Sunday 28 July 2013

Viven : How we crossed from the Ivory Coast to Burkina Faso

Dear Viven,

We're back on the road!  Though, not the on the route we originally intended, and not with Archer.

The information in this letter is accurate at the time we crossed the border on Sunday 28 July 2013.  We are one British and one Canadian, currently traveling in a circle from Abidjan through Burkina Faso, Benin, Togo and Ghana, returning to the Ivory Coast in time for a flight to our destination, Tanzania.

Visas were recommended, and cheaper, in advance.  I visited the Burkina Faso embassy in central Abidjan (in the Plateau area) and by myself applied for both visas.  I arrived at 10:30am, received the forms at the reception office near the front entrance, and after filling them waited until 11:15 for the officer to arrive.  She summoned each applicant in one at a time, and I entered her office at 11:30.  She corrected the forms, took the payment, and told me I was too late to get the visas on the same day, as is normal, and to return instead at 9am the next day.

All information was displayed in the visa and passport application building in the courtyard-organised embassy grounds.  Visa applications are to be submitted from 8am to noon, Monday to Friday, and picked up that afternoon between 3 and 3:30.  The fees schedule was as follows:

0-3 days (transit): CFA 12,000
1-90 days: CFA 24,000 (single-entry) or 31,000 (multiple-entry)
6 months: CFA 30,000 (single-entry) or 39,000 (multiple-entry)
12 months: CFA 43,000 (single-entry) or 49,000 (multiple-entry)
1+ year: CFA 59,000 (single-entry) or 66,000 (multiple-entry)

I returned the next day at 10:30am, waited a few minutes for the officer, handed her the receipt from the day before, and got the passports with 30-day single-entry visas.

Note I was able to both apply for and receive the visas without Al being present.

Burkina Faso is part of French West Africa, and though there are 69 other languages spoken in the country, the official French is both widespread and commonly spoken.

Like the Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso uses the West African Franc (CFA).

Our Route and Means of Travel
We traveled by train between Abidjan and Burkina Faso's capital, Ouagadougou.

I spoke with a couple security officers at the Gare de Treichville on Friday 26 July, and was told that though the station was closed today, it would be open tomorrow and the direct train to Ouagadougou would leave at 9am.  A sign at the station confirmed this, and named two departure stations: Treichville, and Gare de Ouagadougou.

We turned up on Saturday morning at 8am and found the station was still closed and quiet.  An official told us, no, all trains leave from the other station, Gare de Ouagadougou.  We got in a taxi for CFA 1,500 and crossed Abidjan, arriving at the correct station at 8:30 - only to be told, the train would depart at 11am.  We bought the tickets (Second Class) for CFA 24,000 each, filled out a fiche de controle next to the ticket booth, and in order to ensure our seats, boarded the train early.

Our tickets turned out to be wrong: they were for Koudougou, not Ouagadougou.  With the help of the kind man who sat across from us, who seemed to know everyone on the train, including staff, we merely had to pay a CFA 2,000 difference just past Koudougou.

The journey took 36 hours, arriving at Ouagadougou at 9pm the following day.  The train was fairly clean and about 80% full for most of the journey.  The windows opened down a little ways, just enough to buy food or drink at the rapid whistle-stops, and the carriage-top fans worked on the first day, but for some reason did not operate on the second.  On the second afternoon a man a few rows ahead of us became ill, perhaps in part because of the heat, and lay unconscious on the floor for a few hours until an ambulance picked him up at Koudougou.  Several men took turns fanning him, while police, train security and other staff walked by, took a few notes, and stared.  When he was carried off the train, a puddle of his vomit and feces spread on the floor and stunk up the car.  We moved with the rest of the people, and returned an hour later after it had been cleaned up and disinfected.  Most others didn't follow us, so we each got a whole bench to ourselves.  Being small, Al enjoyed this; but I can't say that two hard metal seats were much more comfortable than one.

The Border
We arrived at the Burkina Faso border town of Niangolako at 7:30am of the second day, Sunday 28 July.  Burkina Faso police had already come through the train to collect passports.  After 20 minutes, our names were called and we received our passports with entry stamps.  The train departed Niangolako after one hour, at 8:30.

Visas are apparently issued upon arrival by train in Burkina Faso.  In the office where we waited for our passports to be stamped, a sheet of paper on the wall gave the following prices:

1-3 days transit visa: CFA 24,000
Single-entry: CFA 47,000

Next to this office was another room, marked "Visas".  We did not notice anyone apply.

Yellow Fever vaccination certificates are supposed to be required for this border crossing.  At 5pm of the first evening an official on the train advised passengers to have their certificates ready, but there was no follow-up, and we were not asked to present them at the border.

Also, we never received exit stamps for the Ivory Coast.  They were not issued on the train, and we only stopped to enter Burkina Faso, not exit the Ivory Coast.  I can only assume we should have acquired them before departure from Abidjan?

What We Needed

In Abidjan
  • Money: CFA 48,000 (24,000 each) for visa fees
  • Two one-page application forms (in English and French) filled per applicant
  • Passports
  • Passport photos, two each
  • About an hour
For the train
  • CFA 48,000 (24,000 each) for train tickets, plus CFA 2,000 for correction charge as a result of incorrect destination
  • Food and water, or money to purchase either at stops or in the bar carriage (only rice and beer available)
  • Books, music, cards, conversational skills, and sitzfleisch sufficient for 36 hours of travel
At the border
  • Passports with visas acquired in Abidjan
  • One hour
Happy trails,


Train Carriage No. 2, empty
Train Carriage No. 2, full.
Stand at the windows for the sake of the heat.
The train
One of the many whistle-stops
Sunset, Day 2