What you need to know about Bujumbura
Largely frozen in time thanks to more than a decade of conflict, there has been very little development in Burundi’s capital, Bujumbura. The steamy little city retains much of its grandiose colonial town planning, with wide boulevards and imposing public buildings. Buju (as it’s commonly known) has always retained an obviously different feel to any other East African capital, much of which is manifest in the city’s distinctly French outlook on life. During more peaceful times, perhaps it’s thanks to this French influence, Bujumbura has earned a freewheelin’ reputation for its dining, drinking and dancing scene; despite it’s village-like size this is one of the best places to eat out in East Africa.
- The currency used in Burundi is the Burundi Franc (BIF), the currency abbreviation or currency symbol for the Burundi franc (BIF). The Burundi franc is made up of 100 centimes, but coins haven’t been issued in these denominations since Burundi introduced its own currency.
Burundi began issuing its own currency (francs), in 1964, before which Burundi used German East African rupies (prior to 1916), Belgian Congo francs (1916 – 1959), and Rwanda and Burundi francs (1960 – 1963).
Burundi in general has a tropical highland climate, with a considerable daily temperature range in many areas. Temperature also varies considerably from one region to another, chiefly as a result of differences in altitude. The central plateau enjoys pleasantly cool weather, with an average temperature of 20° C (68° F ). The area around Lake Tanganyika is warmer, averaging 23° C (73° F ); the highest mountain areas are cooler, averaging 16° C (60° F ). Bujumbura’s average annual temperature is 23° C (73° F ). Rain is irregular, falling most heavily in the northwest. Dry seasons vary in length, and there are sometimes long periods of drought. However, four seasons can be distinguished: the long dry season (June–August), the short wet season (September–November), the short dry season (December–January), and the long wet season (February–May). Most of Burundi receives between 130 and 160 cm (51–63 in) of rainfall a year. The Ruzizi Plain and the northeast receive between 75 and 100 cm (30–40 in).
Situated in the heart of Africa, Burundi is one of the very few African countries possessing linguistic homogeneity. Its people all speak the same national language, Kirundi, the medium of expression of Burundi’s centuries-old cultural heritage. French is the first foreign language, which became an administrative language. English is progressively getting important because of the opening of the country to the business world and the international market. Swahili, a trade language above all, is spoken in the cities and along Tanganika Lake.
Health and security
- Generally, the standard of medical care in Burundi is evolving and working towards internationally accepted standards. Hospitals may lack basic medications and supplies, and hygiene standards can be variable.
French is the most commonly spoken language with English-speaking staff often not available.
All complicated medical conditions will require referral to centre of medical excellence at Johannesburg or Nairobi.
As the range and quality of services varies significantly from facility to facility
- Limited outpatient care of an internationally acceptable level is available at some facilities in Bujumbura. Outpatient specialist care is very limited. It is usually necessary to fly to Kigali, Nairobi or Johannesburg for adequate specialist outpatient care.
Medical facilities (clinics and hospitals) will usually expect immediate cash payment.
Common medications are generally available and most of them are imported from Belgium or France. However shortages are common. Some medications such as anti-psychotics and antidepressants may require special approval before being allowed in country.
Since brand names vary, know the generic (chemical) names of your medications. It is always advisable to bring an adequate supply of prescription and other medications from your home country. Check the expiration date on all medications.
- It is generally safe to wander about on foot during the day, though the streets empty at night – it is imperative to use a taxi or private vehicle once the sun goes down. Street crime is fairly common in Bujumbura, and foreigners are especially vulnerable given their perceived wealth. It’s best to leave your camera behind any time you go out as locals often don’t care to be photographed and les petits bandits have sticky fingers.
- Transport is perhaps the one aspect of travel in Africa that can be cheap: but only if you have loads of time on your side. The networks of buses and minibus taxis are usually extensive, but the time it takes to travel what appear to to be relatively short distances are disproportionately long. Partly it’s a function of poor road conditions and/or difficult terrain, often it’s due to poorly maintained and overloaded vehicle (which poses a significant safety hazard) and the fact that they usually stop in every little village en route doesn’t help.
- Make no mistake, malaria is a killer, and although there are fewer mosquitoes in the cooler highlands of Burundi, you need to consider the entire country as being malarial and take appropriate precautions.
- Located just outside of Bujumbura is the fascinating Rusizi River National Park. The plains surrounding the river are flooded periodically, bringing hundreds of animals to the area for his vital lifesource. Hippos are just one of the many animals to frequent the area and are one of the most sought after by tourists. The park, with its clear skies, is a true bird-watchers paradise.
- The highest mountain in Burundi, Mount Heha is part of the Burundi Highlands mountain range. The mountain is popular for trekking and at 2,864m it makes a good challenge for anyone looking to summit. The mountain is located fairly close to Bujumbura and this is the most convenient location to use as a base before setting out to climb the mountain.