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Lake Bunyonyi

Lake Bunyonyi

‘The place of many little birds – a wondrous marvel’

Lake Bunyonyi is located in south western Uganda near the border of Uganda and Rwanda. It is located between the districts of Kisoro and Kabale. It is believed to be the second deepest lake in Africa with an impressive depth varying from 40m (130 ft.) to about 900m or 3,000ft. The lake lies at an altitude of 1,962m above sea level.

Lake Bunyonyi was found to be about 25 kilometers long and 7 kilometers wide; covering a surface area of over 46 square kilometers. It is nestled between hills that are about 2,200 meters to 2,478 meters high. The Lake is famous for its numerous islands which are believed to be around 29 in number. Some of the main islands on Lake Bunyonyi include Akampene, Sharp’s and Bushara islands among others.

Owing to the fact that Lake Bunyonyi is a fresh water lake, it has been cleared safe from water diseases like Bilharzia. This means that it is safe for swimming for visitors who wish to indulge in the sport. The lake also has an oxygen limit of up to 7 meters in depth. This has greatly boosted fish accumulation in the lake. Also the lake is safe for plenty of other aquatic life. 

Lake Bunyonyi is home to plenty of water life. There is a good number of vertebrates living in the fresh waters of this lake including; De Witte’s clawed frog, Lake Victoria clawed frog, African clawless otter and Spotted necked otter among others. The lake is also rich in fish like Catfish, Nile tilapia, Singida tilapia, haplochromine ciclids and red swamp crayfish. There are 4 species of Caridina endemic to this Lake.

Locally translated to “a place of many birds”, Lake Bunyonyi has proudly lived up to this name. There are over 200 bird species that can be found at this Lake. The Nyombi swamp located around the lake has the highest concentration of birds. Some species are believed to be migratory from some areas over different seasons. Some birds that you are most likely to see here include; weavers, grey crowned crane and herons among others.

When visiting Lake Bunyonyi, you can indulge in plenty of activities for your pleasure. These activities range from hiking up the hills, canoeing down the lake to see plenty of beautiful scenery, a boat cruise, nature walks, swimming, mountain biking, birding, fishing and cultural encounters with the local communities living around Lake Bunyonyi.

Location and how to get there:

Lake Bunyonyi is located near the border of Rwanda and Uganda in between the districts of Kisoro and Kabale. It is nestled within the great Kabale highlands of south western Uganda at an altitude of 1,962 meters above sea level.

Lake Bunyonyi can be accessed by road from Kampala to Kabale. This journey takes about 6 hours covering a distance of about 410 kilometers. From Kabale town you can take a smaller marrum road to Lake Bunyonyi. The distance on this road is about 8 km through the rocky plains of Kabale.

Attractions at Lake Bunyonyi:

  • Islands:

One of the main attractions in Lake Bunyonyi is its numerous islands. These beautiful islands contribute to the beautiful scenery of Lake. Some of the main islands include;

Akampene Island:

This Island is also called the punishment island because of how it was used in the ancient times. The local ancient Bakiga considered sex before marriage an abomination thus any girls that would get pregnant before they were married would be dumped and abandoned on this island with just one tree and left there to die.

Some of the girls would die trying to swim ashore to escape this brutality owing to the great depth of Lake Bunyonyi. Alternatively, these girls would be taken for “free” by men who were too poor to afford bride price. Since bride price is essential if a man is to marry a woman in the Ugandan culture, one who could not afford it would not win a wife. These desperate men would in turn sail to the island and pick out one of the abandoned girls as a wife.

Bushara Island:

This Island is dominated by a huge company, Lake Bunyonyi Development Company, which is affiliated to the Anglican Church. The Bushara Island is dominated by trade. There are various accommodation facilities on this Island including luxury tents, chalets and campsites. These comfortable accommodations are taken up by tourists visiting the Island or Lake Bunyonyi in general.

Canoes and Sailboats to paddle to other Islands or around the Lake can be rented out to tourists on the Bushara Island. The proceeds from economic activities on this Island are used to improve on the lives of the people living around Lake Bunyonyi through development projects. The gallant display of Eucalyptus trees on this island is another great attraction to check out when you visit.

Kyahugye Island:

The Kyahugye Island is located just a 5 minute’s boat ride away from the mainland. It covers an estimated area of about 74 acres. One of the greatest attractions on this Island is the unique vegetation The Island is surrounded by a 1 – 2 meter patch of reeds intersected by papyrus. Kyahugye Island has an assortment of tree species including Eucalyptus, Pinus, Alnus and Curpssus trees among others.

The vegetation on Kyahugye Island ranges from bush to open fallows, tree plantations and natural vegetation. The Island offers comfortable accommodations inform of chalets and campsites. There is also a fully stocked bar and restaurant with a beautiful view of the Lake and the surrounding hills.

Tourist activities like nature walks, Dugout Canoe Treks, mountain climbing, birding and community visits are also organized on the island. The Kyahugye Island is the only Island on Lake Bunyonyi with wild animals. These animals include; Impalas, Zebras, Waterbucks, Kobs and Debrasa monkey.

Bwama and Njuyeera Island:

This island is also called the Sharp’s Island after Dr Sharp, an English missionary, came to the Island and established a Leprosy treatment center there in 1931. He built a church, patient quarters and a medical facility for leprosy sufferers. The house he had lived in when he settled on the island is now currently “The White House Hotel.”

The leprosy colony was intended to provide a fulfilling life for leprosy sufferers so as to attract them to move to the Island. This in turn will prevent them from infecting other people in the community from leprosy. However, following the successful eradication of leprosy from the region, the hospital facility has now been turned into a boarding secondary school which receives students from all over the region. A primary school has also been established on the Island.

Bucuranuka Island:

This Island was dubbed “upside down island” following an old legend of an old woman who came across twenty people brewing local sorghum beer. She requested them to avail her with some of the beer but they declined. She requested them for a sip but they still turned her down. She got very furious with the men then.

She later asked them if they could accompany her to the mainland and eventually, they agreed to send her with a young boy with her. Immediately the boy and the old lady reached ashore Lake Bunyonyi, the island turned upside down killing all the people on it. It is said that only a chicken flew away and survived before the island went under.

  • Lake Bunyonyi:

Many tourists set out to this region to see the beautiful Lake Bunyonyi. The lake spans a whole 25 kilometers in length and 7 kilometers in width. Its depth ranges from 44m to 900 meters. This makes it the second deepest lake in Africa. This beautiful lake lies at an altitude of 1,962 meters above sea level.

Lake Bunyonyi is a fresh water lake with about 29 Islands in plain view sight. It is surrounded by enormous hills that almost make it appear like a crater lake. These hills are perfect for activities like hiking and photography. The lake is nestled by the famous terraced Kigezi highlands that the locals use for cultivation owing to their fertile soils.

Lake Bunyonyi is the perfect place to take a swim in this region if you are a swimmer. This is because unlike most water bodies, the Lake is completely Bilharzia free. However caution is advised as Lake Bunyonyi is very deep thus one ought to be a perfect swimmer. You will find that the Lake is a small fish haven with species like mud fish and cray fish making a common appearance.

  • Scenery:

The scenery at Lake Bunyonyi is to die for. It is safe to say that it is one of the most beautiful things at the Lake; ranging from its clear blue waters that are bilharzia free to the beautiful riverine vegetation that surrounds the water. Lake Bunyonyi is crowned by a set of hills since it lies within the Albertine rift.

The gorgeous hills are complemented by the famous Kigezi highlands that serve as farming land for the locals around Lake Bunyonyi. The hills are a definite delight for hikers that visit the Lake. They also act as some form of focal point to assess the surrounding communities and villages disappearing into the distant horizons.

The endless islands that Lake Bunyonyi is well known for serve for icing on the scenery cake. They straddle across the majestic lake giving it a more exotic touch. Most of the Islands are inhabited while others like the Sharp’s Island are mainly used for social services. These islands can be accessed and explored using canoes or boats.

Activities at Lake Bunyonyi:

  • Birding:

Lake Bunyonyi is literally translated as “a place of many small birds” and it had diligently lived up to this name. The lake and its surrounding areas have over two hundred bird species. Some of the birds are migratory birds from other places in the western part of Uganda while others are residents. You are most likely to come across some species that are endemic to the Albertine rift.

The Nyombi swamp near Lake Bunyonyi is a literal birding paradise when you visit the Lake. The swamp can be accessed by water using a canoe or a boat. While a the swamp, you can easily spot some birds lounging on papyrus straws, paddling about in the water and even some soaring about in the sky. You can even see some birds that are endemic to this region.

Some of the birds that you are most likely to see around Lake Bunyonyi and the neighboring swamp include; Pied kingfisher, Malachite kingfisher, Cinnamon chested Bee eater, Bronzy sun bird, Pied wagtail, Grey shrike, Grey crowned created crane, Hadada Ibis, swamp fly catcher, Black heron, Great cormorant, Fan tailed widow bird and Streaky seed eater among others.

  • Boat cruise and canoeing:

Lake Bunyonyi has a lot of beautiful natural features and most of these can be accessed using a boat or canoe across the water. Canoeing is the best way to view all features and explore the secrets this lake hides. You can explore the unique papyrus swamp surrounding the Lake along with the wildlife in it.

Canoeing gives you the perfect opportunity to explore the intriguing islands on Lake Bunyonyi. You can see them from a distance and even visit them. You can even get a closer look at the hills and surrounding highlands that rather seem distant ashore. Feel the powerful rippling effect of the waves beneath your boat and the cold breeze on your face.

A birding treat with lots of birds like the Harrier Hawk, Grey crowned crane, Black Heron, Egret, White tailed blue monard, cardinal woodpecker, levillant cuckoo, some weavers and slender billed baglafetch is in for you while you explore the lake. An evening boat ride allows you to explore nocturnal birds while listening to their beautiful sounds in the trees.

  • Swimming:

Lake Bunyonyi has clean clear waters and it is one of the many lakes that have been pronounced Bilharzia free. Also you will not find life threatening water animals like crocodiles and hippos here. This only makes it fair that you go for a dip in the natural waters when you visit. Enjoy the relaxing feel of the water beneath your body.

However, because Lake Bunyonyi is the deepest in Uganda and the second deepest in Africa, it is only advisable to swim here if you are an experienced or expert swimmer. Inexperienced swimmers can easily drown in the deep Lake Bunyonyi.  Also carry your own swimming gear in you intend to go for a dip in the Lake.

  • Hiking:

Lake Bunyonyi is located within the Albertine rift and is surrounded by numerous hills. This makes hiking at the lake a must do when you visit. You are accompanied by a trained guide from the lake through local communities and terraced highlands to the gorgeous hills above. On this trail, you can meet local people and enjoy beautiful scenery around the Lake and distant lands. Atop the hills, you can better take in the entire Lake Bunyonyi and its numerous islands.

  • Mountain biking:

Among the many fun activities that you can undertake at Lake Bunyonyi is mountain biking. The biking safari follows a trail around the lake through the local communities exploring the natural vegetation, the birds and beautiful lake view. You can always stop for pictures and to fully enjoy the scenery. Your guide will lead you through the village meeting natives and pointing out outstanding views. The safari can be booked to last half a day or the entire day.

  • Nature walks:

Taking a nature walk when you visit Lake Bunyonyi allows you to explore the lake and its surroundings fully. The nature trail follows the shores of Lake Bunyonyi while looking out for birds around the water and enjoying the cooling feel of water on your feet. The trail grows further and allows you to visit the different islands on the water while paying keen attention to any outstanding features that you might come across.

  • Cultural encounter:

While on your safari at Lake Bunyonyi, a cultural encounter will best highlight your enriching trip. The Batwa people are one of the many indigenous tribes in Uganda. They had occupied the echuya forest for many years before they were eventually evicted and forced to the communities outside Lake Bunyonyi. The cultural trail allows you to explore the echuya forest which the Batwa often speak about with sad memories.

You will be accompanied by a guide to the local Batwa community, where you will be met by hospitality and enriching history. You will meet the “Abaheesi” who are the local blacksmiths and learn about their unique trade. The Batwa people are often waiting with traditional performances of dance and music and stories about their intriguing history.

  • Sport fishing:

Lake Bunyonyi being a very deep lake, does not favor the breeding of Uganda’s indigenous species like the Tilapia and Nile perch. However, there are plenty of other species like mud fish, cat fish, mirow carp and red swamp crayfish. However, fishing on Lake Bunyonyi is limited because the fish was once extinct in the lake and it has just been recently introduced in the early 2000’s. You would need to carry your own fishing equipment and book earlier if you intend to go sport fishing at this lake.

Where to stay at Lake Bunyonyi:

  • Entusi Resort & Retreat center:

This facility is located on the shores of Lake Bunyonyi on a private peninsula that would be accessed by a boat. There are accommodations ranging from dorm tents, furnished tents and cottages. There is a classic restaurant on the premises that offers Indian, European, African and American cuisines. The facility also offers tourist activities like birding, volleyball, hiking, swimming and boat safaris at an extra cost.

  • Byoona Amagara Island retreat:

This accommodation facility is located near Lake Bunyonyi on a serene peninsular with excellent views of the lake and its various islands. The accommodation rages from geo domes, cottages, cabins to dormitories. The domes are fully furnished furniture and a private balcony. They are constructed using natural materials like straw and shoots. The retreat offers various activities like birding as well.

  • Bushara Island camp:

This beautiful camp is located over the ridge in Kabale. Accommodations range from well-furnished tents, cottages to a comfortable tree house.  The cottages have single, double and family rooms. The luxury tents provide self-contained accommodation with a private balcony where you can view the lake. The swallow’s Nest restaurant provides good delicious meals. Activities like campfires, volleyball and badminton are also available.

  • Arcadia cottages Bunyonyi:

The Arcadia cottages are located on a 14 acre garden overlooking Lake Bunyonyi. The facility has 11 self-contained cottages with a central lounge area where you can eat your meals from the fully equipped restaurant. There are high end bombardier jet skis, quad bikes and 25 seater motor launches for hire at the cottage. Arcadia cottages also offer activities like birding, motor launch and cruises at an extra cost.

  • Bird Nest Lodge:

Bird Nest lodge is located at the shores of Lake Bunyonyi near the boarder of Rwanda, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The rooms at the lodge are self-contained with room service and babysitting services. There is free wifi, a swimming pool, a lounge area, parking space and pool table. Guests are also allowed to use the hotel canoe for free. Activities like guided canoeing, birding, community trails and other activities to explore the lake are provided at an extra cost.

  • Bunyonyi Overland Resort:

The Bunyonyi overland resort is located on the shores of Lake Bunyonyi and is managed by the local community. The resort is constructed using local materials like straw and grass. There are furnished safari tents, 12 cottages, a family cottage and 4 self-contained rooms. Mobile tents and self-camping site can be hired although you would need to carry your own camping items. There is a fully stocked bar and restaurant, parking space, free wifi, laundry services, a craft shop and a satellite TV.

Best time to visit Lake Bunyonyi:

Uganda has relatively good weather throughout the year thus you can visit Lake Bunyonyi around anytime of the year. During the dry season, the water levels are lower and the sun is usually very hot. This makes swimming an ideal activity around this time at Lake Bunyonyi. Hiking is also much easier during this time since the paths are dry and with less plant life.

During the wet season, the water levels are very high and this makes it more risky for an inexperienced swimmer. The roads are often muddy and wet and this makes it harder to go hiking or climbing. You might also consider booking your safari for the low seasons because during peak seasons like December, prices tend to go up and there are many people visiting the lake at that time too.

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