Lake Bunyonyi is one of the areas not to be missed during a trip thruogh Uganda. After a tiring tour of the country and several treks to discover its wild nature, it’s the perfect place where relax and chill out, swimming, dug out canoeing, Island hopping, birding, nature walks, and last but not least a cultural village visit. Located in the south – west part of Uganda next to Kabale town, dotted by 29 islands of various shapes and sizes, surrounded by a ring of terraced farms that form fascinating scenaries, is believed to be the second deepest lake in Africa with its deepest point believed to be around 900 meters. Bunyonyi, that means “place of little birds”, is 1.950 meters high, 26 km long and 7 km wide covering an area of 60 kilometers square. At the beginning of the 20th century fish were introduced in the lake but massively died in the 1960s, probably as a result of a volcanic gas emission. The most important thing is that the lake is one of the safest of Africa because there are no hippos or crocodiles and above all the water is also free from bilharzias then is very safe also for swimming. During my 2 visits of this beautiful area, I had an island hopping tour that consists in a 3-4 hours boat trip visiting the most interesting islands and the pygmy community.
Starting from the small boat launch 5 minutes walk from our accommodation and next to the Rutinda market (it takes place every Monday and Friday), we jump on a small motorized boat ready to explore this amazing green corner of Uganda. The landscape around us is green and lush, the hills that surround the lake are terraced and reflect in the deep water and many farmers hoe the ground. Every now and then, some massive Long Crested eagles fly around us on the smooth surface of the lake ready to catch some small fish and Grey Heron with Grey Crested Cranes stalk the shoreline.
The first island that we pass by is the small Akampeme, most known as “punishment island”. It’s said that Bakiga people used to abandon here women that got pregnant before the marriage so they would die of hunger or drown if they tried to swim back in the lake. This would be done to frighten other women to abstain from sex outside of marriage and causing the loss of the bride’s price for the family. The only chance to survive was to be rescued by poor men who did not have bride price to get married with a woman on the mainland. Our second stop is the small and poor village of Pigmy community, located in the south – west corner of the lake. Once we get the shore, a bunch of young children surround us grabbing our hand ready to lead “mzungos” (white people in local language) to the village. The path is very steep and we have to climb up the hill for about 20 minutes but with no doubt it’s worth it because the view on the lake is wonderful. The local guide tell us that Batwa Pygmy People were the original people of the forest but step by step they were evicted from it due to the deforestation and to built the echuya Forest park and they were resettled in village. To survive, they invite tourists to their community, where they perform song and dance.
Nowadays just few of the oldsters are full-blood Batwa, short and with broad flat nose, most of them have changed the physic due to the intermarriages. Anyways, we visit the very few “new” mud houses that the government has built for the community, including a small school and a antibacterial tank to keep the water and enjoy this short tour taking some pics with the smiling children next to the blackboard. Unfortunately there is not much interaction, none of the Batwa speak any English. After taking our place on a bench, a group of adults introduce their songs and dance for us, obviously in exchange of a tip to support the community. Next visit is the interesting Bwama island, where an English missionary built a leprosy treatment center in 1931’s with a school and an hospital. It remained open until into the 1950’s and it said that at its peak, more than 2.000 patients inhabited the Island. The hospital’s structures is currently a boarding secondary and primary school while the island also hosts a health centre ran by Slovenian medical students.
We skip the visit of Kyahugye, an Island run by Bunyonyi Eco resort and where you can meet a few zebras, antelopes and waterbucks brought from Mburo National park, and we go straight to Bucuranuka Island that means “upside down”. This island, according to a curious legend, killed many people. It said that a group of twenty men were brewing local beer on the island when an old lady passing by asked for a sip. The crowd was not happy and mistaking her to be a well-known beggar, they rudely refused her, told her to get lost. She asked for someone to take her to the mainland to which they agreed as they wanted to get rid of her. When a young man delivered her to the mainland and was starting to return, the island turned upside down drowning everyone except a chicken which flew away and survived. Our interesting boat trip through the lake ends here, it’s the time to relax along the peaceful shore of Bunyonyi!
where to sleep: the lake is around 70 km from Kisoro ( 2hrs ) and 400 km from Kampala. On your way back ( or way to ) i suggest to spend a day at Mburo National park . The biggest town close to the lake is Kabale , a dusty, long and ugly town, with a main road passing through. I don’t suggest you to sleep here but to proceed to Rutinda, the main small village on the southern-east shores of Lake Bunyonyi . Here you can find a wide range of good accommodations along the lake shore, from camp sites to Eco resorts. I slept at Crater Bay Cottages Lake Bunyonyi
Activities: all the accommodations can arrange boat trips, canoeying, nature walks and hikes, mountain biking and all the things you need.