Burundi travel guide
For all its wondrous landscapes (think undulating mountain ranges, dense rainforests and shimmering lakes), travellers are advised to steer clear of Burundi right now – the scenery might be beautiful, but the political situation is decidedly ugly.
Civil unrest, an abortive military coup and controversial elections have dominated the headlines in Burundi recently, which is a great shame given what this country has to offer.
The vibrant if tumultuous capital, Bujumbura, has a prime location on the shores of Lake Tanganyika and just outside the city are some of the best inland beaches in Africa, plus a number of idyllic beachfront bars and resorts.
The city itself has some interesting examples of French architecture and has developed a reputation for its vibrant nightlife, but infrastructural development has been hindered by decades of sporadic conflict that culminated in 1994 and left more than 300,000 dead.
Further beyond the city limits, the four beautiful waterfalls at Chutes de la Karera are well worth a visit, as are a few of the largely unexplored and underdeveloped national parks. Parc National de la Rusiza is the most accessible, just 15km (9 miles) from Bujumbura, while Parc National de la Kibira is the largest rainforest in Burundi and is home to rare colobus monkeys and chimpanzees.
An advantage of Burundi’s small size is that if you have your own vehicle or hire a driver, it’s generally easy to visit any of these highlights and return to Bujumbura within the same day; public transport, however, is limited outside the city.
Burundi has made tentative progress towards peace and stability since a power-sharing government was set up in 2001 and most rebel groups agreed to disarm, but in 2015 President Nkurunziza’s bid to change the constitution and stand for a third term sparked mass protests and a violent response from the state.
Hundreds of thousands of Burundians have fled into neighbouring Tanzania, fearing the collapse of the country’s fragile democracy and a return to civil war. Watch this space.
27,816 sq km (10,740 sq miles).
11,552,561 (UN estimate 2016).
386.2 per sq km.
President Pierre Nkurunziza since 2005.
President Pierre Nkurunziza since 2005.
220 volts AC, 50Hz. European-style plugs with two round pins are usually used.
Last updated: 13 March 2017
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. ‘We’ refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
There’s a high risk of crime. Muggings at gun and knife point, bag snatching, pick-pocketing, burglary, car break-ins, and armed car hijackings have all been reported. Avoid walking in the streets or using public transport after dark, even in Bujumbura city centre, and don’t carry large amounts of money. Take care when withdrawing or exchanging cash, and avoid doing so at night.
Arrange guards for homes and stay at hotels that have good security. Safeguard valuables and cash. Use hotel safes, where possible. Keep copies of important documents, including your passport and visa, separately. Be wary of who you plan to meet and where, and inform colleagues or family members of your plans.
The security situation across Burundi stabilised when the last remaining rebel group was officially disarmed in 2009. However, Burundi remains volatile, especially due to the current political crisis, which includes an attempted coup in May 2015.
There have been incursions and clashes between armed groups, including an armed attack on civilian vehicles. The threat of ambush by bandits remains high. You should make contact with your destination before you leave setting off and ensure that you allow enough time to complete your journey during daylight hours.
Land border crossings are currently open, but the situation is fluid and they may be closed without advance warning. In July 2016, Burundi banned public transport vehicles from crossing the border with Rwanda and introduced restrictions on Burundian food products being exported into Rwanda.
You can drive in Burundi on a full UK driving licence for the first 6 months after you arrive. You’ll then need to get a Burundi driving licence. There are only a small number of asphalt roads and these are sometimes in poor condition. Driving standards are poor and there are frequent serious accidents. Keep car doors locked and windows closed when driving. Access in to and out of Bujumbura city is controlled by police at night.
Road blocks and document checks are common, and not always official. Carry a copy of your passport and visa, but you may be required to produce the originals. Reports of attempted robberies at fake checkpoints have increased.
Avoid travelling on collective and public transport (buses and motorbike taxis), due to poor vehicle maintenance and low driving standards.
Road infrastructure is poor and roads are frequently blocked or damaged by landslides, especially after heavy rain. Landslides have destroyed road bridges, making some routes impassable. Check local advice on road conditions when planning travel by road and have a contingency plan in case your preferred route is blocked.
Airports are currently open, but the volatile situation means they can be closed or flights can be cancelled without warning. A number of carriers fly in and out of Burundi including: Rwandair, Ethiopian Airlines, Kenyan Airways and Brussels Airlines.
The EU has published a list of air carriers that are subject to an operating ban or restrictions within the EU.
The political situation remains tense since an attempted coup in May 2015, and disputed presidential elections in July 2015, with violent attacks, particularly against those perceived to be opposed to President Nkurunziza’s third term. Sporadic targetted assassinations continue to happen, with an increase in arbitrary arrests, detentions and disappearances of Burundians, most often from civil society, independent media and pockets of society perceived to be anti-government. The police have used live ammunition and tear gas against demonstrators. Avoid all demonstrations and large gatherings.
The government of Burundi reacted strongly to the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2303 in July 2016, which called for UN police to be deployed to the country. This included demonstrations outside the French Embassy.
There’s no British Embassy in Bujumbura. Burundi is covered by the British High Commission in Kigali, Rwanda. However, the British Embassy Office (telephone: +257 22 24 64 78 or + 257 22 25 03 66; address: Building Old East, Place de L’independence, Bujumbura), can provide limited advice and assistance. The Belgian Embassy in Burundi is able to provide consular assistance to British nationals. All visitors or long term residents should register with the Belgian Embassy: Boulevard de la Liberté, 9, Bujumbura; telephone: + 257 22 22 32 66 or + 257 22 22 61 76; email: Bujumbura@diplobel.org