Bujumbura, Burundi

Photo: I, SteveRwanda [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
You’re sitting on the northeast shore of Lake Tanganyika. The longest freshwater lake in the world is one of the African Great Lakes. It’s also the world’s second-deepest, second-largest by volume, and second-oldest freshwater lake. (Siberia’s Lake Baikal trumps it in all of those categories.) The lake is surrounded by Tanzania, Zambia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Burundi. Its water flows into the Congo—Africa’s second-longest river—and ultimately the Atlantic Ocean. This is the heart of Africa.

You have a prime lakeside setting at Hotel Club du Lac Tanganyika. The beach resort, which attracts an expat crowd on weekends, lies north of Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi. Rusizi National Park, home to hippos and sitatungas, is just a few miles away. Though it’s owned by Italians, the resort is focused on its local impact. Local staff. Local traditions. Local furniture. There was no doubt that you were in Africa when you arrived.

Hotel Club du Lac Tanganyika features low white buildings with wooden terraces and thatched roofs. All of the rooms are decorated with hardwood floors, African artwork, and colorful checkered bedspreads. Thatched palapas line the nearly Olympic-size swimming pool and the golden-sand beach. The latter is set up for beach volleyball now and a bonfire later. Plus a drum beat and the smell of baking pizza wafts from La Grillade, the open-air restaurant. The resort makes it very easy to ease into Bujumbura.

Photo: HCLT

Bujumbura used to be a small village called Usumbura. Then the Germans arrived. They turned the village into a military post for German East Africa in 1889 and the capital of Ruanda-Urundi after World War I. The city remained the capital and received its new name after Burundi declared its independence in 1962.

Buju, as Burundians affectionately call their capital, is now the East African country’s largest city and main port. It’s home to the landlocked country’s only international airport. A large market, the Regina Mundi Cathedral, the Living Museum of Bujumbura, and the presidential palace line wide boulevards. The War Memorial, which honors the lives lost during the Burundian Civil War (1993-2005), offers beautiful sunset views along with its history lesson. While the Livingstone-Stanley Monument, where explorers David Livingstone and Henry Morton Stanley stayed while visiting the area, lies south of the city.

There aren’t many tourists in Buju yet. In 2015, President Pierre Nkurunziza announced that he was running for a third term. This caused unrest between Hutu militias and the Tutsi-dominated army. A coup was attempted. Human rights were an afterthought.

But the ferries from Tanzania recently resumed running. Buju is gaining a reputation as a dining, drinking, and dancing city. Plus the beaches and the hotels along Lake Tanganyika provide an easy entre to the largely undeveloped country. Burundi is finally, hopefully headed in the right direction.

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