Definitely off-the-beaten-path, Bujumbura is a city that is easy to fall in love with.
Burundi may not be the first country you want to explore when travelling around East Africa, but it’s definitely worth a visit. From its cultural importance to its pristine landscapes, travelling to Burundi means properly visiting “the heart of Africa”.
The visa application was a stumbling block for the past years when travelling to Burundi. However, with the new visa-on-arrival policy, this is no longer a challenge. A visa on arrival for Burundi can be done at Bujumbura International Airport or at any national border without any problems. The process takes several minutes, and you can get a visa for up to one month.
Once in Burundi, Bujumbura will be your obligatory stop. It is Burundi’s largest city and probably where your adventure begins. True, most travellers arrive in Bujumbura and leave the day after to experience its nature. However, there is still a lot to explore for those who stay for one, two, or even several days. I spent one week in Bujumbura, and although I don’t know it all, I tried my best to collect information and tell you which are the best things to do in Bujumbura, according to Burundians.
Visit Lake Tanganyika
Lake Tanganyika is Africa’s second-largest lake and a special place for East Africans. To Burundians, Lake Tanganyika is considered their ocean. For those who live in Bujumbura, it is the hotspot to be on the weekends and holidays. For travellers looking for a fun day at the beach, Karera and Saga are very popular among locals, especially on weekends. Expect to meet curious Burundians offering you cold beers and happy to show you their traditional music and dances. It is one of the best spots to integrate into Burundian culture and make new friends.
For travellers hoping to have more privacy, the Hotel Club Du Lac Tanganyika has a private beach for its residents. But don’t worry, you don’t have to stay in a fancy hotel to enjoy the best beaches of Burundi. Bora Bora Club, or Club du lac Tanganyika have great beach bars where expats and locals go to enjoy a calm day.
Keep this in mind! Even though the lake’s water looks clean and refreshing, you should not go for it. The water at Lake Tanganyika, especially next to large cities, is often polluted, so it is better to avoid jumping in here. Luckily there are enough swimming pools perfect for cooling off. Many luxury hotels offer day passes for visitors, which is worth it.
Club du Lac prices range from BIF4000 (1.2 USD) during the week to BIF10,000 (3 USD) at the weekend. Breakfast brunches and fancy lunches are also served at the hotel pool. However, note that it can get crowded on weekends due to the expat community of Bujumbura.
Another great place along the beach to get a bite is the Cercle Nautique de Bujumbura. You will even see hippos from the dining platform if you are lucky.
Buy local products at the craft market
A stay in Bujumbura wouldn’t be a cultural adventure without a visit to the markets. Here you can see and buy local products, experience day-to-day life and get a glimpse of Bujumbura’s hustle and bustle. The Av de Stade is ideal for local souvenirs. From local baskets to pieces of art made of wood, this is the place to find a nice present to take home.
If you can’t find the right souvenir at the Av de Stade, the market on the Chaussee Prince Louis Rwagazore, opposite the Library St. Paul, might be the place to go. Here you will also be able to see some crafts from all over the country sold at reasonable prices.
NOTE: Drums will be your best bet if you want to buy an excellent local craft. Burundian have a special connection with the drum, and getting a Burundian drum is a symbol of appreciation for the country. Unfortunately, most African masks in Bujumbura come from Congo or West Africa, and all small souvenirs usually come from Kenya or Tanzania.
Local spices are always a good bet for travellers hoping to find something local but easy to carry. For that, you can either visit one of the several local markets where you can buy them fresh by the kilo or simply enter a supermarket and get some of the local products they have for sale.
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Get lost in the main market
While the crafts markets are fun to explore, the main market is an adventure. So embrace yourself if you want to take a closer look at everything and plan enough time since you will probably get lost repeatedly.
From second-hand clothes to colourful fresh goods to obscure products, you will find everything here. It’s still not the best choice for shopping, but there’s plenty to see. This is where locals Burundians get their products, and merchants from other parts of the country come to do business. Expect to chat with over a hundred people and take home one or two things you didn’t need.
While I felt safe walking at the market, this place should not be visited alone. Go with other travellers or with a local. It won’t only make the experience more comfortable and fun, but also it is ideal if you visit the market with a local who can explain or show you something about many things.
Explore independently by foot
Bujumbura is very safe during the day. There are a lot of security forces and police checks, just like in the whole country. It is, therefore, easy to walk around and explore the city on foot. Even though Bujumbura is not Kigali regarding cleanliness, I didn’t find much rubbish and dirt, especially when you compare it with Nairobi, Kampala or Goma. The streets are in good shape, and walking from one place to another is easy. Additionally, there are many small French patisseries where you can enjoy French bites with a Burundian twist.
The Place de l Independence is a perfect starting point for a short city tour, as you can quickly get to the city centre from here.
If you are interested in culture, I recommend the Burundi Living Museum, the Burundi Geological Museum or the Parc des Reptiles.
For art lovers, TwoFiveSeven Arts are worth a visit. Here local artists exhibit their handmade art.
Taste Bujumbura’s coffee culture
All of Eastern Europe is known for its extraordinarily diverse coffee culture. Even if Burundi’s coffee culture cannot compete with the traditions of Ethiopia or the coffee quality of Rwanda, the coffee culture here is just a little behind. Due to the altitude of the growing areas where Arabica is mainly grown, Burundi coffee tastes fruity and chocolatey.
The best place for a good coffee and a great workspace is Bujacafe. In addition to the coffee specialities, excellent and fresh food is also available here.
Bujacafe is very popular among the expat community in Bujumbura (the place itself is surrounded by embassies). However, for a more local and relaxed experience, Botanika and Le Cafe Gourmand also have delicious coffee.
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Find your own tailor in the West African district
Visiting the West African district is worth the time for those looking forward to exploring a different side of Bujumbura. In the area surrounding the Kant Hotel, West African roots have settled. Here, they built their community and got famously known for working as tailors and offering excellent food.
Travellers exploring this part of the city on foot can see many of the colourful murals tailors paint to catch your attention and several shops with loud music and spicy food.
For those wanting to get more involved with the community, you can ask one of these tailors to make something special.
. Most of these tailors come from Senegal or other parts of West Africa. Colourful, traditional creations can be seen in the shop windows, which is why a stroll here is worthwhile. I bought some plain t-shirts at the central market beforehand and had them personalized with kitenge (traditional African textile). Additionally, my travel buddy had a blazer made to measure from silk and kitenge for the equivalent of only 60 EUR. The unique piece was ready just 2 days later.
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Explore the night in Bujumbura
Once the sun sets, Burundians love to go out. Arena and Zanzi restaurants are well known for their fun karaoke nights. But also, Pascha Club can be an excellent place to get a drink after a long day.
On Mondays, you have the famous 5/5 if you want to go out like the locals. This is one of the most iconic clubs in Bujumbura, and there is even a song from the French/Rwandan singer Gael Faye.
For those who want to dance through a Friday or Saturday night, Toxic, Crystal, Club Blue, and Malibu are the places to go. All these clubs are located on the same street, so you can easily hop from club to club.
Remember, Toxic is quite a fancy club in Bujumbura, so expect everyone to dress smart for the party and not arrive in shorts and flip-flops.
Unfortunately, there is still no app in Bujumbura where you can order taxis quickly. But don’t worry, most hotels can do it with just one phone call. In addition, there are often taxis waiting in front of their entrances, which you can use without any problems. Compared to other African countries, taxi rides here are also very safe. Just make sure to negotiate the price before you go, so there are no awkward arguments later.
In addition, many minibuses in the city regularly take visitors to different places.
Renting your own car in Bujumbura is a big hassle. We tried with several people without luck and gave up in the end.
Where to stay in Bujumbura
With accommodation in all price ranges, finding something that suits your budget and taste is not difficult. From simple guesthouses to luxury hotels, Kigali offers variety.
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Where to go next?
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