Comparing Travel in Burkina Faso with Costa Rica

Burkina Faso

Comparing Travel in Burkina Faso with Costa Rica


Throughout west Africa I’ve found the lack of tourism, and the subsequent lack of tourism infrastructure a bit of a shock.  Truthfully, I knew before arriving in the region that I was going to be spending quite a bit of time alone.  However, for nearly two months I didn’t meet another traveller on the road at all.  I wrote about my shock in an article called “Are Backpackers Full of Shit“.  Through the chimpanzee sanctuaries of Sierra Leone to the beaches of Cote d’Ivoire, tourism was beyond lacking, it simply didn’t exist.

I had begun to wonder if the traveller’s appetite simply couldn’t be satisfied by what west Africa had to offer, or maybe travellers have a hard time getting past the bad news that seems to stream from the region constantly.  I began to wonder if perhaps the blame should rest on the countries themselves for not promoting tourism and the travel industry itself.  That was all before arriving in Banfora, Burkina Faso and coming to the realization that sometimes a destination is popular not for it’s fame, but for how it makes us feel.

Burkina Faso, bird

Ask 100 people to point to Burkina Faso on a blank map and I’m sure that only about 5-10 would be able to place it.  Ask those 5-10 people what attractions there are for tourists in this landlocked state and perhaps one could name something.  Burkina Faso is never in the press, for good or bad.  The country is famous for anythng, other than perhaps Thomas Sankara for those who follow socialist movements.  There are no major oil finds in Burkina Faso, nor are there grand historical cities or busy ports.  But it’s funny how none of those things matter when a place makes you smile.

Burkina Faso, Tengrela Falls

That being said, despite the lack of a major attraction to draw visitors in, there is plenty to do and see in Burkina Faso.  Moreover, the tourism infrastructure is quite well established.  And perhaps like the Costa Rica of old – before the tourists really got a hold of it – that infrastructure is still almost entirely community-based and grassroots, which means two things: 1) it’s affordable, 2) the money is going into the local economy.  It’s hard not to feel good about travel when that is the case.

Burkina Faso, hippos

Well sitting around a table the other night with some fellow travellers we kept commenting on the fact that Burkina Faso is essentially the perfect tourism destination.  Not only is there plenty to see in the country, but the activities are as varied as anywhere I know.  Sure, you don’t have the beaches and the coast of Costa Rica, but there are plenty of waterfall swimming holes to replace them.  Otherwise, between elephant or hippo safaris for less than $10, and hikes through villages and the beautiful Sindou Peaks there is a wealth of travel opportunity.

Burkina Faso, Sindou

The true calling card, however, of Burkina Faso isn’t the waterfalls or the wildlife, but the people.  Laid back, polite and always willing to help, the Burkinabe are some of the warmest people I’ve met in a region full of wonderful human beings.  It’s their gentle, easy-going style that lends to such warm feelings, much like the old “pura vida” of Costa Rica before it became overused cliche.

Burkina Faso, Kids

Will Burkina Faso ever become the Costa Rica of west Africa?  Probably not.  And part of me never wants it to be.  Burkina Faso’s appeal lies in the fact that it remains so raw, that the infrastructure remains unpackaged, unprocessed and fresh, and that the people have not been corrupted by the almighty dollar sign.  The Burkinabe are proud of their country.  They are proud that they’ve stayed out of the news, and that they’ve avoided certain conflicts that have affected neighbouring countries of late.  But most of all they are proud of themselves.  Burkina Faso translates to the land of honest people.  As a traveller, for me this a land of open arms and wide smiles, and few places on the planet have made me feel this welcome.

Author: Brendan van Son

Author: I am a travel writer and photographer from Alberta, Canada. Over my years as a travel photographer, I have visited 6 of the 7 continents and more countries than I have any desire to count. If you want to improve your skills, be sure to check out my travel photography channel on Youtube . Also, check out my profile on . to learn a little bit more about me and my work.

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  1. Here here, to the Burkinabe for making this wonderful country. I agree it is the peoples pride and openness that makes it such a wonderful place to visit, I was also impressed with the creative influence in every part of life, more apparent in Ougadougou than anywhere else, but true for the whole country.
    Did you get my email RE: visiting the Gurunsi in the South??

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    • Great people! Lucy, I replied to your message yesterday. Cheers!

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  2. I love hearing about less touristed places, relatively undiscovered gems, so thanks for sharing this. As you say, people are very important when visiting a new country. Further south, I’ve found Zambians, Malawians and Zimbabweans (despite the justifiably bad press about their country’s politics) to be amazingly friendly and helpful. I think many people seriously underestimate Africa and Africans.

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    • Roxanne, basically everywhere I’ve been in Africa the people have been really friendly. Aside from the Gambia and Morocco where I always felt like a walking dollar sign, the people have been amazing and very respectful.

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  3. What’s the old adage about the most worthy things in life being difficult? Sounds like you’re proving that to be true in an area not so easily reached but the payoff is huge. Kudos Brendan!

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  4. you really got it right, BUrkina is about the people. I visited the country first in 1997 and since then lived there for a year and half between 2000-2002 and have been going back ever since. It is true that I am a social anthropologist and Burkina is my research site, but even without that, there is simply something about this country. It doesn’t have the sights of Mali or Ghana, but the people are great to be around. I am returning again in 3 weeks time, and cannot wait to get to my Faso.

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  5. Greetings, Brendan,
    I followed your video journey on YouTube from The Gambia to Ouga. I love Ouga and it actually has 2 very large events that draw people from around the world. One is Fespaco, the largest African film festival in the world and the other is a large craft fair. Fespaco occurs every odd year and the craft fair every even year. I also found the Burkinabe people to be extremely friendly, helpful and proud.

    Your video diary was amazing, helping me to see so much of West Africa. And, it answered a lot of questions I had. It was really informative about the Visa process, getting transportation and the cost of various things. Being a foodie, I would have loved to see more of the local cuisine and more of the shopping areas. But, I realize that you were more into nature, hiking and meandering.

    Are you still traveling? Would love to see more videos.

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    • Thanks for checking them out! Yeah, you can see my youtube channel at where the videos are all the way to Ghana. Lots more to come! On another note, I have a couple friends right now at Fespaco, sounds amazing!

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  6. I never really considered Burkina Faso as a destination until now. I was one of those that couldn’t find it on a map. Great post.

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    • Glad you liked the post Jonathan. The thing about Burkina Faso is it has a little bit of everything. It’s also likely the easiest country I’ve travelled in Africa yet. Things seem to go smoothly in Burkina Faso.

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