Getting the best from your time in Burundi
Favorite thing: With the greatest of respect, I have to say that Burundi is a pleasant place, but not the sort of country that I'd cross continents to reach on the basis of its own virtues. That being said, it's an enjoyable place to spend a few days on business, or a rewarding detour if you're already in the region, especially if you're interested in ticking off another obscure country.
Most tourists to Burundi come for three days or less. This not only reflects the smallness of the country and the lack of major tourist atractions, but also the fact that the visa fees are extortionate: a visa for up to 3 days costs USD50, whereas a visa for longer costs an eyewatering USD90. So, how to plan the best use of your three days?
Bujumbura is a small, easygoing city that is probably more remarkable for its lovely waterside setting and laid back ambience than it is for any particular tourist attraction. Unless you are here on business or for a particular purpose, you'll probably find that half a day is adequate to explore the city - or maybe a whole day at most if you adopt the languid pace of the locals. In common with virtually all African lakeside cities, swimming in the lake is not advisable, because of the risk of bilhazia, waterborne diseases and the occasional crocodile - this is a particular frustrating given the oppressively humid climate.
To my mind, the nicest thing to do in Buj is to catch a taxi up to the Independence Monument in the Presidential quarter, which clings to the side of the mountain. This leafy suburb feels a million miles from the bustle of the downtown area, and commands a beautiful view out over the city and Lake Tanganyika to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) beyond. It's also a superb place for people watching, especially in the late afternoon, when the joggers pound the pavements in bewildering force. Sundowners at one of the hotels along the lake are also a delightful way to end the day, as you relish the lakeside breeze and a frosty Primus and watch the sun sink behind the hazy mountains of the DRC.
Once you've got your bearings, I would recommend hiring a car and a driver for the day. Even though we routinely drive throughout Southern Africa and in Kenya, I wouldn't recommend the self drive option in Burundi: the mountain roads are precipitious, signage is virtually non existent and some of the roads (notably the road northwards towards the Rwandan border) are in very poor condition. We found that hiring a car with a driver wasn't much more expensive than hiring on a selfdrive basis, and our driver Claude was delightful company, even if he didn't speak a word of English.
The most obvious day trip is to cut inland from Buj, up into the mountains, and visit the southern source of the Nile. Whilst the spring is somewhat of an (amusing) anticlimax, the drive to get there is lovely and well worth doing in its own right, allowing you to enjoy lovely mountain passes and blessedly cool uplands that are a welcome relief from the stultifyingly humid heat of the Rift Valley. From here, head east to the lake and drive back slowly along the shore road, stopping off at the Livingstone Rock at Mugere.
The drive north towards Rwanda - especially if you're lucky enough to be travelling to stunning Nyungwe National Park on the other side of the border - is pleasantly attractive, but more interesting from a cultural perspective than a scenic one. If you're travelling this route, then obscure Lake Dogodogo is an interesting place to stop off and experience its unnerving migrating reed islands.
We didn't have enough time to explore any of Burundi's nature reserves, so I can't comment on the basis of personal experience. However, I would suggest that you temper any expectations of Big Game, as Burundi is simply too densely populated to support significant numbers of large mammals, and what may have once been here has long since been eaten. However, there is apparently some excellent birding to be done - which is particularly interesting for twitchers with an interest in Albertine Rift endemics. For those who are more interested in more active sports, consider booking a riding lesson or horse ride at the Cercle Hippique in Buj and it's also possible to go game fishing in Lake Tanganyika - Tanganyika Sport Fishing have a particularly good reputation with local expats, and can also organise boat trips on the lake.
If you want to maximise the value you get from a three day visa, consider getting an early flight into Bujumbura from Kigali in Rwanda (the most common routing used by tourists).
The definitive map of Burundi and Rwanda
Favorite thing: I absolutely love maps - they're chockful of possibility and promise!
For us, finding a decent map is the start of the planning process - as well as a means of navigating when we're on the ground - but given the wild and woolly places that we often venture, the maps we require are often hard to find.
For this trip, we were lucky enough to happen upon the International Travel Maps 1:300,000 map of Burundi and Rwanda. It's a terrific map, with exactly the level of detail you'll need to explore this region, and since most visitors to Burundi also tend to visit Rwanda on the same trip, it saves you the effort and expense of buying separate maps.
If you're travelling from Southern Africa, I would highly recommend Maps for Africa in Johannesburg as a wonderful resource and the place where we buy our maps and travel guides. The knowledgeable and ever helpful Leon also does mail order, so if you're having trouble finding maps for African destinations at home, he'll be more than happy to assist.
The Rift valley
Favorite thing: When approaching Burundi by air, there are amazing views of the Rift Valley and the lakes. From the air the water appears to be brown, and the land and islands blue, but the sight from above is spectacular.
Burundi is a small African...
Favorite thing: Burundi is a small African country in the heart of the continent. Burundi is bordered by Congo (formerly Zaire) in the west, by Tanzania in the south and by Rwanda in the north.
The lake Tanganyika separates Burundi from Congo in the west. The capital Bujumbura is situated by the lake Tanganyika at the north end of the lake. The areas close to the lake are lowlands with an equatorial hot climate. The highlands close to the border to Rwanda have a pleasant climate. The country has great natural beauty. Especially the highlands offer very beautiful sceneries.
Burundi is a French speaking country. It is a former Belgian colony.
Burundi has been suffering from similar ethnic conflicts like Rwanda. In Burundi too there two major tribes: tutsis and hutus. The tutsis have traditionally dominated the army and the higher positions in the society. The antagonism between the ethnic groups has occasionally lead to violence. During the genocide in Rwanda tensions were high in Burundi too. Burundi narrowly escaped the same fate.
Travel the shores of Lake...
Favorite thing: Travel the shores of Lake Tanganyika and up the foothills of the mountains.
Fondest memory: Encounter with famous drummers of Burundi while they been rehearsing for a coming event, very impressive.
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