Lake Bunyonyi

Lake Bunyonyi – Gorilla Highlands

Lake Bunyonyi – Gorilla Highlands

Lake Bunyonyi, aptly named “Place of many little birds,” resides in the tranquil southwest corner of Uganda, nestled close to the Rwandan border. Ranking as Africa’s second deepest lake, it shares its depth only with Lake Tanganyika.

This serene expanse is speckled with 29 islands, each with its own tale to tell. Some lie uninhabited, while others host local communities and tourist amenities.

Among the islands steeped in rich history are Akampene, better known as Punishment Island, Sharps Island, and Bucuranuka, intriguingly dubbed “Upside Down.”

The Islands on Lake Bunyonyi

Akampene – Punishment Island

Akampene, infamous as Punishment Island, harbors a dark past. Up until the 1940s, unwed pregnant girls faced abandonment on this desolate isle, marked by a solitary tree. Their own fathers or brothers orchestrated this cruel fate, intending to dissuade others from similar indiscretions.

Stranded without means of escape, these young women, lacking swimming skills, were left to succumb to starvation. Occasionally, their plight drew the intervention of sympathetic souls: impoverished young men or slaves unable to meet the customary bride price, who braved the waters to offer them a lifeline.

Njuyeera -Sharp’s Island

In 1921, Dr. Leonard Sharp, an English missionary, arrived in this region of Uganda. The name Njuyeera, meaning ‘white cottage,’ was derived from the dwelling constructed by Sharp’s family.

A decade later, he founded a leprosy treatment center on a previously uninhabited island.

Transforming the island, Sharp created a multifunctional space, featuring a tennis court, boat house, guest cottage, windmill, and lush gardens adorned with lemon and guava trees, canna flowers, 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 

On this island, there’s a tale passed down through generations. It speaks of a tragic incident sparked by a group brewing local sorghum beer and callously refusing to share it with an elderly woman who kindly asked for some.

Feeling insulted, the woman then requested assistance in crossing to the mainland. Legend has it that a young boy volunteered, rowing her across the waters.

Upon reaching the mainland, the woman stepped ashore, leaving the boy behind. What happened next astonished him: when he looked back, he saw the island capsized, taking the lives of all who remained.

Things to do in Lake Bunyonyi- Gorilla Highlands 

Birding in Echuya Forest Reserve 

In this forest, approximately 150 diverse bird species call it home, with 18 of them found exclusively within this reserve, such as the elusive Grauer’s Swamp Warbler.

Among these avian residents are the 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 Sunbird, and Strange Weaver.

Furthermore, the forest serves as a sanctuary for primates, hosting troops of blue monkeys, colobus monkeys, and a small baboon population.

Additionally, there are 19 different species of small mammals, an abundance of colorful butterflies adorning the forest, and several other attractions awaiting exploration.

Canoe Trekking on Lake Bunyonyi 

Explore Lake Bunyonyi aboard a traditional dugout canoe, allowing for leisurely stopovers at various islands. Immerse yourself in tales of the lake’s history while strolling through the natural beauty of Bushara Island.

Spot diverse bird species and playful primates while discovering the traditional medicinal uses of local herbs by the Bakiga people.

Marvel at Punishment Island and Explore Bwama Island during a nature walk. Indulge in a refreshing glass of passion juice at the island’s restaurant and admire handcrafted goods made by local women.

Discover the Canoeing and Hiking Tour package for an unforgettable experience on Lake Bunyonyi.

Community Walks – Batwa Tour in Echuya Forest Reserve. 

Embark on a captivating journey through Echuya Forest with a 3-hour nature walk, delving into the contemporary lives of the Batwa people. Discover their rich heritage and traditional practices firsthand as they share their profound knowledge of herbalism.

Engage in enlightening conversations with the Batwa Community of Rwamahano, gaining insight into the challenges they face as a community and their resilient spirit.

Indulge in the vibrant culture of the Bakiga Village Bar, savoring the unique flavors of local beer brews while soaking in the breathtaking vistas of Lake Bunyonyi.

Culture on the Crest 

Embark on a half-day adventure starting from your accommodation near Lake Bunyonyi. The journey begins with a visit to the terraced hillsides of the Kyabahinga peninsula, where vibrant nursery school pupils treat you to lively dancing and singing performances.

Next, at a trading center above the school, savor a cup of the local brew, obushera, before embarking on a challenging 30-40 minute hike offering breathtaking views of the lake.

From Kyabahinga vantage point, soak in panoramic vistas of Lake Bunyonyi 29 islands and the distant Virunga volcanoes. Along the way, immerse yourself in colorful tales, legends, and historical insights about the islands.

At the ridge of the peninsula, encounter a traditional healer who unveils the secrets of tropical highland flora and medicinal herbs.

Your journey culminates with a visit to a craft maker, where you’ll witness the intricate process of handcrafting local artifacts. Feel free to participate and craft your own masterpiece.

Finally, descend to the water and board dugouts for a serene journey back to your pick-up point.

Coffee walking tour 

The coffee tour begins in Kisoro town, then winds its way up for 30 minutes until reaching a local family’s homestead. Here, you’ll delve into the intricacies of coffee cultivation, discussing the nuances between Arabica and Robusta varieties.

Arabica Coffee thrives in lofty altitudes, a fact you’ll explore firsthand. Witness the meticulous process of coffee processing and savor the aroma as beans roast in a rustic thatched area right outside the home.

Experience the artistry of coffee roasting as you learn about three distinct levels: light, medium, and dark roasts. Finally, indulge in a tasting session to cap off this immersive journey into the world of coffee.

Mountain Biking 

Lake Bunyonyi offers an excellent terrain for mountain biking, allowing you to immerse yourself in breathtaking views of its enchanting islands while engaging closely with the local community.

During your adventure, a knowledgeable local guide will accompany you. Additionally, Lake Bunyonyi Rock Resort provides bike rental services for those in need 

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 is a year-round destination, welcoming visitors regardless of the season. During the dry months from December to March and June to August, water becomes scarce, making wildlife viewing easier as animals congregate around reliable water sources.

Additionally, with less dense vegetation cover, spotting wildlife is more accessible.

Conversely, the wet/green season spans from April to May and September to November, characterized by rainfall and slippery trails. This may impact outdoor activities such as hiking, nature walks, and mountain biking.

However, these months are optimal for observing migratory birds and experiencing lush, green scenery—perfect for photography enthusiasts.

Many lodges also offer discounted rates during this period, making it an appealing option for travelers.

How to get to Lake Bunyonyi-Gorilla Highlands

Lake Bunyonyi sits in southwestern Uganda, just a short 10 km jaunt from Kabale city. The journey from Kampala takes around 8 hours, but if you prefer not to tackle it all at once, consider a multi-day break in Mburo National Park along the way.

For those departing from Rwanda, the capital Kigali is approximately 2.5 hours away. Alternatively, you can catch a flight from Entebbe to Kisoro Airstrip departing at 07:00 hrs and arriving at 08:10 hrs. Upon arrival, a transfer will whisk you off to your lakeside accommodation.

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