Lake Bunyonyi | The “Place of Many Little Birds”
Located in South-western Uganda, Lake Bunyonyi is one of the most beautiful lakes in Africa and is well known for its spectacular lake view from the Arcadia Cottages viewing point. The view from the top is almost like a scene out of a movie as it features the lake dotted with small green islands offering a picturesque moment, visitors to Lake Bunyonyi usually like to catch up over drinks at Arcadia Cottages and watch the sun set – such a stunning sight to behold!
Lake Bunyonyi is the second deepest lake in Africa and is famously known as for its abundant birdlife hence the name “place of many little birds” and is also well known for its 29 islands some of which have interesting folktales and history attached to them. Lake Bunyonyi is easily accessible from Bwindi Impenetrable National Park the home of the mountain gorillas therefore making it a perfect spot to relax and unwind after the gorilla trekking adventure. The drive from Bwindi to Lake Bunyonyi takes about 2-3 hours and is through the rolling hills and terraced highlands of the Kigezi region, the inhabitants of this region are called the “Abakiga”, a Bantu ethnic group native to South-western Uganda. The beauty of Lake Bunyonyi is best explored by travellers after their gorilla tour in Bwindi Forest as it makes for a great stop for a relaxing time before exiting the south-western region of Uganda.
Lake Bunyonyi Islands and the Traditions of the “Abakiga People”
The islands of Lake Bunyonyi have interesting and different stories attached to them the “Abakiga” or “Kiga” people had deep cultural ties with Lake Bunyonyi. During the old days the Kiga tribe of Kigezi region performed cultural practices on the islands of Lake Bunyonyi so there are numerous stories and myths surrounding the lake and its islands. The most talked about island is the Akampene Island also known as Punishment Island where girls who became pregnant out of wedlock or without a proper traditional wedding were shunned and brought to this island by their brothers or fathers who abandoned them on the island as punishment. According to the Kiga tribe, it was an abomination for a girl to get pregnant out of wedlock and was considered an embarrassment to the girl’s family hence the stories of abandonment. The girls left at the island would usually starve to death or drown while trying to swim back to the mainland, on other occasions the girls would be picked up by men who could not afford to pay bride price and taken to be their wives. This was a common tradition in the Kigezi region in south-western Uganda but is currently unheard of as the communities have evolved and abandoned previous harmful practices. The British colonial government also played a vital role in eliminating this primitive practice in the 1940s.
Aside from the Punishment island, other islands on Lake Bunyonyi include Bushara island, Kyahugye island, Bucuranuka, Njuyeera island, Bwama island among others. A lot of this islands do not have inhabitants however some like the Kyahugye island have tourism lodges available as accommodation options for visitors to Lake Bunyonyi.
Things to do in Lake Bunyonyi
Lake Bunyonyi has a number of activities that one can do on and near the Lake making it a perfect destination to include while on safari in Uganda. The top things to do while at Lake Bunyonyi include;
Canoe Ride on Lake Bunyonyi
The canoe ride on Lake Bunyonyi is one of the best ways to explore the beautiful and scenic lake as it takes you on a relaxing journey with stunning views of Africa’s second deepest lake. You set out for the canoe ride with your local guide and with your guide you island hop as you ride past the different islands on the lake, while on the canoe the local guide takes you through the stories and myths attached to each island. The canoe ride on Lake Bunyonyi is also a perfect opportunity to spot some beautiful birds, take amazing photos and enjoy the general experience of being on a dug-out canoe. You might come across some local fishermen as they go on about their day hoping to catch something and also watch the locals that like to come to the shores of the lake to fetch water. The canoe ride can be done throughout the day in the morning to catch the sunrise over the lake and the lush highlands of Kigezi or in the evening and catch the sunset over the calm lake.
Lake Bunyonyi is safe for swimming as it is bilharzia free so for visitors interested in taking a dive in to the lake then that option is available. The lake is also free from animals like hippos and crocodiles. It can be one of the ways one can relax while spending time in Lake Bunyonyi. Considering the depth of Lake Bunyonyi (900m deep) we only recommend swimming for extremely experienced swimmers as drowning cases have been reported at the lake over the years. So for inexperienced swimmers we encourage that you do not swim at all to avoid any mishaps.
For the keen birdwatcher Lake Bunyonyi offers some wonderful birding opportunities as the Lake boasts of over 200 species of birds. A birding trip in Uganda usually involves Lake Bunyonyi as birders look out for water birds, papyrus endemics and mid-elevation birds. Birds to look out for while in Lake Bunyonyi include Papyrus yellow warbler, Greater swamp warbler, Carruthers’s cisticola, White-winged swamp warbler, Papyrus canary, Grey crowned cranes, Pied kingfisher, Malachite kingfisher, Bronzy sunbird, Black heron, Hadada Ibis, Black headed weaver, Great cormorant, African pied wagtail among other species. The abundance of birds around Lake Bunyonyi is what led to it being referred to as “the place of many little birds.”
Zip lining on Lake Bunyonyi
The zip lining is a recently introduced activity on Lake Bunyonyi that makes for a perfect way to spend an afternoon while on a trip to Lake Bunyonyi. The zip lining activity happens at one of the islands on the lake that has an adventure park, this is also the starting point for the activity and has different rope challenges that one can participate in if interested. The zip line begins at the islands and involves starting high then going lower to slightly hitting the water and then going higher as you get to the end of the zip line.
Relaxing by the Lake
One of the things to do while in Lake Bunyonyi is to just choose to relax and fully take in the beauty of the lake. The beautiful views, the sunrise, the sunset and the lush Kigezi highlands make it a perfect spot to relax and unwind especially after strenuous activities like gorilla trekking, game drives in Uganda’s national parks or after hiking. Lake Bunyonyi can be the last stop after these activities where you can simply relax, read a good book, have a glass of wine and rest at one of the island lodges.
Nature Walks and Hikes
This is another way to experience the surrounding areas of Lake Bunyonyi. The surrounding Kigezi region is mainly made up of highlands and steep slopes making hikes to the top of the hills well worth the views. The nature walks can be arranged by your tour company and the guided nature walks/hikes take you through the communities where you can interact with the locals and also get a glimpse into their way of life.
The interactive cultural visits around the communities that live around Lake Bunyonyi are a way to spend time while at the lake. One of the visits include a visit to the Batwa people who live in a community on one side of the lake and are known for their hunting way of life. The visit involves the Batwa showing you hunting techniques, hunting songs and will also perform their traditional dances.
Bunyonyi Cycling Tours
Lake Bunyonyi can also be explored on a bike which is an interesting and adventurous activity that involves a lot of movement. The bike ride takes you through the lush vegetation, stunning rolling hills of south-western Uganda as well as taking you through the communities in the surrounding areas. The cycling tour can take a few hours or a full day depending on your interest and a professional guide is with you throughout the trip.
Where to Stay in Lake Bunyonyi
The surrounding areas and some of the islands of Lake Bunyonyi have accommodation options available that visitors can choose from. Point to note is that there is no luxury lodge surrounding the lake but great mid-range and budget lodges are available and these include;
Bird’s Nest: This is beautiful mid-range lodge overlooking Lake Bunyonyi with comfortable rooms that have amazing views of the lake. The lodge has 20 rooms that have been carefully decorated with locally sourced materials and African inspired décor with grass-thatched roofs. Each room is en-suite with clean linen, comfortable beds, bathroom toiletries and mosquito nets. The lodge also has a dining area that serves delicious meals to guests.
Arcadia Cottages: Arcadia Cottages is a family run lodge with the most beautiful view of Lake Bunyonyi and its islands, the sunset at the lodge is not to be missed. Arcadia Cottages has lush gardens dotted with the different cottages with amazing lake views. The lodge features 25 en-suite spacious cottages with large windows that let in enough light while also offering one views of the outside. The rooms have comfortable warm beddings, mosquito nets, wooden beds and private decks where one can chill and relax while overlooking the lake.
Lake Bunyonyi Eco Resort: This is a budget lodge located on one of Lake Bunyonyi’s named Kyahugye island and has stunning views of the lake. The lodge has 10 stand alone cottages with private decks overlooking the lake. The lodge has an open deck where breakfast is usually served to guests who would like to enjoy the view as they have breakfast. The rooms are en-suite, have a reading desk, hot showers and warm beddings. Situated on an island the lodge also offers opportunity to explore the island on a morning or evening walk.
How to get to Lake Bunyonyi
Lake Bunyonyi is accessed by road from Kampala, the capital city of Uganda and it takes about 8-9 hours to get to the lake. The drive takes one through the small towns filled with locals going about the day and while on the way you stop at the Equator monument where you can take photos or grab a cup of coffee. Once you get to Kabala town situated in south-western Uganda it takes 20-30 minutes to get to the lake. Lake Bunyonyi can also be accessed from Kigali the capital city of Rwanda and the drive is shorter as it takes about 3 hours to get to Lake Bunyonyi from Kigali.
Tours to Lake Bunyonyi