Lake Bunyonyi may not have the fame of other better known African lakes such as Lake Tanganyika or Lake Malawi, but it has a special beauty that makes it one of the best lakes we have visited so far and one of the most beautiful.
The name Bunyonyi means “place of small birds” and it is that in the lake you will see a great diversity of birds. Volcanic in nature, this lake originated about 8,000 years ago, as it is located on a fault in the African Rift. The waters basically come from the Kabirita River from Rwanda.
It is located in the south-west of the country, near the border with Rwanda. With an area of 60 square km, it has 29 blocks inside. It is the second deepest lake in Africa with 900 m depth.
Once you see it, it will be familiar to him that he has seen it before and it is because the Ugandan government decided that it would appear on the 5,000 UGX banknotes..
How to get there?
To get to Lake Bunyonyi, you need to go through the town of Kabale first. From there to Lake Bunyonyi there is a 7-kilometer route that goes up the mountain and then makes a steep descent with curves until it reaches the shore of the lake. All this road is dirt, but it can be done quietly without the need for a 4×4.
To get to Kabale, you can access from the Kisoro road, to the west, which is paved and in good condition (but where you will go through different towns with the corresponding boats to reduce speed). Think that when leaving Kisoro you will cross a mountain pass where you will have impressive views of the environment.
If you come from the east, you can get to Kabale from the Masaka-Mbarara-Ntungamo-Kabale road over a hill just before reaching Kabale.
If you arrive from Rwanda, from the Gatuna border point you arrive in 25 kilometers to Kabale, although we do not know the state of the road because at the time we went, the border was closed.
What to do in Lake Bunyonyi?
Lake Bunyonyi is one of the places that most positively surprised us in Uganda. You can perform different activities, among which we highlight:
-Take a boat tour of the most famous islands within the lake
One of the activities that we liked the most was touring the lake by boat. We wanted to rent a canoe, but at the time we were there there were strong water currents inside the lake that made the proposal inadvisable. So we decided to rent a motorboat with a friendly driver, Nelson. If you want to contact him to take a tour of the lake here is the telephone number: +256788210558.
The boat ride was very nice. You pass through the lake and visit different islands. Meanwhile, the guide tells you the story of each one of them. If you can, try to visit at least the islands of:
- Punishment Island: This island, called the island of punishment, was used years ago as an island where women who had become pregnant and were not married within the Bakiga society were abandoned and left to die there. Most of the people at that time could not swim, so the island became a prison for them. According to the Bakiga, a woman cannot get pregnant before getting married. The story goes that several girls survived the island of punishment thanks to the fact that different young people who could not pay the dowry of a virgin bride went to the island and rescued them. Finally, this macabre practice was totally forbidden and this island is only a place for the birds to stop..
- Bushara Island: It is a private island that has private accommodation on the island and has antelope and zebra on its grounds. If you are going to go on a boat excursion, it is important that you pass by: they say that if you are lucky to see a zebra, your boat trip will go well and you will reach land safely!
- Bwama Island and Njuyeera Island: These islands were used from 1931 as a center for people with leprosy, until 18 years after this activity stopped. It is also known as Sharp’s Island, since the English missionary Leonard Sharp was the person who ran that center. Currently, there is the main hospital of Lake Bunyonyi.
– Watch the sunset from Arcadia Lodge
One of the best activities you can do is see Lake Bunyonyi from above while drinking a cold beer or a cup of tea. From the top of the mountains that surround the lake you will be able to see the different islands and get an idea of the immensity of the lake.
One of the best places to do it and relax is from Arcadia Lodge, an accommodation located at the top of one of the mountains and enjoying the best views of the lake. Even if you don’t stay, you can go one evening and enjoy the sunset between the mountains. It is spectacular!
– Swimming in the waters of Lake Bunyonyi
Lake Bunyonyi is one of the few lakes in Uganda where you can swim, as there is no Bilharzia, a common parasite in the waters of many southern African lakes, as well as hippos or crocodiles. If you enjoy a good day, from the different accommodations located on the shores of the lake, you can swim and relax listening to the noise of different species of birds that inhabit the lake.
– Take a walking tour to one of the lake’s viewpoints
There are different possible walking tours to take from Lake Bunyonyi. You can hire a guide to take you on a tour of different local towns and viewpoints where you can see the lake from different perspectives. In the accommodation where you are, you can negotiate the route and prices.
Where to sleep?
– Crater Bay Cottages: This accommodation is located at the foot of Lake Bunyonyi, which allows you to swim there from its facilities. It is one of the best places to stay on Lake Bunyonyi, with different rooms with private toilets. Besides, it also has a restaurant and organizes different activities in the area. Very attentive staff and very good value for money. We ate very well. If you want to book, you can click here or contact directly to his manager, Oswald, at +256789408540.
– Arcadia Lodge: This is the most luxurious accommodation you will find on Lake Bunyonyi. It is what offers the best panoramic views over the lake, since it is located at the top of the mountain. It has different rooms, spa, swimming pool and restaurant; but it is only suitable for medium-high budgets. If you can’t stay here, you will always have the possibility to go and have a drink on its terrace while you watch the sunset and its fantastic views. If you want to book, you can click here.
– Bird Nest Bunyonyi Resort: This accommodation is located at the foot of the lake, where it has a swimming area and swimming pool. It offers different types of rooms, private parking and a good restaurant where you can eat a meal for about 25 euros for two people. If you want to book, you can click here.
DAY 1: After a 4×4 route in the middle of mountains and forest reserves we arrive at Lake Bunyonyi, a lake that is home to different islands that were created by volcanic eruptions and that create a beautiful landscape. We settled in Crater Bay where we could swim while watching the sunset. Here there is no problem to swim. At night, we met some Chilean girls who had come to visit a friend who was doing a volunteer service and we went to sleep very fresh under the daily rain that Uganda had used to us, and the singing of the birds.
DAY 2: We get up early to visit the Arcadia Lodge, one of the most luxurious hotels on Lake Bunyonyi where you enjoy one of the best views of the lake. There, we talked with different workers and one of them offered us a boat trip on the lake to see different places in Bunyonyi.
So we went to meet Nelson who was waiting for us at the Bird Nest dock and with whom we enjoyed a very beautiful two-hour route through the place where we could navigate a private island where there were different herbivores (zebras, impales …), visit the old island of the lepers and the Punishment Island where until decades of years ago they sent pregnant women who were not married. Bunyonyi is also a tribal site that has its cultures and traditions, so it was very interesting to be able to talk with Nelson about different aspects such as marriage, children or school; while we were sailing in a boat.
We stayed for lunch at the Bird Nest, and in the afternoon we returned to Arcadia Lodge to enjoy a good view. As the clouds were covering the sun and seeing the rain of the previous day, we decided to return to our accommodation after enjoying Lake Bunyonyi from different perspectives.