The hidden treasures worth exploring in Rubirizi

Kamweru, one of the crater lakes in Rubirizi District. PHOTOS/ZADOCK AMANYISA

What you need to know:

Rubirizi District stands out as a green paradise. It boasts of three natural forests; Karinzu, Imaramagambo and Kasyoha – Kitomi covering an estimated area of 784 square kilometres. Aside from forests, there are crater lakes, fertile soils, and wildlife and fishing activities.

On the Mbarara-Kasese highway that connects Uganda to Democratic Republic of Congo, Rubiirizi District harbours some hidden natural wonders with good natural endowments and diverse cultures.

Curved out of greater Bushenyi District in July 2010, Rubirizi District has a hilly terrain with many valleys and lakes which cover about 370km (20 percent) of the total land.

It boasts of 32 crater lakes and a lucrative fishing business on Lake Edward, Kazinga Channel and Lake George, which are also found in the rift valley.

It is bordered by the districts of Kasese in the north, Kamwenge and Ibanda in the north eastern part, Buhweju in the East and Bushenyi in the southern direction. It is at the heart of the Western arm of the great East African rift valley, which dissects the district at the edge of Queen Elizabeth National Park.

The district is endowed with volcanic fertile soils, tropical rain forest vegetation and breathtaking natural forest reserves, savannah woodlands, semi-arid vegetation and wetlands.

Pairs of crater lakes

Rubirizi has twin lakes that dot the district surface. They include Kyema and Kamweru, Katinda and Murambi, Kamunzuku and Kasinya,Kibwera and Nshenyi, Kararo and Bugusha and others. At some of these lakes, there are physical differences. Kyema, for instance has clear waters whereas Kamweru has green waters in its basin. The lakes are minor fishing grounds for the local population.

Science has it that crater lakes in Rubirizi District were formed during a volcanic eruption. Other notable crater lakes include Rwizongo, Mafuro, Nyungu, Rutoto, Nyamusingiri, Kyasanduka, Kibwana, and others.

African-shaped lake

Metres away from Rutoto trading centre on the Ishaka-Kasese highway, is Lake Rutoto named after Rutoto Sub-county. It is also locally known as Nkugute.

Surrounded by eucalyptus and pine trees, the lake lies at the feet of Imaramagambo forest appearing in the African continent shape. You can stand at the shore or at a distance and locate countries. This is one of the things that mesmerises visitors. The lake is said to be very deep thus not a conducive atmosphere for fish. This is why there is no serious fishing activity.

People who live near the lake believe it has supernatural powers that give wealth and many people perform rituals on the lake.

In 2002, an SB Coaches bus collided with a fuel tanker and the bus caught fire killing all 72 people on board. Locals attributed the tragedy to spirits in the water. When you visit the lake, this is one of the stories you will be told.

Wildlife is available in Rubirizi District.

Kyambura gorge

On the eastern part of Queen Elizabeth National Park, is the 100-meter-deep Kyambura gorge, known for tracking chimps, birding and nature walks.

A barricade stands at the entry point to ease interaction of rangers with visitors.

In and outside the gorge that is drained by river Kyambura, visitors are treated to sounds of water gushing through the depression covered with trees and shrubs. This vegetation provides safe environment for animals and birds. Here, you will see bird species such as African skimmer, papyrus canary, white tailed lark, owls, eagles, flamingos and shoebill stork.

A good view point is erected metres above the gorge to minimise accidents and ensure safety of visitors. In this 16km forest walk, you will be treated to sights of  big and tall tree species, flowers, bird species, butterflies with different colours, monkeys and fruits.

A walk through the forest normally takes over four hours depending on the visitor’s interest. The forest also harbors playful black and white colobus monkeys, red tailed monkeys, blue monkeys, vervet monkeys and the great apes that excite tourists as

According to records at Uganda Wildlife Authority, the gorge gets about 260 to 300 visitors a month and visitors majorly visit the area for chimpanzee tracking. Reaching the gorge from Kampala City takes about five to six-hour-drive by road.

Queen Elizabeth National Park

The park is home to 95 mammal species and more than 600 bird species.

The park’s diverse ecosystems, which include sprawling savanna, shady, humid forests, sparkling lakes and fertile wetlands, make it the ideal habitat for classic big game, 10-primate species including chimpanzees and 600 species of birds.

Some of the Queen Elizabeth National Park features located in Rubirizi’s side include Kazinga Channel, lakes Edward and George. The Kazinga Channel which connects lakes Edward and George has its banks filled with hippos, buffalo, and elephants that throng the banks.

The 32km channel has a good view of animals, birds and reptiles, which the visitors can see on a boat cruise, another rewarding experience. It also includes Kashenyi plains which serve as mating grounds for kobs. In the plains, you can see the lions waiting to prey on kobs.

The best time for game tracking is in the mornings and late afternoons. Tourists have the opportunity to enjoy sunrises and sunsets.

The southern part of the park strudels Ishasha plains, whose fig trees hide lions ready to pounce on herds of unsuspecting Uganda kobs.

At Kazinga Channel and shores of lake Edward and George, there are fishing activities at Katunguru Kashaka, Mahyoro and Kasenyi.

Tourists on a nature walk in a forest. PHOTO/ZADOCK AMANYISA

Kamunzuku transparent lake

This Crater Lake, one of the 32 lakes in the district, is unique wonder due to the crystal-clear nature of its waters. Kamunzuku transparent lake is located in Nyangororo village in Bunyaruguru County. Like other crater lakes in the district, Lake Kamunzuku is believed to have been formed by volcanicity. It is at the heart of Kasyoha-kitomi forest. The lake captivates visitors with its serenity and pristine beauty. Because it is located in an area that has not been developed, the lake has turned into a relaxing point for local people, people who collect firewood from the forest and local hunters who roast their catch before going back home and sometimes light up fires and spend nights.

The lake is home to different bird species such as ducks, fish eagle and wild animals like chimpanzees, baboons, calabash monkeys, velvet monkeys, Reedbucks, forest pigs, monitor lizards, among others.

Natural forests

The district also hosts the natural forests of Karinzu, Imaramagambo and Kasyoha – Kitomi covering an estimated area of 784 square kilometres. These forests make the district stand out as a green paradise.

Karinzu forest is known for its famous 414 species of trees, 378 species of birds, six different species of primates including, blue monkeys, vervet monkeys, black and white colobus monkeys and chimpanzees, butterflies, moths, reptiles and flowers. Activities in Kalinzu forest include forest walks, research, conservation education, birding, butterfly identification, chimp tracking, and small mammal viewing.

Maramagambo forest boasts of its bat caves, crater lakes, chimpanzees, red tailed monkeys, black and white colobus monkeys, L’Hoest monkeys, baboons, blue monkeys, pottos, bush babies and Bates’s pygmy antelopes. The name, Maramagambo is derived from an experience where young people got lost in the forest and when they were finally found, they could not narrate their ordeal for some good time. They were lost for words and they dubbed the forest, Maramagambo which means “loss for words.”

Chimpanzee tracking

Kasyoha-kitomi forest offers nature walks, canoeing, bird watching, sightseeing, camping and community walks. For the love of tourism, a three - hour walking trail was developed from the camping site at Magambo to Lake Kamunzuku. The forests are useful to the local community in terms of convectional rain fall, harbors wildlife, birds and insects, fire wood, source of water bodies, among others.

These forests are open for primate exploration at any time of the year. But perfect for chimpanzee tracking in dry season, which occurs from June to September and December to February.

Community-based tourism

In Rubirizi District, communities open their homes to tourists, which offers a cultural orientation opportunity and learning of different traditions. Tourists are treated to community activities such as local food preparation, cultural entertainment and farming.

In Kataara, Kicwamba Sub-county women under their body, Kataara Women’s Poverty Alleviation Group, collect elephant droppings from the park and process it into paper, from which beads, ear rings, visitor books, bags, and other items are made and sold.

Agriculture

Rubirizi is known for its abundance of volcanic fertile soils. As a result, food crops that are sold in markets in Kasese, Bushenyi, Mbarara, Fort Portal are grown in the district. Agriculture has become another pillar of human living and development in the area. There are model farms to showcase to tourists, which generates income for farmers. While in Rubirizi, you can visit coffee and cotton plantations and see a variety of food crops in gardens and homes.

Accommodation facilities

If you are looking for safari destinations with descent accommodation facilities, Enshama Game Lodge and Campsite, Irungu Forest Safari Lodge, Tembo Safari Lodge, Kasenyi Lake Retreat and Campground are some of hotels to look out for.

Does the district benefits?

The district benefits from tourism through revenue sharing scheme presided over by the UWA. Mr Swalley Kabuye, the Katunguru Sub-county chairperson, says they get the money on quarterly basis, which they use to improve services in communities.

“We get a contribution from UWA and this money is always between Shs10-20 million. We also use their tractor and lorry to fix our roads in communities. So, we work hand in hand with them,” said Mr Kabuye

The district mainly benefits when residents get employment opportunities in hotel facilities where they work as managers, waiters and waitresses. Others work as guides in tourist sites according to Deo Muhumuza, the district tourism officer.

Lower local governments get tax which they collect from hotels and lodges.

“There is hotel tax collected from the hotels around the district. That money directly goes to respective sub counties not to the district. Apart from that, I do not see the district getting money from the sector,” he notes

Missing link

The tourism sector in Rubirizi District does not have a solid marketing strategy, poor road networks, and internet infrastructure.  David Nuwahereza, the proprietor of Enshama Game Lodge and Campsite, says lack of stable internet services make tourists shorten their stay in the district.

“As service providers, we try to provide but data is expensive. The government should subsidise our data rates. Poor roads and unstable power and water supply in locations of our investments cost us a lot,” he adds.

Muhumuza says tourism development is mainly left to the private sector and there is no investment fund for the local governments to invest in tourist attraction spaces.

Eunice Kansiime, the Ministry of Tourism Wildlife and Antiquities spokesperson, says local communities and leaders need to work together to showcase endowments in their areas if tourism is to benefit them.

“There are areas that have tourism potential but they are rarely marketed. It is our duty to highlight these attractions. The more we talk about them, the more they catch the eyes of both the tourists and government. Districts should table proposals to government to have them captured in the development plans,” she advises.

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