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Lake Bunyonyi “Place of many little birds” is in South-western Uganda between Kisoro and Kabale and it is close to the border with Rwanda. This Lake appeared from 2004 to 2009 on the 5,000 Ugandan shilling note under the title “Lake Bunyonyi and terraces”. Scientific literature generally quote a maximum depth of 40 m (130 ft) but some tourist guides and locals insist that it is much deeper, about 900 m (3,000 ft), which would make it the second-deepest lake in Africa. Towns on its shores include Kyevu and Muko, while some of its 29 islands include Punishment Island and Bushara Island.
Things to do while in Lake Bunyonyi
Lake Bunyonyi is known as one of the few lakes in Uganda free of bilharzia (a common parasite found in southern Africa), making its waters safe for swimming. It’s also free of dangerous wildlife like hippos and crocodiles. The only warning for visitors is the depth inexperienced swimmers should take caution.
Ride a Canoe
The most common mode of transportation on these waters is the dugout canoe, which offers a completely different perspective of the lake. You can rent your own to explore the islands or select a guided tour.
Explore the settlements along the shores to experience everyday life among playful children, farmers and women wrapped in multi-colored kangas.
One of the excursions sold to tourists is a visit to a Batwa tribe of pygmies. The Batwa in this region, one of the original inhabitants of the country, were dispossessed of their ancestral lands by the government to build the Echuya Forest Reserve with tragic consequences today, their community suffers from rampant social problems. To survive, they invite tourists to their community, where they perform songs and dance.
Hiking and Nature Walks
Here you can hike along the best hiking trails on the islands or through the terraces of the Kigezi highlands to be rewarded with spectacular views of the landscapes and even some wildlife. Forest and tree plantations can be found on some of the islands, as well as monkeys and zebras.
Meaning “the place of little birds”, Lake Bunyonyi takes its name from the abundant birdlife that call it home. Over 200 species are found here, including herons, weaver birds and grey-crowned cranes.
Translating as Punishment Island, this tiny island was named so because it was once the place where the Bakiga dumped unmarried pregnant women and left there to die as an intimidate to the rest, to show them not to do the same. 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 centre.
Run by Lake Bunyonyi Eco Resort, this 35-acre island is worth a visit if you want to see wildlife such as zebra, waterbuck, ipala and kob up close.
Bwama & Njuyeera (Sharp’s) Islands
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.
How to Get to Lake Bunyonyi
On the road it is 6 hours’ drive from Kampal (410km) to Kabale town and 8km marrum road from Kabale Town to Lake Bunyonyi. Given its proximity to Rwanda, you may want to consider accessing the lake from Kigali (or vice versa), which is only 1.5-2 hours by car.