Situated in the heart of West Africa, Burkina Faso is often described, in spite of its extreme poverty, as one of West Africa's best-kept secrets due to its culturally rich and relaxed atmosphere. Burkina Faso's capital, Ouagadougou or "Ouaga" resembles a small suburban town with its bustling commercial center, expansive tree-lined avenues and modern buildings.
The Burkinabe place a great deal of emphasis on art and culture and are well-known for hosting impressive festivals and events showcasing traditional and modern art forms. Its biennial pan African film festival and Bobo-Fete craft fair attract over 100,000 visitors, respectively. In addition to being recognized as the "Cannes of Africa," Burkina Faso offers travelers Central Markets (with everything from batik fabrics to sandals), museums, ancient tombs, mosques, and a number of game reserves for nature enthusiasts.
Burkina Faso's weather has two seasons: the dry season Nov-May, with a cool and dry period Nov-Feb and hot weather from Mar-May, and the rainy season Jun-Oct. With the exception of the dry season when temperatures can reach 38 C (100 F), the average day temperature is 30 C (85 F) and 15 C (60 F) at night. Harmattan winds from the desert blow in between December and February.
Burkina Faso is home to over 70 ethnic groups that enjoy a cohesion not normally found in different parts of the world. The Mossi are the largest group. The Burkinabe use French as the official language, but speak Dioula, Fulfulde or More among themselves. Religious practices: Muslim - 50 percent, traditional - 40 percent, Christian - 10 percent.
Government stability in Burkina Faso, formerly known as Upper Volta, has improved significantly since the 1980s when five military coups occurred. Parliamentary elections in May 2002 were lauded for being both free and fair. However, avoid political demonstrations and gatherings if possible due to potential violence. Be aware of purse-snatchers and street scam artists normally milling around downtown areas.
Burkina Faso has one of the better transportation infrastructures in West Africa. Buses, bush-taxis and minibuses ply routes on fairly regular schedules within Burkina Faso and to neighboring countries. The train system is undergoing improvements and offers service between Bobo-Dioulasso, Kaya, Ouagadougou, and on to Cote d'Ivoire several times a week. Air Burkina has domestic and regional service with flights to Bobo-Dioulasso.
Expensive but reliable direct-dial satellite telecommunications are available to Europe and the U.S. Public telephones work on a card-based system; however, telephone service outside of the capital is limited. Main hotels and business centers offer fax service. Several Internet cafes are located in the capita