Burundi Travel Guide – Everything You Need to Know

Nestled in the heart of East Africa, Burundi, often referred to as the “Heart of Africa,” is a nation of incredible natural beauty and a cultural tapestry that reflects its rich history. With its scenic landscapes, including pristine lakes, lush hills, and national parks, Burundi offers a unique blend of outdoor adventures and cultural exploration. Whether you’re drawn to the tranquil shores of Lake Tanganyika, the vibrant markets of Bujumbura, or the fascinating traditions of the Burundian people, a journey to Burundi promises an authentic and enriching travel experience.

What’s the Best Time to Visit? 📅

The best time to visit Burundi as a tourist is during the dry season, which typically spans from June to September. This period offers the most pleasant weather for outdoor activities and sightseeing. Here’s a breakdown of the seasons to help you plan your trip:

  1. Dry Season (June to September): This is the peak tourist season in Burundi. During these months, the weather is generally dry, with warm temperatures and plenty of sunshine. It’s an ideal time for exploring the country, enjoying outdoor adventures, and visiting its scenic attractions.
  2. Short Rains (October to December): The short rains start in October, bringing brief, sporadic showers. While travel is still possible during this period, it’s a transitional season, and some regions may experience rainfall.
  3. Long Rains (March to May): The long rainy season, which extends from March to May, brings heavy and consistent rainfall. Travel during this time can be challenging, as roads may become impassable, and outdoor activities may be limited.
  4. Hot Season (January to February): These months are the hottest in Burundi, with high temperatures. While it’s possible to visit during this period, the heat may be uncomfortable for some travelers.

To make the most of your visit, consider planning your trip during the dry season when the weather is more predictable and suitable for exploring Burundi’s natural beauty and cultural heritage. Keep in mind that specific weather conditions may vary from year to year, so it’s a good idea to check the local weather forecast and any travel advisories before your trip.

What’s the Best Way to Get Around? 🚌

Getting around Burundi as a tourist can be an adventure in itself, as the country’s transportation infrastructure is not as developed as in some other destinations. Here are the primary ways to get around Burundi:

  1. Public Transport: In cities like Bujumbura, you can use minibuses, known as “Matatus,” and motorcycle taxis called “Boda Bodas” to get around. These are affordable but may not be the most comfortable or reliable option.
  2. Rental Cars: Renting a car provides flexibility for exploring the country, especially if you plan to visit more remote areas. Keep in mind that road conditions can vary, so be prepared for rough terrain.
  3. Taxis: Taxis are available in urban areas and can be a convenient way to get around. Always negotiate the fare before starting your journey.
  4. Walking: In cities and towns, walking is a practical way to explore. Many urban areas have pedestrian-friendly streets.
  5. Boats: If you plan to visit Lake Tanganyika or other water bodies, boats are often used for transportation between towns and can provide a unique perspective of the country.
  6. Domestic Flights: Burundi has a few domestic airports, and taking a domestic flight can save time if you need to cover long distances. Air travel is relatively safe and efficient.
  7. Motorcycles: In rural areas, especially around Lake Tanganyika, you may find motorcycle taxis as a common mode of transport.
  8. Guided Tours: Joining guided tours is a convenient way to explore specific regions or attractions, as you’ll have local guides and transportation arranged for you.

Keep in mind that road conditions in some parts of Burundi can be challenging, with unpaved or rough roads, so plan your routes carefully and be prepared for some bumpy rides. Also, consider local conditions and travel advisories, which can change over time. Always stay informed about the current situation and take necessary safety precautions when traveling in Burundi.

What’s the Official Language?

The official languages of Burundi are Kirundi, French, and English. Kirundi is the national language and is widely spoken in everyday life, while French and English are used in government, education, and business. Here are some basic phrases in Kirundi and French that can be useful for tourists in Burundi:

Kirundi:

  1. Hello – Amakuru (ah-mah-koo-roo)
  2. Good morning – Meza (may-zah)
  3. Good afternoon – Meza (may-zah)
  4. Good evening – Meza (may-zah)
  5. Good night – Lala salama (la-la sah-la-mah)
  6. Yes – Ego (eh-go)
  7. No – Oya (oh-ya)
  8. Please – Mwerekereza (mweh-reh-kay-reh-zah)
  9. Thank you – Urakoze (oo-rah-koh-zeh)
  10. You’re welcome – Ntabariza (en-tah-bah-ree-zah)
  11. How are you? – Amakuru? (ah-mah-koo-roo?)
  12. My name is [Your Name] – Nitwa [Your Name] (neet-wah [Your Name])
  13. I don’t understand – Sinifuza kwirira (see-nee-foo-zah kwee-ree-rah)

French:

  1. Hello – Bonjour (bohn-zhoor)
  2. Good morning – Bonjour (bohn-zhoor)
  3. Good afternoon – Bon après-midi (bohn ah-prey-mee-dee)
  4. Good evening – Bonsoir (bohn-swahr)
  5. Good night – Bonne nuit (bohn nwee)
  6. Yes – Oui (wee)
  7. No – Non (noh)
  8. Please – S’il vous plaît (seel voo pleh)
  9. Thank you – Merci (mehr-see)
  10. You’re welcome – De rien (duh ryen)
  11. How are you? – Comment ça va? (koh-mah sah vah?)
  12. My name is [Your Name] – Je m’appelle [Your Name] (zhuh mah-pehl [Your Name])
  13. I don’t understand – Je ne comprends pas (zhuh nuh kohm-prahn pah)

While Kirundi is the most commonly spoken language, particularly in rural areas, you’ll find that many Burundians also speak French. Learning a few basic phrases in either language can greatly enhance your travel experience and foster goodwill with the local people.

Where to Stay? 🏨

Burundi offers a range of accommodation options for tourists, with the most options available in the capital city, Bujumbura. These include hotels, guesthouses, and lodges. Here are some areas and types of places to stay as a tourist in Burundi:

  1. Bujumbura: As the largest city and the capital, Bujumbura has the most extensive selection of accommodations. You’ll find a variety of hotels, from budget to upscale, as well as guesthouses and boutique options. Many of the city’s hotels are located near Lake Tanganyika, providing beautiful waterfront views.
  2. Beachfront Properties: Along the shores of Lake Tanganyika, there are several beachfront hotels and resorts where you can enjoy water activities and scenic views.
  3. Gite d’Etape: These are government-run lodges located in various parts of the country, including rural areas and national parks. They offer basic accommodations and are a good choice for budget travelers.
  4. Lodges in National Parks: If you plan to visit national parks and wildlife reserves, some lodges are available within or near these areas, offering an immersive nature experience.
  5. Bed and Breakfasts: Some local residents offer bed and breakfast accommodations, providing a more personal and intimate experience with local hosts.
  6. Eco-Lodges: In eco-sensitive areas like Kibira National Park, you can find eco-lodges that prioritize sustainability and immerse visitors in the natural surroundings.
  7. Airbnb: In urban areas like Bujumbura, you may find Airbnb listings, offering a more independent and often cost-effective lodging option.
  8. Homestays: Some local families offer homestay experiences, allowing you to live with Burundian families and learn about their culture and way of life.

When choosing your accommodation, consider factors such as your budget, the location you plan to visit, and the type of experience you desire. Booking in advance is advisable to secure your preferred lodging, especially during the peak tourist season. Be sure to check the availability and amenities of your chosen accommodation in advance, as facilities may vary. It’s also important to research and stay informed about local conditions and travel advisories.

What to Eat? 🍽️

Burundi’s cuisine reflects its diverse culture and natural resources, featuring a variety of flavorful dishes. As a tourist, here are some must-try foods in Burundi:

  1. Brochettes: Grilled skewers of marinated meat, usually goat or beef, seasoned with spices and served with a spicy sauce.
  2. Isombe: A rich and hearty stew made from cassava leaves and palm nuts, often served with fish or meat.
  3. Boko-Boko: A popular dish of plantains, beans, and vegetables cooked in palm oil and served with a spicy sauce.
  4. Frites: Spicy fried plantains that make for a tasty and popular snack.
  5. Matoke: Slices of green bananas, often cooked with peanuts, coconut, and spices to create a flavorful and hearty side dish.
  6. Akabenz: A dish made from groundnut sauce and served with fried fish or meat.
  7. Sombe: A variation of cassava leaf stew, commonly cooked with a peanut sauce and served with rice or other starches.
  8. Uburo: A traditional dish of corn, beans, and vegetables cooked in a peanut sauce.
  9. Mukeke: Grilled or steamed fish from Lake Tanganyika, often served with spicy sauce and plantains.
  10. Banana Beer: Try the local banana beer, known as “urwarwa,” which is a popular and traditional Burundian drink.
  11. Fresh Fish: Lake Tanganyika offers an abundance of fresh fish, and trying a local fish dish is a must.
  12. Rwandan and Congolese Cuisine: Given Burundi’s proximity to Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, you can also find Rwandan and Congolese dishes, such as Rwandan brochettes and Congolese grilled meats.
  13. Fresh Tropical Fruits: Sample a variety of tropical fruits like pineapples, mangoes, and papayas, which are often available in markets.
  14. Rice Dishes: Rice is a staple in Burundian cuisine and is often served with different sauces and accompaniments.
  15. Tea and Coffee: Burundi is known for its coffee production. Enjoy a cup of locally grown coffee or try Burundian tea.
  16. Ibihaza: A traditional dish of ground peanuts, honey, and maize, often eaten as a snack.

Sampling the local cuisine is an essential part of experiencing Burundi’s culture. Be adventurous and try a variety of dishes to savor the unique flavors and culinary traditions of this East African nation.

What to See? 🔍

Burundi, despite its relatively small size, offers a range of captivating and must-see places for tourists. Here are some of the top attractions and destinations to explore when visiting Burundi:

  1. Bujumbura: The capital city offers a mix of urban attractions and natural beauty. Stroll along the shores of Lake Tanganyika, visit the Livingstone-Stanley Monument, and explore the colorful markets.
  2. Karera Waterfalls: Located near Rutana, these cascading waterfalls are a stunning natural wonder surrounded by lush greenery, making it a popular destination for hikers and nature lovers.
  3. Lake Tanganyika: The world’s second-largest freshwater lake is perfect for relaxing, swimming, or taking boat rides. You can also visit nearby beaches like Saga Beach and Chausseurs Beach.
  4. Gitega: The second-largest city in Burundi is known for its cultural attractions, including the National Museum, the Drum Sanctuary, and the impressive Gitega Cathedral.
  5. Kibira National Park: Explore this lush tropical rainforest, which is home to diverse wildlife, including chimpanzees and various bird species. Hiking and wildlife viewing are popular activities here.
  6. Rusizi National Park: Located near Bujumbura, this park offers opportunities to spot hippos and crocodiles. You can take boat trips to get closer to the wildlife.
  7. Gishora Drum Sanctuary: Witness traditional Burundian drumming performances and learn about the cultural significance of the drums in Burundi’s history and heritage.
  8. Ruvubu National Park: This park in the northeastern part of the country is a sanctuary for a variety of wildlife, including elephants, antelopes, and hippos. It’s an excellent place for birdwatching and hiking.
  9. Rumonge: A tranquil coastal town where you can enjoy the beaches, birdwatching, and cultural experiences.
  10. Ngozi Province: Explore the scenic Ngozi Province, known for its rolling hills, tea plantations, and serene countryside.
  11. Kigwena Natural Forest: A protected forest with hiking trails and diverse plant and animal life. It’s an excellent place for nature enthusiasts and birdwatchers.
  12. Bururi Province: Visit this picturesque province, known for its beautiful landscapes and Lake Bururi, a serene and less-visited lake in the south.
  13. Songa Kivu: A village on the shores of Lake Kivu where you can experience the local way of life and enjoy the lake’s natural beauty.
  14. Gisenyi Island: Located on Lake Tanganyika, this island is known for its relaxing atmosphere, ideal for unwinding and water activities.
  15. Ruvyironza River: A picturesque river that’s perfect for picnicking and enjoying the tranquil surroundings.

While Burundi may not have the extensive tourist infrastructure of some other countries, it offers unique and authentic experiences for travelers interested in exploring its natural beauty, culture, and traditions. Be sure to check local conditions and travel advisories before your trip and respect the local customs and environment during your visit.

What to Do? 📸

When traveling to Burundi, there are several must-do activities and experiences that will enrich your visit and help you appreciate the country’s unique culture, natural beauty, and heritage. Here are some things to consider doing as a tourist in Burundi:

  1. Visit Lake Tanganyika: Spend time along the shores of Lake Tanganyika, whether it’s relaxing on the beach, swimming, or taking a boat ride. The lake is a central part of Burundi’s landscape and culture.
  2. Explore Bujumbura: Wander through the capital city, Bujumbura, and explore its markets, historic sites, and lakeside promenades. Don’t miss the vibrant City Market.
  3. Attend a Traditional Drum Performance: Experience Burundi’s rich cultural heritage by witnessing a traditional drumming performance, such as those at the Gishora Drum Sanctuary.
  4. Hike in Kibira National Park: Go hiking in this tropical rainforest to see diverse wildlife, including chimpanzees and numerous bird species. Guided treks are available.
  5. Visit the Karera Waterfalls: Explore the lush greenery and cascading waterfalls in Rutana, ideal for nature enthusiasts and hikers.
  6. Experience Local Cuisine: Sample Burundian dishes, such as brochettes, isombe, and boko-boko, in local restaurants and markets to savor the country’s unique flavors.
  7. Interact with Local Communities: Engage with local people, visit traditional villages, and learn about Burundian traditions and ways of life.
  8. Birdwatching: With its diverse ecosystems, Burundi offers excellent opportunities for birdwatching. Look out for unique species in national parks and forests.
  9. Attend a Cultural Festival: If your visit coincides with a local cultural festival, such as the Kirimiro Festival, take part and immerse yourself in traditional celebrations.
  10. Visit National Parks: Explore the national parks like Ruvubu and Rusizi, known for their wildlife and natural beauty, including hippos, crocodiles, and diverse flora.
  11. Relax by Lake Bururi: Enjoy the serene surroundings of Lake Bururi in the picturesque Bururi Province. It’s perfect for picnicking and relaxation.
  12. Take a Boat Trip: Explore Lake Tanganyika or Rusizi National Park by taking a boat trip, which can provide a unique perspective of the local environment and wildlife.
  13. Learn About Burundian History: Visit cultural and historical sites, including the National Museum in Gitega, to gain insights into the country’s past.
  14. Engage in Watersports: If you’re near Lake Tanganyika, consider engaging in watersports like kayaking, snorkeling, or fishing.
  15. Explore Tea Plantations: In Ngozi Province, you can visit tea plantations and learn about the tea production process while enjoying scenic views.
  16. Embrace the Beaches: Relax on the beaches of Lake Tanganyika, such as Saga Beach and Chausseurs Beach, and take in the tranquil surroundings.

Remember to respect local customs and traditions, ask for permission before taking photographs, and check for any travel advisories or local conditions that may affect your plans. Burundi’s unique culture and natural beauty await those who seek an authentic and off-the-beaten-path travel experience.

Culture and Safety 🦺

Culture:

  1. Respect for Local Customs: Burundi has a rich cultural heritage, and it’s important to show respect for local customs and traditions. Be mindful of etiquette, such as seeking permission before taking photographs, especially in rural areas.
  2. Greeting: Greetings are an essential part of Burundian culture. A warm handshake is a common greeting. In Kirundi, “Amakuru” is a way to ask someone how they are, and “N’iyambere” is a polite way to respond positively.
  3. Dress Modestly: While urban areas may be more relaxed, when visiting rural areas, especially during ceremonies and interactions with traditional communities, dress modestly. Women should cover their shoulders and avoid wearing revealing clothing.
  4. Respect for Elders: Burundian culture places a strong emphasis on respecting elders. When interacting with older people, use formal language and show deference.
  5. Hospitality: Burundians are known for their warm hospitality. If offered food or drink, it’s polite to accept and show appreciation.
  6. Languages: Kirundi is the most commonly spoken language, especially in rural areas. While French is an official language and widely spoken, learning a few basic phrases in Kirundi can enhance your interactions with the local people.

Safety:

  1. Travel Advisories: Before your trip, check for any travel advisories or safety recommendations from your government or relevant authorities. Conditions can change, and it’s essential to stay informed.
  2. Health Precautions: Ensure you have the necessary vaccinations before traveling to Burundi. Malaria is prevalent in many areas, so take precautions like using mosquito repellent and sleeping under mosquito nets.
  3. Food and Water Safety: Be cautious about what you eat and drink. Stick to bottled or purified water and consume well-cooked food. Avoid street food in places with questionable hygiene.
  4. Petty Theft: Be vigilant for pickpocketing and petty theft, especially in crowded places and markets. Keep your belongings secure and be aware of your surroundings.
  5. Travel Insurance: It’s advisable to have comprehensive travel insurance that covers health emergencies, theft, and other incidents during your trip.
  6. Road Safety: If you plan to drive, be aware of local driving practices. Roads may be in poor condition, and traffic can be chaotic, especially in urban areas.
  7. Local Laws and Customs: Familiarize yourself with local laws and customs, and adhere to them. Drug use, including marijuana, is illegal and strictly enforced.
  8. Emergency Contacts: Know the local emergency numbers, the location of your country’s embassy or consulate, and have a way to communicate in case of an emergency.
  9. LGBTQ+ Travelers: While Burundi is more accepting of LGBTQ+ individuals compared to some other African nations, it’s essential to be discreet about your sexual orientation to avoid potential discrimination.
  10. Avoid Demonstrations: Avoid participating in or being near political or social demonstrations, as they can occasionally turn violent.

By respecting local customs and following safety guidelines, you can have a rewarding and safe travel experience in Burundi. The warmth of the Burundian people and the country’s unique culture and landscapes make it a memorable destination for those willing to explore off the beaten path.

Conclusion

In conclusion, a visit to Burundi is an exploration of East Africa’s hidden gem, a country filled with natural beauty, warm hospitality, and a rich cultural heritage. From its serene lakes and lush landscapes to its bustling markets and captivating traditions, Burundi offers a unique and authentic travel experience. Discover the heart of Africa in Burundi, where every moment is an opportunity to connect with its people and immerse yourself in its enchanting scenery.