Getting to Burundi – Finally Putting Burundi on a Map
Oh, Burundi, you were our Everest! If you asked me about Burundi a few years ago, I would have struggled to find Burundi on a map. I admit it. There were a few countries that somehow never registered over the years travelling the world. Getting to Burundi wasn’t supposed to be that hard. In fact, it seems to be quite easy. Get to Kigali in Rwanda, get your visa and off you go exploring. But it turned out to be a mission.
But first, let’s put Burundi on a map
Burundi is a small country in the East/Central Africa region. Here is where Burundi is on a map of Africa.
When you look at Burundi on a map you can see it is landlocked and it is bordered by Lake Tanganyika and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west, Tanzania to the east and Rwanda to the north. We were planning to travel to Burundi from Rwanda overland. Getting to Burundi overland seemed to be the cheapest and easiest option as you can get there by public transport.
Applying for Burundi Visa in Kigali
We arrived in Kigali, Rwanda and went to the embassy of Burundi the next morning. The application process seemed to be easy, it was Wednesday and we were told to come back in a week. Getting to Burundi at this stage felt like an easy task.
If we only knew…
Welcome to Burundi
Our next week was full of adventures! We crossed the border to Uganda to finally see the gorillas. what an epic adventure. We came back to the embassy of Burundi a week later, on Wednesday, only to be told that our visa wasn’t processed.
You see, each Tuesday the ministry that approves all tourist visas has a meeting where they sign off on visas. Our applications have for some reason not been processed. Hmm… Ok. We started on the map of Burundi at the embassy and even considered getting to Burundi another time, but this would just cost us money in flights.
So another week spent in Rwanda.
Tuesday came around again and we were told, that although the meeting had already taken place, there was no way of knowing if we received the visa.
We were told to just wait.
Nothing happened on Wednesday either. Well, we met two guys at the embassy, GG and Snake – suddenly getting to Burundi as a group of four became the new way to do it. They were in the same situation as us. A plan was quickly hatched.
In short, we made the decision to travel to the border to see if a visa on arrival would be granted.
Getting to Burundi – Our first run to the Burundi border
The next morning, the four of us were at the bus station ready for Burundi.
3.5 hours later, an hour was spent at the border and we were on our way back to Kigali. Sadly without an official letter, there was no way to get our visa at the border. We knew this would be the most likely outcome but we were willing to try it. Especially since GG and Snake had to fly out in two days. So it was now or never for them.
Not long after leaving the border, we received a call from the embassy. Most importantly, our visa was approved!
We swiftly paid and collected our visa the next morning and were immediately on our way to Burundi. Again!
Getting to Burundi, finally!
The station in Kigali is very organised compared to other bus stations in Africa. And, the buses leave on time. We took the Volcano bus that leaves every hour. Three hours later we were at the border of Burundi.
The cost of the bus is $2.80. Immigration at each side was super quick and as soon as we crossed the border, we found shared taxis departing for the capital, Bujumbura.
The cost per seat is 15,000 Burundi Francs ($8.00). The journey to the capital was very picturesque. We had enjoyed such beautiful landscapes in Rwanda, and as we drove through Burundi, we could see that this is also a beautiful part of Africa.
However, as Burundi remains unstable, the economy has been hit hard. In fact, in 2019 Burundi was one of the poorest countries in Africa.
The man sitting next to us in the shared taxi is impressed that we don’t have a car and a driver. When we explained that we would not travel like that at home, that in fact, we ride a bicycle to work, he seemed to be puzzled. This has happened to us a lot in Africa.
The least developed countries and ones that are considered unsafe see only one type of foreigner. For example, they only see UN workers, diplomats, NGO workers or an older adventure traveller with a private package.
We arrive at night and check in to Urban Lodge. This hotel feels like an oasis within the city.
Exploring Bujumbura in Burundi
Bujumbura is not too different from other main cities we have visited in the region. There are tuk-tuks to get you from A to B and a few main monuments to check out. But the main attraction is the lake Tanganyika.
Our morning was spent on the beach of this large lake. It was very chilled with small boats and kids playing in the water. But we also came here to taste a Burundi speciality – Mukeke.
Mukeke fish for lunch
The Lake Tanganyika
The lake is huge. To clarify, other countries that border the lake are the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Tanzania and Zambia.
Looking across the lake you could see the dramatic mountains of DRC. And while further down south on the lake shores in Tanzania is an area quite popular with tourists, yet, we were the only ones here.
Our local friend had recommended the Bora Bora Club restaurant on the beach to try grilled mukeke, so we went there. It was a win! Our fish was served with salad and chips, and a fantastic view of the lake.
Lake Tanganyika in Burundi
Our taxi driver Cliff, on our way back from the lake, turned out to be a great guy. So we asked him to take us to a few places worth seeing in Bujumbura downtown.
While some of the monuments are pretty cool to see (photos are not always easy to take), we mostly enjoyed just chatting to our driver about Burundi as a whole and its future.
To clarify, it was just after the election and as he said, everyone was keen to see some stability and growth for this tiny country. With its tea and coffee plantations alone, Burundi has a lot of potential to be a little power nation.
Our time in Burundi was brief due to our delay with our visa, but we certainly enjoyed it.
It would be great to see the famous Burundi drummers, Livingston and Stanley stone outside of Bujumbura, a memorial to commemorate the journey of the two British explorers.
Our stay at Urban Lodge in Bujumbura was so clean and comfortable. It’s worth making a reservation in advance as this property is very popular.
And that’s our story about getting to Burundi and putting Burundi on a map – literally as we are on a mission to visit every country in the world.
Getting to Burundi and travelling in Africa – a final word
Travelling in Africa independently is quite challenging. We spent most of 2019 travelling in West Africa and learned a thing or two about how to travel in this region. Our post about 17 things to know before travelling to West Africa will help you save money, time and travel with less hassle.
Make sure you get travel insurance before hitting the road. Trust us, it’s one of those things you don’t want to leave home without. We recommend either World Nomads or SafetyWing, depending on the type of traveller you are.
TRAVEL PLANNING RESOURCES
✈️ Flights:Skyscanner and Expedia are the best sites to search for the cheapest flights and great deals from your home country.
🏨 Accommodation:Booking.com, Agoda, andHotelsCombined are the top platforms to search for fantastic hotels and accommodation options at the best price.
🛌 Homestays:Airbnb is an ideal platform to book a local experience. We use Airbnb to reserve entire apartments for long-term stays.
🏥 Travel Insurance: Don’t forget travel insurance! Protect yourself from possible injury & theft abroad. We recommend World Nomads or SafetyWing.
🚌 Transportation: We use BookaWay OR 12Go.Asia to compare and book Bus, Ferry, or Train Tickets.
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A coffee lover, history junkie, former tour guide, and endless optimist. The mastermind of logistics and chief navigator for Very Hungry Nomads, two women on an adventure to visit EVERY country in the world. Marty is a social butterfly who describes her life as “just livin’ the dream".