Kampala-Bujumbura by bus: Festive season sights, scenes

Saturday December 30 2023

Bicycle riders load their bicycle onto a truck in order to travel back to the countryside from Bujumbura, Burundi on March 10, 2022. PHOTO | AFP


The journey from Kampala to Bujumbura via Kigali by road normally takes around 17 hours. But my recent trip from Uganda’s capital city to the former Burundian capital took me almost two days because I used public transport during the festive season – a time when there was high demand for passenger transport.

Arriving at the Trinity Bus terminal in Kampala at around 5pm, I was informed that tickets to Bujumbura had sold out for the next three days. I went to the next bus company, and it was the same story.

Another bus company that “had” tickets for a bus that was supposed to leave Kampala for Bujumbura at 8pm that night turned out to be fraudulent.

Read: Bujumbura: Scenic city where you can safely party all night

After paying for the ticket, I waited for the bus until I was informed that I would be transferred to another bus company that had a bus that would be departing at 9pm. When I went to the said bus company’s offices, they admitted that they had received my payment but their seats, too, had sold out. I asked for a refund, and it turned out to be about 20 percent less than what I had paid.

Frustrated, I just took the money and walked away. After searching for a bus for several hours in vain, I decided to take a minibus, which left Kampala for Mbarara at 1am. From Mbarara I boarded another one that let me off in Kabale near that Uganda-Rwanda border of Katuna, where I arrived at around 10am using a 'boda boda'.


Getting transportation from the border to Kigali was even harder, as there was even higher demand for public transport within Rwanda. I had to wait for at least three hours to get a bus to the Rwandan capital and, by the time I arrived there at around 2pm it was already too late for me to get a connecting bus to Bujumbura, so I had to spend that night in the Rwandan capital.

Kigali came alive at night as most hangouts were packed with revellers who were partying away after the government lifted restrictions on trading hours for bars and nightclubs. In September, the government had ordered bars and nightclubs to close by 2am in a bid to curb noise pollution.

The following morning, I was lucky to get a seat on one of the buses that left Kigali for Bujumbura – and I hoped to arrive at my final destination by at least 4pm.But that never came to pass. A road accident on the Rwandan side that involved four vehicles led to the blocking of the road for more than an hour as traffic police struggled to pull them off the road.

After crossing into Burundi, our journey was slowed down tremendously by the numerous roadblocks mounted by the Burundian police, especially in the final 40-kilometre stretch or so to Bujumbura.

Read: Riding on love from Nairobi to Addis

The drive from Kigali to Bujumbura was slow accidents, roadblocks, trucks transporting goods from Tanzania to Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, travelling at a snail’s pace. Drivers behind them have to drive at the same pace, sometimes for up to 20 kilometres, as it’s hard to overtake on the winding roads.

While the journey from Kigali to Bujumbura usually takes between five to six hours, it took us up to 12 hours.

But, as tiring as the journey was, there were also some incredibly panoramic views to soak in along the way. As you approach Southwestern Uganda, you see a landscape of rolling hills with scenic views, and the drive from here through Rwanda and Burundi seems to be one long, continuous mountain pass.

The journey takes travellers through rolling hills, lush forests and picturesque villages, providing a memorable experience.

As you depart Kigali, you will be greeted by the breathtaking views of "the land of a thousand hills”.

In Burundi, the festive season also seems to come with numerous weddings. Along the way we met at least five convoys escorting newlyweds.

The sight of these convoys reminded me of my very first road trip from Kampala to Bujumbura via Kigali back in 2007 when we met a newlywed couple who were walking from church on foot after exchanging their vows, with a chanting entourage in tow.

Read: Life in Dar es Salaam during Christmas holiday

The journey takes you through the region’s rural communities, where you can catch a glimpse of their everyday life in the countryside.

In these hilly landscapes, many of the low-lying areas are covered in a range of food crops. While most parts of Uganda have some vast, open areas, the hilly areas of southwestern Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi are crowded with people – it’s one homestead after another.

And the people in these areas seem to live off subsistence farming, which offers travellers views of impressive food gardens. In Burundi, you mostly drive through numerous coffee plantations, which is quite surprising considering that the country is not known as a major coffee producer in the region.

In Uganda, there is a never-ending buzz of activity on the roads, with almost every trading centre filled with numerous people selling eats and drinks to travellers. But along the main roads of Rwanda there is nothing much and it’s hard to find people selling eats on the roadside. On the Burundian roads, one can only see people selling only fresh food from the garden – nothing ready to eat.