Burundi is Recovering

Burundi opens its doors to most every nationality in the world for visa on arrival. It is on the rebound from a violent recent past and is still subject to a US State Department travel warning. It major tourist draws, if there were tourists, are Where Stanley Didn’t Meet Livingstone and a contested source of the Nile. My kind of place!

Bujumbura Airport (BJM) gets kudos for funky architecture and the open air departures hall is a great spot to wait for a flight. Arrivals has a casual, friendly feeling. Local women with heavy carry-on baggage pass their items forward past immigration to be collected later. Airport employees greet their friends and some scoot to the front of the line.

Burundi Bujumbura Airport 01

Burundi Bujumbura Airport 02

Hotel Amahoro was my choice for its mid-range price and central location. Airport pickup was US$25, same as a taxi, so I went wife it for extra caution. The driver showed up an hour later, after several calls. I chatted with passengers including an Indian arrival who needed me to call his friend. The Indian community in East Africa has a tumultuous history of periods of prosperity and expulsion. The young man said, “Only we can do business here.” Airport employees were shutting down for the night when my driver arrived.

Bujumbura at night is hardly menacing. In between rain showers, young people stroll and shop. Bars are plenty, so are pizza joints. A local taste in a restaurant is a bit harder to locate. I went to upscale Hotel Botanika for a Burundi-French dinner. I chatted with the chef, and amazingly, a few days later we ran into each other a few days later in Kigali, Rwanda where he was visiting university friends. On a weekday by 9 pm the city is dark and shops are shuttered.

Hotel Amahoro’s breakfast is modest. Tang, wieners and French bread. The rooftop view of the city is worth enduring the greasy wieners. Lake Tanganyika sits to the west, blocked from the city by the port. The main central market has collapsed and is boarded up. I took a morning walk through the bustling traffic.

Burundi Bujumbura 01

Burundi Bujumbura 02

Burundi Bujumbura 03

I chartered a taxi for a swing down to La Pierre de Livingstone et Stanley, 30 minutes south of town.

La Pierre de Livingstone et Stanley 01

La Pierre de Livingstone et Stanley 2

Then back up north to the airport with a detour to the crumbling resorts at Saga Beach on Lake Tanganyika.

Burundi Bujumbura Saga Beach 01

Burundi Bujumbura Saga Beach 02

Burundi Bujumbura Saga Beach 03

I can’t point to anything specific to appeal to a tourist about Burundi however I got a good vibe from the country.

Everything was so smooth until I tried to check in to my Ethiopian Air flight to Kigali. The first agent couldn’t find my name, looked puzzled, turned to her colleague, who in turn also looked puzzled, and asked why I didn’t have a ticket. So began United + Ethiopian = Big Trouble in Little Burundi…

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  • gavinmac

    Nice report about a seldom visited country. Thanks.

  • There’s also some beautiful hiking about an hour outside Bujumbura as well as some nice beach “resorts” (that are not crumbling) about ten minutes outside the city, like Bora Bora. But glad you got a good vibe!

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @Paul – it’s a good point I left out. There are some upper-end resorts close to the city on the lake that I did not get a chance to visit. The Saga Beach strip that I visited has seen better times, though it sounds like locals make day trips on weekends. I also heard there is a distinctive drumming style that there are occasional performances in Bujumbura.

  • PedroNY

    Thank you for your review, very interesting location to visit!

    Cheers,

    PedroNY