A swimmer's paradise, a bird-watchers dream come true, and a great place for those who like to be outdoors. Lake Bunyonyi is a great get-away destination.
Lake Bunyonyi is the deepest lake in Africa and the second-deepest in the world, with locals saying the greatest depth is 900m in some places. It is one of the lakes in Uganda where swimmers are considered not at risk of bilharzia, a diseased caused by a parasite carried by snails.
The surrounding hillsides are said to look like the landscape described by JR Tolkien in his book The Lord of the Rings. The rolling hills have different shades of green, depending on what crop has been planted on them. Terraces of banana plantations, Irish potatoes and cassava dot the landscape.
With the beauty and availability of accommodation and food, Bunyonyi is fast becoming the destination for many backpackers and honeymooners. And these people on vacation are helping the local population.
But not all is good. There is shortage of land, especially for people living on the islands across the lake. Cutting down of trees to make charcoal has left many farmers with problems such as soil erosion and loss of soil nutrients.
Until recently, many people drowned on the lake. Canoes would overturn and people who did not know how to swim, would die. However, swimming lessons have helped increase safety on the lake.
There was a significant turning point and now nearly every resort, campsite or hotel on the lake is attached to a project to make its local community better.
For example, Byoona Amagara, a tourist resort on Itambira island, asks guests to donate sh1,000 each, before touring the island. The money goes to the Itambira Island Medical fund. Since many of the walking trails cross local residents’ property, the Byoona Amagara staff wanted to use the money to help the community.
Across the lake, Bwama Island, the largest of all islands, is home to the widows’ garden project, an arm of the Lake Bunyonyi Development Company. The widows’ gardens allow 85 widows from several sub-counties to farm, to get enough food for their families. Lake Bunyonyi Development Company hires land on behalf of the widows. The company also supports many projects using finances from Bushara Island Camp.
Other programmes include a school sponsorship programme, orphan care centres, agro-forestry, give-a-goat project, hospitality training, HIV/AIDS workshops, arts and crafts workshops and swimming lessons.
Originally a partnership between the Church of Uganda and ACTS, a Canadian aid organisation, Lake Bunyonyi Development Company began by giving tree seedlings to farmers to stop soil erosion. Currently, nearly all the hospitality workers at all the resorts around the lake owe their training to the company.
The first resort to benefit from hospitality training was Bushara Island Camp, which was began as just a place to pitch a tent with a small canteen providing simple meals.
Bunyonyi is developing in a way that will continue to be sustainable. And for the tourist looking to feast on the delicious freshwater crayfish, a speciality of the lake, helping out the community at the same time is pretty easy to stomach.
There are regular buses from Kampala to Kabale (try Post Bus or Jaguar). From Kabale, it is a short trip by boda boda via Rutinda on the shores of Lake Bunyonyi
A great restaurant compliments rustic cabins and dorms. Many backpackers prefer the open air geodomes (mosquito nets available). Rates begin at about sh14,000.
Bushara Island Camp
The original and still the best option. Bushara Island Camp offers furnished safari tents, cabins and treehouses, in the place of little birds. Rates from sh40,000.
Bunyonyi Overland Resort
Located on the mainland, around the corner from Rutinda market, this resort offers safari tents, chalets, and twin rooms. Rates from about sh 30,000.
Lake Bunyonyi is a great place to see colonies of weavers, as well as bigger birds such as herons, egrets, the grey-crowned crane and the crested crane.
Learn the history of the islands as you paddle or motor to visit them. Bwama Island was formerly the location of a leper colony, while unmarried pregnant girls were abandoned on Akampeine Island (Punishment Island) to either starve to die or be rescued by single men from neighbouring villages.
Visiting the Batwa
The UK-based Forest Peoples Project, a charity that works to protect the rights of the Batwa people, can arrange for you a trip to a local Batwa village. Tour-operators can also arrange these visits.
For local produce including mud fish (for the brave) can be found at the Rutinda Visiting the local market especially on Monday's and Friday's. The Kyevu Market can be visited on Wednesdays and Fridays when pygmies are selling their wares.
Kala Calah Kiiza is an author and expert in travel in Africa her other articles can be viewed from Uganda tours and http://tour-uganda.com/primate-tours/wildlife-citytour-chimp-safaris.html