Situated in South Western Uganda between the towns of Kisoro and Kabale close to the Rwanda border, Lake Bunyonyi is a serene and almost mystical lake with enchanting natural features and numerous captivating stories of the past.
Lake Bunyonyi was formed by a volcanic eruption form the Virunga Mountains that blocked a river exit less than ten thousand years ago.
Located at 1962m above sea level and surrounded by steep sided mountains from 2,200 to 2,478 m high, the lake is 25 km long and 7 km wide. It has 29 islands of different shapes and sizes while the depth is said to vary from 44m to 900m which if believed should imply it is the second deepest lake in Africa.
The name Bunyonyi means ‘place of many small birds’ because it hosts over 200 species of birds which include the kingfisher and offers pleasant sites for bird watching competing against the allure of the beautiful landscapes.
Bunyonyi’s calm and clean waters offer a welcoming swimming attraction. The lake is one of only a few in Africa whose waters are bilharzia-free. It is also safe for swimming, sailing, canoeing, and, for the more adventurous, windsurfing.
These are not the only characteristics that make Lake Bunyonyi a tourist haven. Surrounded by rolling green hills covered by tender lunch vegetation, numerous eco-friendly places of accommodation have sprung up to take care of increasing human traffic while maintaining the sensitive eco-balance at the same time.
On its 29 islands is a captivating history full of legends that make them unique in their own way. First is Kampene or ‘Punishment Island’, a tiny strip of land surrounded by water which until the end of the nineteenth century, was used by members of the Bakiga tribe as a place where undisciplined girls who got pregnant were banished, left only for Bakiga men who were unable to pay bride price to salvage and marry them away from the barren island.
Bwama or Sharp’s Island was named after Leonard Sharp, a Scottish missionary who established a leprosy centre on the island in 1931 as an isolation unit for patients form all over east Africa since there was no known treatment for Leprosy.
Luckily when treatment was discovered patients were allowed to leave and the area converted into a boarding school. Bucuranuka (Upside Down) island has tragic story behind it.
It is said that a old woman once begged for local beer from a group of young men who instead chased her mistaking her for a beggar and even gave her someone to escort her to the mainland but as soon as they reached the island overturned killing everyone on it.
Bushara Island completes the picture, with its planted eucalyptus forests and traditionally constructed cottages offering the attraction.
The islands host Lake Bunyonyi Development Company, which uses tourism to generate funds for several development projects around Bunyonyi. The island has many luxury tents, chalets, and also campsites for tourists to stay on.
It is also possible to rent out canoes and sailboats with a view to paddling to one of the other islands.
Lake Bunyonyi also has an interesting story of fish. In the early 1900s, fish were introduced to the lake but in the 1960s the fish died massively as a result of a violent shallow mixing, likely caused by wind.
Subsistence fishing prevailed in the lake, people mostly caught Clarias species but in 2002, 300,000 Nile Tilapias and Clarias fish were released in the Lake Bunyonyi.
Above all, the quiet, cold magnificent corner of Uganda has over the years attracted the tag, ‘the Switzerland of Africa’ for all the right reasons.