By Caroline Joan Peixoto Lake Bunyonyi, in the southwest region of Uganda, is perhaps one of God’s gifts to the people of Rwanda. Its proximity to Kigali, cheap accommodation, and stunning views offer an alternative to those who want a change from Gisenyi and Kibuye weekend getaways.
Bunyonyi, or, ‘Place of Many Little Birds’ as its name means, is an expansive lake dotted with islands.
Allegedly the lake varies between 44-900 meters deep, which, if true, would make it the second deepest lake in Africa. Free of bilharzia, swimming in its chilly waters is sublime, though at times tiring - when the wind picks up the currents answer accordingly!
Located only 15 kilometers from the medium sized town of Kabale, Bunyonyi is easy to access. An hour and a half bus or car ride to the border at Katuna from Kigali, followed by a 30-minute drive to the shore makes this lovely trip even closer than some Rwandan locales.
Despite the vastness of the lake and its 29 islands, Bunyonyi is a quiet and calm area. While local and international tourism is the main source of income for its people, those attracted to Bunyonyi often seek a low key, private vacation, with partiers few and far between. Perhaps this is why the serenity and beauty of Bunyonyi can’t be matched.
Activities include swimming, bird watching, boat rides, volleyball, and nature walks. There are a few islands with historical significance, specifically Akampene, or ‘Punishment Island.’ The Bakiga people were known to leave unmarried, pregnant girls on the tiny piece of land as a punishment for their indiscretion. Once dropped off, girls were either left to starve or try to swim ashore. Fortunately, this tradition was abandoned in the first half of the 1900s. Boat owners will eagerly point out the island and coyly ask if you’d like to visit.
Guesthouses and campgrounds abound on the mainland banks of the shore. These places tend to be busier, with buses and tour groups often using Bunyonyi as a pit stop on the way to Queen Elizabeth Park. Accommodation ranges from space to pitch your tent to tented houses built high up in the trees to standard hotel rooms.
The best place in Bunyonyi, arguably, is Bushara Island, and its Bushara Island Camp, run by the Church of Uganda as a way to generate funds for local development projects. Commanding the use of the whole island, this eco-center offers the perfect retreat for one needing peace and quiet. Without electricity and out of range of cell service, you’ll quickly forget the outside world and settle amidst the grandeur of a Eucalyptus tree forest.
The kind old ladies who run the place will take your orders for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and prepare it at whichever time you prefer. The local crayfish is a specialty, and its incorporation into a variety of recipes provides tasty inspiration. Comfortable tents (with double beds and adjoining composting toilets and outside showers) set among the trees, providing ample privacy. Small cottages are available for those seeking sturdier walls.
As is often the case in Uganda, the people of Bunyonyi are good humored, warm, and welcoming. Eager to please, happy to help, the ease of Bunyonyi is one of its greatest draws. Add in a tremendous backdrop in a soothing setting, and after a weekend here one is ready for Monday morning.