Uganda

One relaxing day by Lake Bunyonyi

After a few long days of driving and gorilla tracking, we were pleased to have found time for a day of relaxing by Lake Bunyonyi in our itinerary. Read on to see why you should plan it too!

-Which room would you like? Fatima and I looked at each other and smiled. If it was one night when we wanted to splurge on an upgrade, this was it.

Physically and emotionally exhausted after the once-in-a-life-time gorilla tracking experience and a bumpy drive, we were ready to spend one day just relaxing by Lake Bunyonyi. As we stepped out of the car at Bunyonyi Overland Resort, we were stunned. The view of the lake, the garden, the way the different parts of the hotel were laid out on the slope between the idyllic lake and the hills behind, and the choir of what sounded like hundreds of birds. The beauty of it all was almost overwhelming.

View of the garden of Bunyonyi Overland Resort and some roofed tents.  Lake Bunyonyi and green hills seen in the back.
Bunyonyi Overland Resort is made for relaxation.

The perfect place to spend a day by Lake Bunyonyi

We had initially booked a roofed tent with shared bathroom facilities for our night by Lake Bunyonyi, but after seeing the place and learning that we were more or less the only guests we quickly agreed we wanted to upgrade. After seeing three different en suite rooms in various parts of the hotel premises, the choice was easy when Justus, our guide on our two-week Uganda trip, asked which room we wanted. It was the most expensive choice, but the size, the beautiful bathroom, and the impeccable views from the balcony was worth every extra shilling.

A canoe seen on Lake Bunyonyi through a frame of leaves. Forest, green hills and a few houses seen in the back.
Tranquility by the lake.

A quick shower later, I found myself on one of the resort’s terraces with a cold and well-earned beer. Accompanied only by bright yellow weaver birds in the pine trees above me and a loud, but relaxed, Hadada Ibis walking around on the lawn beneath. Watching the sun set on the calm lake and the rolling hills surrounding it, with only the occasional dug-out canoe moving, I knew this was the perfect ending to a day I would always remember.

View of Lake Bunyonyi and Overland Resort in the evening.
Evening bliss.

A morning of tranquillity and reflections

The early morning and a 5–6-hour gorilla trek in the steep rainforest followed by several hours on a bumpy road had taken its toll. At 21:00 I found myself in bed, content with the thought of waking up before sun rise and having most of the day after to just relax by the oh so pretty lake.

Close up photo of an orange flower
Oh, the lushness of Uganda…

Which was exactly what happened. As the sun rose, I was back at the same terrace as the day before. Only with a large thermos of hot coffee this time. Admiring the beautifully laid garden. At almost 2000 masl it was full of flourishing plants that I try my best at growing inside my living room. Sitting there watching all the gardeners and other staff at Bunyonyi Overland Resort doing their jobs, I could not help but feeling a bit sad.

How serene and nice it may feel to be the only tourists at a place like this, the lack of tourists the last couple of years has been brutal to so many economies. I cross my fingers that tourism will find its way back to all corners of Uganda during 2022 to keep all these talented and welcoming people in business.

The view from a balcony on a day in Lake Bunyonyi. Canoe with two people, palm trees, forest, hills.
The perfect view for a day by Lake Bunyonyi.

A big difference from the evening before was the number of canoes shuttling back and forth on the lake. Where were they all going and coming from? Getting up before the crack of dawn gave us plenty of time before our scheduled boat trip at 11:00. Why not go and see?

Lake Bunyonyi’s colourful Friday market

Leaving the resort behind, a different version of Lake Bunyonyi immersed. Hens with chicken on the road in front of us and clothes hang to dry on green bushes. People were sitting in groups chatting in front of simple wooden huts. Some of them just looked at us, others smiled and waved at the two mzungo’s walking by.

The local way to dry the wash.

Walking further down a hill towards the lake, we saw what caused all the traffic on the lake. There was a lively market going on by the shores. Soon we found ourselves in the middle of what seemed like a colourful chaos.

Two Ugandan women in colourful clothing in front of a stand with bananas looking into the camera.
Lake Bunyonyi was just like the rest of Uganda: kind people and colours everywhere!

Surrounded by people haggling over prices on all kinds goods, we just walked amlessly between them. There were all sorts of vegetables, chicken, shoes, fabrics, and clothes. Some sold their produce straight from the canoes, others had laid them out on the road. I bet there were enough matoke* to feed half of the lake’s population for a week!

Two women in colourful clothes, one carrying a basket on her head, on a dirt road by Lake Bunyonyi.
On their way from the market.

If you find yourself at Lake Bunyonyi on a Friday, make sure to stop by the market. It is a great opportunity to experience something else than the fancy resorts.

*Matoke is a type of cooking banana and Uganda’s staple food no. 1.

A woman wearing a life west, scarf, and red hat sen from behind sitting in a boat on a day trip on Lake Bunyonyi.
The best way to explore the lake!

The lake of small birds

Back from the market, we met Justus and the local guide by the hotel’s pier, ready to see more of the lake and some of its 29 islands. The immensely green landscape is best seen from a boat, and a guided tour by a small motorboat take between 1,5 – 2 hours.

-See that island there? That is where they used to place pregnant, unmarried women and girls. Our boat driver and guide points to what looks more like a small circle of straw with a dead tree trunk in the middle, than an island.

On their way to the market.

When we saw Punishment Island in front of us, we had already passed by Kuahugye island, better known as the animal island, where we spotted Uganda kobs, waterbucks, an impala, and even some zebras. Along the hilly shores, we saw people were working on their crops on terraces. We even got rather close to a Grey Crested Crane with a chick – which, according to our own bird expert Justus, was very rare.

View of the small Punishment Island on Lake Bunyonyi. Rolling green hills in the back and cloudy sky.
Is Punishment Island even an island?

The bare circle of straws and the dry tree trunk in the middle of the lake gave me the chills. I had read about Punishment Island, but seeing it was something else. Families from all parts of the lake area would put girls and women who got pregnant outside of marriage on that island to starve to death. Their only hope was to be picked up by a man who was looking for a wife without having to pay bridal fees…

The colourful Friday Market at Lake Bunyonyi seen from the lake with steep green hill above.
The lively and colourful Lake Bunyonyi market.

A relaxing day at Lake Bunyonyi comes to an end

On our way back to the Overland Resort, we passed by what is known as the adventure island. Filled with high rope courses and ziplines, it is probably a winner for families with older children and teenagers!

Our day by Lake Bunyonyi had almost come to an end. I was truly happy we managed to squeeze it in to our adventure filled two-week Uganda itinerary. Well rested, we got back in the car and headed towards our next destination. The next 24 hours we were visiting my old friend Frank at his country home in Bushenyi.

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