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The Muzungu’s top reasons to travel to Burundi

I loved visiting Burundi. My Burundian and Rwandese hosts treated me like royalty; I will never forget their kindness and hospitality. Sadly, few people will travel to Burundi until the political situation is resolved. When it is, here are the muzungu’s Burundi travel tips!

welcome sign Burundi travel blog

Map of Burundi. “Bujumbura welcomes you” but without a local guide, you may find touring Burundi a challenge

The official lingua franca is French, which is fine if you’re at a tourist hotel or bar, but I found few street vendors, for example, who spoke French. Educated Burundians generally speak French – the man or woman on the street may not. English is not widely spoken either.

Burundians are not used to tourists, nor having their photo taken – although the guys below completely disprove that point 🙂

Burundi travel blog painted phone booth boys

One of my favourite photos from Bujumbura. “Kiosque le silence” – the silent kiosk – what a wonderful name for a public telephone booth!

Watching the hippos at Rusizi Nature Reserve was a nice day out but can’t honestly match up to other East African safari destinations for wildlife numbers, diversity or even tourism infrastructure.

Burundi travel blog Rusizi attention crocodiles

Watch out for the crocs! Rusizi Nature Reserve is home to crocodiles, hippo, antelope and birds

Burundi is an excellent destination for birdwatchers (sharing almost the same birdlife as neighbouring Rwanda).

Burundi travel blog Rusizi Reserve sign

Rusizi Nature Reserve is a short drive from Bujumbura. Part of Burundi’s charm are the wonderful handpainted signs

Burundi travel blog kitenge Bujumbura market

Shop in Bujumbura’s markets for woven baskets and mats, vibrant kitenge and huge multicoloured umbrellas

Burundi travel blog baskets for sale

You can’t beat drive-by shopping! En route from Bujumbura to Kigali, my friends stopped to buy beautiful handwoven baskets

Burundi travel blog muzungu umbrella

The muzungu and the must-have fashion accessory! Burundians love these huge multicoloured umbrellas

Ugali flour seller Bujumbura

Ugali flour seller in Bujumbura. No day is complete without at least one serving of ugali… !

Burundi may be off the travel and tourism circuit for now, but let’s pray normality returns to the ‘Heart of Africa’ as quickly as possible.

Burundi travel blog Lake Tanganyika beach

Looking to the future. My two young friends from Rwanda and Burundi, arm in arm, overlooking Lake Tanganyika

Burundians eat well!

Burundi travel blog cassava fish

Lake Tanganyika has a variety of fish. Mukeke is very tasty!

Burundi has scrumptious ‘fusion’ cuisine.

In addition to the traditional African foods of matooke (banana), ugali and cassava we ate a variety of fish from Lake Tanganyika, French-style crusty baguette bread and fantastic beers. (I can’t say I’m a fan of ugali though…)

Burundi travel blog Primus beer

Popular beers in Burundi include Primus, Amstel and Heineken

I wanted to visit Bujumbura the moment Lonely Planet wrote “Bujumbura has the best inland beaches in Africa.” Lake Tanganyika is safe to swim in (there is no Bilharzia, like in many of East Africa’s lakes).

Burundi travel blog Lake Tanganyika beach

It had been raining on the morning we went to the beach. The beach was deserted except for one fisherman. The low cloud semi-obscured the Blue Mountains of the Congo

Lake Tanganyika is second largest of the lakes of eastern Africa. It is the longest freshwater lake in the world (660km or 410 miles) and the second deepest (1,436 metres or 4,710 feet) in the world. It is comparatively narrow and varies in width from (16 to 72 km or 10 to 45 miles). Lake Tanganyika covers about (32,900 square km or 12,700 square miles) and its shores are in Burundi, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Zambia. It occupies the southern end of the Western Rift Valley, and for most of its length the land rises steeply from its shores.”

Burundians love to party at the beaches’ many bars and nightclubs. The capital city of Bujumbura boasts a vibrant beach nightlife of bars, restaurants and nightclubs (you can see why I want to go back, can’t you?!)

Burundi travel blog Lake Tanganyika beach

The sun sets on the beach of Lake Tanganyika

Burundi travel blog Bujumbura city tour

Dusk over Bujumbura. City view from the Monument de l’Unite (Unity Memorial)

Lake Tanganyika’s white sandy beaches are just a stone’s throw from Bujumbura. The city is laid out in a classic European colonial grid-type layout. There’s an interesting variety of architecture.

Burundi travel blog Bujumbura city tour

Art deco style architecture of Palais des Arts et de la Culture – art museum – Bujumbura

Burundi travel blog Bujumbura city tour

Palais des Arts et de la Culture, painted in the colours of the Burundi flag

Burundi travel blog Bujumbura city tour La Poste

Postal boxes. I love the symmetry of La Poste, the European-inspired Post Office, Bujumbura

Burundi travel blog Bujumbura city tour La Poste

Bicycles all in a row. La Poste, the old colonial Post Office, Bujumbura

La Poste d'Usumbura, Post Office Bujumbura , circa 1940s

“La Poste d’Usumbura” – the Post Office of Usumbura. The city was renamed Bujumbura in 1962 at independence, circa 1940s

Bujumbura is an interesting mix of European influence of the 1940s – and earlier – of eclectic hand-painted African shop signs and, sadly, even more potholes than Kampala.

Burundi travel blog painted butcher's shop

The handpainted signs and shopfronts give Burundi a very original feel. I loved the painted “boucherie” butcher’s shop

Burundi travel blog Bujumbura rainbow man on bike

A rainbow lights up an otherwise cloudy day in Bujumbura

Burundi travel blog Bujumbura city tour Monument de l'Unite

As the sun set, we drove to the highest point of Bujumbura. View of Lake Tanganyika from the Monument de l’Unite (Unity Memorial)

The beaches attract Burundians and expats from neighbouring DR Congo to wile away their Sunday afternoons.

One of the cultural highlights – and most noteworthy tourism exports – are ‘les Tambourinaires de Burundi’ the traditional drummers. A must-see (hear!) experience when in Burundi.

Did you know…? The East Africa Tourist Visa makes it possible to buy one visa for travel to Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya. Tanzania has apparently signed up (but in July 2016 there’s little evidence of that). The muzungu sincerely hopes that Burundi will join the East Africa Tourist Visa party one day.

Have you traveled to Burundi? Which places would you recommend visiting?