The best beach bar we’ve been to; slinky lounge bars with dark leather sofas; vibey cafes with great local coffee and free wifi. Welcome to Bujumbura, capital of Burundi, and party capital of East Africa!
We couldn’t believe it either, but we had been told by two very different people that it was absolutely safe and a great place to spend a few days. In fact you can conveniently buy a three day visa at the Rwanda/Burundi border rather than going through the embassy in Kigali for a longer one – perhaps it should be re-named the Bujumbura Bar-Hop visa as it is often used by ex-pats and NGOs based in Kigali who go over to let their hair down for the weekend and top up their tans at the beach. And quite an impressive beach it is too on the shore of Lake Tanganyika, looking out to the mountains in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
All this is quite incredible for a country that had until 2003 been locked in civil war for a decade. Burundi and Rwanda were colonised by the Germans in the late 19th century and mandated to the Belgians after WW1. Imbalances in land ownership and political power between the Tutsis and Hutus led to tribal tensions which escalated after independence in 1962. Numerous revolts and massacres, punctuated by coups and half-hearted attempts at addressing the tribal issues, eventually led to civil war by 1994. By 2003, some 500,000 people had been killed. It was eye-opening talking to people who described the curfews in place during the war years and the way they tried to keep their businesses afloat, doing as much as possible for their employees and families despite there being no work. So today, it’s amazing to drive around Bujumbura and see such a vibrant capital city, and indeed one that has such a positive image amongst East Africans. “Go to Bujumbura. The beach is beautiful, the food is good and you can party all night” they say.
The Burundi landscape is hilly and beautiful, with a lot of good coffee and tea being grown as well as bananas. It also means that cycling around is hard work, and it’s scary to watch the young boys on bikes catch a ride holding onto the backs of trucks going uphill. The roads aren’t that wide so it’s amazing they aren’t hit by oncoming traffic as they swing out peek around the corner of the truck to see which way the road is bending.
The lush dark green of the landscape is often punctuated with reds, yellows, bright greens and electric blues – the Burundian women wear fabulously colourful fabrics. They also carry some of the largest loads we’ve seen in Africa on their heads.
The people were pretty friendly and curious about a non-East African vehicle in town. As we were parking up though we were told by a man in a passing vehicle (perhaps a friendly off-duty policeman?) that it would be best to keep an eye on our car whilst in the cafe as there were plenty of opportunistic kids ready to make off with something or other.
But it’s the beach and nightlife that people talk about in Bujumbura. And justifiably so. Ven’s now a shade darker after a day in the sun at Bora Bora beach bar. And I’m more than a shade tired after our big club night out!