Burundi is a small country in East Africa, although it has some cultural and geographical ties with Central Africa. It is surrounded by Rwanda, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Burundi covers about 28,000 km² with an estimated population of almost 8.7 million. Although the country is landlocked, much of the southwestern border is adjacent to Lake Tanganyika.
Burundi is one of the ten poorest countries in the world and it has the lowest per capita GDP of any nation in the world. Burundi has a low GDP rate is because of civil wars, corruption, poor access to education, political instability and the effect of HIV/AIDS. Cobalt and copper are among the nation's natural resources. Other resources include coffee, sugar and tea.
Burundi is not different from any other young nation and jealously keeps all the elements that constitute its very rich culture: dances, musical rhythms, handicrafts. Its aim is to ensure the transmission of the inheritance from the forefathers and ancestors evidenced by belongings and objects they liked, the dances they composed.
The earliest known people to live in Burundi were the Twa, a short "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, it has been the scene of recurring brutal mutual bloodlettings between the Hutu and Tutsi populations (much like the better-known genocide in neighboring Rwanda), 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.
Burundi in general has a tropical highland climate, with a considerable daily temperature range in many areas. Temperature also varies considerably from one region to another, chiefly 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 northwest. 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 1,600 mm of rainfall a year. The Ruzizi Plain and the northeast receive between 750 and 1,000 mm.
The country is divided into 16 provinces (Bubanza, Bujumbura, Bururi, Cankuzo, Cibitokeas "communes" in rural areas and "quartiers" in the capital, there are a total of 117 of such groupings. Beneath this, there are several lower levels of administrations, 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 course of development to enable chimpanzees and cercopithecuses to find enough food to stay there and procreate. The thermal waterfalls situated in the Mugara reserve will enable you to lend yourselves to natural massage simply by taking showers under these waters raised from the earth’s bosom. The very near beaches of Tanganyika will welcome you for a well deserved swim and rest.
All nationalities require a visa to visit Burundi except citizens of Uganda.
A visa costs US$80 on arrival at the airport or can be obtained from embassies prior to travel.
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)
Buses are available mainly from Bujumbura, around the central market. There are only international busses to Rwanda. 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.
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 held right in the center of the town, and its Museum of Traditions (ancient utensils, pictures, commented visit). Travelers 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 head away 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 hart of the sugar cane plantations country.
Towards the Southeastern part of the country, don’t miss by any means the visit of 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 and subtle surroundings. You will also be able to see on your way the last traditional enclosed villas (round habitations surrounded by wooden fences strip in turn surrounded by grazing meadows and ploughed fields).
Further south, you will be able to cross a line of villages succeeding one after the other and wedged between the lake and abrupt mountains. Fortunately, you will be able to stop and have a rest, or go for nautical sports and have a meal in restaurants or simply stop for a drink, on nicely arranged fine sand beaches. Still further south lays 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 center for high quality fresh foodstuffs. You can walk across the primeval forest of Kibira the access of which is still very difficult but which is in a process of beaconing. 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 birds’ species entirely free on the lake (crested cranes, wild ducks, fishing eagles, etc.).
On the road from Muyinga to Cankuzo, the visit of the Natural park of the Ruvuvu Rivers is a must now that is endowed with accommodation infrastructure; there you’ll be able to admire Burundi protected remnant buffaloes and dorcas (gazelles). The surrounding primeval forest will no doubt leave you with an unforgettable souvenir.
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 kilometers 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 southern most source of the Nile, at an altitude of 2,000 m.
It is impossible to make a list of all the places worth making a stop, as Burundi is a real Garden of Eden defying weather and exercising on people an irresistible attraction. When arriving in Bujumbura, for all your circuits, itineraries and tours go to the National Office of Tourism where a great choice can be made 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 sceneries. In a nutshell, a synthesis of curiosities worth devoting part of your holidays allowance.
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 lot of objects owned by men and women of those days; jewelry, baskets from all regions, earthenware for many uses, calabashes to keep water or for churning, war and hunting spears, ploughing instruments, ironworking 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 think thatched roof.
The Musée Vivant also keeps up a bird house, where few local species can be seen and a Herpetologic Center, where there are displays of snakes and many species of reptiles. This living museum was regarded as one of the most renowned centers 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 2,000 Francs, you can buy a (live) guinea pig and select your recipient.
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 me she is not dangerous and just wants to play.
Although most travelers will find that they can get around passingly well with a working knowledge of French (and increasingly English), some familiarity with Swahili or the related local language, Kirundi, is helpful, particularly in rural areas. The problem may be that Kirundi is extremely difficult to learn. Kirundi and Kinyarwanda (the official language in Rwanda) are quite similar.
Burundi is endowed with very flourishing craftsmanship, with unique delicate and attractive shapes.
Burundi has developed plastic arts only very recently. The visitor will be able to find Gitega and Bujumbura talented artist able to carve sceneries on wooden boards and paint landscapes with beautifully shaded bluish backgrounds.
The currency is the Burundian Franc (BIF). As of January 2010, 1 USD = 1,228 BIF, 1 EUR = 1,734 BIF, and 1 GBP = 2,000 BIF.
For the international traveler, Burundi offers some culinary surprises -- fresh fish from Lake Tanganyika and produce from the nation's rich volcanic soil are particularly notable. There is a sizable 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 brochettes (kebabs) and grilled plantains (cooking bananas) available almost everywhere.
Soft drinks and beer are readily available. As in Rwanda & DRC, big 72cl Primus bottles are available for between $1-$2 as well as Amstel, which is about $2. Both are locally produced and of good quality.
Although accommodations in rural areas can be spartan, Bujumbura hosts a number of international-grade hotels, catering to a mainly a U.N. and international clientele. Other notable hotels include the Source du Nil ($120/night), the Hotel Botanika ($85/night), the Clos de Limbas ($70/night) and the new, anglophone Sun Safari.
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 normality 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, travelers should be warned that there is still significant insecurity throughout the country and exercise extreme caution. Besides the still-active rebel group, the Forces Nationales de la Libération (FNL) that continues to attack government forces and civilians, threats posed by banditry and armed robbery, as well as petty crimes, remain. Visitors should exercise caution, avoid traveling after dark, and be aware of curfew laws. Many roads close at night, and most embassies put out curfews on their staff. As in any other conflict or post-conflict situation, visitors should consult their embassy to be apprised of the latest local developments, and be sensitive to the changing security environment.
Be careful of kiosk foods and avoid unboiled water. Also ensure you have been vaccinated.
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.
The respect for the Burundian Elders is very strong. The younger peoples of the many villages and kinships show respect to parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and even to strangers. The Burundians also show respect to younger and of equal ages.