Lake Bunyonyi

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Lake Bunyonyi – Gorilla Highlands

Lake Bunyonyi – Gorilla Highlands

Lake Bunyonyi (literally translated as “Place of many little birds”) is a freshwater body located in the southwestern corner of Uganda near the border with Rwanda. The lake is Africa’s 2nd deepest lake after Tanganyika.

The lake hosts 29 Islands some of which are uninhabited and others are inhabited by locals and tourist facilities. The Islands with a rich history include; Akampene (Punishment Island), Sharps Island, and Bucuranuka (Upside down).

Akampene – Punishment Island

Until the 1940s,  unmarried pregnant girls were abandoned on this Island with a lone tree by their fathers/brothers as a way of communicating to others not to get pregnant out of wedlock.

The girls unable to swim across (without swimming skills) were left to starve to death. They were often saved by young poor men or slaves who could not afford the regular bride price.

Njuyeera -Sharp’s Island

In 1921, Dr. Leonard Sharp, an English missionary came to this part of Uganda. Njuyeera translates as ‘white cottage’ and originates from the house Sharp’s family built.  10 years later, he established the leprosy treatment center on an uninhabited Island.

He converted the island into a tennis court, boat house, guest cottage, windmill, and gardens with lemon and guava trees, canna, and flame lilies.

Bwama Island. 

In 1914 it was an anti-colonial rebel base of a famous leader, Katuregye.  In 1921, Dr. Sharp set up a church, hospital, and patient quarters. After anti-leprosy drugs were introduced in the 1980s, it became a boarding secondary school. Currently, the buildings of the hospital are used by a boarding secondary school and primary school. 

Bucuranuka -Upside Down Island 

This Island has a folktale, of people who were killed after a group brewed local sorghum beer and refused to share with an old woman upon her request for some and was rudely chased her.

She was offended and requested that they give her someone to help her cross to the mainland. It was believed that a youthful boy accompanied her and rowed the canoe across to the mainland.

Reaching the mainland, the lady disembarked and the boy was shocked on turning to see the Island overturned killing everyone. 

Things to do in Lake Bunyonyi- Gorilla Highlands 

Birding in Echuya Forest Reserve 

There are about 150 different bird species that live in this forest, 18 of them are endemic to this reserve for example the elusive Grauer’s Swamp warbler. Bird species include Dwarf Honeyguide, Kivu ground thrush, Red-throated Alethe, Red-faced Woodland Warbler, Archer’s Robin-Chat, White-eyed Slaty Flycatcher, Mountain Masked Apalis, Yellow-eyed Black Flycatcher, Brown-capped Weaver, Montane Oriole, Regal Sunbir and Strange Weaver. 

The forest is also a primate haven with troops of blue monkeys, colobus monkeys, and a small population of baboons. There are also 19 different small mammal species, lots of butterflies that make the forest look colorful, and a few more attractions.

Canoe Trekking on Lake Bunyonyi 

Lake Bunyonyi can be explored in a traditional dugout canoe to have stopovers on the Islands. Get to listen to tales about the lake, and take a nature walk through the Bushara Island.

Look out for the bird species, and primates, and learn about how the Bakiga used to utilize and still use herbs for medicinal purposes.

Take in some views of Punishment Island and Bwama Island along the nature walk. At the restaurant on top of the island, get to enjoy a glass of fresh passion juice and take a look at the crafts made by the women.  Check out the tour package for the Canoeing and Hiking Tour on Lake Bunyonyi.

Community Walks – Batwa Tour in Echuya Forest Reserve. 

Take the 3-hour nature walk in Echuya Forest and learn more about the Batwa of Today and their way of life.

The Batwa will showcase their extensive herbalist knowledge, and get to learn about their challenges as a community by having a chat with the Batwa Community of Rwamahano.

Experience the Bakiga Village Bar where you get to taste the local beer brew and take in the amazing and stunning sights of Lake Bunyonyi. 

Culture on the Crest 

This is a half-day tour that starts from any accommodation close to Lake Bunyonyi. The first stopover is on the terraced hillsides of the Kyabahinga peninsula where dancing and singing presentations by nursery school pupils.

At a trading center above the school, you will be invited to a cup of the local brew, obushera. Then hike for a challenging 30-40 minutes taking in some views of the lake. 

Kyabahinga is uniquely located to give you an outlook over most of Lake Bunyonyi, its 29 islands, and the distant Virunga volcanoes. You will hear the colorful tales, legends, and historical facts related to the islands. On the ridge of the peninsula, a traditional healer, who will share secrets of tropical highland flora and medicinal herbs. 

Your final stop will be at a craft maker who will show you how local crafts are hand-made and you may join in making one of your own. You will then descend to the water and enter the dugouts again back to your pick-up place. 

Coffee walking tour 

The coffee tour starts in Kisoro town and proceeds to gradually climb for 30 minutes to reach a local family. You will learn about the coffee plantations and talk about the difference between Arabica and Robusta.

Arabica Coffee is common in high-altitude regions.  You will learn about coffee processing and experience the roasting of coffee beans in a thatched area in front of the house.

There are three levels of coffee roasting: light roast, medium roast, and dark roast. You will also taste the coffee at the end of this tour.

Mountain Biking 

Lake Bunyonyi is great for mountain biking as you take in amazing scenic views of some of the magical islands and get up close and personal with the local people. A local guide accompanies you on your excursion. Lake Bunyonyi Rock Resort has some bikes for hire as well. 

Ziplining at the Supreme Adventure Park. 

Get to swing on top of the calm waters of Lake Bunyonyi, the second deepest lake in Africa located in southwestern Uganda. The high ropes are connected between trees on the opposite shores of the lake and one can swing from one point to the other over the calm waters of the lake.

The experience offers travelers a fresh breeze, and views of local communities, islands, and rolling hills of the Kigezi region. 

Where to stay in Lake Bunyonyi-Gorilla Highlands

Birdnest Lodge 

Birdnest Resort @ Bunyonyi is situated on the shores of Lake Bunyonyi. The lodge features 20 rooms with grass thatched roofs and individually decorated with their balcony with breathtaking Lake Bunyonyi views and its surrounding gorilla highland areas. 

Other facilities include a restaurant that offers international cuisine as well as local dishes, a lounge area furnished with comfortable lounge seats, a terrace, a craft shop, a conference hall, a fitness center with a gym, a steam bath, and a sauna. There is also a swimming pool with views of the lakes and surrounding areas. 

Heritage Lodge 

Heritage Lodge, Habuharo is situated on a 7-acre wooded island that is one of 29 islands in Lake Bunyonyi, one of the deepest lakes in the world. The island can be reached by a 25-minute boat ride from the main landing site at Ha’rutindo.

The boat ride to the island is characterized by steep hills surrounding the lake which creates a beautiful scenery for the traveler. The island itself is densely wooded with different species of mature trees.

The lodge features 10 self-contained tents and 1 family cottage that provide comfort amidst the serenity and scenic beauty of the lake. The main building includes a bar and restaurant.

The restaurant emphasizes organically grown, freshly-harvested products including crayfish, a local delicacy served fresh on request. The bar is well-stocked and a campfire and comfortable lounge create a great ambiance. 

Lake Bunyonyi Rock Resort 

This is an eco-friendly resort on the shores of Lake Bunyonyi that features 22 rooms of which 19 are ensuite while 3 are non-en-suite. 5 luxury rooms are in the Rock Bungalow of which 3 rooms are upstairs and 2 rooms are downstairs.

Each of these rooms has a private balcony, private showers, and clear views of the lake and neighboring communities. The arrangement of the rooms can be single, double, twin, and triple based. Other facilities include a restaurant and bar area. 

Lake Bunyonyi Eco Lodge

The lodge is set high on the saddle of a tree-clad ridge above the banks of Lake Bunyonyi on Kyahugye Island with panoramic views of the Island and across the lake.

The Eco Resort offers just 10 cottages categorized into deluxe rooms and suites each of which stands on its own, each with a spectacular view of the forest, lake Bunyonyi, and the surrounding community.

The rooms further have private balconies, wooden floors, big windows, and perfect craftwork of woven bamboo.

The Resort also offers one suite and two rooms for persons with reduced mobility. Other facilities include a bar and lounge area, a restaurant, a garden, a terrace, a children’s playground, and a marina. 

The best time to visit Lake Bunyonyi-Gorilla Highlands

Lake Bunyonyi can be visited all year round during both the dry and wet seasons. The dry season is in the month between December to March and June to August. In this period water becomes scarce and this makes wildlife viewing easier as animals tend to seek out reliable water sources and vegetation cover is less thick. 

The wet/green season is in the months of April to May and September to November. These months receive rainfall and the trails are usually slippery which can affect some of the outdoor activities like hiking, nature walks, and mountain biking among others. 

However, these months are ideal for other migratory birds.  The wet season is also a good idea for people interested in scenery, the vegetation is lush and green for photography and most lodges offer discounted room rates.

How to get to Lake Bunyonyi-Gorilla Highlands

Lake Bunyonyi is located in southwestern Uganda and about 10 km away from the city of Kabale. You can reach Kabale in about 8 hours from Kampala.

If you don’t feel like bridging such a long distance in one go, you can consider breaking the route with a multi-day stop in the Mburo National Park.

If you are coming from Rwanda, it is approximately 2.5 hours from the capital Kigali. You can also fly into Kisoro Airstrip from Entebbe at 07:00hrs arriving at 08:10hrs where you will be picked up to transfer to your accommodation on the lake.

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