Burundi covers 27,834 km² with an estimated population of almost 8.7 million. Although the country is landlocked, much of the south-western border is adjacent to Lake Tanganyika, one of the deepest lakes in the world.
Burundi is one of the ten least developed countries in the world and it has the lowest per capita GDP of any nation in the world. Cobalt and copper are among the nation's natural resources. Other resources include coffee, sugar and tea.
Burundi possesses all the elements of a young nation with ancient traditions that constitute its very rich culture: art, dance, music, and handicrafts. Its aim is to ensure the transmission of the cultural inheritance from the forefathers and ancestors evidenced by belongings and objects they revered and favoured, the dances and rhythmic music they composed.
Burundi is an off the beaten path destination for most visitors to East Africa, and one should consider the cost/benefit calculation before travelling to this friendly, if limited in options destination. Travelling outside the capital of Bujumbura at all, or even within the city after nightfall, comes with considerable risk. A jovial time can be had here, for a price, and with an understanding of French you will have a better chance of enjoying your time here. Plan ahead to avoid risks of malaria, and drink plenty of water. As of March 2014, the nation is still recovering from catastrophic flooding and is embroiled in a conflict over if and when the next elections will be held.
Comforts found in Rwanda will be much harder to come by here.
The earliest known people to live in Burundi were the Twa, pygmy people who remain as a minority group there. The people currently known as Hutu and Tutsi moved into the region several hundred years ago, and dominated it. Like much of Africa, Burundi then went through a period of European colonial rule. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Germany and Belgium occupied the region, and Burundi and Rwanda together became a European colony known as Ruanda-Urundi.
This ended with its independence from Belgium in 1962. In the decades since then, Burundi has known civil wars between the Hutu and Tutsi populations (much like the better-known genocide in Rwanda to the north), and a series of political assassinations. Peace and the (re)establishment of civil democracy took place in 2005 with a cease-fire and the election of former Hutu rebel Pierre Nkurunziza as president who intends to stand for a controversial third term.
Burundi in general has a tropical highland climate. Temperature varies considerably from one region to another as a result of differences in altitude. The central plateau enjoys pleasantly cool weather, with an average temperature of 20°C. The area around Lake Tanganyika is warmer, averaging 23°C; the highest mountain areas are cooler, averaging 16°C. Bujumbura’s average annual temperature is 23°C. Rain is irregular, falling most heavily in the north-west. Dry seasons vary in length, and there are sometimes long periods of drought. However, four seasons can be distinguished: the long dry season (June–August), the short wet season (September–November), the short dry season (December–January), and the long wet season (February–May). Most of Burundi receives between 1,300 and 1,600mm of rainfall a year. The Ruzizi Plain and the north-east receive between 750 and 1,000mm.
The country is divided into 18 provinces ( a few are: Bubanza, Bujumbura, Bururi, Cankuzo, Cibitokeas), communes in rural areas and 'quartiers' in the capital. There are a total of 117 of such groupings. There are several lower level designations of administration, including the 'sector', the 'colline', or 'hillside', and the smallest grouping, the "Nyumba Kumi" or 'group of 10 houses.'
The natural Forest Reserves of Roumonge, Kigwena and Mugara are in process of development to enable chimpanzees and cercopithecus monkeys to find enough food to stay there and procreate. The thermal waterfalls situated in the Mugara reserve will give you a natural massage. The beaches of Tanganyika nearby will welcome you for a well deserved swim and rest.
All nationalities require a visa to visit Burundi, except citizens of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda. In Europe, visas are available from the Burundi Embassy in Belgium.
Two types of visa are available at Bujumbura airport and (in theory, but with problems in reality) at borders. A 3 day transit visa costs USD40. A multiple entry 1 month visa costs USD90 on arrival or can be obtained from embassies prior to travel.
Went to the Burundi Embassy in Kampala, Uganda to get information about a visa. Even though the paperwork advised that it could take up to two weeks to obtain a visa, upon my return to the clerk to verify my deposit into the Burundi bank account, I had the visa within minutes. Do not know if that is normal procedure but had no problems entering the country by plane.
Bujumbura International Airport is served by the following passenger airlines: Kenya Airways (Nairobi); Fly 540 (Nairobi); Rwandair Express (Kigali, Johannesburg); Ethiopian (Addis Ababa); Brussels Airlines (Brussels); Air Burundi is currently not operating (March 2010); South Africa Airlines; Ugandan Airlines A taxi from airport is 30.000 BF, (11-12 US$), according to exchange rates at july 2017 1 us$: 2600 BF
The International part of the airport is actually very modern compared to some neighboring airports. The staff seemed friendly and was trying to help in many ways even though English was not spoken regularly. At the time we arrived there was no internet connection available. This causes problems if you want to call a taxi or the hotel for pick-up service. Make sure you have a direct number written down so that you can phone on a line-land for pick-up. After exiting the international part of the airport it will be hard to communicate with nearly all the locals unless you know the language. So, before exiting the international part of the airport, make sure you have everything planned out.
Buses are available mainly from Bujumbura, around the central market. There are only international buses to Rwanda,DRC and Uganda. Companies include Amahoro, Belveder, Otraco and Yahoo. It is also possible to get into Burundi in the east. To do this take a bus to Kabanga (Tanzania), and from there take a shared taxi to the Burundian border. From the south, minibuses run from Kasulu to Manyovu, from where boda-bodas take you through to the Burundi border post. Shared taxis continue from there to Mabanda. Minibuses also run from Gatumba on the DRC border to Bujumbura.
You can use the ferries to travel along Lake Tanganyika, but they do not operate regularly.
Bujumbura is in the western part of the country. Moving towards the east, travelers will be able to visit Gitega; it’s a large market right in the center of the town with a Museum of Traditions (ancient utensils, pictures, commentary). Travellers will have to make advance bookings to be able to watch an extraordinary and fascinating show unique in the world: “The Drummers of Giheta” playing in their traditional environment. Then you will be making headway towards Rutana to see the admirable panorama of the Karea Falls and the Nykazu Break, called the “Break of the Germans”, which is an exceptional lookout that oversees the Kumoso plain. You will be ending your tour by the visit of Gihofi, a booming town with its new sugar refinery in the heart of the sugar cane plantations country.
Towards the Southeastern part of the country, don’t miss by any means a visit to the Nile Sources near Rutovu. Don’t forget to take your swimming gear with you; otherwise, you may miss the benefit of the hot springs in charming surroundings. You will also be able to see on your way the last traditional enclosed villas (round habitations surrounded by wooden fences in turn surrounded by grazing meadows and ploughed fields).
Further south, you will be able to cross a line of villages succeeding one after another and wedged between the lake and abrupt mountains. Fortunately, you will be able to stop and have a rest, or enjoy nautical sports and have a meal in restaurants or simply stop for a drink, on nicely arranged fine sand beaches. Still further south is the Nyanza Lake. Why not to take a boat and go to Tanzania on the other side of the lake and visit Gombe Natural Park?
Towards the north just before reaching Bugarama, there is an important market centre of high quality fresh foodstuffs. You can walk across the primeval forest of Kibira which has difficult access. Carry on towards Kayanza and Ngozi, two big agricultural production and trade villages. At Kirundo, near the border with Rwanda, you will discover the small lakes of the North, the peacefulness and serenity of their jagged borders. Take a boat and drift on the Rwihinda Lake to admire numerous bird species (crested cranes, wild ducks, fishing eagles, etc.).
On the road from Muyinga to Cankuzo, a visit to the Natural Park of the Ruvuvu Rivers is a must now that it is endowed with accommodation infrastructure; there you’ll be able to admire Burundi protected buffaloes and dorcas (gazelles). The surrounding primeval forest will no doubt leave you with an unforgettable memory.
Landmarks and Monuments
In Bujumbura, climb to the “Belvedere” on the top of the hill, a dominating point of the town. You’ll be able to visit the mausoleum of Prince Louis Rwagasore, founder of the Uprona party and Hero of the independence of Burundi.
Ten kilometres south of Bujumbura at Mugere is the Livingstone-Stanley Monument, a stone marking a spot where the two famous explorers David Livingstone and H. M. Stanley spent two nights on 25-27 November 1871 as guests of Chief Mukamba during their joint exploration of the northern end of Lake Tanganyika, following their first meeting at Ujiji, Tanzania 15 days previously.
114 km away from Bujumbura, on the Bujumbura-Ijenda-Matana road lays Rutovu, a town where a pyramid was erected at the southernmost source of the Nile, at an altitude of 2,000m.
It is impossible to make a list of all the places worth making a stop, as Burundi is a real Garden of Eden of irresistible attraction. When arriving in Bujumbura, for information on all your circuits, itineraries and tours go to the National Office of Tourism where a variety of choices are available to you. You will be able to see everything: the Nyakazu Break to the east, the Karera Falls, the Tanganyika Lake panoramas at Vyanda and Kabonambo, the tea plantations of Teza or Rwegura. The reservoir built at this place is surrounded by beautiful scenery. All mentioned are a wealth of natural wonders to which it is worth devoting your time and attention.
There are two museums in Bujumbura and Gitega.
The second largest town in the country, Gitega, has the National Museum founded in 1955 where there is an exhibition of a magnificent ethnographic collection of objects owned by the Crown and that could be seen at the Court in the first part of the 20th century, together with an archaeological collection and historical photographs.
You will enjoy the old photographs of our kings, princes and queens of the 19th century, surrounded by a lot of objects owned by men and women of those days; jewellery, baskets from all regions, earthenware for many uses, calabashes to keep water or for churning, war and hunting spears, ploughing instruments, iron-working and sculpting instruments.
In Bujumbura, the Musée Vivant near the lake presents a great part of the treasures in a wider place surrounded by magnificent gardens. Old and modern crafts are presented in beautiful small cabins. However, the masterpiece of this museum is the reconstruction in real dimensions of a royal habitation. The entire surrounding courtyard can be visited and the main hut topped by an interlaced dome covered by a thatched roof.
The Musée Vivant keeps a bird house, where a few local species can be seen and a herpetological centre, where there are displays of snakes and many species of reptiles. This living museum was regarded as one of the most renowned centres in Africa since its collection was opened to the public in 1988.
Not all visitors will enjoy it, but it is possible to feed the crocodiles, leopard and some of the snakes in the Musée Vivant. For BIF2,000 you can buy a live guinea pig and select your recipient to feed.
Watch out for Tina the chimpanzee when visiting the Musée Vivant; she frequently escapes from her cage and can follow visitors around, this can be misconstrued as chasing. Her handlers assure that she is not dangerous and just wants to play.
The careful attention, local knowledge, and planning, given to you by a local travel agency can make your visit to this small country better as many visitors have discovered.
Although most travellers will find that they can pass through with a working knowledge of French and/or English, some familiarity with Swahili or the related local language, Kirundi, is helpful, particularly in rural areas. The problem is that Kirundi is extremely difficult to learn. Kirundi and Kinyarwanda (the official language in Rwanda) are quite similar in their complexity.
The currency is the Burundian franc (BIF).
As November 2020 the official exchange rate (used by banks and therefore ATM's) is BIF 1930 to 1 US$, and BIF 3130 to 1 US$ on the black market - which means it pays off to bring cash.
Burundi is endowed with a tradition of flourishing craftsmanship specialising in unique, delicate and attractive shapes and designs. Burundi has developed plastic arts only very recently. The visitor will be able to find Gitega and Bujumbura artists who are very talented and able to carve scenery on wooden boards and paint landscapes with their trademark beautifully shaded bluish backgrounds.
A great place to find these is an outdoor market on the premises of the Musée Vivant, which also has other traditional crafts of wood or cotton, as well as baskets.
For the international traveller, Burundi offers some culinary surprises -- fresh fish from Lake Tanganyika and produce from the nation's rich volcanic soil are particularly notable. If you try a mukeke, a fish species endemic to the Lake Tanganyika, be aware of bones in unexpected places.
There is a sizeable South Asian community, offering curried dishes alongside the more traditional rice and beans, and French-inspired European offerings. For lighter meals, samosas and skewered meats are common, and bananas and fresh fruit are often served as a sweet snack.
The national dish is beef or goat brochettes (kebabs) with grilled plantains (cooking bananas), available almost everywhere. Just look for the plumes of smoke. As the meat is usually only cut off from a dangling carcass after you order, you can specify which type of meat you want, or have pieces of liver and kidney included. If you order akameme (a brochette with pieces of bone attached to the meat), you are expected to eat the bone splinters as well - after all, it strengthens (if not breaks) your teeth.
If you're lucky, your kebab joint serves zingalo (cooked and subsequently grilled goat intestines) with uburobe (cassava stew, comparable to fufu).
The drinking age in Burundi is 18 unless accompanied by a parent or legal guardian.
Do not drink anything that is not sealed or at least boiled. Do not assume that if you see a local drinking a beverage from a local vendor that the beverage is safe. The best option is to make sure you see the opening of any beverage, thus making sure you know the beverage comes from a sealed container.
The only exception is the local coffee, which is always highly boiled for taste before serving. Burundi produces an excellent blend.
Soft drinks and beer are readily available. As in Rwanda & DRC, big 72 cl Primus bottles are available for between USD 0,50 and USD 1 as well as Amstel, which is about USD 1. Both are locally produced and of good quality.
Sorghum beer is traditionally consumed on special occasions, from a large common bowl using straws. You can find a sample during the weekends at Bujumbura's Musée Vivant, in the brick building on the right side of the exhibition grounds.
Although accommodation in rural areas can be basic, Bujumbura hosts a number of international-grade hotels, catering to needs of international clientèle including the UN.
Education is now compulsory for children between the ages of 7 and 13. Primary education lasts for six years. The languages of instruction in schools are Kirundi and French. General secondary education lasts for seven years, while vocational secondary education usually lasts for five. The percentage of eligible children attending school decreased from 28% in 1967 to 18% in 1975 before rising to 51% in 1992. As of 1999, 45% of primary-school-age children were enrolled in school, while only about 5% of eligible young people attend secondary or technical schools
Although some semblance of normalcy has returned to much of the country with the conclusion of the nation's democratic transition and a democratically chosen head of state in August 2005, travellers should be warned to exercise extreme caution. The still active rebel group, Forces Nationales de la Libération (FNL) continues to attack government forces and civilians. Threats posed by banditry and armed robbery, as well as petty crimes, remain. Avoid travelling after dark; be aware of curfew laws. Many roads close at night as some villages and neighbourhoods, most embassies and some organizations have curfews. As in any other conflict or post-conflict situations, visitors should consult their embassy to be apprised of the latest local developments, and be sensitive to the changing needs regarding the security of the local environment.
There is no need to exchange large sums of money. Most everything is very cheap compared to the western standards. Exchanging $1,000USD means you nearly need a small cart to carry all the bills. $100 USD at time is all you will need. And even then, only carry about 50,000BIF at a time (about $20USD)at markets or stores. Taking out large bills when the price is small, is like a moth to light for a criminal.
Adultery is illegal in Burundi, so be as discrete as possible in case you want to spend private time with a Burundian partner whom you're not married to. The fines may be manageable, but recent police videos of arrests have somehow made their way to social media.
Avoid discussing domestic politics in public with Burundian nationals.
In 2009 the Burundian government criminalized homosexual acts between males; LGBT people should exercise caution when travelling to Burundi.
Be careful of kiosk foods (good when it's piping hot, better avoided in case you have a sensitive stomach) and avoid unboiled water. Also ensure you have been vaccinated against yellow fever and preferably Hepatitis A and B.
As in many other African countries, HIV infection is widespread. One source suggests 18.6% in the cities and 7.5% in the countryside as of 2002.
To avoid malaria and dengue, make sure that there is a mosquito net before booking a hotel room, check it for large holes and see if it fits around the mattress. Use a strong repellent (DEET 40% or more) at dusk and dawn. For short stays, malaria pills are an option.
Respect for the Burundian Elders is a requirement. The younger people of the villages with kinship systems show respect to parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and to strangers. The Burundians also show respect to younger and of same age. The Burundians show respect and appreciate it in return.