'Lord of the Drums': an adventurous solo trip to Burundi
As I sat sit beside the Livingstone-Stanley monument, an iconic location just a short drive from the capital, I realized that for the first time, I was traveling solo on the continent.
Welcome to Burundi, the “heart of Africa”, a lesser known, tiny French speaking country bordered by Rwanda, DRC and Tanzania. Once called the “second saddest country on the continent”, it won’t be easy traveling here but I guarantee that this choice to visit will make a small difference in the lives of the people there.
It is often found on the "do not travel list" of most Western countries because of the coup that happened few years ago. That is no longer the situation. Like I say, if you are adventurous to make it to such places, you will have the most amazing real stories to tell.
Day wise itinerary:
Day 1: Land, check in, beach visit, David Livingstone-Stanley monument
Day 2: Source of the Nile, Karera Waterfalls
Day 3: Royal Drummers of Burundi
Day 4: Teza, tea estate visit
Day 5: Lake Tanganyika, wildlife
At the time of writing this, there is a PCR mandate on arrival and to exit I did both. That may change. Please check with the local guide to be sure before traveling.
Flights, Visa and Immigration (if traveling with an Indian passport)
There are no direct flights. You can connect via Ethiopian Airlines.
Visa is on arrival at $90 for all passport holders. You will need two pages, as always.
Immigration will be slow. Just be patient.
Solo traveling in Burundi
As in any country, as a woman, exert common sense and be watchful. I didn't feel unsafe. The country has come a long way since the days of cross-country coups.
Best time to visit
I went in September. Since this is East Africa, it was supposed to be raining but I actually had fantastic weather throughout my trip so hard to tell what the best time is. It does get warm and humid during the day, so pack loose-fitting clothes.
As I said, this is a French speaking country so if you know french, it will be simpler. That said, most people in the city will speak English.
Travel and Medical Insurance, Currency
Travel Insurance is highly recommended - we have our own, but if you are looking for one try World Nomad. Carry local currency for small purchases and tipping.
Choosing a guide
The roads are not the greatest once you leave the city. For safety and for some peace of mind, I recommend finding a local guide. The person I went with was experienced, safe and always on time. Highly recommended. You can reach him on whatsapp Hypolite +257 71 69 3815
How expensive is it? How long to spend here?
You can easily hit all the main spots in 5 days. The flight to get there was the most expensive part of the trip. A 5 day trip would cost about $650-700 depending on number of people. Remember solo traveling in Africa is expensive.
It wasn't the worst place for veggie food. I managed to find fresh avocado, cheese toast, juice and even some Indian food in Bujumbura. Since everyone spoke English, I actually quite liked the service.
Where I stayed
I stayed at the best property in town, Hotel Club Du Lac Tanganiyaka. I stayed in a single room that came with a kitchenette and amazing queen bed. Cut off from the center of the city, closer to the beach, so spacious and luxurious. Highly recommended.
After a long journey, the first thing I did was check in and refresh. A quick nap later, decided to take a drive around town to soak up of that history.
Back to the hotel to catch a delightful sunset. Who can believe this is Burundi and not Zanzibar?
As I sat there, sipping my juice, I felt truly grateful to be the only traveler/tourist in this country. Having places like this to myself is something I will never ever get tired of. Such is the journey of an intrepid traveler. Worth every hassle.
I woke up bright and early to go outside and experience the quietness of the sea. It was just me and the fishermen in the boat.
After a nice relaxed breakfast, we ventured outside the city for a long drive. This leg reminded me of our drive up in Uganda.
Fun geography fact: did you know that the southernmost point of the Nile river is in Burundi? On my trip, I learned that explorers identified the Burundian source in 1937. The Burundi source is just a trickle of water flowing slowly down from a spring on Mount Kikzi.
What is fascinating is imagining the explorers over 70 years back, navigating over 4000 miles to get here without a lot of tools. The pyramid on top of the hill represents their discovery. In the first picture, you see massive mountains behind me, they are in DRC.
After which, we drove to the Karera waterfalls. Hidden away inside the forests of Rutana, this was one of the pretty pit stops I made as I drove around this small East African country.
This waterfalls may look small but there are actually 5 waterfalls inside the park. There is a bit of driving to get around here so I recommend taking it slow and spending time just walking around to all the waterfalls. It wasn’t as impressive as the ones in Bali but so worth making the trip from the capital.
📌 there is a small entrance fee to enter.
📌 Pack a swimsuit and a towel, wear comfortable crocs
📌 best time to see the waterfalls in all its glory is in rainy season between end of September to early November
Today was the the main event, meeting the Royal Drummers of Burundi.
Once a traditional dance performed during birth ceremonies, funerals and processions of kings, this is now a global phenomenon that dates back to the 17th century. 30 men balance heavy drums on their heads and beat the drums with so much gusto. `
This 2 hour long drumming is the cultural identity of Burundi.
Said to be some of the greatest percussion ensembles in the world, these incredible drummers have performed this way for centuries, passing down traditions from father to son. The oldest member I met was around 80 and the youngest was just 8.
The hollowed-out drums are covered with dead cow skin and are made out of a local tree is said “that makes the drums speak”. I watched in awe and danced with them as they channeled the spirit and energy of an entire nation through these drums. Absolutely unique to this country.
The best part was that the entire village turns up to watch them perform - it’s your best chance to donate generously to the chief and his team who help the local community
Today we took a drive towards the most scenic countryside of Burundi called Teza.
This country is famous for some of Africa’s most flavorful tea, and the best place to find them is among the valleys of mountains and thermal springs of Teza, Burundi’s oldest tea estate.
Located at the edge of Kibira forest, they have growing tea since it was introduced into the hilly country during the Belgian occupation in 1931. It was so fantastic learning from the local tea expert.
I have a thing for tranquil places, this was one such scenic setting with a carpet of green spread over rolling hills, with little kids excitedly screaming “muzumbu” aka “foreigners/white-skinned” as they walked up the hills with me. I handed them cookies and candy, their smile - priceless
One my last day here, I decided to stay closer to the capital and explore one of the iconic lakes of the country.
If it wasn’t for Lake Bikal in Siberia, Lake Tanganyika in Burundi would be the deepest longest, and oldest freshwater lake in the world. I journeyed along lake Tanganyika to discover fish, crocodiles, hippos and ancient legends. From meeting the local fishermen, to spotting wildlife, it was a fitting end to an adventurous trip.
What a delight it has been discovering the hidden corners of this untouched African nation filled with bewitching landscapes & mind blowing cultural experiences.
While not all of us will have a bucket list, most travelers will admit to having a list of places they would like to visit. The way we all experience travel is different - from the places we choose, the stories we tell, to the things that interest us. I would naively like to believe that there is room for everyone. Including these refreshing stories from lands people haven’t heard of. Photos that reveal the very fabric of a destination. Like this one from my time spent dancing with Royal Drummers of Burundi.
This isn’t the only place on the continent with a heart wrenching reality but this is the first of many journeys I will be taking through the next few months. I hope it will continue to shape me as a traveler. Look beyond the popular places and get down to discovering Africa beyond the usual. You won’t regret it.
Drop your comments below and show some love. Feel free to shoot me an email with your feedback.