Burundi is a small country but has a very large population for its size. Most people in Burundi are farmers who herd goats and cattle or grow bananas, beans, corn, and cassava. Red earth and lush tropical plants form a typical Central African landscape on its highland regions. Heavy tropical rains have washed the soil from the mountain slopes, especially on the volcanic rocks of the west. In the center and east are steep sided – plateaus rising from swamps. Burundi is close to the equator, but its climate is cool and there are two seasons a year.
Here are the top ten not to be missed places in the land of Burundi.
Livingston Stanley Museum (Bujumbura City)
The Livingston Stanley Museum is located within the capital city of Bujumbura. It is one of its top attractions that were created through the efforts of two dedicated missionaries. It is a few kilometers away from the main center. The two hour drive provides a preview of the sights and sounds around Burundi like; government offices, public schools, livelihood communities, women’s co-operative center, and a local village. The site is filled with monuments and statues. One of the monuments bears the gold inscription of the first meeting between the two and their great expedition to search for the White Nile. The significance of that convergence is inscribed on a rock that is about three meters in height with the words “Livingston Stanley 25 – XI – 1871”.
The site has nothing much to offer but the view of the lush greenery all around from the high grounds of the museum is a must see. The legend of the stone and the view of the lake and the Burundian countryside is the real treasure to see in an attraction that is located along the outskirts of the capital city. It is highly advised to hire a knowledgeable driver to tour the area as the place has no signboards and directional landmarks that lead to its location.
Musee Vivant Burundi
The Musee Vivant is a quaint little zoo that presents some animals present in the wild in the country. Various animals can be seen inside but living in deplorable conditions in their enclosures. There are monkeys, a solitary leopard in a dark cage, pensive jaguars, huge turtles, small crocodiles staying on individual boxes, snakes in old glass paneled cages and little else of every variety of animals in Burundi. Most of the animals credit its origin in the nearby Congo Island. The guides spice up the tour with a little entertainment as they narrate interesting anecdotes and personal experiences about interacting with the animals. The monkey enclosure gives an entertaining acrobatic show along with their funny and amusing antics.
On weekends, various cultural shows, national events, musical concerts are held on its grounds. One of the highlights of the Zoo is you can have close encounter sessions with the wild animals, you can pet a chimpanzee, observe the snake, or throw a live guinea pig straight to the waiting crocodile’s mouth. The tour of the Zoo and the animal museum can be accomplished in two hours. The reconstruction of an old village square just within the attraction is currently ongoing to signify the modernization of the city.
Reptile Park (Parc des Reptiles)
On a long journey from the center of the capital you can have the opportunity to visit a special zoo where the main attractions are the crocodiles. The Reptile Park also holds other type of animal that are endemic only to the reptile kingdom in Bujumbura. Upon entrance you will be welcomed by a skilled guide and bring you to the first cage with a wide selection of animals that can be fed to the crocodiles. Each animal has a corresponding price and you must choose between three; rat, rabbit or goat. Then you will be lead to a raised platform where you can throw away the animal you bought as part of the crocodile’s daily meal.
It is quite an experience and most reserve conservationist does not totally agree on how the animals are maintained at the expense of killing another animal. However, many things can be learned if you spend a few hours to visit and see. There is a great place to buy souvenirs and help the cause of preserving the animals in their natural habitat than being enclosed in the cramped zoo cages. Do not miss seeing the cultural show, a ceremonial lion dance performed by the Tutsi dancers within the square of the park. Their plumed headdresses symbolize the lion’s mane. The natives of Tutsi also live in Rwanda and Zaire.
Geological Museum of Burundi
If you want to learn more about the history of the land and the countries who tried to colonize it visit the Burundi Geological Museum. From here you will learn that during the colonial times, Burundi and its neighbor Rwanda formed a single country called the Ruanda-Urundi. Like Rwanda, Burundi has a Hutu majority and a Tutsi minority. The Tutsis have been the dominant group in Burundi since the 1400’s. Another minority are the Twa, one of the country’s earliest inhabitants. From 1918, the Customs union of Ruanda-Urundi and Belgian Congo made Bujumbura the economic and political capital. Burundi was characterized for a long time by the separation of the “European” zone and the “native “zone and was the object of the greed of the western and oriental powers.
After Burundi gained their independence, the Tutsis remained in control and there Hutu uprisings. In 1991, the first democratic elections were held and Melchior Ndadaye, a Hutu native became its first president. Shortly afterward, he was assassinated. Violence broke out and thousands of refugees fled into Rwanda, Tanzania, and Zaire. Up to this day, politicians from all parties are still implementing reforms that would truly protect the interest of all the people in Burundi. The museum is worth a visit for anyone who wants to understand the rich cultural and historical past of Burundi. There are not much visitors and most of the books and artifacts displayed show signs of neglect and improper preservation.
Bururi Natural Reserve
Discovered during the 1950’s exploration programs, the Bururi Natural Reserve is the only natural conservation area that covers almost 16 kilometers located along the south west part of Burundi. The entire forest and the full responsibility of protecting it are now under the helm of the government authorities from the National Institute for Nature and Conservation of the Environment. Its exact location is along the long stretch of the Congo – Nile green landscape. On this quiet corner you can enjoy a breathtaking view of the city, the Lake Tanganyika and the beautiful mountains of Congo, but away from the noise of the city and its pollution.
A number of conservationists and guide can be found within the forest reserve and they can provide the best insight about all of the efforts done to preserve its more than 100 varieties of trees and plant species all over its more than 3, 000 hectares of land covered with lush green vegetation. A huge selection of wildlife species in their natural habitat and environment freely roam the area. It is advisable to explore the rest of the reserve only with a skilled guide who knows what and where to see the most wild and tame animals that are allowed to interact with humans.
Lac Tanganyika (Lake Tanganyika, Burundi Region)
Enjoy a portion of a lake that is widely visible from two other African countries, the Lake Tanganyika. Lined with numerous resorts and hotels, the rest of the attraction is best appreciated on foot. In the lake, the setting is superb and perfect for vacation. You can swim on the beach surrounded by shades of palm trees, or simply enjoy the view of the stunning lake with an almost deserted atmosphere. The locals are cheerful and the lake is wide, clean and serene. There is a resort that offers freshly grilled fishes captured by the locals at an affordable price. Tables with parasols line up the beach on a freshwater attraction that is situated in the middle of the African seas.
It is the best place to admire the sunset and after dusk, meals are served in different places and sometimes complete with live band music and singers. The walk by the lake is very relaxing and a charming place to unwind and be entertained by the locals. Restaurant owners can gladly share with you a bit of Burundi history and the conflicts it has successfully overcome. In the evening, you can see hippos quietly taking a dip in the calm waters of the lake.
Gitega is a major city in Burundi that lies more than 35 kilometers away from the capital city, Bujumbura and centrally located in the middle of the country. A lot of interesting sights welcome every eager visitor starting from the tourist attraction called the Kiganda Treaty. It was in 1904 the time of German occupation and colonization of Burundi that they decided to construct this monument. King Gisabo (then King of Burundi) imposed a rule that the Germans must acknowledge his empire and rule. In exchange of this agreement the king must accept the sovereignty offered by the other country. This momentous occasion and important decision of signing a treaty lead to the construction of this monument that serves as a reminder of the city’s historical past.
On the highway you can make a quick stop to visit a self reliant village that still remains faithful to its age old traditions and culture. The Batwa Village is a small community but rich in livelihood resources that help sustain their daily existence. The inhabitants here are focused about their bee and honey production, ingenious herb concoctions, handmade craft and exquisite pottery.
Gitega National Museum
Established since 1995, the Gitaga National Museum boasts of a wide selection of the past and modern day artifacts that proudly showcase interesting traditions and history of its cultural minorities.
In this city, you can also visit the Royal Palace, the burial site of the last Royal family that ruled Burundi, a local handicraft community and an Art School that teaches the creative local tribes full courses from the basic to advanced about; ceramic painting, mural making, sculptures and woodwork craftsmanship.
Gishora Drums Sanctuary
The Gishora Drums Sanctuary is a journey to the cultural heritage of Burundi that is located in the upland hills of Gitega, the second largest city. The remote center was discovered curing the early years of the 1900. It was the time when the late king Mwezi Gisabo was trying to escape from the wrath of the German colonizers who attacked his country. This is where he was kept hidden until the independence was declared and he chose to return to his palace until his death (1908). As a sign of gratitude to the people’s hospitality and caring ways during his stay, he personally created the drums made out of animal hides and gave it to the locals as a token of remembrance. It was never played during his time.
When the site was opened for public viewing in 1989, a special group was commissioned to make the place a tourist attraction. The descendants of the tribe that accepted the drums made concerned effort to make the place interesting and worth visiting. They set up cultural shows that highlight Burundi’s traditions and ethnic history. Since its inception as a sanctuary, only professional drum players are allowed to play the drums and only on national events and special occasions.
Rusizi National Reserve
At 15 kilometers away from the capital city, this natural reserve remains isolated and remote to help the site enrich its wildlife’s natural habitat without any human intervention. However, everything can be viewed on a rented dug out canoe tour along the northern part of the Rusizi River.
From its allowed proximity you can see a good variety of wildlife animals like; hippos, small crocodiles, wild herons, rare duck species, pelicans, goose and other migratory birds in their natural flora and fauna.