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Introducing Burundi

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Two young men, Lake Tanganyika © franca_mente

Overlooking the turquoise waters of Lake Tanganyika with a freshly roasted cup of coffee, banana frites and some succulent brochettes, the serenity and charm of Burundi will dawn on visitors like a pleasant surprise. Emerging from a longstanding civil war, travel to Burundi has been discouraged up until recently and the small republic in east Africa, sandwiched between African titans Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo, is now enjoying an influx of curious tourists, attracted by its new-found peace and astounding natural beauty.

Lapped by the clear waters of grand dame Lake Tanganyika, the longest lake in the world, and blessed with lush mountainous jungles to the north and rolling green hills to the east, the only land below 3,000 feet (915m) in Burundi, is a narrow strip of plain along the Ruzizi River. A wealth of sights are on offer, from the thermal waterfalls in the Mugara Reserve and the southern source of the Nile at Rutovu, to Kibira National Park, where chimpanzees, colobus monkeys and crested mangabeys dash swiftly through dense foliage. And even though coffee is the country's largest export, it is the vast tea plantations of Teza and Rwegura that will capture the visitor's imagination.

Burundi has had a turbulent history. A 12-year ethnic-based civil war between the Hutus and Tutsis, mirroring the violent genocide in neighbouring Rwanda, broke out in the early 1990s after tension between the dominant Tutsi minority and Hutu majority flared up, demoralising the people and weakening the country's infrastructure. A ceasefire agreement and free and fair elections were conducted in 2005, resulting in relative peace and a new democratic government.

Although undeveloped and in bad repair, the capital Bujumbura, offers a friendly and cosmopolitan ambience. Charming art deco buildings from the colonial heydays line the streets and restaurants serving Belgian, Asian and Burundi cuisine, as well as the local Primus beer, can be found throughout the centre. For colourful markets, leather, ceramics, ivory and woodcarvings, follow the road to Gitega, Burundi's second largest city, where the Museum of Traditions can also be found.

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