Should I go or shouldn’t I? On their website the German Ministry of Foreign affairs discourages a visit , so does the Lonely Planet in their East Africa Edition of June 2018. Citing bad security.
Finally I said to myself (in May 2019) if they let me in there should not be too much risk.
So I applied for a visa at the Burundian Embassy in Berlin, strictly following the requirements on their website. And it worked. I got my passport back even earlier than expected, and there was no more excuse for me of not going.
Thanks I have to express to the Roca Golf Hotel in Bujumbura who issued to me the mandatory invitation letter, and a further thanks goes to Augustine Tours in Kigali, who arranged car and driver for me in Bujumbura, so I felt safe every single minute.
Immigration was straightforward, no hassle whatsoever, the Roca staff picked me up as promised, and so I had a safe arrival at the safe heaven, the Roca Golf Hotel, what a relaxed place and definitely worth the expense.
I am always stunned how a people of the same origin, same language, same blood, can develop separately simply by a government and its political system (field studies are still possible in Germany). While i felt in Ruanda lots of hope and development, Burundi was way behind. Much poorer. But certainly as friendly as their neighbors to the North. The economy must be unhealthy, and what I learnt right after arrival is the fact that there is a substantial black market for their currency. As of May 2019, the rate was more than 50% better than the official rate, which means that you would save about a third on your expenses. Except room rate, this has to be paid in USD.
Looking at Burundi from a positive side, I felt a more laid back atmosphere. Slower they are (gosh what had I to wait for my lunch to arrive). And so many hills I saw deforested, trees cut for making charcoal. I cannot blame them for hurting their environment, I rather feel this is the only economic way for many to survive- and then you do not think long term.
The Kagera falls are one of the few highlights that you are invited to visit - which I did. They are not anything spectacular if you have seen other “must see” falls like the Vic Falls or Foz do Iguacu. It is rather the setting, embedded in that landscape, and the 3 hours drive from Bujumbura, that gives you an impression of Burundi. And Burundians. Poor they are, and once more I was grateful to be borne at a better place.
My impression: Burundi, the poor neighbor of Ruanda. Here the Burundians drive with steering wheels at the right side, although traffic is right side. Why? My driver explained: spare parts are cheaper. And the Japanese are happy to find a dump site for their used cars and mini busses. Win-win, that is.
But be as it is, my fears were not justified: not a single police checkpoint on the road, and I felt safe all the time.
I would say that - precautions provided, such as booking through a reliable tour operator - Burundi can be safely visited. If you are after the more African Africa than the one that you experience in Ruanda. I felt that if Ruanda strives to be the Singapore of Africa, Burundi certainly does not show such kind of ambition.