Lake Bunyonyi – “place of little birds” – is a beautiful lake found in southwestern Uganda, Kabale District. The lake is one of Uganda’s iconic natural attractions and actually features on the country’s 2000 Shilling note.
Lake Bunyonyi covers 24km along the scenic terraced Kigezi highlands, and measures a width of 7km. It elevation is estimated at 1960m above sea level, while the high rising surround hills range from 2200m to 2478m. And going by its deepest end of about 900m, the lake ranks second deepest lake in Africa.
Up to 29 islands of different sizes and shapes are scattered across the lake. Some of the significant islands include Akampene, Bushara, Kyahunge, Bwama, and Njuyeera. Each of these islands is associated with a legend that you’ll learn of during your visit to Lake Bunyonyi. It is these legends that have given the natives a certain traditional attachment to the lake over the years. The vegetation cover on these islands not only adds to the beautiful greenery across the lake but also harbors some wildlife. More than 250 species of birds have been recorded and it is this abundant birdlife that actually gives the lake its name Bunyonyi which means “the place of many birds”. Some islands have forest and tree plantations and these harbor some monkeys. Other than on the islands and along the edges of the lake, the surrounding hills hardly possess any trees or forest. They were massively cut down by the locals for farmlands and settlements. Getting onto a canoe and riding around the islands is a true nature experience.
Lodges have also been constructed on of these Islands and have become favorite hideaways for many visitors to the Lake Bunyonyi.
The surrounding terraces along the slopes of the sprawling Kigezi hills create nice green patterns and make the whole surrounding landscape very scenic and panoramic.
Lake Bunyonyi offers an experience many have likened to that of Switzerland, to the effect it has been dubbed the “Switzerland of Africa”. The temperatures are cool even on sunny days and this greatly attributed to its high elevation of 1962m above sea level. The cold mornings are even more magical. Mist engulfs across the lake and the terraces – a sight comparable to that of the mystical scenes in the “Lord of the Rings” movies. It is a perfect chance to take a canoe ride for a thrill of a lifetime. The quietness, serenity, cool atmosphere and the scenic views of the terraces through the misty atmosphere is simply magical!
It is thus the beauty, serenity and quietness that make Lake Bunyonyi one of the best spots to relax and unwind while in Uganda especially after the strenuous safaris and adventures. From the tiresome gorilla trek in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, hiking the volcanoes of Mgahinga, and from doing safaris in Queen Elizabeth National Park, the best fallback spot to relax is Lake Bunyonyi which is situated nearest to these spots.
A canoe ride is the best way to move around the lake, explore the beautiful islands and enjoy the sceneries all around. There are so many dugout canoes stationed at the shores, many of them owned by the locals and are quite cheap. You could opt for a guided ride where one of the local guide takes you around and narrate to you the legends surrounding the islands. However few of the locals are fluent in English, but they know the routes to take for the best experience of the lake. Alternatively you could just hire the canoe and ride by yourselves. The canoe ride takes up to 2 hours to explore most of the corners of the lake. You can ride any time but the morning experience is extra special, with all the mist and tranquil atmosphere feels mystical to say the least. The evening ride is also good to catch the spectacular sunsets.
Lake Bunyonyi is the only known Bilharzia free lake in Uganda. This makes it absolutely safe for swimming. Also the lake has no dangerous creatures like crocodiles and hippos. For experienced swimmers, you could swim to some of the islands. However owing to the fact that it is very deep (900m), it is advisable to desist from swimming when drunk, let alone being inexperienced.
Nature walks on the islands and around the lake are very rewarding with beautiful sceneries and some wildlife encounters. Some of the Islands have well developed trails through their forests and tree plantations. When staying at any of these Islands a nature walk is an activity to consider.
One of the communities inhibiting the surrounding hills is the Batwa Pygmy communities. These especially interest visitors with their rare short sizes. They are also welcoming communities with rich cultures and traditions that you’ll experience through their dancing presentations and folklores.
Hike through the terraces and local communities to the top of the highlands. It is advisable you get one of the local guides from the around the lake that know well the area and the best hiking routes. The hills’ elevation vary from 2200 meters to 2,478 meters. You are treated to panoramic views of Lake Bunyonyi and terraces from up top.
As the word Bunyonyi means place of many birds, the lake hosts an impressive bird list. More than 200 species have been recorded and include among others Grey-crowned Cranes, Herons, and Weaver Birds. Your birding trail could start from the shores in the fringe trees and vegetation, take a canoe ride on the lake and get to walk onto some of the Islands. Again it is advisable to take a local bird guide.
Lake Bunyonyi is accessible by road 7k west from Kabale Town. It takes 5 to 10 minutes of drive from the turn-off at Kabale town to the road leading to Lake Bunyonyi.
A range of lodges and campsites are available along the shores and on some Islands. Notable lodges along the shores include: Bunyonyi Overland Resort, Bunyonyi Safaris Resort, Birdnest Lodge, Crater Bay Cottages, Byoona Amagara Lodge. The Island lodges include: Bushara Island Camp, Heritage Lodge Habuhuro Island. The accommodation at Lake Bunyonyi is reasonably price compared to that in most of the attractions in the region. Staying at Lake Bunyonyi not only gives you a good relaxation experience but also cuts on expenditure. For instance if you spent a night in Bwindi for the gorilla trek which is generally costly it is advisable that after the gorilla trek transfer to Lake Bunyonyi for your final night.