Mud Palaces and Voodoo Ceremonies – a Tour to Burkina Faso – Benin - Togo
Day 1, Welcome to Burkina Faso, the "Land of the honest people"
Our tour guide will meet you at Ouagadougou International Airport. Transfer to the hotel.
Day 2, Ouagadougou
This morning you will be given detailed information of your trip. After this we will have time to explore Burkina Faso's capital city.
Ouagadougou was founded in the 11th century by the Yonyonsé who named the settlement Kombemtinga, which means „town of warriors“. It was conquered in the 15th century by the Mossi and became capital of the Mossi Empire. In 1681 the first Mossi emperor, Moro Naba, was crowned and the town was renamed Wogdgo, which means “come and pay tribute”. It was the permanent residence of the Mossi rulers and over the time became Wagadugu. Ouagadougou is the French name for it.
The modern capital with a population of about 1.5 million, does not offer many architectural marvels, but it is rich in gardens, parks and outdoor-bars. The inhabitants proudly present their town as Africa’s art capital. Indeed, there are festivals throughout the year including the largest film festival in Africa, the Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou (FESPACO) and many art exhibitions.
In the morning we take a city tour to explore Ouagadougou’s sightseeing marvels. We visit the distinctive red-brick building of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception built in 1934. It has served as the centre of the Christian community ever since. From here we continue to a bronze workshop.The bronze workers have different roles, including artists who shape the initial model out of wax, mould-makers who create a cast of the wax image and bronziers, who melt the metal and cast the object. Finally, workers smooth and shine the finish on each item. Then we visit the “Village Artisanal de Ouagadougou”. More than 300 artists exhibit at this arts and crafts centre and the quality of work is outstanding. You can see the artists at work and visit their workshops. Textiles, jewellery, leatherware, wooden sculptures, musical instruments and a lot of other handicraft are on sale. It is a non-stressful, hassle-free shopping. But don’t forget to negociate!
Later today we depart the capital and head towards the village of Laongo, lying 30 km east of Ouaga. This village features a garden with huge granite slabs that were designed by international artists. The outdoor gallery displays works of art carved in the rock formations by sculptors from across the globe who meet every year at Laongo to add more carvings. A big monument at the entrance featuring the differences between tradition and modern times was inaugurated in the year 2000 by Burkina's president Blaise Campaoré. A competent guide will explain the history of the sculpture park and some of the most important sculptures.
Day 3, Ouagadougou - Bobo Dioulasso
This morning we will leave Ouagadougou and its friendly people heading to Bobo Dioulasso. The road is lined with strange-looking baobabs and huge mango trees. In the early afternoon we will reach the bustling town of Bobo Dioulasso, Burkina's second-largest city. The country was named Upper Volta by the French after its three major rivers, the Black, White and Red Volta.The Republic of Upper Volta has since changed its name to Burkina Faso. It was renamed in 1984 by President Thomas Sankara to Burkina Faso which means "the land of upright people" in Mòoré. A name that suits the population, because people are helpful, friendly and open minded.
This afternoon, we have time to visit Burkina’s second largest town, which was founded in the 15th century when the first people settled in the area. It was then called Sya. Bobo Dioulasso means “house of the Bobo and Dioula”, after the two tribes living in the area. Today Bobo, as it is affectionately called by its inhabitants, is the country’s most important commercial centre and capital of music.
We start our tour with the visit of the magnificent Great Mosque, built at the end of the 19th century by the religious leader Almamy Sidiki Sanou. It is Burkina’s largest mosque and may be visited by non-Muslims if accompanied by a guide. The mosque can accommodate hundreds of worshippers. Climbing up one of the “sugarloaf” minarets we reach the top of the mosque to see the clever ventilation system consisting of many holes in the roof which in the dry season provide light and fresh air and during the rainy season are covered with individual little clay caps to prevent the rain getting in.
Across the road from the mosque, we enter the old town, known as Dioulassoba. It has four quarters, an animist and a Muslim one, as well as the quarter of the griots and the one of the blacksmiths. During our walk through the old town we’ll see fetishes of the animists, we’ll be introduced to the art of brewing millet beer, discover the sacred catfish in the Houet river and meet the town’s blacksmiths and bronze artists. The bronze workers have different roles, including artists who shape the initial model out of wax, mould-makers who create a cast of the wax image and bronziers, who melt the metal and cast the object. Finally, workers smooth and shine the finish on each item.
Leaving the old town we continue our visit in the modern city of Bobo Dioulasso. Its centrepiece is the vibrant Grand Marché which burnt down in 1998 and was rebuilt in 2001 in neo-Sudanese style. We’ll have a stroll through the bustling market hall with its fruit and vegetable stalls, meat and fish sections. In another part of the huge market household wares and colourful fabrics are sold. As the market cannot accommodate all vendors, it spills over onto the surrounding streets. There are also curio shops for tourists with souvenirs on sale. They offer a good opportunity to buy masks, sculptures, bronze or jewellery. Pottery you’d better buy on the pottery market close to the old town. Next to the market, we’ll visit Bobo’s impressive cathedral and from there we’ll reach the extravagant train station. During colonial times the French had planned to connect Abidjan with Niamey, a vision they could never put into practice. Due to the beginning of World War II and increasing costs they had to abandon their project, so the railway could only be constructed from Abidjan to Ouagadougou. Trains from Bobo to Ouagadougou are still running today. The station was built in 1934 in colonial architectural style.
Towards evening, we return to our hotel in the town centre.
Day 4, Bobo Dioulasso – Banfora
In the morning we leave the charming town of Bobo Dioulasso heading to Banfora. The drive takes one and a half hours. Banfora is surrounded by lush sugar-cane fields and offers some outstanding tourist attractions which we will discover today.
Near the town lie the amazing Domes de Fabédougou. On arrival at Banfora we make a short drive to visit this miraculous nature wonder. These lime stone formations which were formed some 1.8 billion years ago, seem to be otherworldly. During the Tarkwaian era, the whole area was covered by an ocean. Sediments have been laid down, over time they turned into rocks of differing hardness. Due to erosion caused by wind and rain, the softer layers were worn away leaving a unique landscape of stone sculptures. We walk through the stunning scenery of sugar-loaf shaped or mushroom-like rocks and formations resembling pyramids to reach the picturesque Karfiguela falls, which consist of several distinct cascades. This is one of the most famous natural tourist attractions in Burkina Faso. From the top we enjoy the spectacular view over the lush valley with large orchards of mango trees. We stop and take breaks along the way at each of the cascades. At the bottom, there is a natural pool where we can swim and rest in the afternoon.
Day 5, Banfora - Excursion to the Peaks of Sindou
This morning our journey takes us to the small town of Sindou, located about 50 km from Banfora. The magnificent, otherworldly Sindou Peaks are one of Burkina’s most spectacular landscapes. This is Senoufo country which straddles the Burkina-Mali border. Mount Tenakourou, at 749m the highest point in Burkina Faso, is in the area of Sindou, tucked up against the Malian border. The Senoufo consider this fascinating wonderland of Sindou sacred and initiation rites are held in this place. Coming from Banfora we have a fantastic scenic view of the spindles of sandstone rising into the air. We spend today walking through this labyrinth of remarkable rock formations and remote Senoufo villages accompanied by an experienced local guide.
In the afternoon we continue our excursion to the nearby lakeside village of Tengrela. Boatmen will take us out on to the lake in a typical pirogue – a local wooden canoe. The lake offers a good opportunity to spot hippos. The Senoufo consider the hippos sacred therefore they live in harmony with the animals. This herbivore lives in herds of about 15 animals presided over by a dominant male. The shores of the lake are home to numerous bird species. African jacanas run on the water looking for prey. Pied kingfishers dart into the water to catch a fish and colourful bee-eaters sit in tree branches. White water-lilies spread out theirs leaves over the water surface like a carpet. They shine in the setting sun. Towards evening we return to our hotel at Banfora.
Day 6, Banfora – the land of the Lobi – Ruins of Loropeni - Gaoua
This morning we head east. En route we stop at the ruins of Loropeni, since 2009 Burkina’s first UNESCO World Heritage site. The amazingly well-preserved 7m high and 1.5m thick walls of the ancient site stand up in the middle of a cool forest. Little is known about their origin. Some presume that they date back some centuries, but until today historians and archaeologists could not agree on the construction date and the purpose of the place. It may be the enclosure of the courtyard of a king’s palace or an ancient settlement linked to the tradition of gold mining. These are only two of the theories which might explain the existence of the ruins. At Loropeni we have reached the land of the Lobi and spend some time with a local guide, making the most of the opportunity to learn a little something about this ethnic group. The Lobi make up about 7% of Burkina’s population, they are also found in the north west of Ghana and Ivory Coast. In Burkina Faso we find their settlements around the town of Gaoua. We stop near the town of Loropeni to visit a typical village and become acquainted with the Lobi’s traditions. They still adhere to many of their traditional customs and animist practices, worshipping wooden fetishes and continuing to hold fast to their age-old beliefs. Their large mud houses, known as soukala, are similar to miniature fortresses, an architectural style they once developed to defend themselves against attacks from their enemies and wild animals. Their compounds are constructed well away from each other, which is another protective measure. In the past the Lobi were traditionally hunters and fishermen, nowadays they are farming and raising livestock.
After visiting these usually reclusive people we continue our journey to Gaoua, the capital of the Lobi country, which we’ll reach in the early afternoon. At the surprisingly well presented ethnographic museum Musée du Poni, we will have an opportunity to discover more of their remarkable history and traditions. A knowledgeable guide will show us the artefacts, statues, musical instruments and hunting weapons. A number of black and white photographs taken during the 1920s and 1930s allow us to get an informative image of the Lobi culture. In front of the French colonial edifice there is a small open-air museum featuring the interesting Lobi and Gan architecture.
Day 7, Gaoua – Nazinga Ranch
Today we continue our journey heading north-east. Our destination is Nazinga Ranch which is home to a huge elephant population. At the waterhole near the camp we can watch herds of elephants coming to drink and bathe. But be careful: sometimes the hairy beasts walk through the camp! Along with elephants, who are doubtlessly the star attraction of the reserve, 38 mammals are found at Nazinga Ranch among them more than 500 buffalos, as well as antelopes, warthogs and several thousands of primates. The park is also a good place for bird watchers, as it is home to 275 species. Today the protection area is 94,000 hectares. It was established in 1979 by the Canadian brothers Robert and Clark Lungren, who grew up in Burkina Faso. The late afternoon is the perfect time to spot the animals and take fantastic pictures! Enjoy the real “Out of Africa” atmosphere!
Day 8, Nazinga Ranch – Tiébéle – Ouagadougou
In the early morning you have one more opportunity to see the wildlife which lives here and observe elephants. Then our drive takes us to Tiébele via Pô. Tiébéle is a small town east of Pô with a population of approximately 18000. It is the best place to see well-preserved Kassena houses. Passing villages contain the first hint of the magnificent architecture to come. We start our visit at the Royal Court, the chief’s compound where more than 400 family members live. The houses are decorated with a repetition of geometric signs. They are circular, square ore figure-eight-shaped depending on the status of the occupants. Round huts are for bachelors, rectangular houses for newly married couples and the figure-eight-shaped dwellings are for grandparents and grandchildren, with connecting circular chambers. The hut-painting is done by women. Every year, at the beginning of the dry season they renew the expressive decoration. The black colour is made of a mix of pounded graphite and volcanic rock and the white colour of soapstone and calcium. The red paint comes from kaolin. The wall coating is made from earth, cow dung and ash. They apply the geometric patterns onto a final base layer which contains pounded laterite, water and boiled seeds of the nere tree using brushes fashioned from the feathers of guinea fowl. Each pattern represents a symbol, the most popular symbol is the calabash which is extremely important in a Kassena woman’s life. It is used as a drinking goblet, paint-pot and receptacle for sacrifices and retains its importance beyond death. By tradition, a calabash will be broken on the fourth day after a woman dies.
We explore the village accompanied by a local guide who will also show us the interior of the houses. Be ready for a special experience! The houses are secured by a clever system. The entrances are very low and they are blocked by interior walls. So we need to climb over the wall in a squatting position. What is a funny gymnastic exercise for us, serves as a safety mechanism for the inhabitants to defend themselves against enemies.
From Tiébéle we continue north to Ouagadougou which we reach in the afternoon.
Day 9, Ouagadougou - Pendjari National Park
Today we make a long drive to cross the border into Benin at Tindangou. En route we have time to visit a Gourmanche village. This ethnic group lives around the towns of Pama and Fada N’Gourma. Animal husbandry is much common in this poor region and the Gourmanche are also known as skilled hunters. We will reach the Pendjari National Park later this afternoon.
Day 10, Pendjari National Park
The Pendjari National Park was founded as a Conservation Area in 1954 and was declared a National Park in 1961. In 1986 it was classified as a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO. The park covers an area of 275.000 hectares und lies amid the majestic landscape of the extension of the Atakora range spreading to the Benin - Burkina Faso border. Pendjari is set at an altitude of 100 to 500m. It was named after the Pendjari River which flows through the park.
The park’s main attraction is the cheetahs, but they have been spotted only on rare occasions. The park is also home to lion, leopard and spotted hyena. The African wild dog has once lived in Benin and is rumoured to be in the Pendjari. Smaller predators include the side-striped jackel and the African civet. Elephants are widespread and often sighted in Pendjari which has the largest elephant population in West Africa. Over 2.000 individuals were recorded at the last count. Hippos can often be seen in the rivers and near the lakes. African buffalos are present in large numbers as well as various antelope species. The roan antelope, the Defassa waterbuck, the western hartebeest and several species of duiker are the most common antelope species in Pendjari. The easily spotted primates include baboons and vervet monkeys.
The best time of the day to see the animals is early in the morning and in the afternoon. We will make our game drives at the most rewarding times.
Day 11, Pendjari National Park – visit Tata Somba - Natitingou
This morning we leave the National Park and go on an excursion to explore the land of the Somba people, beautifully set in the Atakora, chain of mountains that starts in southeast Ghana and cuts through Togo and Benin.
The Somba have lived in and around the Atakora Mountains in north-eastern Benin for centuries. Body and face scarification is very common among the Somba who are also known as Betammariba which means “real architects of the earth”. Not surprisingly, for the Somba are famous for their unique fortified dwellings. They built these castle-like homes called tatas in order to protect them from wild animals, marauding slave traders and other enemies in the past. Unlike most African communities the Somba do not live in close proximity to one another in villages but they construct their houses well away from the next nearest house, so they can see enemies approaching from a distance and defend themselves. The mud fortresses have a small entrance which is pointing west, because rain is usually coming from the east. The tatas are two-storey houses: the ground floor is reserved for the livestock, kitchen and a bed for old people. The first floor is dedicated to the storage of crops and from here they have access to the family living area by a ladder which can be withdrawn at the sign of danger. On the upper floor there are thatch-roofed turrets which serve as granaries. In front of the tatas the fetishes of each family are kept to protect the house from evil spirits.