Burkina Faso is one of safest countries in West Africa. However, be aware of thieves in the big city. Violent assault is rare. Pickpockets and purse snatchers are something to watch out for in big cities, especially in Ouagadougou, where it is recommended not to carry a bag with you when at all possible. The common, cheap green taxis in the big city can sometimes host thieves. Hold on to your purse, and keep your money safely tucked away. If you want to carry around a camera or other item that requires a bag, it is often safer to put it in one of the ubiquitous black "sachets" plastic bags that you get when you purchase something in a store, so that potential thieves will assume there's nothing of great value inside.Even in the capital's streets there are very few beggars, if any, compared to other African countries, and when you do encounter them, they are remarkably un-insisting and will walk away after a simple "No".
You should always take precautions when travelling, but Burkina is a remarkably safe and respectful country. Women travellers rarely experience any problems. Foreigners, especially white foreigners, frequently attract significant attention, but the interest is mainly an attempt to sell you tourist items or overpriced goods. Indeed, the Burkinabé will show more patience and friendliness to the foreigner than to another Burkinabé, be it in a small village or in a big city.
There was a violent altercation between military and police in Dec 2006. Members from involved parties made it a point to advise foreigners on the street that they should find shelter and stay out of harm's way. The problem was resolved quickly and no foreigners came to any harm.
Yellow fever vaccination required. Malaria is a serious problem, so be sure to begin take prophylaxis prior to leaving for Burkina and continue taking it while there and often for some time after returning home. Cholera vaccination may be required in event of outbreak. Meningitis is also a problem, and vaccination is highly suggested. Typhoid fever is common, as are other water and food-borne diseases such as E coli. Typhoid vaccination is recommended but it is not 100% effective so it is still important to take precautions.
The water is NOT safe to drink, especially outside the big cities where untreated well water is often the norm. Buy bottled water, and bring a water filter for emergency use if you're planning on spending time in any villages. In Burkina you will often find little plastic soft "bags" of mineral water rather than plastic bottles.
Passport and a visa are required to enter the country. It may be best to obtain your visa in advance, and make sure that it is allowed for the period you're travelling as, for several reasons including epidemics, tourism is not allowed in the country in some periods.
If coming by plane to Ouagadougou, the prices of the visa on entry have increased hugely since October 2013, with single-entry visas costing 94,000 CFA, and multi-entry visas costing 122,000 CFA. Complaints that your embassy website has lower prices will do no good as the notice with the new pricing scheme is signed by the police, and the visa itself even has the price listed on it. It may be cheaper to get the visa in your home country beforehand. Payment is accepted in euros at a reasonable exchange rate, with the single entry visa costing 150€.
If coming by land EU and US citizens are able to get a seven day single entry visa for XOF10,000 at the border. As of 1 Jul 2010, at the border to Ghana at Paga, they increased the price to XOF94,000, payable in cash and the exchange rate offered at the border was 10-20% lower than market rates. No passport photos were required. They only were able to issue a 90 day visa. 2 passport photos and a yellow fever certificate are required border crossing at Paga, in July 2010, did not ask for yellow fever certificate. Border police said that COF10,000 visas were still available, but back in Accra. Border police also said that the 90 day visa was convertible at no cost to a 5 year visa for a USA passport in Ouagadougou. Visas may be extended to 3 months multiple entry at the Bureau de Sureté de l'Etat which can be found in most major cities. To get the extension you should arrive before 09:00 again with 2 passport photographs and collect your passport again that afternoon.
As of March 2014, the Embassy in Bamako, Mali, issued 90-day multi-entry for 31000CFA 1/3 the border price. Two photos were required, but they can take them for you at the embassy, 4 for 2500CFA. Pick up the next day. The BF embassy in Washington offers six-month, multiple-entry visas for US$100. US citizens only are eligible for a five-year, multiple-entry visa for US$100.
French is the official language; obviously, outside the big cities, most people are not so fluent in French as the city-dwellers. Many African languages of the Sudanic family are widely spoken. The most common language is Mooré. Do not expect to get around with English as in most other parts of the world: West Africa is mainly Francophone, and English is virtually unknown.Most Burkinabè will speak a mixture of French and Dioula dialects among themselves. The more they know each other, the more Dioula will pop up in their talking, and vice-versa. Among wealthy locals and government/company officials though, only French is spoken, as reverting to Dioula is considered low-class.
Beware that the accent and word use in the French spoken in West Africa is quite different to that spoken in France, and can present difficulties if your French is not very strong.
See also: Mooré phrasebook
You will observe the Burkinabé exchange greetings in what appears to be a shared prayer or ritual. Literally, all they are saying is "good morning, how's the family, how's work, how's your health..."Greeting is a very important part of Burkinabé culture, and the only thing you really need to do here is to make an instant friend.
Ignoring someone and not greeting him or her, however, is taken far more seriously than in western cultures. It is virtually a slap in the face to ignore someone that has greeted you, or to not greet at all. Foreigners can probably get away with being "cold" and "unfriendly" in some settings, but it is a good idea to greet everyone you pass by.
Remember to always use your right hand when eating, greeting, offering gifts, paying for items, etc. This is true in both Muslim and Christian regions, as the left hand is used throughout the country in conjunction with water in place of toilet paper. The ubiquitous coloured plastic teapots are filled with water and carried to the bathroom for "wiping."
Women are often targets of extra attention from men, but catcalls and unwanted advances are not appropriate in Burkina, so don't be afraid to refuse this attention. In general, people are very respectful to women and foreigners.
You will very rarely see people scantily dressed, barechested or barefooted in Burkina. It is a conservative country and men will most often wear long pants, long-sleeved shirts and closed shoes even in scorching heat. Women will not be seen with short skirts or very high heels except in some Ouaga night clubs. Shorts are also not common.
However women, even poor ones, will always be coiffed and well-kept, manicured and pedicured, and men are well dressed as well. You rarely encounter squalor or excessive misery in Burkina.