Hostels in Review –”Where Have All The Tourists Gone” (Part Two – Burkina Faso & Inland Benin)

Reviews of the places I stayed in during my time in West Africa, in November-December 2014. I don’t seem to have written anything about them to booking or travel sites, so, again, none of them are rated. For ease of reading, I’ve split them into three posts.

This was very much, by sheer necessity, a trip with guesthouses rather than hostels, which didn’t seem to exist. Dorm rooms were very rare, and meeting other backpackers/travellers was rarer still.

1) Villa Olivia, Bobo- Dioulasso, Burkina Faso
Date Stayed: 29 November 2014
Length of Stay: 2 Nights

Outside Bobo Hotel
The patterned exterior of the hostel in Bobo.

A little way out of the city centre, across the railway, but definitely not on ‘the wrong side of the tracks’ (in fact more the ‘peaceful suburbs – the area is known, rather optimistically, I will admit, as ‘Petit Paris’), lies the “Villa Olivia”, a colourful and pretty peaceful guesthouse in Bobo-Dioulasso. I’d found it by accident, despite purposely looking for it; it had changed its name since my guidebook had been published & I was still looking for its old name …

Inside Bobo Hotel
The social area of the hotel, mainly used for dining. There were also some monkeys in a pen to the side; I never figured out why.

It’s what estate agents might describe as ‘deceptively spacious’; I’m sure if you measured it you’d find it wasn’t anywhere near as spacious as it feels. I think it’s because there’s a large open area in the middle to sit in, to eat, and relax, and it’s hard to judge the size of it because of all the trees; it gives an impression of being in a forest rather than a town.

Inside Bobo Hotel
Inside my room, continuing the pale green theme and quirky decoration. The bathroom (not pictured) had a bizarre white/brown rectangular pattern that actually make my eyes hurt.

The light and airy feel extends into the rooms, with a continuation of the quirky colour scheme, making the room also seem larger than it probably is. The ensuite toilet/shower room is certainly not cramped, and the bed’s comfortable. (I’ll concede that I splashed out on one of the superior rooms, with AirCon, which cost 15,000 CFA (£16)/night, but I felt I deserved it after Hamile & the journey to get here.) The rooms themselves are set around the courtyard, all at ground level.

Inside Bobo Hotel
The colourful and decorated vista outside my room.

What the hotel does lack is a certain level of facilities; I didn’t spot much in the way of a kitchen, and while they offer a food menu, they actually ‘order in’ from one of the nicer restaurants in the city; as an end-consumer it doesn’t change anything of course but it’s an interesting touch.

2) La Pavillion Vert, Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso
Date Stayed: 1 December 2014
Length of Stay: 3 Nights

The only problem with La Pavillion Vert was finding it; it’s tucked away in the suburbs on the North side of the railway line, and while on a main road, none of the streets in the area have any discernible roadsigns and many of the side streets around it look very similar. It’s a reasonable walk from the centre, maybe 20 mins or so, although it’s close to a market and, should the need ever arise, a couple of petrol stations.

Outside Ouagadougou Hotel
As well as being a hotel, the place also acts as a tour operator and gift shop; you can book trips to far-flung parts of Burkina here, as well as a place to get your souvenirs…

Like the guesthouse in Bobo, there was a central social/dining area populated with trees and benches. Unlike Bobo, however, they cook their own food on site – standard West African food, so plenty of rice dishes – and there’s also a small bar stocking, amongst others, Burkinabe beer.

Inside Ouagadougou Hotel
Tree-covered and very chilled outdoor social area.

The rooms are the other side of the social area; down a passageway rather than opening directly onto it. My room this time wasn’t ensuite – there were a couple of bathrooms a short pad down the passageway so it wasn’t too much of a hardship. While less garish than the rooms in Bobo, they’re still comfortable and pleasant enough – some might say they’re a bit boring but that’s what the wooded social area is for.

Inside Ouagadougou Hotel
The predominant colour in the hostel was orange, as opposed to the green in Bobo. Garish bedcovers too.

Although I didn’t take advantage of it, being as I was only passing through Burkina Faso, it seems the guesthouse would be a great place to organise trips into the Burkinabe heartlands – certainly on my visit they were offering tours to visit both the Banfora area, and up towards Gorom-Gorom and the edge of Dogon country.

3) Auberge Diana, Fada N’Gourma, Burkina Faso
Date Stayed: 4 December 2014
Length of Stay: 1 Night

I was only in Fada N’Gourma for a stopover, to break the journey to Benin, so I wasn’t too mythered about the kind of accommodation on offer. That said, I found the Auberge Diana to be more than adequate.

Outside Fada Hotel
The outside of the hotel in Fada. Not sure whose the bikes were, but Burkina Faso would be a pretty good country to ride them in.

Fada’s not very big, but even so, finding the hotel isn’t a problem; it’s a couple of hundred metres from the stone lion in the centre of the town, on the left as you walk along the road towards Ouagadougou. It’s a pretty compact place, not offering much (except, rather oddly, free WiFi), but there does appear to be a bar. On my visit, it felt a little like a gentleman’s club – there were quite a few men in the main lobby watching football on the TV, but I very much got the impression they were either ‘residents’, or friends of the owner.

I’m not sure how many rooms the hotel has; the room I was in was ‘out the back’ rather than being in the main complex, and was accessed along a narrow walkway, thus being quite secluded and hidden from the sun by both trees and the wall on the other side of the path. While not a large room by any means, it had pretty much everything I needed.

Inside Fada Hotel
Quite a small room, but comfortable enough and light.

4) Hotel Belleville, Natitingou, Benin
Date Stayed: 5 December 2014
Length of Stay: 2 Nights

I’d walked past this hotel while looking for another one in the rough open side-streets; when I finally found that this other hotel had closed three weeks earlier, I headed back. It didn’t look much from the outside (two slightly crumbly pillars either side of a rough stone driveway) but went in anyway.

Inside Natitingou Hotel
The grounds of the hotel were quite large, and had the occasional weird ‘trinket’; several native statues but also things like a dead petrol pump from the 1970s.

In design terms, it’s a little unusual. Rather than being built around a central courtyard, or even a large stand-alone building, the rooms are a series of rounded stone huts scattered seemingly at random in a large, unkempt garden, littered with statues and other weird objects. The main building of the hotel is a small affair, housing not much more than a bar with associated tables, the offices, and what appears to be a shop.

Inside Natitingou Hotel
A couple of the ‘huts’ that make up the rooms in the hotel.

The circular huts reflect the traditional tribal architecture – Natitingou is a good base to explore the local villages – and while quirky and novel, my only concern with the room was that since it was circular and the bed (well, two single beds pushed together – this caused havoc with the mosquito net) was not, it meant it felt like an awkward use of space. Having a small bathroom fitted onto the side was useful but didn’t really help matters.

Inside Natitingou Hotel
Quite a cramped feel due to the size of the bed and the shape of the room, but it was comfortable.

I also had some issues initially with the electricity (and thus both the lights and the fan) not working, but this was resolved pretty quickly.

The hotel does do a limited selection of food – a choice of two evening meals which might get boring if you’re staying for more than a night or two – and the bar has WiFi, which they shut off when the bar closes at night (around 10pm).

5) Chez Monique, Abomey, Benin
Date Stayed: 7 December 2014
Length of Stay: 2 Nights

I suppose the main take-out from this guesthouse is the old saying: “If you’ve got it, flaunt it!”.

Inside Abomey Hotel
Scattered throughout the grounds were hundreds of objects, depicting all manner of things local, from traditional tribal statues, to masks, to a variety of animals. Quite intense if you don’t expect it.

In fact, it’s hard to write about my stay here that does, in any way, do justice to the … environment. Pretty much everywhere you turn in the hotel’s grounds, you’re faced with ‘something’, be it a tribal figure standing by the path, a tribal mask high up in the tree, a pair of giraffes idly minding their own business in front of you, all carved from wood and on display at random like some kind of storage warehouse for a local market or ethnographic museum. Some of them are stood so blended into the trees that they feel like they’ve jumped out in a sort of ambush. It’s also not like they’re just in one part of the hotel complex; the grounds stretch a reasonable distance and wherever you go, you’ll see more of them.

I didn’t feel they ‘distracted’ from my stay, in that I didn’t feel they ‘masked’ any shortcomings in the hotel’s facilities or alternative ambiance; in fact I felt they added to its charm rather than supplanted it.

Inside Abomey Hotel
One of the small social areas, and where you’d eat if you ordered food.

The grounds also serve as the bar and restaurant area; it’s quite nice to sit under the trees amid the statues and have a beer. Apart from the mosquitos. There’s a reasonable menu on offer, although just along the street there’s a place – Chez Delphano – run by a very chatty Belgian who puts on a good breakfast.

The staff here are friendly, even happy when I knocked on their door around 10pm asking if I could buy some bottled water. They’re also keen to get you paired with a local guide; how comfortable you are with that is up to you.

Inside AbomeyHotel
Today’s theme colour is blue … and yes, there were two beds in the room. No idea why.

My room was towards the back of the compound, in a long single-storey block behind the admin & owner’s house; a pretty comfortable room with a large bed and a toilet. More so than most places I visited on this journey, it got quite dark outside the room at nights – although the block is lined with bulbs, they don’t all work, and once you head towards the restaurant area there’s no lighting at all.

The hotel doesn’t have internet, but just down the road at the large roundabout there’s a few shops and an Internet Café. It’s all a little way out of town; walkable but possibly not recommended in the strong afternoon heat so it’s one place where having a friendly moto-driver is advantageous, especially as many of the sights in Abomey itself are quite widely spread out.

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