Burkina Faso - Allowed to take photos? NO!

In Burkina Faso is a huge tower with lookout

The flight from the Ivory Coast to Burkina Faso got a schedule change by 12 hours and so I had almost 4 days in Ouagadougou. Looking back and after being detained in Burkina Faso, I preferred to have more time in the Ivory Coast. But I should see it positively and should be glad the flight wasn’t canceled at all. Re-planning such a trip is a mess.

Along with Niger and Mali, Burkina Faso is sharing their problems with terrorists all over the country. And even with the defeat of the Islamic State in Syria and further east, it's widely unknown for most of the world's other countries, that in Central and West Africa terrorism is rapidly on the rise.

It's a pity, cause there are these huge castles made of mud. They are all in terrorist territory but are supposed to be in tourism territory. Nowadays no one maintains the castles and they will soon fall apart.

That's why I wasn't able to get much further than the capital. Ouagadougou doesn't have that many monuments and things dedicated to tourism, but it still has a lot of funny buildings and unique architecture.

It's quiet there and not difficult to visit all of it in a very short amount of days.

Tourist map of Ouagadougou

December 30 - Day 1 - Arrived in Burkina Faso and already in trouble

That was my worst first day in a country, ever. It's evening now and I'm back in the hotel after spending more than four hours in the Burkina Faso police headquarter. They accused me of being a spy.

I arrived around lunchtime in Ouagadougou airport.

Flying inside a plane over Ouagadougou

After checking in to the hotel, I roamed down the roads to see the city.

Of course, I knew to be careful to not take photos of any government staff or infrastructure. I was careful, but it seemed not enough.

There was the main road and there were so many motor rollers rolling down the road. I thought it was ok taking a photo. But it turned out it isn't.

Main road in Ouagadougou in front of Police Headquarter
In the capital are some big buildingsUnique buildings in all over OuagadougouA lot of motorbikes are in Burkina Faso

I saw two police officers and intentionally walked past them, to not have them in the picture. But it seemed I'd overseen something and the police officer told me:

“Monsieur, over there, they are calling you to come over.”

Then the police squad appeared

Where did he mean is someone calling me to come over to…. ? I didn't see anyone.

But then I saw under the tree a bunker covered in barbwire and in the shadow a couple of black people in camouflaged army clothes. Damn, but ok, I have nothing to hide and went over there.

About five soldiers were sitting there in the shadow and one was very upset.

Who are you, what are you doing? Why you take photos? Show me your passport!

There was this tension in the air and the other soldier didn’t calm down. They checked my camera and thankfully there were no soldiers in the pictures but about one meter of the edge of the police headquarter building. Damn, I didn’t know this is the police headquarters as there was no logo on it or something.

It was obvious that they don’t like that I made a photo of some bricks of their headquarter. This made me realize that I might have some trouble now because the other soldier didn’t accept my apology and explanation of not knowing that it was a government building and my promise that in the future I'd be careful not to make photos of these kinds of objects.

I spent ten minutes discussing in French and apologizing, trying to get myself out. They had my passport and told me:

Please sit down, you have to wait for the commissioner! He is the boss and will further investigate on how to proceed with you!

That was seriously bad news but I thought, Ok, not that problem, he will obviously see that I'm a European tourist without any bad intentions and he will give me my passport back and let me go.

They brought me now inside the compound and into a meeting room with some recruits sitting there doing nothing but staring into the air. They were ordered to be guards now. This was probably the moment I realized I'm detained! The recruits were friendly and were interested, about where I'm from and what I have done that they brought me here.

Another time passed the commissioner arrived. He didn’t really start to discuss with me but prepared some paper and some minutes later he started with questions and based on the details of the question about my person and intentions, I knew, this is going to take a while.

(African) Police interrogation is not funny

He asked me the same questions over and over again. He wasn’t angry but somehow I had the feeling he suspects me of something, maybe being a “spy” like out of James Bond movies?

Under normal circumstances, I could laugh about this fact but at that moment definitely not. This is real corrupt Africa and they are surely serious about such things. The back and forth lasted for 3 hours, also because he was so slow in writing and searching for a power supply for his 15-year-old laptop.

They searched my backpack. Every little piece. I saw that my items from the backpack are separated. There was the whole stuff and there were the passport and my credit card on the other side. After finishing questioning he said he had to make a copy of the passport and make some calls and was about to walk off with it and the credit card. I friendly asked him:

Commissioner, is it OK when I keep my credit card with me, I don’t like to give it out of my hands?

He stumbled, didn’t say a word but gave me the credit card back. Didn’t know what he intended to do but probably he would have what I had the feeling he wanted to do. Make a copy and then buy a jet ski or a new notebook with it.

"Can I go now?"

The whole thing lasted over 4 hours. I was for 4 hours in that ugly meeting room and was hungry and thirsty.

It was already getting dark outside and that was the moment when he made some phone calls outside, whereas afterward, he urged me to sign the protocol where all the questions and answers were written in French. I signed it, had to delete all the photos with the bricks of the police headquarter and after some small talk he gave me my passport and camera back.

A day to be skipped and forget

What a relieving moment. Hungry and thirsty I left the compound and headed, still, a bit shattered, directly to the next best restaurant to have my portion of spaghetti carbonara.

Now back in the hotel... the whole story went through my head again I was wondering, will they allow me to leave Burkina Faso without paying a fee or something? What if they stop me when departing at the airport and ask for a hefty fine?

If so, it seems like I will have to deal with that and pay. But more on that later.

Day 2 - With the bicycle towards the new year

I didn’t sleep that well after the situation yesterday and not sure if this is really the end of the story or if they stop me again on departure from the airport.

But maybe the commissioner remembered the meaning of the name "Burkina Faso". Burkina Faso changed its name from "Upper Volta" in the 1980s to Burkina Faso and its meaning is... the incorruptible.

However, this was definitely a lesson and taking photos can get me in trouble real quick in some countries in Africa. Knowing that here they are very sensitive, I had to be careful now and better not walk around too much with the camera anymore for the next few days I'm here.

So I started the new day with a few photos.

The headquarter stands in Ouagadougou
Me in front of the Exhibition of Artists in OuagadougouWith animal sculptures. 2018 was Madagascar the host.Means of transport in Africa

Bicycle tour through Ouagadougou

With the bicycle from the accommodation, I drove around Ouagadougou and visit the few but impressive things to see.

There are many interestingly built buildings in Ouagadougou, but as on almost every corner there was some kind of police officer or soldier, I didn’t take any pictures. There have been many terrorist attacks on governmental property and the army during the last few years and some people said they are expecting another attack in the capital over new year’s eve.

People in Ouagadougou became scared over recent years, even the owner of the hotel who is always going to events in and around Ouagadougou doesn’t like to go out anymore because it's so tense.

It's sad to see how terrorism is affecting and changing us in a passive and active aggressive way. Seems like terrorists get what they wanted to achieve.

The national museum is abandoned and closed because of a lack of visitors.

Its closes because of lack of tourismt
He delivers my dinnerNice building but its closed todayWide range of craft stuff

Top-Sights in Ouagadougou are far apart

The biggest and most impressive “building” is the National Heroes Monument at the end of Muammar Kaddafi road. Isn't that name combination ironic?

Its not the Monument of Martyrs
Africa eats everything, including the heads with brains and legs.Leads me to the Monument of HeroesBurkina Faso adores Muammar Kaddafi

Also known as the "monument of Martyrs"

On the way there suddenly police sirens loudly appeared.

First, when I heard the siren I thought they were coming after me because I took photos of the museum and my anxiety elevated when the police (again me?) motorbikes stopped a few meters in front of me.

But it wasn’t because of me. From there they ordered all traffic to move aside from the long stretched main road.

With high speed, about 60 tanks and heavily armored army trucks with soldiers behind machine guns were following them. A spectacle that lasted for about 10 minutes and left all the pedestrians and bike riders like me in thick dusty clouds behind, whereas after that everything went back to normal.

For the locals here it seemed like it was normal like this, as no one really cared.

Ouagadougous Monument has two names
Is also the basement of the heroes monumentOver the two fistsHopefully Burkina Faso police officer on the photo

Streets and tracks all over Ouagadougou.

From Ouagadougou to Abidjan in one day with the train
On motorbikesTHe building that hosts many governmental parties in OuagadougouThe streets are full with bike and motorbikes

This is the "central old mosque" and the Grande Mosquee. Impossible to see the police as the are sheltering in the shadows. So I didn't take any further photos.

Also called the central mosque. Looks old and is, but is still open
I spotted two in the cityAvenue de la CathedralePlace de la femmes pour la paix

The central train station connects the Ivory Coast to Burkina Faso.

It's even possible to ride one single train all the way for 1200km, from Abidjan up here to Ouagadougou.

In Ouagadougou
Next to the train stationTypically filled to the skyOn the way to the Nationaux Monument

As in Niger, there are a couple of interesting roundabouts. And also like in Niger the streets are very dusty with red dry sand all over.

Place de la Cineastes
Looks like piles of mud cupsPlace de la CineastesNot that spectacular but maybe its just a draft

When and where is it allowed to take photos?

I experienced other situations where soldiers saw me taking photos. Even tho I almost asked for permission for almost every photo I took, sometimes someone else appeared and asked to show my passport and photo permit. Crazy!

It's annoying cause if it is allowed to take a photo or not depends fully on the specific police officer's mood. Cause when I asked one officer to make a photo of a thing like the church, another police officer appeared and strictly denied me. But it explained a lot when one asked me indirectly for cash:

Hey! It's not permitted to take a photo here from this, but under some circumstance its is when you know what I mean!

OK then, I will not make any photos then, I don’t want to get detained again and questioned for another half day or even worse.

Avenue Bassawarga

Tomorrow with the motorbike to Koudougou?

In the afternoon I was planning for tomorrow and was asking around for a motorbike rental, that can bring me to Koudougou and Sabou.

There are no real official motorbike rentals, although someone told me I can have it for CFA 30'000. But I declined as I don’t want to show up at a police checkpoint without proper papers and explain why I'm driving a motorbike that is not mine. Detention risk: high!

So tomorrow I will go to the central bus station and take the bus to Koudougou to visit the city. The extremely famous place Bobo-Diolassou with the famous mosque is a 5 hours bus ride a bit too far away for a day trip.

New years eve in Ouagadougou

On new years eve evening, there is a mass in Ouagadougou and it lasts until midnight.

My new years eve evening consisted of eating, taking a stroll, and asking a police officer if it's allowed to take a photo of the post office, which had a “Bonne Anne” on top.

Place de la Cineastes at new years eve

Day 3 - No visit to Goughin, Koudougou or Burkina Crocodiles?

Still felt uncomfortable outside the hotel and basically was scared to take photos or even walk with the camera in my hand. However this was another promising day with many ideas, but as it is 1st January, the forecast of activities looks bad before it actually all starts.

Went up early to catch the bus to Koudougou, another town about 80km from Ouagadougou. I wanted to see another city in Burkina Faso. A taxi brought me to the bus station in Gounghin and after a long queue and waiting for 45 min:

No, sorry, no bus this morning, next bus to Koudougou is in the afternoon.

That was basically too late to visit there and return the same day. So this plan is canceled.

Also, the plan to visit Sabou, to visit the Burkina Faso crocodiles in a lake, is canceled as there is no bus to Sabou on 1st January. And the taxi was too expensive.

At least I used it as an excuse for myself because my motivation decreased to do sightseeing. The reason was the experience and situation of taking photos. Wasn’t really in the mood anymore to explore wider areas any further cause asking and explaining every time for a photo of every stone is too tiresome.

But under no circumstance, I wanted to land in the police station again so I had to keep up asking.

I ended up walking in the district of Goughin.

Small and almost spectacular mosque
A trip to GoughinMore quiet outside the city centerIt cooks beef brain and sheep toes

Time to re-consider how I spend my time here

Went back to the hotel to replan. The hotel owner took an immense amount of time to explain what I can do or how to get there and here. As it is new years day he said:

You can take the bicycle and go to the forest, visit the Sculptures de Laongo, but, it is closed today.


Or, you can visit Loumbila which is open today, but you have to bargain a lot with taxi drivers, because many of them are drunk today and don’t want to work. It will be very difficult to not get scammed.

Ok, I will scratch these ideas also from my list. I was not in the mood anymore to haggle with taxi drivers in French and in the end be scammed and deal again with police in the worst case.

I just didn’t like to accept that this was my visit to Burkina Faso. I had some expectations, but it seemed I'm here at a too complicated and too high-tensioned time.

Another bicycle trip in the afternoon

In the afternoon I went for another trip on the bicycle, all the way through the sandy streets full of dust.

Things to do outside Ouagadougou. Taking a bicycle and ride the highway
East of Ouagadougou. Worth a visit when having enough time.Burkina Faso Beer

The trip was about 13km along the main streets. There are so many interesting-looking buildings but I simply was too worried to take photos as I didn't know what the building is.

It's a high chance that a nice building is usually a government building and so off the radar for a photo. I skipped many nice architectured buildings or monuments of Burkina Faso. 

But it has a nice lake in Ouagadougou and no police officers far and wide.

Its even possible to swim
OuagadougouLake of Burkina FasoPeople washing clothes by hand

An evening among Ouagadougou's rich society

Only one restaurant opened in the evening of 1st January, which was “the chick” and too expensive.

It was full of young people of university age and it seemed to be the upper class of Burkina Faso's youth with many of them showing off while eating three pizzas per person at the same time but only eating a third of each pizza. And as a side, several drinks all half drunk.

On the way back I noticed some live music and was happy to have a glimpse in there seeing Burkina Faso locals listening to traditional Burkina Faso music. 

It was an older audience and all traditionally dressed up in Burkina Faso style. It's nice to see happy locals of Burkina Faso and this gave me back faith a bit to recover from my demotivation of the last two days. Also showed me a positive sight of my visit to the country.

Day 4 - Will they arrest me at the airport?

Had another half day in Burkina Faso but didn’t do anything further but mainly stayed in the hotel.

I was ready to leave.

Especially while having breakfast, I read in the news that the president of Burkina Faso announced yesterday that the country is per immediately in a state of emergency and that police and soldiers can search houses and people whenever they please if they suspect something.

I was now really ready to leave.

Made a last stroll to get some food and noticed again that there are so many buildings and “monuments” with unique Burkina Faso style paintings and nice architecture which I've never seen somewhere else on the planet. I wanted to take photos but I didn’t.

In the center of Ouagadougou

I will keep Burkina Faso in memory

Burkina Faso is a country that I will keep in memory as tense and as a country in which I didn't enjoy taking photos, not because there is nothing to capture (there are thousands of things), but because I constantly felt doing something wrong. And that the officials are not joking around.

Will they go through my photos again at the airport?

Before heading to the airport I went through my photos again and checked if there is any photo that contains any government building.

Found a few that could be and deleted them because I seriously had this gut feeling that the commissioner from the police headquarters will wait for me at the airport and will want to go through my photos again..haha.

I also expected that immigration will take me aside, because probably when they scan my passport they will see an entry showing up in their system saying “Accused of spying” and that I have to pay a fine or something. But after all nothing like that happened and I left as planned for Mali.

Ouagadougou Airport Taxi Stand
Airport and the official green Ouagadougou Taxi


  1. Great article. Going here in a few weeks but only going to stay a few days now. shame about the photos as i love to take them but don't want to be looking over my shoulder every time. Do you recommend your hotel, what was it called? Thanks, David

    1. Thanks David. Was staying at Villa Yiri Suma. Its indeed stressful to look over shoulders every time. Especially when looking just once isnt enough sometimes :)

  2. Wow, you really have guts to visit alone and patience to deal with such issues!
    I would have lost it in 30 minutes. Anyways I do plan to visit,but I'll make a friend,or hire a guide before venturing out.
    Best Of Luck for your next travel.
    Love from India ����

  3. Had it been me the one halted by the angry soldiers and taken to the station for interrogation, I'm sure I would be now imprisioned in some remote cell on this God-forsaken country. You have guts and patience (probably due to you being an educated self-controlled European; I'm Brazilian, so you can imagine how I would have reacted, since this kind of horse manure is pretty common next home for us!), as Indieraga pointed out. Congratulations to you, Sven!

    Burkina Faso, another crime-ridden poverty-stricken and apparently war-torn country I'm not going to spend my money visiting, as tourists are clearly not welcome there!