#A rich nature
While its size makes Burundi one of the smallest states in Africa, its generous nature and biological heritage make it one of the most diverse territories on the continent. In a few kilometres, we can see several Africa: that of the savannah, often associated with drought (depression of Kumoso); that of the humidity in altitude that we experience on the peaks of Kibira where a primary forest is maintained; or that of the green hills in the centre of the country, covered with banana trees and plants attached to the slope by who knows which magically powerful roots. The landscapes often offer simple views, sometimes they are grandiose.From Mugamba, where the name "African Switzerland" takes on its full meaning, to Bugesera, where the lakes soothe the eyes, to the reliefs of the Buyenzi covered with the dark green of the coffee trees, we cross different soils and ecosystems. Admittedly, in these environments shaped for centuries by humans, the animal no longer has the place it has kept in neighboring countries such as Tanzania or Kenya. Here there are no lions, elephants or giraffes, just crocodiles and hippos sharing the waters, a few buffaloes and monkeys inhabiting the mountain ranges of the Congo-Nile ridge. But there are many pockets of biodiversity conservation, and the curious traveller will find some special pleasures: Burundi is a paradise for ornithologists, lovers of butterflies, fish and exotic reptiles, and it is a unique floral reserve in the region, with a considerable variety of orchids, often endemic, as are also the Rusizi palm trees.
The population, the country's main attraction :
The best reason to visit Burundi, in addition to the originality of the destination, is the prospect of meeting the population. The country's first wealth is this one. Welcoming and sociable, Burundians are open to visitors. On the faces intrigued by the unexpected foreign presence, there are usually large smiles on their faces, which are invitations to discuss and familiarize themselves with the local culture.Here one can be reserved, but discretion does not necessarily imply timidity: whoever speaks French or Swahili will easily enter into a conversation with a foreigner, who only speaks Kirundi will be understood in the language of hospitality, with appropriate gestures.Despite repeated conflicts since independence in 1962, which have wounded individuals, families and society, and despite the poverty and deprivation that affect a majority of Burundians, they actually display exemplary optimism and courage. This is also worth discovering.The civil war has closed the country's doors to tourism, and the only foreigners to visit it have been mainly members of international organizations. Also, the visitor is often still greeted with curiosity or disbelief, especially where there is no external assistance program. The simple presence of a stranger on a road or tasting skewers at the "cabaret" evokes a spontaneous gathering. Helpfulness and spontaneity are provided to both one-hour and long-term visitors. This contrasts sharply with a certain Western individualism. And that too is worth living!
A considerable cultural heritage
Burundi's population consists of three main components, the Hutus, Tutsis and Twa. Unlike what may be the case elsewhere in Africa, these "ethnic" (amoko) groups have not forged separate cultures. Here, a language (Kirundi) and common social practices have over time constituted a culture shared by the entire population, gathered on a unified territory since the 18th century.Although the physical traces of the past, ancient and monarchical, are rare in this civilization of plants and speech, the country's cultural and historical heritage is of considerable richness. To those who listen to the stories that circulate about Burundi in the past and those who are interested in places of memory from the past (here, tree-memory) and in the testimonies of life today, a unique and at first confusing cultural universe is revealed.It is undoubtedly difficult to access this universe in a few days, without knowing Kirundi, whose subtleties are another manifestation of Burundi's complexity. But it is possible to touch the meaning of it by tasting the pleasures of everyday life and observing the codes of society, marvelling at the prowess and wit of drummers or visiting the country's few museums and attractions.
A mild climate
Whether you are cautious or dreading the intensity of tropical heat, everyone will be able to appreciate the mild Burundian climate. Here no excessive heat, except sometimes in the lowlands or in Bujumbura where the sun can hit hard in the dry season, and the cold typical of nights at high altitudes does not require a winter wardrobe.The difference between seasons is marked by significant temperature differences, but it is actually rain that is the main determinant of climate change. Rainfall can be heavy in the rainy season, but it is short (often in the late afternoon) and the sun quickly recovers its rightful place: everything dries at high speed, the asphalt on the roads as well as clothes soaked in showers.Be careful with the cold that is waiting for you (they will tell you "the flu", but see a doctor if it lasts)!
Low cost of living
Burundi is still an inexpensive destination, apart from air travel, but the motivation for a low-cost trip cannot be self-sufficient. Indeed, the level of income is low and the cost of living exorbitant for the poorest, who often struggle to survive. All this is in stark contrast to the financial comfort, however modest, that most foreign visitors, especially Westerners, enjoy. Few foreigners escape the cases of conscience that arise from this deep economic inequality.
© Dominique Auzias & Jean-Paul Labourdette