Lake Bunyonyi (“place of many little birds”) is undoubtedly the loveliest lake in Uganda. Its contorted shore encircles 29 islands, surrounded by steep terraced hillsides reminiscent of parts of Nepal. A magical place, especially with a morning mist rising off the placid waters, it has supplanted the Ssese Islands as the place for travelers to chill out on their way through Uganda and has a selection of gorgeously remote and bucolic places to stay on distant islands, where you’ve only the birds for company. Best of all-unlike many lakes in East Africa-Bunyonyi is bilharzia, croc, and hippo free, and so its crystal-clear waters are all yours to swim in.
Most attractive Islands
Run by Lake Bunyonyi Eco Resort this 35-acre island is worth a visit if you want to see to wildlife such as Zebra, Waterbuck, Impala, and Kob up close. All were brought here from Lake Mburo National Park. And this visit is US$10 pp to adults and US$5 pp to children.
Bwama & njuyeera (sharp’s) Island
Many boat drivers will take you to these islands, where British missionary Dr. Leonard Sharp founded a leper colony and settled in 1921, but the story is more interesting than the sights. The colony on Bwama was shut down in the 1980s (there are two schools on the island now) and nearly all Njuyeera’s history was stripped when it was converted into a (not recommended) hotel.
Translating as punishment Island, this tiny island was so named because it was once the place where unmarried pregnant women were dumped to die. Their only rescue from drowning or starvation was if a man who was too poor to pay a bride-price came over to claim the banished woman as his wife. There’s nothing to see here, with just one spindly tree in its center.
All guesthouses on the lake can arrange boat trips, either in motorboats or dugout canoes, which is still how most locals get about. This is one of the few places in Uganda where you can swim, with no crocodiles, hippos, or bilharzia, so go ahead and jump in.
The best way to get intimate with Bunyonyi is by jumping in a canoe to paddle its peaceful waters. Excellent tours, which include some trekking, are offered by Kwanzi in Kabale, which range from five hours to its flagship three-day tours (full day per person Ush300,000). The longer tours offer a very up-close look at local life with village homesteads and visits to the Batwa. Note prices are discounted for larger groups. Otherwise, it’s easy enough to grab a dugout canoe on your own for a leisurely paddle; but practice before paddling off on an ambitious trip, as many travelers end up going round in circles, known locally as the muzungu corkscrew. Keep an eye out for otters, particularly along the shore during early morning and late afternoon.
All the guesthouses at Lake Bunyonyi can set you up with village walks to see, among other things, local blacksmiths (abahesi) who have replaced locally mined iron ore with scrap metal, but otherwise use traditional methods. But if you just want an easygoing amble along the lakeshore, it’s straightforward enough to find your own way around.
There are several Twa village tours in the area, but Batwa Today is the most recommended, aiming to deliver a more authentic exchange. Trips head to Echuya Forest, the former home of local Twa. While there are cultural performances, the experience is less contrived than those offered in Bwindi and Mgahinga. Rather than dwelling on the past, insights are offered from a more current context.
Arranged by the team from Kwanzi in Kabale, tours are led by Twa guides and sensitively balance preserving Twa culture and identity with improving living conditions, while minimizing the human zoo element.
ACCOMMODATION IN LAKE BUNYONYI
Lake Bunyonyi has a good choice of accommodation, both on the mainland and on several of its many islands, where you’ll find the most charming and remote options. Note that you may need to make reservations in advance to enable the island hotels to pick you up at the Rutinda landing in town, where it’s possible to leave your car in guarded car parks.
Seeds of Hope cabin.
Itambira Island An excellent option, this small resort features round concrete cottages and wooden stilt cabins with balconies surrounded by a eucalyptus forest with water views. It’s run by a British NGO with programs to help the local community. Cabins are immaculate, the staff is very welcoming and there’s a nice thatched restaurant and swimming dock in a lovely, peaceful spot. Boat transport (USh25,000) is available from the mainland.
Bushara Island Camp lodge.
One of Bunyonyi’s best choices, this ultra-relaxed camp offers a wonderful selection of cottages and safari tents, all widely spaced through the eucalyptus forest. The “tree-house” cottage set on stilts is wonderfully rustic and features a great balcony. All have memorable outdoor showers. With top service (breakfast delivered to your door), it’s no surprise there are many return visitors.
The thatched-roof restaurant serves excellent food and has a roaring fireplace. A motorboat transfer from Rutinda is free unless you are camping (per trip USh15,000). Other perks are free birdwatching tours and a fun rope swing into the lake. It’s run by the Church of Uganda to raise funds for community development projects.
Byoona Amagara Lodge Itambira Island;
Marooned perfectly on an idyllic island, Byoona Amagara bills itself as a backpacker’s paradise bursting with personality. The rooms are built with all-natural materials and are very reasonably priced, though open-faced geodome huts are the pick of the litter, with extraordinary views. There’s solar and some composting toilets.
The originality continues in the kitchen, which turns out tasty, creative dishes. Private rooms have a two-person minimum during peak holiday periods, and a 25% single supplement at other times. Boat transport (USh25,000) is available from Rutinda.
Gorilla View Backpackers Hostel
This perfectly serviceable backpacker haven has mixed dorms and a thatched restaurant. It’s not water-front, but there’s a swimming dock across the road that you can access.
Crater Bay Guest House
A laid-back and inexpensive family-run resort, Crater Bay offers a cramped maze of bandas or tented camping overlooking the lake. It’s good value on a shoe-string, but there are more spacious resorts around. The garden has private areas to relax and there’s a dock for water activities with canoes available.
Bunyonyi Overland Resort
Overland’s sprawling lakeside camp caters to all kinds with four-bed dorms, overlander campsites, and comfortable, self-contained cottages, of which the newer ones are much better, with lots of space, better light and rain showers. It’s extremely popular, and its social bar is bunyonyi’s liveliest. Mountain bikes and Canoes can be hired too.
Birdnest @ bunyonyi Resort
The Belgian-owned Birdnest is an impressive sight. It’s the most upmarket choice in Bunyonyi but remains excellent value. Open-plan rooms have vibrant décor, with lovely, private balconies looking out to the lake, while the outside terrace decking has a swimming pool with huge hammocks and free canoe hire. The secluded cottages (which sleep four) can only be reached by canoe.
The restaurant has a quality European menu and a good wine list.
Lake Bunyonyi Eco Resort
It’s nice to find somewhere that does things a bit differently, and this Kyahugye Island resort fits the bill, with its small population of zebra, kob, Impala, and bushbuck (and one monkey) imported from lake Mburo to lake Bunyonyi. Rooms are in private, wooden thatched cottages with lake views. Call Ahead to arrange pick-up from the pier to avoid the long climb.
Arcadia Cottages Lodge
Built upon a hill, arcadia has intoxicating views over the lake dotted with dozens of islands and a backdrop of Virunga volcanoes in the distance. While they are adding more cottages, at present, the lower rows are the best pick, boasting unhindered views, private porches, and comfortable rooms. It also offers tours, birdwatching, and boat rides.
Even if you won’t be sleeping here, stop by for a meal for the sweeping panoramic views. On chilly nights a brazier of hot coals is provided, which makes things nice and cozy. It sits 2km uphill off the main road to the lake.
Nature’s Prime Island
Occupying a lovely little wooden island right near Rutinda, Nature prime mixes it up with Scandinavian-style rustic log cabins and safari tents set on raised platforms. The use of canoes is complimentary, as is boat transfer. It offers a slew of extra activities that makes it popular with active guests.