed the region in the past. Your mind is starting to wander, though. You look at the map and see large, landlocked countries. You’re curious and tentative at the same time. So you decide to start with smaller, easily accessible Burkina Faso.

Burkina Faso was called Upper Volta by its French colonizers. The country gained its independence in 1960, but its name wasn’t changed until 1984 when one word from each of the country’s two major native languages was combined to create Burkina Faso. Though not a wealthy country, it’s now one of the most stable in the region.

Ouagadougou, which you’re grateful everyone shortens to Ouaga, is Burkina Faso’s capital and largest city. It sits on a plateau in the center of the country. Its streets are dusty and full of potholes. There aren’t many major sights here. The National Museum, the National Museum of Music, and Moro-Naba Palace are the few that lure visitors. Without a list to check off, you have more freedom to get to know the lively, artsy city. You should start with the markets. The Central Market is one of the largest in West Africa. You can buy street food (Riz au Gras and poulet bicyclette) and drink tropical fruit juice or a Brakina (local beer) as you drift between stalls. Traditional Mossi music will guide the way.

This trip is starting to come together. If you can add a modern hotel, you’ll feel even more comfortable. Bravia Hotel, near Ouagadougou Airport, works well. Upon first glance, the eight-story building looks like a hotel for business travelers. And it is. There’s more to the hotel than conference rooms, though. One of its elevators has a panoramic view as it rises. Large rooms are filled with bright art, unexpected sculptures, and much-appreciated espresso machines. There’s a small outdoor pool with a snack bar. Le Balkuy, the casual restaurant, starts each day with a big breakfast buffet. While Veenem, a sky bar on the fifth floor, is an intimate spot for a nightcap. Are you ready to leave the coast yet?

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