This summer I found myself in the unlikely city of Bujumbura, Burundi. I was 19-years-old, solo travelling, and totally lost as to where to go and what to do.
So, if in the future, nomadic, curious people stumble into this vibrant young African city, you can use this as your starting guide. Also, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I can connect you with some of my local friends.
Places to Stay:
Bujumbura (aka Buja) is quite expensive for accommodation. It’s not exactly a tourist destination. The foreigners are mostly diplomats and NGO workers.
- Club du Lac is very outside of the city but it’s one of the ‘nicest’ places. It’s a resort with a gym, pools and access to Lake Tanginika. ($100USD a night for my company’s rate, but I think typical is $140USD a night)
- I went to Dolce Vita quite a bit. NGO rate was $85/night whereas the regular was $100. Wifi is good, second floor rooms have good balconies and there’s a decent restaurant. If you walk outside down the road you can grab a taxi.
- Kiriri Gardens. ~$109/night diplomatic / ngo rate. I think it’s the nicest hotel in Buja. It’s near some nice restaurants, a beautiful view of the city and has great samosas!
- You can get cheaper hotels ($50/night) at places like Kangaroo Hotel (which is down the street from a vibrant market)… but they won’t have wifi or many amenities. Kangroo is known to have good lunch food though.
In general, expect to pay $50 on the low end and $110 on the high end on NGO-rates (which, by the way, you can negotiate at the front desk — paying in cash with foreign currency can also give you some leverage) .
There is technically an app, Wasili, but I (and others) have found it does not work on newer phones or iphones. I worked with my local friends to essentially find taxis I liked and then I used WhatsApp to call them.
Note: there is the time on your watch and then there is Burundi time. As a best practice, I would call taxis well in advance and budget lots of time for restaurants (like 3–4 hours).
Lastly, when I was in Burundi in the summer of 2023, we had major gas shortages. It was a huge problem and handicapped getting around (which also made taxis expensive). Sometimes locals will need to buy from the black-market. I can’t say I know how that works… but local connections are definitely key in Buja!
My personal favourite spots to eat were at Kiriri Gardens, Belvedere, Amahoro Café, Bujacafe, Café Gourmand and LM Café. Buja has the best coffee in Burundi!! Waka Waka is also popular but it wasn’t my favourite.
There will generally be a restaurant in hotels. Locals will be able to take you to some restaurants that aren’t on google. For the most part, it’s not a culinary city, frankly, and most of the menus are copy-paste (pasta, pizza, meat, etc).
A very popular thing is going out for Brochettes and beer. I couldn’t name a single Brochette place as they were arbitrarily defined by their exterior plastic chairs. I always had a friend with me.
Grocery stores are pretty limited selection. My favourite one was Mettaya!
Safety + SIM Card
The sun sets at 6pm and I was never out at night alone (other than in a taxi). During the day, the city is safe, I got some stares as there are not many foreigners. I never had a problem with theft or personal space. I stayed aware of my resources, pockets and the people around me… and I was fine!
I got an Onamob SIM card and if I were to go back I would get LUMITEL. Although both have network problems. My iphone from 2021 was not fully compatible with the SIM card. I couldn’t access personal hotspot or international calling, for example.
Topping-up your SIM is easy. Just stop to talk to a person wearing a LUMITEL (yellow) or Onamob (orange) vest on the street. They are hard to miss and there are many. I just gave them cash and then they sent mobile money to my SIM card!
Cash and Card
My visa credit card didn’t get accepted in the machines. I would very rarely use my visa debit card.
90% of the time I used Burundian Francs. I needed USD cash for some purchases (including a purchase to settle my plane ticket/visa… long story).
I was advised to NOT bring Canadian Dollars to Burundi because they don’t exchange well. I had British Pounds, USD and Euro and I got good rates when I sent them with my local contacts.
Things to do:
I didn’t do all the things on this list, but I’ve talked to enough expats to compile it:
- Rusizi national park (you can see Hippos!)
- Lake Tanginika
- Frontier with the DRC (not the safest activity, but super interesting if you’re with a local: you will get to see some true business/hustle spirit)
- Arena Night Club
- Zanzi Bar and Grill (live music)
- Concerts in Jardin Publique
- Sports (specifically, Basketball)
- See the drummers!!!
Burundi’s an awesome hidden gem!
Overall, I think Burundi is a great country and you can do so much if you know the right people. There are amazing humanitarian projects, upbeat people and stunning sights of nature. It’s an unconventional spot, but a mix of purpose-driven work and some interesting sights make it a special place to visit!
If you have other questions you can email me at email@example.com