If you live in Kigali, or nearby, you’re spoilt for choice in terms of things to see and do on the weekends. You can enjoy the many tastes of the city, visit the beautiful Akagera National Park (game reserve), head up to Musanze to see the mountain gorillas, or even over the Lake Kivu to Cormoran Lodge.
However, also close to Kigali is an entirely different option - Uganda! With the East African tourist visa (or resident permit), Uganda is an easy weekend getaway, especially Lake Bunyonyi.
We spent the weekend at the lake, only a couple of hours journey from Kigali. The roads were great, the views spectacular, and the lake was also amazing. My favourite part? Spending the weekend with friends checking out two of the resorts that Lake Bunyonyi has on offer. As for me, I don't camp - growing up in Vancouver, I'd had enough rainy camping experiences to put me off for the end of time. I gave glamping a go - with the geodome. I just about managed - it was the coffees at Birdnest that saved me. This is also the weekend we played Cards Against Humanity for the first time - many a beer were consumed, and I don't think I've laughed so hard in a million years!
Lake Bunyonyi - a gem in Southwestern Uganda
Lake Bunyonyi translates to the "place of many little birds”. It’s rumoured to be the second deepest lake in Africa, and has over 29 islands dotted throughout the lake, which is 25 km long (and 7 km wide). This lake is big - long and thin with expansive views and rolling, terraced hills. If you’re lucky - you’ll see the crested cranes nesting, calling out at sunset, and flying low across the lake to look for fish. If you’re not, you’ll certainly hear them, and still have beautiful sunsets to lull you to sleep. The lake also offers a variety of watersports, so if you’re up for heading onto the lake with a speedboat - this is definitely an option, along with fishing, canoeing, swimming and many other activities.
If you are looking to visit East Africa, you could easily visit Lake Bunyonyi along the way from seeing the mountain gorillas, either in Uganda or Rwanda. We've written a previous post on the mountain gorillas, with links to the websites for visiting the gorillas. If you enjoy relaxing lake trips, this is an easy one on your way back from Queen Elizabeth Park, or even from Musanze in Rwanda!
Lake Bunyonyi - how to get there
Take the RN3 road out of Kigali, all the way to the Uganda/Rwanda border. Bring all your drivers papers with you, including proof of ownership! You’ll need these to “temporarily” export your vehicle to Uganda, plus get insurance for this, for the weekend. When you get to the border, and pass from Rwanda into Uganda, you’ll need to park at the border, go in and file the paper work. There is a small fee (around $30USD), plus you need to separately go to the immigration building and have your passport stamped. All of this is relatively painfree, so long as you have the paperwork. Our friend was driving an embassy vehicle, and didn’t get the paperwork in advance, so this caused issues. MAKE SURE YOU HAVE ALL YOUR PAPERWORK!
From there, you drive on the only road there is up to the town of Kabale. You can stop there for a quick break if needed - there are shops, restaurants, banks, etc. Turn left at the signs (google maps works too), and follow the signs to Birdnest Resort. This resort is at the edge of the lake. From here, if you’ve booked at different resorts, there’s a place to park your vehicle along the side of the lake, in a secure parking lot (but don’t leave any valuables, you never know!) You can then take a speedboat to the accommodation on the rest of the island.
It’s best to take the boat in daylight, so try to head there early. However, we left at 13:00 on a Friday and got there within 3 hours.
Lake Bunyonyi - where to stay
Having spent the weekend at two places, and having asked loads of people, there really are two main options for staying at the lake.
This is a beautiful resort on the edge of the lake. It has a range of rooms with running water, comfy beds, and views of the lake. The food here is really good, like really, really good. Especially when you are used to restaurants in the region! You can camp if you prefer, stay in a private cottage, or stay in the hotel. There is a bar, television with the sports, and delicious evening cocktails overlooking a fire and of course, the lake! However, the price is higher - for two people it’s around $170-190 a night, although there are triple and four person rooms, so if you’re looking to save you could theoretically bunk with friends!
If you are not into paying high prices for accommodation, or a ‘fancy hotel’ isn’t your scene, then I’d highly recommend the Boonya Amagara eco-resort. The whole resort is run to support local tourism and the economy, so that’s also a plus. It’s a 30 minute speed boat ride to the other end of the lake, which in itself is fun, when it’s not raining. The feel of the island where the resort is located, is, well…..rustic. But it’s charming. You sleep outside in open-air geodomes, uniquely crafted from all local materials and positioned to maximize the lake experience. You look out over the lake, yet you’re in a proper bed with a mosquito net.
No running water, however - you use a private outhouse for your toilet, and a solar-powered shower in a little hut. The beds are also quite cold and a bit musty, but if you bring yourself a spare blanket, thick socks and pyjamas, it’s really not that bad. We spend the weekend there, enjoying the big lawn, playing games and music. The food was…..typical for the region, so not the best. A few items are good, but if you enjoy your food, we’d recommend taking the boat over to birds nest in the evenings. Then you can enjoy the ambiance, fill up on local shrimp, pasta, cocktails, and their amazing coffees! (Yum)! Try their baileys coffee, my god, have I missed a good coffee. Anyway, we digress. You can go hiking around the island, go swimming off the dock, or go to nearby islands for other activities. They have a cinema, library, and do loads of activities with local schools. So you won’t be bored spending a few days there, even if you aren’t normally into rustic options. And hey, the price is so cheap - you can camp for $4 a night, or stay in the deluxe geodome for $21. I think it’s a great option!
We had a great weekend with friends, full of badminton, music, drinks, cards of humanity, more drinks, and great memories. I hope you too enjoy it, if you get a chance to visit.