Monday, July 27, 2009

Things To Do In Bujumbura, Burundi

(Also known as the Bujumbura Restaurant and Shopping Guide)


The following guide was originally (and mostly) compiled by several expatriates who lived in Bujumbura over a number of years. Many people who arrive in the country to work are sent a somewhat outdated version of this guide, and I thought it would be useful to share it with a wider audience, since it is extremely difficult to find up-to-date information on restaurants and activities in Bujumbura.

The credit for compiling it goes to the unnamed many (among whom were several CARE International staff), and in particular to my friend Ledio, who was the first to send it to me, and who was one of the original authors of the Guide. I have tried to update it a bit from its original version.

Anyone who has information to add to this guide is invited to do so!

General Information on Restaurants

Service is pretty slow. Don’t be impatient!
Wine is very expensive here, so if you have a limited budget, stick to water or beer.
You can drink the tap water in Bujumbura, so don’t worry if you are served tap water or ice.
The vast majority of restaurants understand French. A few understand English.
Tipping is welcomed, but not mandatory. While I have heard different perspectives on this, a tip of approximately 5% seems to be good.
At the time of writing (2009), the exchange rate is approximately 1200 Burundian Francs to $1 USD.

Key words:
Ikanye –cold
Ibitoke-plantains
Msososo: meat-instead of heart, intestines, liver, etc.

For other key words related to meals and eating, see the Kinyarwanda guide. Kinyarwanda and Kirundi are nearly the same language—most words are the same, and the two languages are mutually comprehensible.

Restaurants

Tanganika

Good for a nice meal out and one of the best restaurants in town. Near the port. Old colonial style building with excellent service and a breeze from the lake. Probably has the best chocolate mousse in town but also excellent fish carpaccio, other fish and meat dishes – such as sangala with blue cheese, grilled lamb chops, etc. Someone told me recently they have the best steak in town – order the “tournedos” with your choice of sauce. I recommend the spinach as a side dish – quite delicious. Be prepared to spend a bit ($30), especially if you have some wine.

Khana Khazana
This is the Bujumbura branch of the restaurants which you can find in Kigali and Kampala. People call this the best restaurant in town. In Kiriri, off of Avenue de Belvedere. Beautiful pavilion seating, luxuriously decorated. Great Indian food—have never been disappointed. Numerous vegetarian options. Can accommodate big groups. If you have a birthday, tell the staff, and they'll sing for you in 5 languages for 20 minutes. It's a little excessive but pretty hilarious. Closed on Mondays.

Belvedere
Situated up on a hill in Kiriri with a spectacular view of the town, lake and DRC. Great place to grab a sunset cocktail. There is a bar counter – where you can sip a cold beer, eat some potato curls and look at the beautiful view; just a shame they don’t do tapas! A wide range of European cuisine, rather expensive and fancy for the price but the view is great. Service is good here. Prices hover around 12,000-16,000 per main course.

Bora Bora
On the lake, about 10 minutes north of town, next to the Club du Lac Tanyanika. Fabulous atmosphere. Everyone orders their pizzas, because they are great and whatever you can’t finish, you can bring home with you. Pizzas run from 9,000-11,000 Francs. They also have salads and fish. The latter is unbelievably pricey! Good place for drinks on the weekend, while lounging next to the pool. There is also free wireless internet, so the place is often overrun with muzungus on their computers!

Chez Andre
On Rue Rwagasore, on the right as you go up the hill. Beautiful, beautiful restaurant. Greek-themed, usually empty, but is known for amazing food. A non-profit to train domestiques in cooking is run out of here. Prices are around 12,000-18,000, and they have various kinds of fish, steak, and pasta.

Kasuku
A very colorful and friendly restaurant, run by a female, Belgian/Rwandan rally car driver who has lots of friendly dogs. Also known as the town's gay bar, although homosexuality is forbidden here. Mostly a nightlife destination, not a restaurant destination. Friendly service but if there are more than two other tables full, be prepared to wait.

Botanika

A family-run boutique hotel/restaurant with wireless connection anywhere – so you can do e-mails while eating in the terrace or garden. Excellent salads, a great fish steamed with vegetables, hamburgers and other treats available. Food is served relatively quickly and is always good—since the quality of the food is always constant, there are no nasty surprises!

Aroma
Nice coffeeshop in town, very tranquil, with wireless internet and places where you can plug in. They serve real Burundian coffee (and fancy coffee drinks), not Nescafe, and offer some food items as well. (If you get the crepe with spinach, make sure you tell them you don’t want the ground beef in it. Unless you do. Not advisable.) They also have fruit smoothies and ice cream. Very sweet, attentive staff.

Ubuntu
On the lake with nice garden and pleasant atmosphere. Sometimes, you can see hippopotamuses while you eat. Service is not that bad, but check to see if they are using their generator before ordering a pizza. They have good pizzas – some say the best in town--and standard meat, fish and vegetable dishes. Pizzas are half price on Tuesday and Thursday nights. Expect to spend around $20 for food and a beer.

Novotel
Surprisingly for a large chain hotel, it has decent food at decent prices, you sit out on the terrace near the pool. Not exactly warm and cozy. You tend to get stared at a lot here. Seems like a place where dodgy deals take place! There are a lot of mosquitoes most of the day and in the evenings. Don’t forget to buy cakes at the little kiosk next to the bar. (As a side note, the hair salon is good for abazungu males. Seven thousand to get a haircut and the hairdresser actually owns scissors. Get your hair cut with loud Congolese music plays in a nearby boombox and look at the splendid hairstyles women around you having done!)

The Ethiopian Restaurant
I can’t remember what this is actually called. Incredibly hard to find….take the Avenue du Large going away from the city center, and take a left after the sign for Orphan Aid. Excellent Ethiopian food, with real injera. Garden seating. English is spoken here! Whenever I eat here, I spend about 10,000 Francs ($10), and leave stuffed to the brim.

Oasis
Greek food, good salads, best pizzas in town according to some. Try and get a table on the terrace as the main room can be quite dark. Be careful locking your car here; there are quite a few street kids and thieves around here.

Cercle nautique
The place to go and hang and have a cold beer watching the sun set over Lake Tanganyika. A favorite is to nibble on the small dried/fried fish, Ndagala or munch on samosas. Someone also told me that there pizzas are amazing, crisp with tasty sauces. They have some great drinks: an excellent ginger juice called “gingembre”, a thing called ice tea – which might have tea but has Sprite as well and is very refreshing. If you are lucky they will have fresh pineapple juice. A good place for sunset drinks and beautiful evenings. Occasionally a hippo or two can be spotted in the lake.

Shanghai
Thought to be the best Chinese restaurant in town. A nice family run restaurant, meals in the garden, decent variety. This restaurant was held up a gunpoint 4 times, but now that problem seems to have gone. My favorite is the dumplings called “ravioli” on the menu, the aubergines and even though I don’t like sweet and sour – the sweet and sour pork is great. Also the best place for take-out.

Beijing
A Chinese restaurant on Rue Rwagasore. Most of the tables are in an outdoor pavilion. Salty food, but what do you expect? You can also buy a kilo of tofu here for 4,000 francs, or a kilo of Chinese noodles for 4,000 francs. (Chinese noodles cost at least 9,000 elsewhere, and tofu cannot be found anywhere else.) If you place an advance order, you can also get dumpling/egg roll wrappers for 400 FrBu apiece.

Aosta
More of a fashionable lounge than a restaurant, though it does serve dinner (prices are expensive). On the second level, next door to Botanika, and has a beautiful porch with a great view of the Havana Club. Drinks are decently priced. This place has a lot of potential, but was empty when I went.

Barbeque
An up-market cabaret, with a variety of grilled meats. You can have a solid meal for 10 USD. The gigot d’agneau or the lamb leg is definitely the best dish. Surprisingly cheap and very good food. You have to eat the lamb with fried bananas and spinach. The best place in Bujumbura for their vegetables, including the bananas (the really long ones), spinach (absolutely delicious and not salty at all served on a hot tripod) and peas. The best value for money in all of Bujumbura. Does take out too.)

Tandoor
A newcomer to Bujumbura, Tandoor is an Indian restaurant that tends to be low on flavor and high on kitsch. The dal and the chicken korma were pretty flavorless, and not spicy, despite requests for extra heat. The food was served relatively quickly, although others have complained about how slow it was. From the Exorcist-esque German gnome in lederhosen with the revolving head that welcomes diners as they arrive to the concrete kudu in the garden, to the horse's head in the dining room, to the erratic fountain, this place offers endless topics of conversation. Open for lunch and on Mondays (when Khana Khazana is closed).

Eden du lac
On the lake with a nice garden and up-market cabaret food as well as some other choices such as soup. They have sandwiches but I would not recommend them. On weekends they have one of the liveliest “boites” or night clubs.

Le Petit Bruxelles
I'm a little obsessed with this restaurant. The best burgers in Buja. Just to make sure you read that correctly, yes, these are the best burgers in Buja. Try the garlic ones--they're amazing and will also keep the vampires away for days. Can hardly be called a hole-in-the-wall--it inhabits a hallway! Very charming and cheap, though, and there is Amstel on draft rather than in a bottle, which is a nice change. Near Botanika and the Tourism Office on the Boulevard de l'Uprona.

Isango
Upscale Burundian restaurant. Beautiful garden seating. The fish brochette was excellent, and the lengalenga was even better (tasted like perfectly seasoned spinach). A little pricey, but not too bad. On the Boulevard Mwezi Gisabo.

Maquis
Excellent music, but on a crowded street with poor parking. In the university area. A lively scene around the bar filled with journalists, lawyers, NGO staff and interesting people to meet and chat with. Nice vegetation, a wooden upstairs and once again excellent music. They have the standard meat and fish brochettes, salads and it is most famous for its chicken – you will need to share the chicken and have plenty of time.

La Fantasia
Near the main roundabout in town. The best place for pastas and Italian-style food. It is actually run by an Italian lady and serves mostly to abazungu from the UN. Was only open for lunch, but is now serving dinner as well. Order the penne carbonara, aux aubergines or aux courgettes. Some good sandwiches such as Prego (beef and caramelized onions) and also vegetarian sandwiches. The hamburgers are pretty good and juicy, and they have nice salads. A killer tiramisu is also served but can be pricey. Can order take out at lunchtime.

Le Petit Suisse
In the Quartier Asiatique, near Buja Day Spa and the Cameo Cinema. A lovely little restaurant with a nice view of the main mosque, and with the most amazing fish brochettes I've had in Bujumbura. Nice omelettes. Cheap, too.

Kassim’s
On the main road in the Quartier Asiatique, a red unmarked door next to a door with painted keys. Also known as the Chicken place. Serves grilled chickens cooked in a red sauce which are really tasty and different to the usual tastes of Buj. They serve chilled prune de Japon juice in small water bottles. No alcohol here, it is run by a Muslim family. Really good and cheap.

Café Au Petit Plateau
The local restaurant where I eat most days. Hole in the wall. Not a muzungu place, which I love. You can find all of the Burundian staples here: Ubugari, beef (which is very tender), fish, beans, lengalenga, isombe, peas, etc. I usually eat here for 1,000 Francs (less than $1 USD). They don’t put salt in the food—they let you add your own. Clean preparation. You can also get good milk and ikivuguto (yogurt milk) here. On Rue Rwagasore, across from the U.S. Embassy, near Dmitri’s.

Cafarc
Another restaurant where you can find good local food. Located near the Poissonerie on Rue Rwagasore. Look for the sign “Galerie Les Arcades,” go down a short passage, and it’s an airy little restaurant with some outdoor tables. It is a bit dusty. They serve all the staples: rice, beans, peas, lengalenga, plantains, meat, etc. The peas and rice are excellent. The meat isn't great--stick with the vegetarian options. A surprising amount of English is spoken here. I eat here for around 2,500 Francs (less than $2.50 USD).

Baobab
Senegalese restaurant across from Aroma (look for the alleyway) on Rue Uprona that serves local food for a bit of a higher price than elsewhere. Try the traditional fish dish and the peanut sauce. Great venue, with high thatched roof ceilings and decorative details that make it a fun place for lunch. Check the bill, though--they tend to overcharge!

Le Cayor
Offers the town's best coffee--absolutely delicious and puts Aroma to shame. Located in the middle of town, it proclaims "fast food," and it is pretty fast. For those in a rush, order directly from the buffet. Otherwise, you can also order sandwiches and hamburgers. Cheap and cheerful. Parking is horrid.

Hibiscus
Local food, cute little restaurant. For 1200 Francs, you can get the Plat du Jour, which comes with rice, lenga lenga, a chunk of beef, bananas in sauce, and beans. For a little more, you can get peas as well. Delicious and fast. Near the Greek Orthodox Church.


Cabarets
Bujumbura has a wide variety of local corner bars known as cabarets and I have listed a few here, there are many more. If there is a choice, choose goat meat as it is usually much more tender then beef. In some places, sausage brochettes are available. Cold beer and sodas are usually available.

For beer drinkers there are usually 4 varieties:


Amstel: usually only available in large bottles, locally brewed by the Dutch managed brewery but quite a high alcohol level –stronger than Tusker
Amstel Bock: comes in small bottles in most places, a dark, flavorful beer
Primus: a light beer in a large bottle with lower alcohol than Amstel, popular with ladies and daytime drinkers
Heineken:this is imported and very expensive. It is favored by the elite.

Sometimes, Tusker and Leffe are available—at a price.

Other drinks you will find:
Flat water
Sparkling water
Coca-Cola
Fanta Orange
Fanta Citron
Tonic
Pineapple juice
Passionfruit juice

Chez Gerard
A nice cabaret which, according to Burundians, has the best brochettes. I tried the beef ones and wasn't incredibly impressed, but the atmosphere is great. Cheap and cheerful, outdoor seating, pool tables. Lots of parking. In Kigobe, near the 28 Novembre.

Cocodi
On Rue Rwagasore, across from Chez Andre. It has a sign that says it rents DVDs...perhaps it does, but that's not why people go there. Great local cabaret that has karaoke from time to time. They have sweet fried bananas--delicious! And a wonderful atmosphere. The goat brochettes were a little tough, but the fish ones were very good.

Le Pont
A nicer cabaret with probably the best selection of brochettes and other meat dishes and salads in town. Nice relaxed atmosphere in the garden and good cold beers. Decently priced ; you will probably spend $10.

Picnic or Kolomboko
A lively cabaret that has excellent music, using old LP records. They serve roasted meat on most nights, otherwise standard brochettes and an interesting mixed clientele. The chicken is also pretty good. Dancing to the great old tunes can happen most any night of the week.

Escale du Bien (note this is not the real name)
A garden cabaret located adjacent to Tele 10. Standard cabaret fare but a delicious grilled goat leg is available – sufficient for about 3 people served with grilled bananas and onion.

Mutsuhinda
They serve an interesting snack of cheese and eggplant, good fish and beef brochettes, very simple.

Africana
A pool table, decent brochettes (beef, sausage, sometimes chicken and fish) and they usually have a choice of potato or banana frites. That is early at night, later it becomes a disco with lots of interesting young ladies.

Kibira Bar
At the very end of Avenue du Large: a rasta bar with nice gardens – great place for an afternoon. There is donkey and a monkey and old cars that provide lights and some camping vans that during the weekend can be rented by the hour! A fun, lively place to hang out. Food is not what you go there for!

Avenue 2 – Bwiza
This is the Congolese neighborhood and is full of ambience and very much the central African feel. There are a variety of restaurants but best to go with a national staff member who can help you choose which place has the best mshwi that day. You sit on the side of the road, practically in the road, and eat mswhi which is steamed and then grilled goat meat, served with grilled onions and “pate de manioc” or manioc ugali. You might not find a cold beer and you will definitely not find a toilet.

Supermarkets (Alimentations)

The town has a series of alimentations that have items such as wine, cheese, veggies, bread etc. These are for your basic household needs – and it is not an attempt to describe all shopping possibilities.

Escale du Bien Alimentation
The first on the left after Librarie St Paul as you climb up Ave Rwagasore. This is my favourite – the vegetables come in twice a week and are good and fresh – and the staff very friendly. Inside they have all the basics you need and that all the other shops have, with the difference being the staff are friendly. The local eggs are always good quality, they have the standard brown bread and cheese and sausages.

Belladone
Nice alimentation where Avenue Rwagasore meets the 28 Novembre. They have real eggs (with yellow yolks, not the alien white yolk eggs). They have vegetables, but not the same variety as Au Bon Prix. Sometimes, they carry Leffe beer. Open amazingly late—sometimes until 11 pm.

Fido Dido
On the left –as you go up the hill. Sometimes has a good deal on a nice white wine, has a bakery next door and is usually quite crowded. I have never really shopped here much as parking often gets hectic and there is not that much of excitement. Also their cigarettes are more expensive than elsewhere.

Dimitri
THE MOST EXPENSIVE SUPERMARKET IN TOWN. They can hardly justify their astronomical prices. Cannot really miss it – on the corner as you leave town from the market. Once you get past the blackmarket money changers and the beggars, you enter the large shop with all sorts of items, patés and cheese imported from Europe etc. However, sometimes it is necessary to venture in – there are some things like metal forks, household items, and decent wines.

Poissonnerie
Go up the road north from Dmitris (not toward Boucherie Nouvelle) and just at the next junction you will see a small shop that sells all types of local fish. I am told they have fresh fish but have only found frozen fish.

Bambino
Next to the Poissonerie, a packed little supermarket run by a very, very nice man. They have a small selection of good produce, and also sell souvenirs. Open every day, even Sunday.

Boucherie Nouvelle
Down the road near Dmitris but not the same as above. Basically the best place to buy meat, cheeses, homemade sausages, salami, prepared meats for barbecues, other imported and local items like chutneys and sauces. Sometimes, they have chicken. They also have frozen seafood, like crab and shrimp. I usually go early on a Saturday morning before the crowd arrives around 9:00 a.m. They also carry assorted other things, like yogurt, milk, juice, crackers, etc. I bought my olive oil here—the cheapest place in town to find it.

There are other branches of Boucherie Nouvelle all over town.

Au Bon Prix
On the 28 Novembre, easily recognized by all the UN and diplomatic cars outside. They do not have the best prices in town; in fact, it’s one of the most expensive, and the staff are not overly friendly. I do all my purchasing of beer and sodas here because the prices are the same as elsewhere. Other things that are here and not elsewhere- a good selection of hams and cheeses, a nice local goat cheese – that is soft, almost a chevre, as well as a large selection of vegetables geared towards Wazungu – such as grapes, and little orange mushrooms etc when they are in season. Very nice vegetables and fruit, as well. They also carry strawberries!


Shopping

Marche Central
Middle of town. Total chaos, but best prices you’ll find anywhere, if you negotiate hard. Great fabric! When you go, carry as few valuables as possible, and, if you’re carrying a purse, make sure it’s small and fits under your arm. Thieves abound, and they have been known to reach into bags or, worse, cut through them.

Craft Market
On Rue Rwagasore, near the U.S. Embassy. There’s several individual shops packed to the brim with local handicrafts and Congolese handicrafts (textiles, statues, and masks, in particular). There is also a place to buy vegetables, sauces, and local jams. Outside is a basket seller, as well as a plant and flower market. Bargain, bargain, bargain. Make sure that the plant roots are alive.

Congolese Market
Across from the Hotel Source du Nil, a small market with multiple Congolese vendors selling masks, statues, and other odds and ends from Congo. Some of their stuff may be truly old, but a lot of it was probably made two weeks ago and buried in the dirt to age it a bit, so just keep that in mind when they tell you something is an "antique."

Indian shop near Peace House and stadium
Here you will find all sorts of things for your house, from pillows, to food mixers, cutlery, etc. Decent prices. They also have some food items that come in from Nairobi such as some spices, sauces etc.

Mutoyi
There are two centers: one on the way out of town, and one in Kigobe (off the 28 Novembre), near where the new U.S. Embassy will be. Here is where you buy the local pottery as well as good chickens as well as basic household items for good prices. You can also buy all sorts of food items and school supplies and the prices are good. Their gelato is sought after.

Centre des Femmes Musaga
A women’s centre that makes great materials that they paint with all sorts of designs. Great for curtains, T-shirts, wall hangings etc. You can special order T-shirts and it is the best price in town and the quality is good.

T 2000 or the Chinese Shop
You can find anything here from electric cars to coffee mugs - a large store with electric gadgets, household items etc. It is not that cheap though.

Hotels

Botanika- Known as one of the best hotels in town. Downtown, on the Boulevard de l'Uprona, not far from the dilapidated Novotel. Bujumbura's boutique hotel, it is beautifully situated and appointed, and hosts one of the finest restaurants in town. Rooms have wireless internet, DSTV, and air conditioning, and they wash your laundry in proper washers and dryers. $90 includes breakfast; $110 includes all 3 meals per day. Phone: +257 22228873 or +257 22226792.

Club du Lac Tanganyika- The top hotel in Bujumbura, with prices to match. Located on the beach north of Bujumbura about 10 minutes, the hotel offers frequent shuttles to downtown, several restaurants, a couple of pools, evening entertainment on weekends, etc. I have heard that they even have a horse riding area. Some rooms have air conditioning, and others do not. Prices vary from $120 to $320 a night. Breakfast included (I hope so, at those rates). Phone: +257 22 250220 or +257 22 250 221. Email: info@clubdulac.com. Website: http://www.hotelclubdulac.com/.

Hotel Residence-Downtown, at 10 Blvd de l'Independance. Owned by a Burundian woman. Beautiful little hotel and restaurant, well appointed. Hot water, satellite TV, fan, wireless internet, and breakfast included. Some rooms have air conditioning. Restaurant has wonderful ambiance and food. Rooms are a bit steep in price. From $75-100 for a single room or suite; $112 to $150 for a double room or suite. +257 22255757 or +257 78862510. hotelresidence@yahoo.fr.

New Tourist Hotel-For the budget, backpacking traveler, this place is really bare bones. It looks quite nice from the outside, but in reality is very simple. A double room is less than $10. Rooms have their own bathroom, but no hot water...and when I asked if they bring you some in a bucket, they said that they don't do that. Phone: +257 79321586.

Ubuntu Residence-By the water, great long-term residences that tend to be cheaper than some of the other high-end options while still a nice place to stay. Suites are self-contained, and at either $80 or $120, you can get a room with a bathroom, hot water, air conditioning, wireless internet and a small kitchenette. Access to the pool and breakfast included. A great restaurant is also located here. Phone: +257 22244065.

Beauty

Buja Day Spa
In town, near the Muslim Quarter and the Cameo cinema. The best/only spa in town, it offers all services, from hair to nails, to facials, scrubs, and massages. Don't ask me to explain how or why, but there are two Thai women here who specialize in Thai massage, and they have special rooms for that. They also do the regular massage. Massages are an hour long and start at 40,000 Francs (a little less than $40 USD). Closed Mondays. Appointments should be made in advance: 22 22 70 00.

Top Beaute
In town, off of the Rue Rwagasore. Smaller, ambitious little place that tries very hard to be a spa. They, too, have facials and massages. They are known for their waxing, and they have massaging pedicure chairs. Call for an appointment: 79 99 80 50.

Racoon
This tends to be the main muzungu hair cutting place. Ask for the Congolese stylist--he's apparently very dependable and also has a good sense of style. On the 28 Novembre. Phone: 22 25 97 40.

Activities

Buy cloth at the Marche Central (but secure your bag!) and take it to the Avenue de la Mission to have it turned into whatever you want--whether a dress, a shirt, or pillows. They can do it all.

Go to the Musee Vivant, a zoo of sorts that would never be allowed in the United States. They have crocodiles, a leopard, chimpanzees, and several types of snakes (including a spitting cobra). You can feed the crocodiles and leopard with live guinea pigs (for 4,000 francs each), or rabbits (a bit more expensive). If you're really feeling sadistic, you can buy a goat for 50,000 francs and toss it to the big crocodiles. Visitors can also hold several snakes, a baby crocodile, and can interact with the chimps (be careful, they steal cameras!). 5,000 Francs entry.

Lounge by the pool at Bora Bora, the latest hotspot for expatriates and wealthy Burundians. It's a beautiful beach lounge and restaurant on the edge of the lake, about 10 minutes north of Bujumbura. Order a pizza and a beer and get some sun on their beautiful deck, or play a game of beach volleyball. Bring your computer and you can access the free wireless internet.

Play the Burundian drums and have a real Burundian beach experience by spending a day at Saga Plage, just next door to Bora Bora. Burundians of all ages come here to eat at one of the multiple restaurants and listen to "live" music (really, just people dancing on stage with microphones while lip synching). A couple of chimpanzees, a snake, and a baboon live here (none of which live in acceptable conditions, but the baboon has it the worst by far). On Sundays, a traditional Burundian drumming group plays, and for a couple of francs, you can take the batons and try your hand at the athletic music. There's also a restaurant on the actual lake shaped like a boat that has great grilled fish.

Travel ten minutes north of Bora Bora on the same road, cross a strange bridge, and take an immediate left down a small dirt path to get to Rusizi Park (which I call Hippo Park). The closest wildlife park to Bujumbura, its main attraction is its three hippopotamus families. You can also see crocodiles, many birds, and antelopes. You can go by car, but I recommend going by foot--it's much more interesting that way. Go between 11 am and 1 pm, and you are more likely to see the hippos out of the water. Public transportation goes there. Admission is 5,000 Francs, but be sure to tip your guide at the end!

Watch a movie in a real cinema! The Cameo, which is downtown, plays French movies (or movies dubbed in French) on most nights, but on Wednesday and Sunday night at 8:30 pm, they show relatively recent movies in their original English version. You can buy a Coke in a bottle at the front of the cinema and movie snacks--but definitely Burundian-style. They get big points for trying. Admission is 2,000 Francs.

Dance your feet off at Havana Club or Toxic, which are stumbling distance from each other. There are covers at both establishments; they tend to be around 5,000 Francs on Saturday nights. Guard your car and your pocketbook...there are thieves aplenty here. There are also many prostitutes. The best music and ambiance can be found at Gymnase, which is actually a gym during the day. They have relatively secret parties--only those in the know are informed about them--and sometimes charge a cover for those as well.

Excursions

Saga Resha- About an hour south of Bujumbura along a mostly good road (though there are some serious potholes), there is a small resort hotel along the beach frequented by wealthy Burundians and expats. The hotel is not complete as of writing, but the restaurant is open, and serves all the standards, such as brochettes and grilled fish. If you bring your own food, you will have to pay them for the right to eat it there. There are beautiful little huts on the water, and the beach and swimming are divine.

Saga Nyanza- About 2.5 hours south of Bujumbura, this is a relatively small stretch of nice beach. There is a nice and expensive restaurant here, but you can bring your own food and picnic on the public side of the beach. There is a hotel with a couple of rooms about a mile down the road. The hotel itself does not sit on a beach.

Travel Tips

Personal Safety

Burundi is not as safe as its northern neighbor, Rwanda. Petty crime is frequent, opportunistic crimes are common, and assaults, even on foreigners, have occurred. Guard your valuables, and when going into crowded areas, particularly the Market, carry a bag that fits snugly under your arm to prevent wandering hands. Some thieves try to cut through bags to grab your wallet or phone.

In some cases, people have broken into cars; be sure to lock your car and keep your valuables out of sight. Try to avoid conspicuously putting your valuables into your trunk, as this is an invitation to potential thieves.

When stopped or parked, avoid leaving windows rolled down so far that people can reach in and snatch your valuables. Boys have been known to approach one side of the car to distract the person, while reaching in the other window to take their phone, wallet, or bag.

Basically, be vigilant, but not fearful.

Vehicle Safety

Do not take motos. Just don't. Many, even most, motorcyclists do not have driver's licenses and do not have driver's training. (Unfortunately, many car drivers don't have driver's training, either.) They often don't carry helmets, and fatal accidents involving motorcycles are so common as to be borderline appalling. For a cheap lift, take a matatu; they go all over town for about 25 cents. Otherwise, stick to a taxi.

A caveat on taxis; try to use ones that have been recommended by others. Not all taxi drivers are honest, and there are many stories of taxi drivers driving drunk, demanding unreasonable fees and locking customers in until they agree to pay, and even intimidating passengers through threatened assault into paying high prices.

Drivers are quite bad here, so be careful walking along the road, as well.

Money

The exchange rate at the time of writing (August 2009) is approximately 1200 Francs to $1 USD. The largest bill is the 10,000 Franc bill. Most people can make change for it. Otherwise, there is a 5,000, 2,000, 1,000, 500 and 100 bill. Small change is, unfortunately, also given in micro-bills which closely resemble Monopoly money--they come in denominations of 50, 20 and 10.

Always bargain with taxis and in the market.

15 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks very much Morgan for this posting. I found it very helpful. I will be moving to Bujumbura. Do you have any idea what is the best situation for housing and how much it would cost? Thanks in advance

10/06/2009 2:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

what about night life ,clubbing ?

11/11/2009 11:51 AM  
Blogger Morgan C. said...

I'll try to find out about housing costs. I actually did have some exposure to that when I was there but I have to spend some time thinking about it.

With nightlife: there are a couple of good places for clubbing. The best is Havana, which is downtown and charges a cover on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Across the street from it is Toxic, which is also a crowded club. Another favorite (especially before Havana opened) is Archipel. Most of what I have heard about it is that it is very fun and there are lots of prostitutes there. It can't be helped.

Everyone seems to prefer Gymnase, but they only have parties once every two weeks or so. It's a gym by day, but when they throw parties, it's a great outdoor club and bar complex with the best music you'll find in Buj!

Another great place is Bora Bora, out at the beach. It's a very different vibe from all of the above. It charges a cover and has a Euro-chic atmosphere.

11/13/2009 5:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

morgan thx for the info but i have a question how much does the every day stuff coast such as bread eggs vegetables and so on??????

1/18/2010 3:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Morgan, I would like housing info as well. Who can I contact? I have search all over the internet and found nothing!

Thanks!

1/31/2010 3:51 PM  
Blogger burundi access travel said...

Dear Morgan ,

thank you for the useful information provided ,

I am a travel consultant , while was reading your blog i was very excited how it is hepful .

I can see as a resident of bujumbura you really got the information when you was writting .

I have a website www.burundiaccess.com , I think we shall share our ideas about travel information in burundi.

My email is augustine@burundiaccess.com

Hope to talk to you soon

Augustin

7/22/2010 2:43 AM  
Blogger burundi access travel said...

Thanks

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10/21/2010 5:24 AM  
Blogger burundi access travel said...

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Augustin

10/21/2010 5:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks a lot for those useful information, can anyone tell me where is located the Beijing restaurant ? I looked for it everywhere.

BR

11/26/2010 2:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Morgan
I am a burundian native. though i studied abroad i am now living and hopefully going to work here. i found your blog very awesome and as a burundian pretty useful and not at all insulting. thank you for portraying my country in a respectful way and taking your time to help others experience the beauties of our country instead of the red zone area other try to make it seem.
thanks once again

btw fell upon your blog by accident but very interesting

12/29/2010 10:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Morgan

please update coz Beijing & khana khazana has been closed.

5/19/2011 8:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Archipel also closed down. but new get up is there. u need to visit again and rewrite the reviews . lol

5/19/2011 8:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Morgan,
Thanks for the info, still useful to understand everything. Real Estate is now big so a good starting place for housing is
www.intercontactservices.com and also www.metro-agence.com. Very helpful.

4/14/2012 3:19 PM  
Blogger stella nambuya lugalambi said...

thanks Morgan, they now have nice cafes' too. really good coffee.
Visit Buja cafe

2/06/2014 5:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is Burundi safe for gays to visit?

11/28/2014 4:13 PM  

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