I figured I would put together this small guide to visiting Burundi – a tiny country in East Africa that doesn’t attract many tourists. When I visited Burundi basically all the travel warnings told you not to go there due to the unpredictable security situation, potential for violent civil unrest, threat of terrorism and violent crime. Also, most of the people in Tanzania were doubting my travel plans, but I had already decided the countries I wanted to visit in Africa months or even years in advance, so a few travel warnings on the way were not going to stop me. I’m visiting every country in the world after all. And I’m so happy that I visited Burundi because it turned out to be a really cool and underrated place!
Getting the Visa
When it comes to getting the visa, you will need a lot of patience. I based myself in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania where I spent more than three weeks waiting for the visa. For a one-month tourist visa, you’ll need two passport photos, $90 and an invitation letter. I booked a stay at Roca Golf Hotel, and they kindly sent me the invitation letter via email. I had heard some rumors that you could get a cheaper transit visa but when I asked about it, there was no such option. Be patient when waiting for the visa, it will take at least two weeks!
Crossing the Border
I started my journey to Burundi in Kigoma, Tanzania. Hamza Transit has a direct minibus from Kigoma to Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi. The journey was nice and smooth when we were still on Tanzanian side. At the border, I had some issues because the officer was clearly surprised seeing a mzungu (white person) girl traveling alone to Burundi. The officer also didn’t speak any English, and our options for communicating were French and Swahili. I was so happy I took Swahili lessons in Tanzania because my French is terrible!
After the border crossing, we got stopped by police who spent nearly an hour going through every single piece of an item in the car. These police checkpoints continued all the way to Bujumbura, and although the rest of them didn’t take that long, the journey still felt painfully long.
The people on the bus were very helpful and hospitable (like most of the locals in Africa), and they helped me to find a taxi to my hotel when we arrived in Bujumbura.
First Impressions of Burundi
I was pleasantly surprised how nice and clean Burundi was and how friendly the people were. I had no problems walking around and traveling overland as a solo female traveler. I think all the travel warnings and people’s reactions when I was telling them about my plans to travel overland to Burundi, were the reason I had this image in my head that Burundi is going to be very miserable and unsafe.
I still wasn’t underestimating the risks, and before visiting, I was reading the news and checking the latest travel warnings. I got a green light from the embassy in Dar es Salaam, and they assured me that it’s safe to visit. I think the most accurate travel warning is found on UK government site because they have a map where you can check the areas you shouldn’t travel to. The map being only red and orange at the time of writing, I avoided all the red areas.
Don’t walk outside after dark if possible. If I was somewhere late, I always took a taxi back and preferably had a number of a reliable taxi driver. I’ve heard some people getting mugged and robbed when walking outside at night, so be careful.
There were a lot of armed guards/police officers on the streets so I assume they were prepared if things were about to escalate. So walking in the city center, you’ll feel very safe because of the police presence. Overall, I would say that Burundi is a safe place for foreign visitors.
Roca Golf Hotel
This is by no means, the most luxurious hotel in whole Burundi and it was a much-needed break for me after rough overland traveling through Tanzania and staying in cheap guesthouses for the past weeks. My room had a lovely view of the golf course, air condition, wifi, and hot water.
The facilities include everything you need from swimming pool to gym and restaurant. The location was perfect because it’s between the Lake Tanganyika and city center. I usually walked to city center but took a taxi if I needed to go somewhere further.
Things to do in Bujumbura:
I always like to try different vegan dishes when I’m traveling. There are many restaurant options in the city center, and my favorite restaurant was actually the closest one to my hotel. The place is called Snack la Fantasia and they offer a lunch buffet including dessert (fruit salad, so it’s vegan!) for the price of 10k. Usually, everything was vegan except for one meat dish. They had options like rice, beans, grilled bananas, vegetables, potatoes. Simple food but so good and the food was tastier than in Tanzania where I definitely ate a lot of rice and beans!
You can’t visit Burundi and not go to the lake. I had already seen Lake Tanganyika in Tanzania, but of course, I still wanted to enjoy it in Burundian side.
A nice place to check out is Bora Bora Beach Club. They have a restaurant, bar, swimming pool, wifi, private beach and it’s a great spot if you want to relax and enjoy the lake view.
I’m definitely not a person who goes out a lot, but I just need to share another hidden gem in Bujumbura. There are a lot of bars and clubs, but my favorite was Arena Club. They also have a swimming pool, and it’s an upscale bar with both food and drinks, different events, and live music. If you fancy going out, this is your best bet in Bujumbura!
Traveling to Rwanda
There used to be buses going to Rwanda but they had stopped running because of the safety reasons I guess, so my only option was a shared taxi. Ask a taxi driver to help you because it can be challenging to find the place where shared taxis leave. I ended up sharing a car with three lovely Burundian ladies who were on their way to Rwanda for a funeral. The trip to Kigali, Rwanda’s capital, went smoothly and I could enjoy some beautiful scenery on the way.
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