Burundi is a small country in East Africa with approximately 10 million inhabitants. Since its independence in 1962, the country was plagued by ethnic and political tensions. The Burundian civil war lasted from 1993 until 2005 and has claimed the lives of approximately 300,000 people. The decision of the president to run for a third term in 2015 again sparked protests and unrests throughout the country that last until today. As a consequence, tourism in the country came to a near complete stop. Most Western governments have issued travel warnings against travel to Burundi. The country scored 48th out of 54 African nations in our safety ranking for Africa. But the second least happy nation on earth has a lot to offer if you decide to visit despite the dangers.
Since it is so hard to find valuable information on tourism in Burundi, I hope to clear up some things about the country with my Burundi travel blog post. Let’s start from the beginning:
Planning our visit to Burundi
Since the start of the civil unrest in 2015, visa on arrival is no longer available for Western nations so we had to get our visas in advance. For me, that meant sending my passport to the Burundian embassy in Berlin. The visa costs 65 Euros and the processing took nearly four weeks. My passport would probably still be at the embassy if I hadn’t called them numerous times. The visa for my friends took even longer as the embassy closed down for a week without notice because the ambassador was on a trip. They even shut down their phone lines. But eventually we all managed to get our passports back in time for the trip.
Planning the trip to Burundi was quite different from trips to other countries. It is extremely hard to find up to date travel information or any Burundi travel blog. Nobody seems to have gone there since 2015.
Luckily, we managed to find Eric, a Dutch guy who had been living in the North of Burundi for several years. Eric was renting out rooms in his former guest house in Kirundo on AirBnb. Through him, we also managed to find first hand information about the safety situation in the country and he had some ideas about what sights we should see during our time in Burundi. Perfect, we were all set for the trip.
Are you considering a trip to Burundi? Find out everything you need to know about high-risk travel insurance. Your normal travel insurance may not be valid if you are traveling to Burundi.
Visiting Northern Burundi
We decided not to go through Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi but to enter the country from Rwanda. So we took a flight to Kigali and organized a driver to the border at Nemba. The ride took about 1.5 hours and cost $80 – transport doesn’t come cheap in this part of the world.
A nervous ride towards the Burundi border
We were all excited and a bit nervous as we had no idea what was waiting on the other side. The closer we got to the border, the more nervous our driver got by the minute. Around two miles from the border he took a right off the main road and drove towards the last town on the Rwanda side. However, we insisted that he drove us all the way to the border post as we had agreed beforehand. Things got a little weird from there. He kept driving towards the border in slow motion, visibly distressed, looking left and right all the time. We started getting a little nervous too. As we arrived at the Rwandan military check point, the driver was relieved that we got out of the car and he could drive back to Kigali.
Crossing the border
The Burundian government is using Rwanda as a scapegoat for everything that is going wrong in their own country and it is therefore not safe for Rwandans to enter Burundi. Since no Rwandans and no tourists want to go to Burundi, we were obviously the only people at the border trying to get into a country everyone else is trying to get out of. But until the border officials of both sides had woken up from their naps and started working extremely slowly, it still took us about 1.5 hours to cross. After the crossing, everything went quite smoothly. Our driver was already waiting on the other side to drive us to Kirundo.
First impressions of Burundi – Empty Roads and Military Check Points
Live was different on this side of the border. Burundi is definitely the most undeveloped country I have ever been to. Due to international sanctions, the nation is drained of foreign exchange which leads to a shortage of all imported goods. Fuel is hard to get by and we were the only car on the road for our 30 minute drive from the border. Public life is happening on the surprisingly well paved roads since they are hardly still used for driving. Flocks of people jump off the streets as we make our way through the numerous military check points towards Kirundo. Corruption is a big issue in Burundi but we are lucky – everyone here knows Eric, our host, as he is the only Mzungu (white person) living in the area. And apparently everyone respects him enough not to rip off his guests.
Places to Visit in Northern Burundi
Even though travelling to Burundi doesn’t seem very inviting, there are lots of things to do and see in Northern Burundi. On the first day, we explored the small town of Kirundo on foot. Everything runs a little slower here than elsewhere. As we sat down for dinner, we waited over two hours for our meals to arrive – not unusual, as we later learned.
The next morning, we got up early to enjoy the sunrise on a boat tour Lac Rwihinda. The ranger at the national park showed us his guest book where he registered all domestic and international tourists. There was about one entry per month over the last two years. The boat tour of Lac Rwihinda at sunrise was incredibly beautiful:
About 1% of the population of Burundi is of Twa (or Batwa) etnicity, pygmy people who live in various countries throughout East Africa. Before 2015, when the country was stable, the people performed traditional batwa dance shows for tourists to generate an income. Even though there is no more routine to these “tourist shows”, Eric organized a trip for us to the twa village. As we arrived at the small settlement, everyone was singing and dancing, waiting for us. But it didn’t seem like a tourist show. Everyone was enjoying themselves and they were a bit clumsy and excited themselves, not having performed their traditional dances for tourists in a long time.
We brought some soap bubbles with us to Burundi. Bubbles are a really good gift to bring to children in the developing world. They are a lot of fun and don’t create as much trash as wrapped candy or other small gifts.
Here are some more pictures I took on the tour:
The trip to Burundi was an absolutely positive suprise. Everything went smoothly and we didn’t feel unsafe at any time (apart from the drive towards the border on the Rwandan side). Life is hard for the people of Burundi. Many kids grow up without parents who have either died or fled the country in order to escape the extreme poverty, leaving their children behind. Nevertheless, we were welcomed by lots of smiling faces and I can only hope that the future of the country looks brighter than its past.
I hope you liked reading my Burundi Travel Blog. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to post them below.
Other interesting reads:
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Guide to Travelling to the Danakil Depression in Northern Ethiopia – The Hottest Place on Earth
Petting Crocodiles in the South of Bangladesh – A Memorable Travel Experience
33 thoughts on “Burundi Travel Blog – My Experiences Travelling to the Second Least Happy Nation on Earth”
This is amazing! I’ve always wanted to go to Africa but do feel the craziness and poverty of its people is dangerous to travel into. I’m extremely amazed you did this, but that it wasn’t anything you expected was truly beautiful to hear. Your photos are amazing and that sunrise on the lake. Oh My Gosh! How long did it truly take you to get the visa? Amazing post!
I like the excitement of travelling to the lesser visited places on earth. I think nobody has any real interest in hurting any foreigners in politically instable regions, that would just attract too much attention. Worst case is you get robbed but if you keep cool that shouldn’t really be dangerous. Areas with extremist islamic groups are different because of the threat of kidnappings but that is not something that has to be feared in Burundi.
My visa took a bit more than 4 weeks but I applied early enough. Two of the other three travellers only got their passport back one week before we started. They started getting nervous when the phone lines of the embassy were shut off two weeks before departure 🙂
That’s very true! Okay so you gave yourself the time to apply for the visa. This was so informative, thank you for sharing! 🙂
Oh wow… you are one brave soul:) I am hesitant to visit places like this … BUT good to know someone who just does it:)
So interesting! I rarely see posts from this part of the world so this was great. Thanks for sharing!
What an interesting story to read. It’s great that you had Eric to help you navigate the area. That’s one thing I’ve noticed in poverty areas, they tend to do a “foreigner upcharge”.
Oh my goodness. You are my inspiration – officially my inspiration. This is such a wonderful post to read I can’t even believe it. The fact that you and your travel buddies went into Burundi via Rwanda – that in itself is absolutely FEARLESS! I’m a solo traveler and people call me brave just doing that, but its because I don’t wander over to countries in risky places like East Africa, as you have. After reading this however, I’m so inspired. Thank you so much for sharing all of these tips and your experiences!
I look forward to more of your posts in the future… happy travels! 😀
Thank you very much 🙂 I guess it’s all about pushing boundaries… after travelling a lot in Southeast Asia, I feel very comfortable there now so I can push it to the next level. I don’t think it’s a lot more dangerous to travel in Africa than in Asia or any other place. It’s just different and not as comfortable. There is a lot of corruption and crime going on – usually not dangerous for tourists – while you may get robbed, nobody is really interested in seriously hurting tourists – that would just call for too much international attention.
I also consider you brave for being a solo traveler – sometimes it’s much harder being in a complicated situation alone than being in a group in a weird place. I also travel alone but I don’t go to unsafe places on my own. Happy travels 🙂
It’s a very amazing post, you talked more about my best country where you can enjoy without any complication, exactly in rural places. For next when you need to enjoy some places don’t think about East Burundi, I mean near DRC. here its a very big dangerous area cause there some rebels making their training and you can be kidnaped next. I saw wonderful photos and feel free to take apart from what you analyzed as Burundi poorer country, really yes but you discover this when traveling to the lost corners of the country where people are enjoying in bad clothes, eating on the roadside like avocados, mango, cassava and so on and when they see you in a car they run behind you muzungu,muzunguuuu….some of them also had never seen the car, ooh my Goal …so, we still needing development in Burundi especially in those places let’s say lost corners. when you take time for enjoying the places is not only to take pictures and publish, noo this could be a subject of studies and so make some project to solve what issue I discover in my travel. Thinks feel free for next and for every one needs travel and enjoy places in Burundi we are very caring to white people and the reason maybe could cause we think that white people are reaches and have USD, EURO, POUNDS haha but not if you want to discover many places and inside the villages (traditional, culture, foods,..) enjoy also but for getting the best guide perhaps you must pay some fees to the local governor(kosiyo), this will help you more. I have to do something for improving the economy of these places plz and I will need help from you. Am studying masters in Asia
waauuuuwww thank you a lot
that’s my country!!!
Incredible! Sounds like you had quite an adventure. Love the photos.
Excellent post. I was checking constantly this blog and I’m impressed!
Very useful info specifically the last part 🙂 I care for such
info a lot. I was looking for this certain info for a long time.
Thank you and good luck.
I am so happy to find people interested to visit my beloved less known country in world. I was born there but grow up in South Africa due to wars in 90s. I am planning to visit for first time since I left with my family in fact next month. I am also taking my wife who never been there before to show her where I was born. we are also going through visa issues as she is not Burundian which is been a week now and we hope next week or 3rd week we would get her visa issued. I am excited and nervous about how things are there now. I heard poverty increased after 2015 and I have feeling it will make me emotional to see. I am hoping to discover lot places I remember when I was young and new places. I hope to hear more people interested to visit my country Burundi regardless poverty and corruption. I hope in future to started agency to help tourists who would like to come visit Burundi easy and make their stay warmly and welcomed just like Eric. Thank you for making this blog about Burundi as I was also searching people experience in Burundi and found your blog amazing. Vielen Dank!
Thank you for this great comment! I hope your wife will get her visa approved soon and that you will have a great trip back to your home country. I also hope you will encounter as many nice and friendly people in Burundi as we did. Good luck!
i was also amazed to see this block and plz don’t feel like ur country has changed it still the same it’s just that it need u for making a change who knows hahahah! karibu iwanyu!!
Hi there, this was a great read! Does anyone have updated information about potentially getting a visa on arrival at BJM airport? If I were to stay for less than 72 hours and then continue to a third country, is a transit visa on arrival possible? Any help would be much appreciated. Cheers! -Sam
Since I believe in freedom of speech which I aspire dearly to, allow me to use the same to challenge you on the( subjective)notion of happiness naming Burundi “the Second Least Happy Nation on Earth”.
Maybe we can exchange notes?
Hi Augustin, thanks for commenting. I too believe in freedom of speech. The notion that Burundi is (or rather may be) the second least happy nation wasn’t made by me but by a large scale international report.
This article is fascinating! I have been researching Burundi and came across this post! We are looking to adopt internationally from Burundi and I was wondering if we would be able to use one of your beautiful photos. I have been looking for a photo to make into a puzzle and use as a fundraiser for our adoption. Thank you for exploring this beautiful country full of wonderful people. 💜