Lake Bunyonyi: A worthwhile visit

29 Islands. An aerial view of Lake Bunyonyi will bring you closer to all the 29 Islands on the lake. PHOTO BY ERONIE KAMUKAMA

What you need to know:

  • Lake Bunyonyi sits between Kabale and Kisoro districts south west of Uganda The lake which is located approximately seven kilometres west of Kabale Town, is an experience like no other and offers a number of stories that a worthy visit, writes Eronie Kamukama

A smooth ride skirting around terraced hills and landscapes, curves into sharp corners before driving into Kabale.
Kabale, the far south western town, is home to Lake Bunyonyi, one of Uganda’s pride parades and the deepest lake in the country.

Lake Bunyonyi sits between Kabale and Kisoro districts.
It is a stunning view and it is a no brainer that it has been captured to feature in various movie scenes that have sold out at box offices in different parts of the world.

Kabale, which is approximately 420 kilometres, by road, south west of Kampala, shares the largest part of Lake Bunyonyi, which is approximately seven kilometres west of Kabale Town

The seven-hour drive from Kampala turns out to be the best companion before I check into Bunyonyi Overland Resort, just at the shores of the lake.
It is a cold black night but the light coming from the various hotels, cottages, cabins, safari tents and dormitories on the shores give off a phenomenal sight to lighten up the dark night.

Tourists, both foreign and local, seem to enjoy the night beauty that defines the countryside here.
Swahili speaking people and Dutch at a campfire, locals serving a blend of local and international cuisines on the other end of the restaurant, enjoy the night with such verve.

But the tiredness from a long journey does not allow me to enjoy with them.
After a warm bath in one of the 20 cottages, I tuck myself under the soft sheets. I only wake up to the call of day. The boat cruise starts me off.

“This is a very calm lake. Even if you are not swimming, you take two hours just canoeing. The breeze is cool. It soothes you so you can easily relax,” Wycliffe Rushaju, a tour guide, says.
Unlike other lakes I have been to, I meet various dug-out canoes, interestingly but there is not much fishing activity here.

There is cray, mud and cat fish in the marshy areas but the depth of the lake makes it difficult to catch, I learn.
The lake has 29 Islands both communally and privately owned. Sailing by some of them, I find the second largest called Kyahugye. It has become a sanctuary for wildlife such as waterbucks, Egyptian geese, zebras, the blue monkey and impalas.

The next Island, Bwama, is reputable for hosting lepers in the 1940s at the height of the leprosy scourge.
Today, it has been transformed into a habitable area with a church, schools and a hospital.
It is difficult to talk about leprosy and not visit the Sharp Island where “Njuyera” or the white house as it is known, was glorified in its earlier years.

An elaborate path leads to the house cheered on by lanes of red, yellow, pink, purple and white vibrant blooms.
A banana plant grows in the middle of this house recently renovated to accommodate tourists. Black and white framed pictures that tell of the Sharp family hang on the orange walls.
“Doctor Sharp stayed here while treating the lepers on another Island,” Mr Rushaju says.
Soon, we ride onto the smallest Island which also doubles as the famous Punishment Island.

It holds great cultural significance for the Bakiga. In their culture, out-of-wedlock pregnancy was unacceptable and death was preferable to such dishonor.
“If you got pregnant out of wedlock, it meant there was no position for you in society,” Rushaju says.
The pregnant girl was banished from the community and brought by her family to the Island where would wait to died.

“If you were responsible for the pregnancy or not and came to pick the girl, there were consequences. Automatically, you would start the journey that night and go to a far county and start a new life,” Rushaju says.
On the way to our docking area, is the supreme adventure park and all I see is a burning of some calories.
Tourists venture from one tree to another on high ropes that stretch into the late to cause an adrenaline rush. This is the zip-lining zone that many will not attempt to try.

“We have the zip line across the water but if you are afraid of that, we have the ones on the island so no crossing. I believe people are yet to embrace it,” John Genn, one of the instructor, tells me.
It takes a lot more persuasion for me but with the pitch that I would be able to cross Uganda deepest lake in a few seconds with ease, I fasten myself to climb the first board.
However, you have to make it through the high ropes, clutch onto poles and finally hurl off the tower and across the lake.

It is such an experience that a number tourists wait into the cue to kick zip-lining off their bucket list.
“I really wanted to do it because I have always seen people up in the trees. So I want to try out this and I am very excited,” Pauline Nabukenya, a tourist, says.
By 5pm, we are the road again, not to Kampala but to Arcadia Cottages. It is here that I finally see the entire lake, glistening with its Islands.
Beautiful is definitely an understatement, with this aerial view offers.

“The scenery itself is miles away from any place in Uganda and in the world. The quite, the vegetation should give anyone who wants to relax a reason to come here. These days our children between 25 and 40, have corporate jobs and have disposable income to come and stay. A few days ago, young Ugandans came and drunk Ugandan coffee worth Shs800,000,” Nicholas Byengoma, the proprietor of Arcadia Cottages, says.

Dealing with the cost issue at lake Bunyonyi

Whereas costs for visiting Lake Bunyonyi and the costs of pitching a tent, renting canoes, throwing a picnic or full board vacation might be relatively high for a number of Uganda the Kigezi Tourism Cluster advises there is always room for working out the numbers.

The average accommodation rate for Bunyonyi is $50 (Shs180,000), which is a little bit high for Ugandans. However, outside the Bunyonyi enclave into Kabale Town, accommodation is relatively affordable ranging between Shs20,000 to Shs100,000.

“It is a matter of packaging it so that if you have a group of Ugandans who cannot afford high end because of the demand and supply, they can stay in town and then have day activities on the lake,” Ivan Batuma, the Kigezi Tourism Cluster chairman, says.

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