Tiny Burundi is an incongruous mix of soaring mountains, languid lakeside communities and a tragic past blighted by ethnic conflict. Despite their troubles, Burundians have an irrepressible joie de vivre, and their smiles are as infectious as a rhythm laid down by a Les Tambourinaires drummer.
When civil war broke out in 1993, the economy was destroyed and the tourist industry succumbed to a quick death. When the war finally ended in 2005 a trickle of travellers returned to rediscover the steamy capital, Bujumbura, with its lovely Lake Tanganyika setting and some of the finest inland beaches on the continent.
Bujumbura’s Lake Tanganyika beaches are some of the best urban beaches of any landlocked country in Africa. The sand, though not exactly pristine white and clean, is still an inviting place to drop a towel, the swimming is safe and the water warm. The stretch of beach that lies about 5km northwest of the capital is the most beautiful and used to be known as Plage des Cocotiers (Coconut Beach). However, a number of resorts are located along the road and most locals now call it Saga Plage (pronounced Sagga), in honour of what was once the most popular restaurant and bar here. It’s at its liveliest best at the weekend.
Chutes de la Karera
The Chutes de la Karera is the collective name for the four beautiful waterfalls near Rutana. The prettiest is the cascade Nyakai I where you park your car. Upstream from this is the smallest of the four falls, Nyakai II, an ideal spot for an impromptu shower. This watercourse is joined by that of Mwaro Falls before creating the namesake and tallest waterfall in the area, Karera Falls.
Parc National de la Rusizi
This is the most accessible, and popular, national park, as Bujumbura is just 15km away. It’s a wetland environment, and provides a habitat for hippos, sitatungas (aquatic antelopes) and a wide variety of birds.
Largely frozen in time thanks to more than a decade of conflict, there has been very little development in Burundi’s capital, Bujumbura. The steamy little city retains much of its grandiose colonial town planning, with wide boulevards and imposing public buildings. Buju (as it’s commonly known) has always retained an obviously different feel to any other East African capital, much of which is manifest in the city’s distinctly French outlook on life. During more peaceful times, perhaps it’s thanks to this French influence, Bujumbura has earned a freewheelin reputation for its dining, drinking and dancing scene; despite it’s village-like size this is one of the best places to eat out in East Africa.
Other Places Of Interest
Source du Nil
Vying with another small spring in Nyungwe Forest National Park in Rwanda for title of the source of the Nile (the truth of the matter is that there’s no one source), this insignificant-looking little spring at Kasumo, 115km southeast of Bujumbura, might be the southernmost source du Nil. In a nice touch, a stone pyramid marks the site, but unless you have your own transport it is almost impossible to reach. If you fancy a swim there are some hot springs a further 10km south.
Parc National de la Kibira
The largest rainforest in Burundi is contiguous with Nyungwe National Park in Rwanda, and is believed to still be home to hundreds of colobus monkeys. There are also a number of chimpanzees present (although they’re very hard to see).
Musée National de Gitega
The Musee National de Gitega, although unlikely to enthrall you, is the best museum Burundi has to offer. The one-room hall has a dusty collection of traditional household items including cow-horn snuffboxes, bark clothing, medicinal instruments and jewellery. There are also some interesting photos including our favourite, an 1896 shot of Bujumbura when the capital was little more than a few tents and a tree.