What to see and do at Lake Bunyonyi

Lake Bunyonyi is one of the most beautiful areas in the country and undoubtedly the most beautiful lake in all of Uganda. After a strenuous tour through parks to discover wild nature, tiring trekking and hundreds of kilometres on bad roads, Lake Bunyonyi is the perfect place to relax and “recharge your batteries”. Here it is possible to practice various activities such as swimming, take a nice canoe ride, organise boat excursions among the various islands, birdwatching, nature walks and, last but not least, a cultural visit of the Pygmy community that populates the southern area of the lake.

Located in the southwestern part of Uganda near the city of Kabale, Lake Bunyonyi is dotted with 29 islands of various sizes and surrounded by terraced cultivated fields that form fascinating scenery. It is said that thanks to its deepest point measuring around 900 meters, Lake Bunyonyi is the second deepest lake in Africa. Bunyonyi, which in the local language means “place of many small birds“, is located at the height of 1950 meters asl, is 26 km long, 7 km wide and covers an area of 60 square kilometres. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the fish were introduced into the lake but died massively in the 1960s, probably as a result of emission of volcanic gases.

What is very important is that this lake is one of the safest in Africa because there are no hippos or crocodiles and above all its waters are free from the annoying parasite that causes bilharzia, a tropical disease found in most African lakes and rivers.

Lake Bunyonyi, Uganda
Lake Bunyonyi, Uganda
  • Boat cruise on Lake Bunyonyi

During our 2 visits to this beautiful area, we always went on a boat trip to visit the various islands of the lake and meet the pygmy community. The beautiful boat trip takes about 4 hours.

Starting from the small pier 5 minutes walk from our accommodation and near the Rutinda market (which takes place every Monday and Friday), we get on a motorised boat ready to explore this incredible green corner of Uganda. The landscape around us is green and lush, and the terraced hills surrounding the lake reflect their shapes and colours in the deep waters. From time to time, huge eagles fly over the flat surface of the lake, ready to catch some small fish while some grey herons and crowned cranes are perched on the shores.

Lake Bunyonyi, the small Punishment Island

The first island we see as we pass by is the small Akampeme, better known as the “punishment island”. It’s said that Bakiga people used to abandon here women that got pregnant before the marriage so they would starve or drown if they tried to swim back in the lake

Local Bakiga people are said to have abandoned women pregnant before marriage here so that they would starve or drown if they attempted to swim back to the mainland. This “ritual” was practised to frighten other women and induce them to refrain from having sexual relations outside of marriage and thus cause the loss of the dowry for the future bride’s family. The only chance to survive was to be saved by poor men who had no financial means to offer the dowry to marry a woman on the mainland.

Our second stop is the small and poor village of the Batwa Pygmy community, located in the southwest corner of the lake. Once we arrive on the shore, a group of children surround us taking our hand ready to lead the “mzungus” (white people in the local language) to the village. The path is very steep, and we have to go up the hill for about 20 minutes, but the view over the lake is wonderful. The local guide told us that the Batwa Pygmies were the original population of the forest but were “evicted” due to deforestation and the establishment of the Echuya Forest Park and relocated to other villages. They can survive to cultivate the land and inviting tourists to their community.

People dancing at Pygmy village, Uganda
People dancing at Pygmy village, Uganda

Nowadays only a few older adults are true descendants of the Batwa, short and with a broad and flat nose, while most of them have changed their somatic traits due to the intermarriages between different local ethnic groups. Anyway, we visit the few “new” mud houses that the government has built for the community, including a small school and an antibacterial tank to keep water and enjoy this short visit by taking some pictures with the many lively children.  Unfortunately, there is not much interaction because none of the Batwa Pygmies speak English. After taking a seat on a bench, a group of adults present their songs and dance for us, obviously in exchange for a small donation to support the community.

Next visit is the interesting Bwama island, where an English missionary built a leprosy treatment centre in 1931’s with a school and a hospital. It remained open until into the 1950s, 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 run by Slovenian medical students.

Lake Bunyonyi, the buildings of the former leprosy centre

We skip the visit of Kyahugye, an Island run by Bunyonyi Eco-resort where it’s possible to see a few zebras, antelopes and waterbucks brought from  Lake Mburo National Park, and we go straight to Bucuranuka Island. The guide explains to us that, in the local language, the meaning of Bucuranuka is “upside-down” island. According to a legend, it is said that a group of twenty men were brewing local beer on the island when an elderly lady passing by asked for a sip. The men were not happy about that because they mistook her for a well-known beggar, refusing to drink her and telling her to go away. She asked the men to be accompanied to the mainland, and this request was so fulfilled. A young guy took her to the mainland, and when he came back, suddenly, the island turned upside down, causing all the men to drown except one chicken that flew away and survived. Our interesting boat trip through the lake ends here, and it’s the time to relax along the peaceful shore of Bunyonyi!

A beautiful view on Lake Bunyonyi
  • Other activities on Lake Bunyonyi

In addition to the interesting boat tour of the lake and its islands with the meeting of the Pygmy Batwa tribe, all accommodations organise various activities to explore the beautiful surrounding area. For example, you can go canoeing, mountain biking, do a cultural visit to various villages, walking in the midst of nature in search of the many species of birds that populate the shores of the lake or simply to enjoy the beautiful views that the area offers. For trekking lovers, it is possible to arrange multi-day excursions either on foot or by canoe. Many accommodations can also arrange the trekking to meet mountain gorillas or game drives in various parks. In short, ask your accommodation for whatever you need!

Supreme Adventure lake Bunyonyi: on a small island near the shores of the lake close to the village of Rutinda, this “adventure park” offers the opportunity to try out various adventurous activities. You can experience the “high ropes course”, organise canoe excursions and try a zip-line that crosses the lake. The small island also offers some accommodations for those wishing to spend their stay here. Click here for more information.

Information about Lake Bunyonyi

When to go: the best time to visit the lake is the dry season, during January, February, June and July.

How to reach the lake: the west side of the lake is the most visited and where most of the accommodations are located. You first have to reach Kabale, a dusty and rather ugly city, and, from here, to travel the last 8 km to get to the shores of the lake to the small village of Rutinda. Lake Bunyony is 400 km from Kampala, 230 km from Lake Mburo National Park, 80 km from Kisoro.  

Where to sleep: on the shores of the lake near the village of Rutinda there is a good choice of accommodation, from campsites to more expensive resorts. There are also some resorts on the islands of the lake where you can completely relax surrounded by nature and the beautiful landscapes of the lake. We stayed at Crater Bay Cottages and camp, excellent accommodation on the shores of the lake and a few minutes from the weekly market of Rutinda. On booking.com the location of Crater Bay Cottages is wrong. In Rutinda you will also find, among many others, the Kaleba Resort, the Bunyonyi Safari Resort, the Bunyonyi Overland Resort, the Byoona Amagara, the Paradise Eco Hub, and Hawk’s Eye Lodge.

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