Burundi’s Rusizi National Park is a relatively small nature reserve and popular tourist destination located 15 kilometres northwest of the port town of Bujumbura.
The focal point of the lush reserve is the Rusizi river that supports a water-based ecosystem dominated by flat floodplains, reed-lined waterways and riverfront vegetation. The river meanders its way from Lake Kivu to Lake Tanganyika, where the sandy Rusizi river waters eventually meet the deep blue waters of Lake Tanganyika.
The reserve is best explored on a boat trip that explores the course of the river. Rusizi is a major birding destination, where waders and fishing eagles are often spotted. Bloats of hippo and basks of crocodiles litter the shallows of the water, providing endless entertainment for onlookers. Visitors are encouraged to look out for the famous legend of Rusizi, “Gustave”, a mammoth man-eating sized crocodile!
The Bujumbura-Uvira highway dissects the park into two sections, making it an easily accessible tourist destination. Visitors generally fly into Burundi International airport in Bujumbura and make their way from there to the reserve.
Boat operators sometimes charge foreign visitors a higher fee and do so at will. Make sure of standard fees before embarking on such a venture.
There are unfortunately no overnight facilities available in the park but safari-goers don’t need to go too far as there are various options on the outskirts of the park.
The main reason for visitors descending upon the reserve is the prolific presence of water birds. South of the highway is the best place to go bird watching, as this is where the delta of the river meets Lake Tanganyika.
Marabou stork, cisticola, Sharpe’s pied babbler, red-chested sunbirds African skimmers, and a few migratory species are just a few of the birds to spot on safari. In total, there are over 225 species of birds in the area.
Commonly spotted wildlife includes hippo, crocodiles, sitatungas, and monkeys. There is also abundant antelope in the area (wildebeest), which can be spotted on islands, fertile lands and drier grasslands.
Like most safari destinations in Africa, the best time to visit is during the dry season, which is June to September. This time of year is also ideal for walking safaris. The rest of the year it rains because of its tropical location.
The Rusizi river courses its way through the floodplains, ending at the Lake Tanganyika. Because of the incredible waterways and reed-lined banks, the best way to see the area is on a boat. Visitors can organize a gentle boat cruise on the waterways and spot hippo, crocs and wading birds while taking in the surrounds.
Game drives and walks are a great way of exploring the “other side” of the reserve that’s predominantly floodplains and grasslands. This is where visitors can spot the plains game. Guided drives take place in 4WD vehicles, and visitors can add in a trip to the reptile park as part of the safari experience.
There are no accommodation options inside the national park, but there are many hotel and lodge options right on the outskirts of the park. Lodges are generally mid-range and unique in style – modern with African flair.