• Burundi
    © Sergei Uriadnikov / 123 RF
  • Burundi
    ©Yolanda Van Niekerk / 123RF
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Burundi

By Dmitry Petrounin Dmitry Petrounin Section editor Profile

Tiny Burundi is an intriguing mix of soaring mountains, languid lakeside communities and a tragic past blighted by ethnic conflict. Located in the region of the Great Lakes, on the borders of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, and Rwanda, those who travel to Burundi, one of the smallest countries on the continent, will not be disappointed. Hills and valleys covered by eucalyptus stretch out stretch out as far as the eye can see. The steamy capital, Bujumbura, has a prime location on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, and just outside the city are some of the finest inland beaches on the continent.

Travel guide

Landlocked paradise Although Burundi does not have a large territory, its landscapes are among the most diverse in Africa. Savannahs and rainforests exist alongside one another. It is a land of hills and high plateaus covered with eucalyptus trees, banana plantations and fields. The landscape is decidedly agricultural. To the east of the country on the sides of mountains you will find tea and coffee plantations. Nature lovers will rejoice at the possibility of exploring the many parks and nature reserves that cover the country, such as the Forest Kibira Rumonge Nature Reserve (located 75 km from the capital) or the Reserve Ruvubu, considered the largest natural park which is home to a rich aquatic fauna. Be sure to travel to Rutovu, 115 km from Bujumbura, to admire the famous source of the Nile. Lake Tanganyika

The second largest lake in Africa, Lake Tanganyika serves as a natural border of Burundi. Located in the Rift Valley and known for the numerous varieties of fish that call it home, it is the seventh largest lake in the world. On its banks, it is not unusual to see crocodiles and hippos. But this will not prevent athletes to indulge in various water activities such as sailing or fishing.

A capital full of life The capital, Bujumbura, is located in western lakeside part of Burundi. It is not only the largest city and largest port in the country, but also its administrative and commercial centre. The city houses numerous monuments such as the French cultural center, the Odeon Palace, the Palace of Arts, Kigobe Palace, the Independence Monument as well as the symbolic monument to the Single Party.

Wildlife

Burundi's wildlife includes such glorious specimens as hippos, crocodiles, warthogs, leopards and antelopes. But reptiles are kings here. It is not uncommon to see small lizards lounging in the sun on walls of houses. More than a hundred fish have been recorded in the lakes and rivers that criss-cross the country. Bird watchers will have a field day: 600 species share the Burundian sky, some notably examples are the weaver and turacos wagtail. The flora of the country is almost as diverse as its fauna, banana, palm, jacaranda and albizia, used to make canoes, all call Burundi home.

Our Editorial team's advice

Following violent clashes during the run up to the Parliamentary and Presidential elections, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advices against all but essential travel to central Burundi. The FCO also advises against all travel to part of the county bordering the Democratic republic of Congo as well as the Cibitoke and Bubanza provinces and Ruvubu National Park.

We would also advice against using public transportation in Burundi as the vehicles are at times dangerously overcrowded and drivers are not always mindful of the Highway Code. Also keep an eye of for motorcycle taxis which are known for causing road accidents especially in Bujumbura.

If you are renting a vehicle be aware that country roads, the majority of which are located in the mountains, are dangerous for drivers unaccustomed to the driving conditions in Africa. By that we mean poorly paved roads, frequent and sudden rains which make the roads very slippery. With that in mind we recommend that when renting a vehicle you firstly make sure it is a 4x4 and secondly higher a driver, that is if you do not have previous experience navigating West Africa's country roads.

We recommend avoiding drinking tap water in Burundi as it may cause illness. Also be wary of eating raw vegetables, unpeeled fruit as well as undercooked fish, meat and poultry. Mosquitoes in Burundi are known to transmit viral diseases, such as Malaria. Due to this it is imperative to follow the usual protection measures such as wearing long clothing and using insect repellent on both skin and clothing.

pros

  • +The road network is satisfactory.
  • +The coolness of the climate at altitude.

cons

  • -The conflict between Tutsis and Hutus.
  • -The precarious sanitary conditions that encourage epidemics.

Traditions

To this day Burundi remains a predominately rural society with less than 20% of the population living in cities. There are three ethnic groups which comprise the country's population, 85% are Hutus, 15% are Tutsi and less that 1% are the indigenous Twa people. The nation's society has a traditional hierarchical structure, which has undertones of feudal rule. The Tutsi are pastoralists with livestock, Hutu are peasants and the Twa have a predominantly subordinate social status. The Tutsi aristocracy's power is based on livestock ownership, which is given to farmers in exchange for the agricultural products. It is thus fair to argue that the relationship between the Tutsi and Hutu has a distinct "patron-client" undertone, with Tutsi being the dominant force and Hutu the subordinate. The Tutsis power is further increased via the control of both the country's economy and military.

Burundi is a primarily a Christian country, with over 65% of the population identifying as Catholics and 26% as Protestants, other religions (as well as atheism) is practiced by less than 10% of the population.

In addition to Christian religious holidays, the country also celebrates several national holidays, which include Day of Unity (February 5), Independence Day (July 1) and National Heroes Day (October 13).

Food

While for the international traveller the selection of food in Burundi might seem a bit thin, there are still a few pleasant surprises awaiting you in you choose to spend some time in this country. Firstly there is high quality fresh fish from Lake Tanganyika, one particular example is ndagala, a small fish which by taste resembles a sardine. Secondly the produce from the country's rich volcanic soil.

Thanks to the country's South Asian community there is a selection of curried dishes. On the other side of the spectrum you have the remnant of Belgian colonial rule in the shape of brochettes (skewered beef, lamb or chicken) and frites.

For a more traditional taste be sure to try "Isombe", which is a cassava leaves based stew, or Ubugali a type of porridge made from finely ground cassava flour. Grilled plantains is a another traditional dish available on almost every street corner

Unfortunately for anyone with a sweet tooth, Burundian food does not usually contain desserts. However the quality of fresh fruits makes up for its lack.

Celebrations are usually accompanied by homemade banana wine and beer. For those of you with less adventuress spirit tastes local breweries produce Amstel beer.

Souvenirs

The main items which should be on your souvenir list are local crafts such as hand woven baskets. During weekdays stores usually close for a rather long lunch so plan your shopping for either the morning or after 3pm. Saturdays are half days which means that the majority of stores and markets will close by noon or 1pm the latest.