Have you heard of the country Burundi? Well, you probably have if you’ve found this post, but I’ll go ahead and tell you about it anyway!
Burundi is a a very unique hidden gem that’s part of East Africa, and often overlooked thanks to its popular neighbors; Tanzania, Rwanda, and Uganda. To be compeltely honest, I only found out about Burundi because I zoomed in on the map when I was looking for new places to travel to on an upcoming return trip to D.R. Congo.
The internet doesn’t have good things to say about Burundi, neither does the U.S. gov’s travel website, which was obviously written by someone who has never been there. So I’m here to deliver the truth about what it’s really like, why you should go, and what the best things to do in Burundi are!
If you want to go to Burundi, you will need a tour to get to most of these places! I recommend Gisabo Tours, who took me everywhere, including to a local wedding!
Where is Burundi?
Burundi is located in “East Africa”, which also includes Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, and soon will include D.R. Congo. It’s tucked in the middle of all of them, just below Rwanda.
How to Get to Burundi?
You’ll want to get a flight into Bujumbura, which is the new capital of Burundi. It’s a very small airport, and not exactly a busy flight route, so you’ll likely have a few layovers in order to get there.
You can use Skyscanner to find the cheapest flights there if your dates are flexible. Just search for prices in the “whole month” rather than a specific date (I call this playing Flight Roulette). If you’re going to be in a nearby country, there’s likely a direct flight there. I had one from Dar es Salaam!
What do you Need to Enter Burundi as a Foreigner?
The entry process for me was hectic, unhelpful, and long. Luckily I’m a professional traveler, and just waited patiently throughout the process. This is probably TMI but if you’re ever about to lose your chill, just remember I did all of this SOLO, without being able to speak the local languages (French and Kirundi), AND while my menstrual cup was leaking because I messed it up when I used one of the squat-toilets in a small village that I accidentally got off the plane in before landing in Bujumbura.
Anyway…here’s what you need to enter, and below is a very detailed process for how to get it all:
- Visa (can get upon arrival for $90)
- Negative covid test 72 hours before arrival
- Another covid test upon arrival ($100!!!)
- Proof of ongoing flight
- Proof of your hotel reservation
- Arrival card (given at the airport or on the plane)
Keep in mind the process is hectic, but this will tell you exactly what to do.
So there will be three booths in front of you, and then the actual immigration to your right.
- Go to the first booth first. People will be shoving each other to try to get to the front, and will cut you in line if you’re not being aggressive enough. Have your money ready and your passport. You need $90 for the visa, and $100 for the covid test. Shove all of it into one of the windows and wait for someone to take it.
- Once they take it, they’ll give you two papers. Take the paper for the Covid test to the third window. They will then give you a receipt…
- Then take that and the other paper to the second window…they will then give you another receipt…
- Take both of the receipts back to the first window (this is ridiculous I know), they will then give you yet another reciept…
- Take that receipt back to the second window and give it to them with your passport, and they will finally put your visa in it.
- While you’re waiting in line, fill out one of the arrival cards
- Take your passport with visa and your arrival card finally to the immigration officer to get stamped.
- Get your luggage
- You then get to proceed to the very unorganized mandatory covid testing area. Log onto their wifi, then go to the website listed above the booth at the back of it. Get in line for this booth immediately, don’t sit down or anything.
- While waiting in line, fill out the appointment form on the website. When it asks to pay, click the option that says you already paid.
- When you finally get to the front of the booth (people will try to cut you here as well, so again, pay attention), show them your appointment confirmation that gets sent to your email, and your receipt from inside. Once he checks it and signs off, you then go get a fake throat swab, and you can finally leave!
What to do in Bujumbura
As I mentioned, Bujumbura is the capital, and so as you can probably imagine, it’s very busy. There’s not a ton of things to see in the actual city, but the lake area is very beautiful and fun!
In fact, there’s quite a few lake-front bars, reastuarants, and little beach clubs, as well as a few hotels! You can even go swimming at the beaches, but just be aware…there are hippos, and hippos can be extremely dangerous!
So my top suggestion for Bujumbura is to go to the beach bars. One that was really cute was called Bora Bora. You can also go have lunch at the fancy Hotel Du Loc (where I stayed for a hefty price), which has a nice pool and beach area.
Depending on your guide, or your ability to easily make friends, you can also try to attend a local wedding or Dowry party! I went to both and it was so much fun!
Best Things to Do in Burundi
Outisde of Bujumbura, you’ll find several really amazing things to do. I only had time for a few of them, but I chose wisely and was very impressed!
So here’s my best things to do in Burundi that I did, and a couple others you can do as well!
By the way, you DEFINITELY want to get a guide and a driver. I used Gisabo Tours, which is foudned and run by a young Burundian guy named Audice who cares so much about his country! He’ll really give you a beautiful experience!
My top pick of things I wanted to do and also now my top best things to do in Burundi pick, is Karera Waterfalls!
They’re a bit far (about 3 hours from Bujumbura) so you definitely need to take a tour. You could do it as a day trip, but it’s a lot of driving, so I’d recommend staying the night near it or near your next destination.
Karera Waterfalls is actually a big park, and there are a total of five waterfalls you can see! The main one is right at the entrance, but if you follow the trail to the right, you’ll have a nice hike to the others.
Before you get to the lower falls, you can go on a long rope bridge for a really stunning view! Then I would suggest going all the way down to the very bottom, and the tallest of all the waterfalls. Be careful when crossing the stream because the rocks are slippery! And don’t get to close to this waterfall because it’s really strong!
Instead, hike back up to the middle falls, which is the top of the previous waterfall. That being said, be VERY careful and don’t get close to the edge! The falls here have rock pools at the bottom of them (as opposed to mushy sand) so you can sit in it and enjoy a natrual shower!
Later you can go to the only local hotel nearby called Parrot**** for lunch and some of their homemade 100% pineapple juice!
Sidenote: foreign visitors aren’t common here, so you will get stared at a lot. Please say hi and be kind to the locals! You can even buy some fruit or snacks from them!
Gishora Drum Ceremony
I knew that my trip to Burundi would not be complete without goinig to see the Gishora drums! This incredible, soul-shaking performance literally had me in tears! The beat of the drum and the energy of the drummers, plus the awe from the local children who come to watch, was just really amazing!
The history behind these massive drums, that are said to resemble a woman’s body, and made from worshipped cow hide, is an interesting one as well. The ingoma drums represent power, and play an important role in the re-rise of their culture following colonization by the French.
Gishora is near *** which was the first capital of Burundi. The hotel I stayed at there was called *** and it was only about $25 for a big, relatively modern room, and decent bathroom with hot water.
It didn’t occur to me that there would be huge tea fields in Burundi, although it should have since I also saw them in Rwanda. But anyway, they are in the north of Burundi as well!
The area they are in is up in the mountains, and it actually gets REALLY cold! Like I was freezing and had to turn the heater on in my hotel room! So definitely pack a jacket!
You’ll need to pay a fee to enter the National Park that all of the tea fields are in (included if you take a tour of course), and I’d recommend buying one of the little handmade souvenirs from the locals there trying to earn some cash.
I stayed at a hotel called Green Park, which was only $35/night, and had a comfortable room. The hot water in my room didn’t work, but my guides said theirs did, so just be sure to check first. They also have a restaurant there that takes a long time, but the food is good!
Lake Tanganyika Beaches and Beach Clubs in Bujumbura
As I mentioned in the section about Bujumbura, there’s a bunch of beaches along Lake Tanganyika! You can go to a hotel that has one, or one of the many beach bars and clubs. Again, the one I thought was really cute is called Bora Bora, and they even have hookah there!
Also as I mentioned, there ARE hippos in the lake. I didn’t personally see them, but I’ve seen enough in my life to know they will swim anywhere they want. And the problem with that of course, is that they are very dangerous! If you see one, back away!
I did stay at Hotel Club du Loc, and it was quite nice, but definitely expensive, especially compared to the cheap prices of all the other hotels! I got it on a discount from Booking.com for $140 a night, but in my opinion it definitely isn’t worth that price. The only thing it had that made it almost worth that as that it has a small private beach and a huge pool.
So if you want to add Burundi, one of my new favorite hidden gems in Africa, to your travel list, I’d highly recommend it! Please contact my friends at Gisabo Tours to arrange it, I promise they’ll take good care of you, and show you an amazing time!