Home Magazine Issues Travel Review: Uganda’s Lake Mburo & Lake Bunyonyi

Uganda’s Lake Mburo & Lake Bunyonyi

By Christine OMaley

6729: The world’s biggest hippos live at Lake Mburo
6792: Papyrus-hemmed Lake Mburo
7476: A view of Lake Bunyonyi from above
7674: Members of the Murambo village entertain with traditional songs

WHEN it comes to East African lakes there is one which likes to hog all the limelight.
Her name is Victoria and like the British Queen she is named after her influence stretches to several nations.
The largest of all African lakes is Lake Victoria which borders Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, but in the case of Ugandan lakes, it appears size isn’t everything.

Lake Mburo is among the smallest and least known of Africa’s lakes but what he lacks in size, he makes up for in splendour. I say “he’’ because this lake was named after a boy who allegedly perished during the flood which led to the lake’s creation – or so the story goes.

According to the local legend a lad named Kigarama dreamed of an impending disaster and fled to higher ground but his brother Mburo, believing it was just a silly dream, stayed put and drowned when the valley flooded.Mburo is one of five lakes within the tiny 370sq/km Lake Mburo National Park.Hippos in particular love the shallow – it averages about 4m – lake growing to enormous sizes here.Upon seeing several the size of small cars we dub these hippos the biggest in Africa.
Our guide Moses says they are so big because they eat a lot of papyrus and enjoy the mineral rich water. While hippos are plentiful throughout Uganda, Mburo turns out to be the best place to see crocodiles. It’s even better viewing than the Nile, which they’re named after. During a two hour trip around the lake’s fringes we see juveniles sunning themselves on small branches, a couple of nests being protectively guarded by paranoid females and a giant croc basking in the sun. Vervet monkeys climb curiously close and baboons go bananas when we pull in close to their tree.

The blue glimmer of a Woodland Kingfisher catches our eye and we are lucky enough to see the endemic African Finfoot with its trademark red beak. At the peak of almost every tree sits an African Fish Eagle.Moses reckons Lake Mburo is home to more mating pairs than Lake Victoria. Aside from the abundance of wildlife, the best thing about this little brother lake is the peace.For the entire two hours we are the only boat on the lake making it a truly unique experience.
Bet you can’t find serenity like that on Lake Victoria.

Stay: Permanent tents are available at Rwonyo Rest Camp on the eastern side and 1km to the south camping is permitted on the shore.

For more information contact Lake Mburo National Park:
Email: lmnp@ugandawildlife.org

With mythical rolling hills that seem to go on forever and an abundance of lush, tiny islands littering the spaces in between, Lake Bunyonyi offers some of the most unique vistas in Africa.You will find this picturesque piece of paradise right at the bottom of Uganda – some of the hills bordering the southern side of the lake actually belong to Rwanda.
Covering an area of 61sq/km its size is almost incomprehensible but as you drive and drive and drive along the rim, you start to get an idea of its magnitude.

Although relatively young – the lake was created by a volcanic eruption that blocked a river exit some 10,000 years ago – Bunyonyi is believed to be the second deepest lake in Africa going down as far as 900m.
Because of its high altitude, it sits at about 1950m in the shadow of Virunga volcanoes Muhavura (4127m) and Sabinyo (3634m), it’s slightly cooler than the rest of the country providing a welcome refuge in this equatorial country that never experiences winter.

Free from pesky bilharzia and strangely almost fish-free, the lake is safe for swimming.Although most people prefer to take to the water in a traditional dug out canoe.We hit the lake for a morning safari in a motorized boat.Our destination is Nyombe Swamp but first we pass some of Bunyonyi’s better known islands.Our guide explains that Akampene, or Punishment Island, is where the local people, the Bakiga, used to leave girls who got pregnant before marriage.
With absolutely nothing on the island except for reeds and a tree it was expected they would soon die of starvation or drown trying to make it back to the mainland.

Although we’re told poor, old men – who couldn’t afford the dowry to marry a more upstanding girl – often rescued the desperate women, especially if they were beautiful.Luckily the practice was abolished in the first half of the 20th century.
On to Sharp’s Island, named after Scottish missionary Dr Leonard Sharp who established a leprosy treatment centre on Bwama Island in the 1920s.At its peak the hospital treated 5000 patients from all over East Africa.The hospital buildings are now used as a secondary boarding school.Like the other residents of the area, the students get to and from the island in a boat.

Bushara Island could very well be nicknamed Australia with a thick forest of Eucalypts taking up almost the entire width and breadth.As well as the fast growing forest, the island is home to the Lake Bunyonyi Development Company, which, with its strong links to the Church of Uganda, uses tourism to generate funds for relevant projects in the area.

By far the best legend comes from Bucuranuka Island.
It’s said that an old woman, mistaken for a beggar when she asked for a sip of local beer (made from sorghum), was taken away to the mainland and when she reached the shore the entire island turned upside down killing everyone.
The only survivor was a chicken which flew away.The journey to the bird-rich swamp at the end of the lake is a long and chilly one with a brisk breeze persisting until the sun hits its zenith.We pass rolling hills where villagers harvest sorghum, bananas and sweet potatoes.Flame trees add a splash of colour to the mostly brown and green landscape and the odd cormorant entertains us with its fishing antics.On certain days of the week it’s possible to catch the hustle and bustle of the local markets.

Local residents and Rwandese bargain for fresh produce on the shore before taking their groceries home in dug out canoes.We’re told it’s quite a spectacle.When we finally reach the swamp, after over an hour of traversing the giant lake, we find its well worth the trip. It’s a peaceful corner of the world where the lake really takes on its name – Bunyonyi means “place of many little birds’’.

African Jacanas hop about on water lilies, Yellow-billed ducks whistle at each other and kingfishers rest on reeds.
Above the swamp in the towering hills we find the Batwa people, formerly known as the Pygmies.
A short hike up into one of their settlements proves a hot and dusty yet worthwhile experience.
They’re not exactly small but then they have been forced out of their traditional homeland and into a more mainstream Ugandan lifestyle.

The hunter-gatherers used to live in caves in the mountains until the `90s when Mgahinga Gorilla National Park was gazetted.We’re told they are looked down upon in society – and apparently they don’t mind a drink – but all we see is a colourful celebration of their culture.From a dusty clearing overlooking the lake – prime real estate – a group of all ages from the Murambo village sing and dance for us.They perform a traditional dance to farewell a bride and raise dust as they stomp out an anthem about building Uganda. it’s easy to see why this picturesque lake with its unique landscape has become a must-stop on the western Ugandan tourist circuit.

Where to stay: Bunyonyi Safaris Resort
Relax in a quaint cottage lakeside or be one of the first guests to bed down at the site’s newly-constructed hotel.

Boat trips and cultural visits are available. Email: info@bunyonyisafaris.com