Lake Bunyonyi ought to be considered one of the natural wonders of the world and, now that I’ve seen it before my own eyes, it’s joined the ranks of my most beloved travel destinations.
This place deserves to be on your African travel radar because, with beauty like this, shouldn’t it be?
Believed to be the second deepest lake in Africa, Lake Bunyonyi is a body of water in southwestern Uganda near the Rwandan border, and one of the country’s top natural treasures. And, at 1,962m above sea level, the lake enjoys moderate temperatures year round, cool in both the mornings and evenings. Most visitors make it an R&R stop after gorilla trekking in nearby Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. My friend Jill and I visited the mountain gorillas in neighbouring Rwanda instead but, after reading about Lake Bunyonyi, I was hellbent on making my way there, even from Kibale National Park on the other side of Uganda where we spent the day trekking chimpanzees.
Lake Bunyonyi is framed by lush, green-terraced hills that reach a height of 2,200-2,478m, but it’s the 29 islands of various shapes and sizes scattered across the water that make it most magical — we could’ve admired them all day. It’s a sight that reinvents itself every hour or two with the ever-changing climate and direction of the sun. In the early morning, the islands weave through cotton candy-like streams of mist and, in the afternoon, they’re bathed in the warm glow of the sun. Later, they’re silhouetted against a dim sky as evening approaches. One day the islands vanished from sight completely, hidden under a blanket of clouds, but it only took an hour to see them emerge once more.
There’s nothing like that powerful moment when the mystical scene opened up to us for the first time after arriving at Arcadia Lodge, a cottage high up on a hill that claims to have the most breathtaking panorama of Lake Bunyonyi. If you don’t stay as a guest, be sure to at least visit for a drink or meal on the terrace to enjoy the view (I recommend any dish with crayfish, the local specialty). So overwhelmed Jill was by the lake’s sheer beauty that I found her in tearful meditation, silently absorbing what was before her eyes. What fantasy did we step into to find such natural splendour?
Things to Do
Apart from worshipping the scenic landscapes from a hilltop, there’s plenty to do here, so I recommend spending at least a night or two on its shores or one of the islands.
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. I didn’t find the weather warm enough so refrained from taking a dip. 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.
Hiking and Nature Walks:
Hire a local guide to lead you 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. Otters can also be spotted in the waters
One of the excursions sold to tourists is a visit to a Batwa tribe of pygmies. Please make an informed decision when accepting such a tour as some feel they are exploitative. 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 song and dance. One fellow we met joined one of these tours and explained how the tourist spectacle and the Batwa’s desperate situation left him utterly disturbed and heartbroken; other accounts I’ve read, however, express the opposite
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.
Lake George is a lake in western Uganda and occupies an area of 250 square kilometres (97 square Miles). The lake with an estimated depth of just 2.4 meters is among Africa’s Great Lakes system even though itself is not considered a Great Lake. Similar to other regional lakes, this water body was named after a British royal family member, Prince George who later became King George V of the United Kingdom.
Lake George is close by Queen Elizabeth National Park, which spreads from it in the north east to Lake Edward in the south west with Kazinga Channel joining the two water bodies. A British explorer Henry M. Stanley is said to be the first European to have seen the lake in 1875, after ensuing the progression of the River Katonga right from Lake Victoria. Having thought it to be part of Lake Albert, Stanley called it Beatrice Gulf. And on his second exploration tour in 1888 through 1889, Stanley comprehended that the two were autonomous lakes and chose to name it Lake George, the name it holds to the present day.
Lake George is provided water by a number of inflows from the wide-ranging mountain Rwenzori ranges and from the northeastern agrarian zone. Nevertheless, the main entries are Mpanga and Dura from northeast plus Rumi, Nsonge and Mubuku. The northern shores of the lake are largely featured with a thick papyrus marsh and its water levels are inconsistent. The Lake usually gets two seasons of rain; with rainfall peaks in May and October and minimal amounts falling from 3 – 194 mm.
Lake George is exceptionally gainful in terms of enabling fishing. Its major islands are Iranqara, Kankuranga and Akika. The lake’s bordering swampland are a Ramsar Wetland zone that is a habitat to the sitatunga antelope and other animal species. Worth still, Shoebill specie is among the resident birds along the lake
Lake Edward Uganda is the tiniest of the African Great Rift Lakes, situated on the border between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The lake’s northern shore is just few miles south of the equator.
The first European to see the lake was Henry Morton Stanley, a Welsh explorer. He visited the lake in 1888 during the Relief Expedition of Emin Pasha. Stanley first believed the lake was part of Lake Albert and named it, Beatrice Gulf. He afterwards comprehended that it was a different lake and baptized it after Prince Albert Edward, the then Prince of Wales and son of Queen Victoria and later on became Edward VII.
In 1973, Uganda and Zaire renamed the lake Idi Amin Dada after former president, Idi Amin. The lake later recovered its original name, Lake Edward following Amin’s overthrow in 1079. Lake Edward and Lake George are the two water bodies enjoined by Kazinga Channel, a 40-km water stream that runs through QueenElizabeth National Park. Kazinga channel is famous for its boat cruise safaris by tourists who free the park for wildlife tours.
The Geography of Lake Edward
This lake is located on the Albertine Rift, the Western Division of the East African Rift and is the fifteenth biggest lake on the African continent. It is adjoined on the West by the high Rwenzori Mountains, less precipitous grounds with undulating hills on the East, bordered by low-lying valley grasslands and swampland on the South, in Rwindi valleys, Rutshuru and Ishasha Rivers.
Edward is sited among two Eco regions and on the north-western fragment; one can see the rich montane woodlands of the Albertine Rift. This area is well-known for many widespread types such the mountain gorillas. The eastern precinct is typically pigeonholed by rolling hills, forests and plains. Some of the main uplands of the Victoria Basin are also found here.
The lake has got two national reserves on its shores, that is, the Virunga National Park is in the Democratic Republic of Congo, comprising of the North-Western shores of the lake, the Semuliki Valley and the low valley grasslands and marshlands of Rutshuru, Rwindi and Ishasha rivers. The lake’s North-Eastern shores boarder Queen Elizabeth National Park, a tourist attraction in Uganda recognized for its biological importance. Kigezi Game Reserve is placed on the South-Eastern shorelines of Lake Edward.
In the period of the past 500 years, several volcanic activities were recorded in the region. The two vital volcanic arenas, the Katwe-Kikorongo and the Bunyaruguru Volcanic Fields are close to a 32 kilometer long Kazinga Channel on the North-Western margin of the lake, with wide-ranging conduits and craters. On the lake’s Western shores, the Great Rift Valley is elevated at about 2000 meters above its shoreline. The Eastern and Southern shores are mostly conquered by flat lava grasslands.
Lake Edward and Lake George which neighbor each other were alleged to have been one larger lake in the past, but the lava that flowed from the nearby fields; the Nyamuragira and Maya-ya-Moto volcanoes flowed in and divided the two, leaving Kazinga Channel connecting the two.
Katwe-Kikorongo field is characterised by mainly craters and cones between Lake Edward and Lake George as well as being a home to seven crater lakes. The largest of the seven is Lake Katwe, which is 2.5 kilometres long and positioned 300 meters from Lake Edward. Lake Katwe has a depth of 100 meters. The Bunyaruguru field has close to 30 crater lakes, some of which are bigger than Lake Katwe.
The Lake’s Water (Hydrology)
The lake has got dozens of tributaries like the Ishasha, Rutshuru, Nyamugasani, Ntungwe and Rwindi rivers. Of these, the most significant is Rutshuru River, well-thought-out of being the Western stream of River Nile. The lake’s major outflow is the Semuliki River that begins near Ishango in Congo in the North-West, strolls to the North, flanked by the Rwenzori Mountains. Via this river, the lake is linked to River Nile water system. Lake George which is on the North-Eastern side of Lake Edward flows into it (Edward) through Kazinga Channel.
People Settlements and Ecology
Lake Edward is a home to lots of fish and therefore fishing is a vital activity for local residents. The water’s edge has got diverse animals like elephants, crocodiles, lions, buffaloes and hippopotamuses can be seen. The lake and its environs are also home to various perennial and wandering birds.
The lake shores have got no larger human settlements with the exception of Ishango in the North and section of the DR Congo. Vitshumbi, in Congo plus Mweya and Katwe on the Ugandan side are the smaller towns on the shoreline.
is a little known jewel, hidden in the mountainous landscape of southwestern Uganda, in Kisoro District. It is one of the most scenic lakes in Africa, located in a dramatic landscape of lush and verdant sprawling highlands.
Its fresh clear water is dotted by at least 15 islands lush trees & shrubs, and the lake is ringed by beautiful scenery of sprawling highlands clad with green vegetation, plantations, and terraces of crops along the slopes. This amazing scenery is set against a stunning backdrop of cloudy peaks of the Virunga Mountain Volcanoes. The chain of volcanoes of the Virunga Mountain Range spans the boarders of Uganda, Rwanda & Congo, and Uganda shares 3 of its prominent 8 Volcanoes. The 3 are Mts. Muhavira, Gahinga & Sabinyo. These are very visible, rising in the background over Lake Mutanda & the sprawling highlands, with white fluffy clouds floating across their peaks. In the morning, thick clouds of mist shroud the lush highlands, and create mystic scenery over Lake Mutanda and such an awe-inspiring view!
The 15 islands of Lake Mutanda are barely touched, with only one inhabited by a local community and few have been tiled to grow crops & tree plantations. A number of the other islands are virgin with only overgrown vegetation that’s rich with wildlife.
The biggest island, named after the lake, is Mutanda Island. This is inhibited by a local community of the “Abagesera” clan. These grow crops, such as peas, bananas, and sugar canes. A good portion of this island is covered by trees and shrubs. There is a church built on top of the island and local worshipers from the mainland canoe to this island to attend service at this church.
There are two islands that earned the name Punishment Islands for being the places where criminals & misfits of the society were taken and dumped as a punishment. Unmarried pregnant girls, the elderly with no one to care for them, criminals such as thieves, and unwanted people from the region would be tied & taken to the island and left to die there. Others would be killed and dumped at these islands. Caves with skeletal remains are found at the islands. These two islands are feared by the locals & actually no one walks on them because of the belief that they are haunted by the dead.
Another intriguing island is the Python Island, which is home to pythons. The pythons are however rarely seen.
Wildlife to find in Lake Mutanda and on the Islands
There are few bird found here, and this is because of the high elevation and cold weather that’s unfavorable to many species. Some of the common birds include Pin-tailed Whydah, Great Cormorant, Pied & Malachite Kingfisher, & sunbirds. Otters are common in the lake; meanwhile there are few fish species, about 3, including Cat & Mad Fish. Pythons inhabit some of the islands, and the Python Island is said to harbor many.
Tours & activities to do at Lake Mutanda
This is the best experience on Lake Mutanda. To ride on the calm waters feeling the cold breeze and tranquility, go around the islands & enjoy beautiful views of the landscape and the amazing scenery while observing some wildlife such as birds and otters.
Visit the Python Island for a chance to view these enormous snakes. A good time to catch them is on a hot day. The pythons normally eat fish & other water creatures in Lake Mutanda. Also, visit the punishment islands and checkout the caves with skeletal remains of the punished. Trek on Mutanda Island and visit the local community and church, and you can take some donations for the locals. The island also offers vantage point for beautiful views over the lake.
Hike to and around the lake and access great vantage points for wonderful views of Mutanda and the volcanoes.
With good mountain bikes, biking the mountain landscape around Lake Mutanda is quite exhilarating.
THE SWAMPY LAKE KYOGA
Lake Kyoga is a large shallow lake in Uganda, about 1,720 km2 (660 sq mi) in area. The Victoria Nile flows through the lake on its way from Lake Victoria to Lake Albert. Another source of water to Lake Kyoga is the Mount Elgon region on the border between Uganda and Kenya.
The Victoria Nile flows through the lake on its way from Lake Victoria to Lake Albert. The main inflow from Lake Victoria is regulated by the Nalubaale Power Station in Jinja. Another source of water is the Mount Elgon region on the border between Uganda and Kenya. While Lake Kyoga is part of Great Lakes system, it is not itself considered a Great Lake.
Parts of Lake Kyoga are covered by water lilies, while much of the swampy shoreline is covered with papyrus and water hyacinth. The papyrus also forms floating islands that drift between a number of small permanent islands. Extensive wetlands fed by a complex system of streams and rivers surround the lakes. Nearby Lake Kwania is a smaller lake but deeper.
Extensions of Lake Kyoga
The extensions of the lake include Lake Kwania, Lake Bugondo, and Lake Opeta.
The lake is surrounded by extensive wetlands fed by a complex system of rivers. The shoreline is swampy mainly covered with water lilies, papyrus and water hyacinth. The papyrus also forms the floating islands that drift between a numbers of small permanent islands.
Over 46 species of fish live in Lake Kyoga, and crocodiles are numerous. In order to increase the lake’s fish production the Nile Perch was introduced into the lake in late 1950s.