Lake Bunyonyi, Kabale – Uganda

A Place of Many Little Birds

Lake Bunyonyi is a serene and scenic lake in southwestern Uganda. This lake is one of the most beautiful and highest in Africa, located in the Kigezi highlands between Kisoro and Kabale districts.

The lake covers a surface area of about 46 square kilometres and its deepest point is estimated at 900 meters (3000 feet), making it the second-deepest lake in Africa after Lake Tanganyika in Tanzania.

Its name, “Bunyonyi,” translates to “Place of many little birds” in the local Rukiga language which reflects the abundant birdlife found in the area.

The lake is dotted with 29 islands of varying sizes and surrounded by rolling hills and terraced farmlands. Some of the islands are inhabited by the local people while others are used for tourism and recreational purposes.

The lake’s islands provide sanctuary for various bird species, including herons, kingfishers, and weaverbirds. Additionally, the lake supports a variety of aquatic life, including fish species like crayfish and mudfish. The surrounding flora is equally diverse, with papyrus reeds and water lilies bordering the lake’s edges.

lake bunyonyi

Things to do in Bunyonyi

Lake Bunyonyi has gained popularity among tourists seeking a serene and off-the-beaten-path destination. With its breathtaking landscapes and rich cultural heritage, offers a variety of activities and experiences for travelers seeking to immerse themselves in its natural beauty.

It is also close to the border with Rwanda, making it a convenient stopover for those who want to visit the gorillas in Bwindi or Mgahinga national parks.

From adventurous outdoor pursuits to insightful cultural encounters, here are some of the top things to do around Lake Bunyonyi:

1. Boating and canoeing

One of the best ways to explore the lake and its islands is by canoeing in a traditional dugout canoe. You can hire a canoe and paddle yourself, or join a guided tour with a local boatman.

You will enjoy the views of the lush hills, terraced farms, and colorful villages along the shore and learn more about the history and culture of the lake from your guide.

Bunyonyi Overland Resort

Some of the places you can visit by boat include Kyahugye Island where you can see some wildlife such as zebras, waterbucks, and impalas, Habukomi Island where you can enjoy a cultural performance by the local Batwa pygmies, Bwama Island where a British missionary founded a leper colony in 1921, or Akampeine Island where unmarried pregnant women were abandoned to die in the past. Each island has its own character and stories.

If you prefer a more comfortable and faster way to cruise the lake, you can opt for a motorboat ride. You can book a private boat or join a group tour that will take you to several islands and points of interest.

A canoe ride at night is even more thrilling with the loud chorus of crickets, frogs, and nocturnal birds singing plus the waving lake waters which all make the ride exceedingly exciting.

2. Nature walks

If you love nature and adventure, you can also explore the lake by walking or hiking on its surrounding hills. There are many trails that offer stunning views of the lake and its islands, as well as the nearby volcanoes and forests.

Take a guided hike to different viewpoints that offer stunning vistas of the lake and its surroundings.

You will encounter various birds and animals along the way, such as kingfishers, weavers, otters, and monkeys. Engage with local guides to learn about the flora, fauna, and cultural significance of the area.

3. Bird watching

Lake Bunyonyi is a paradise for bird lovers, as it hosts more than 200 species of birds.

You can spot many colorful and rare birds around the lake, such as African harrier-hawks, crested cranes, grey crowned cranes, malachite kingfishers, pied kingfishers, Ross’s turacos, sunbirds, weavers, and woodpeckers. You can join a guided birding tour or go on your own with binoculars and a bird guide book.

colorful birds in Uganda

4. Local community tours

Another way to experience the lake is by visiting the local communities that live around it. The Bakiga and Batwa are the main indigenous communities living around Lake Bunyonyi.

These communities have a deep connection to the land and lake, and their cultural heritage is interwoven with the lake’s history. You can join a walking or biking tour that will take you to different villages and farms.

You will get to interact with the friendly people, learn about their traditions and lifestyles, and participate in some of their activities, such as weaving, pottery, or farming. You will also have a chance to taste some of their delicious food, such as crayfish, matoke (plantain), and millet bread.

Also visiting islands around the lake like Habuharo, Akempene, and Bucuraniko Island is a memory-catching experience.

One of the most notable is Punishment Island, that was used to exile unwed pregnant girls as a form of punishment. While the island’s history is a somber reminder of past practices, it also highlights the evolving cultural narratives and the resilience of the local communities.

5. Swimming

Lake Bunyonyi is one of the few lakes in Uganda that are safe for swimming. The lake is free of bilharzia, a parasitic disease that affects many water bodies in Africa.

It is also free of crocodiles and hippos, which can pose a danger to swimmers. The water is clear and refreshing, especially on a hot day. However, be aware that the lake is very deep (up to 900 meters) and cold (around 20°C), so you should be a confident swimmer and wear a life jacket if necessary.

6. Adventure activities

If you are looking for some adrenaline rush, you can also try some adventure activities around the lake. You can go zip-lining across the lake or try quad biking through the winding trails that lead you up hills, down slopes, and along the lake’s shores.

Getting to Lake Bunyonyi

If you want to visit Lake Bunyonyi, you have several options to get there. The closest town to the lake is Kabale, which is about 7 kilometers away while the closest major city is Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, making it possible for travelers to explore both countries in one trip.

Uganda Roads & Driving

You can travel by road approximately 8 hours from Kampala or approximately 3 hours from Kigali.

Alternatively, you can take a domestic flight from Entebbe to Kisoro airstrip and then take a scenic 2 hour drive through the rolling hills to Lake Bunyonyi.

Where to stay

There are various lodging options around Lake Bunyonyi, ranging from budget to luxury accommodations. Some lodges and resorts are located on the islands themselves, providing a unique experience for travelers.

Here are some of the lodges where you can stay when visiting Lake Bunyonyi.

Relevant Safari Packages for Bwindi

Here are some of our safari packages that include a visit to Lake Bunyonyi.

Take a look through one or two of these packages so that you can get a good idea of what a visit to Lake Bunyonyi would feel like. Remember that regardless of your specific needs, all our safari packages can be personalized for you.