Canoe Trekking on Lake Bunyonyi


Overview

Overview of Canoe Trekking on Lake Bunyonyi

Lake Bunyonyi is the origin of the Gorilla Highlands Trails, a system of guided trips throughout southwestern Uganda.

In 2005 canoe trekking, a combination of dugout canoeing and hiking, was started by a Bunyonyi-based social enterprise Edirisa. These trips are a small-scale alternative to commercial tourism, for a traveller who wishes to treat the cultures and natural environment with special respect and learn something on the way. Edirisa’s interest is culturally sensitive economic development of remote communities that have few other opportunities.

Canoe treks on Bunyonyi are not as much about adventure tourism as they are about community /cultural travel. Hiking and paddling is a means to get to villages and areas that nobody else visits. Accommodation is tented but in many cases upgrades are possible.

Trips (for more see Treks to Gorilla National Parks):

2-hour Touch of Bunyonyi (from USD 15) shows you Edirisa and the green paradise of Bushara Island.

5-hour Culture on the Crest (from USD 40) leads you to the peaks of Kyabahinga for superb views, a nursery, an herbalist and a craftmaker.

1-day Islands of Miracles (from USD 90) adds visits to three special islands to Culture on the Crest.

2-day Mama Bena’s Bonus (from USD 180) includes getting to know all major islands, climbing Karembe Hill, staying with the famous Mama Bena and meeting Batwa “Pygmies”.

3-day Mother of All Treks (from USD 230) adds Tom’s Homestay and a morning with a craftmaker.


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2 hours

Touch of Bunyonyi (2-Hour Canoeing)

Canoeing to Bushara Island; photo from the Gorilla Highlands archives

Slide in a dugout canoe over the Lake Bunyonyi surface to visit its lushest island, Bushara, and enjoy a nature walk there. From Bushara you will be able to clearly see Punishment Island, the most notorious islet, and Bwama Island that used to serve as a leper colony. Last but not least, Edirisa on Lake Bunyonyi is an attraction too.

Highlights

• ride in a traditional dugout canoe
• tales from the lake
• Bushara Island nature walk
• good views of Punishment Island and Bwama Island
• peculiar life at Edirisa on Lake Bunyonyi

Facts

length: 2 hours; difficulty: 1
areaLake Bunyonyi east coast + Bushara Island
departuresdaily from 7am to 5pm

Price

• five people or more: USD 15 per person
• four people: USD 20 pp
• three people: USD 25 pp
• two people: USD 35 pp
• one person: USD 55

Includes guiding, canoeing and a glass of juice.

Itinerary

Our canoe will collect you from your resort any time of the day. Your first stop will be Edirisa on Lake Bunyonyi, a picturesque site that mixes simple life with advanced technology, the birthplace of the Gorilla Highlands initiative.

A short tour around the forested peninsula will show you an ingenious submerged swimming pool built for teaching life-saving skills, grass-thatched huts erected for volunteers, a rural primary school and many other things.

You will then canoe to Bushara, a notable island covered with a eucalyptus forest. Nowadays it accommodates travellers but once upon a time it was home to doctors working at the Bwama leprosy colony.

There is a path loop next to the island shore, an inviting route for nature walk around Bushara, with interesting vegetation and birdsong in the air. You will learn a lot about how the Bakiga used to utilise – and still use – the herbs and other fruits of nature. Knowing which plants to pick for brushing teeth or personal hygiene may actually be handy, right?

The walk will give you a nice view of Bwama Island where secondary students learn in the old leprosy colony structures, and of Akampene or Punishment Island, the notorious destination to dump pregnant yet unmarried girls.

At the beautiful circular restaurant at the top of the island you will enjoy a glass of fresh passion juice and perhaps shop a little bit, impressed by the crafts and clothes ladies of Lake Bunyonyi make.

If you happen to be in a hurry, we will then return to the mainland. If not, we can take it easy and use an extra hour for relaxing at Bushara.


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5 hours

Culture on the Crest (Half-Day Canoe Trek)

Craftmaker Annah Kyomukama; photo by Marcus Westberg

On the ridge of Kyabahinga peninsula, from which both sides of Lake Bunyonyi can be admired, reside two cultural stars. Mrs Annah beautifies ladies and spaces with her crafts while Mr Jeremiah heals people with herbs. You will visit both, using a dugout canoe and climbing a short steep slope. There’s also a nursery to make you smile!

Highlights

• spectacular views and island stories
• nursery school fun
• experience with Mr Jeremiah, a traditional healer
• session with Mrs Annah, a craftmaker
 taste of Edirisa on Lake Bunyonyi

Facts

length: half a day; difficulty: 2
areaLake Bunyonyi east coast
departuresdaily at 9am and 2pm

Price

• five people or more: USD 40 per person
• four people: USD 50 pp
• three people: USD 60 pp
• two people: USD 80 pp
• one person: USD 140

Includes guiding, a snack, all activities and contributions.

Itinerary

Your starting point will be Edirisa on Lake Bunyonyi or any of the lodges and hotels nearby – if you don’t see Edirisa in the beginning of the trek, we will show it to you at the end, as it is an attraction by itself. This picturesque site that mixes simple life with advanced technology is the birthplace of the Gorilla Highlands initiative. A short tour around the forested peninsula will show you an ingenious submerged swimming pool built for teaching life-saving skills, grass-thatched huts erected for volunteers, a rural primary school and many other things.

At 9am or 2pm you will be canoed across the bay to the terraced hillsides of the Kyabahinga peninsula. There, when school is in session, you will be moved by super-cute singing and dancing presentation by the pupils of Edirisa Nursery School.

At a trading centre above the school you will be invited to a cup of the local brew, obushera. It will be … unforgettable.

As you climb the slopes of Kyabahinga (ascent of about 30 minutes), you will encounter all kinds of plants and hear from our guide about key points of the area’s amazing past and present.

At the top of the hill Omugurusi Jeremiah, a traditional healer, will be waiting for you at 11am. He is a well-known herbalist who will share with us some carefully chosen secrets of tropical highland flora.

Kyabahinga is uniquely located to give you an outlook over most of Lake Bunyonyi, its 29 islands and the distant Muhavura volcano. You will hear some of the colourful tales, legends and historical facts related to these islands.

Our final stop on the ridge will be the home of Mrs Annah, a master of crafts. She will show you how local crafts are hand produced, and give you ample opportunity to make some for yourselves. And, no, this is not for ladies only! Gentlemen can attempt a banana leaf elephant or a photo frame, for example.

A descent down the hill and a short canoe ride will bring you back to our starting point by 2pm (7pm).


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1 day

Islands of Miracles (1-day Canoe Trek)

Canoeing near Punishment Island; photo by Marcus Westberg

Make friends with a traditional healer and a craftmaker as you admire superb views of Lake Bunyonyi from a central peninsula that few travellers ever visit. Jump into a traditional dugout canoe and have a closer look at the lake’s most famous and unusual islands. [Culture on the Crest + island visits]

Highlights

• spectacular views and island stories
• nursery school fun
• experience with Mr Jeremiah, a traditional healer
• session with Mrs Annah, a craftmaker
• delicious lunch with a local family
• Punishment Island
• visit to Bwama Island, a former leper colony
• walking safari on Kyahugye Island
• hearty final meal at Edirisa on Lake Bunyonyi

Facts

length: 1 day; difficulty: 2
areaLake Bunyonyi east coast + major islands
departuresdaily at 9am

Price

• five people or more: USD 90 per person
• four people: USD 105 pp
• three people: USD 125 pp
• two people: USD 165 pp
• one person: USD 250

Includes everything during the day (guiding, three meals, water, juice and all activities and contributions) and 2 nights at Edirisa on Lake Bunyonyi, before and after the trek.

Itinerary

You will enjoy your breakfast at Edirisa on Lake Bunyonyi and then be canoed across the bay to the terraced hillsides of the Kyabahinga peninsula. There, when school is in session, you will be moved by super-cute singing and dancing presentation by the pupils of Edirisa Nursery School.

At a trading centre above the school you will be invited to a cup of the local brew, obushera. It will be … unforgettable.

As you climb the slopes of Kyabahinga (ascent of about 30 minutes), you will encounter all kinds of plants and hear from our guide about key points of the area’s amazing past and present.

At the top of the hill Omugurusi Jeremiah, a traditional healer, will be waiting for you at 11am. He is a well-known herbalist who will share with us some carefully chosen secrets of tropical highland flora.

Kyabahinga is uniquely located to give you an outlook over most of Lake Bunyonyi, its 29 islands and the distant Muhavura volcano. You will hear some of the colourful tales, legends and historical facts related to these islands.

At about 1pm you will be ready for a local meal. Mrs Annah will have prepared lunch for her family – and you. Beans, sweet and Irish potatoes, ground nuts and dodo (local spinach) will make for a filling experience. But Annah is more than just a good cook; she she is a master of crafts. She will show you how local crafts are hand produced, and give you ample opportunity to make some for yourselves. And, no, this is not for ladies only! Gentlemen can attempt a banana leaf elephant or a photo frame, for example.

By now you will have had your dose of tremendous views and feel ready for a couple of islands. You will be led to the lake at 2:30pm and enter the dugouts.

The destination: Akampene or Punishment Island with its incredible story – pregnant unmarried girls used to be left here to die. After that another bit of Lake Bunyonyi’s history will be revealed: Bwama Island, a former leper colony. It is now an impoverished boarding secondary school that we love to support. The island also hosts a regional medical centre often run by Slovenian medical students and doctors.

On the way to the mainland you can check on Lake Bunyonyi Eco Resort, Kyahugye Island, provided you haven’t seen enough impalas, water bucks or zebras elsewhere in East Africa… Yes, you have read it right – there are unexpected animals on this island!

At 6pm a buffet dinner will be served at Edirisa, including the lake specialty, crayfish, and complete your program.

Alternatively you can decide for a final lunch at Nature’s Prime Island, a private island lodge opposite Edirisa, only some minutes away.


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2 days

Mama Bena’s Bonus (2-Day Canoe Trek)

Relaxing at Mama Bena’s; photo by Marcus Westberg

 

Mama Bena is a remarkable woman who will welcome you at her astonishing grass-thatched home in the southern part of Lake Bunyonyi. You will reach her by dugout canoe, checking out all major islands on the way. After you spend a night camping (all gear provided) on her compound, you will trek back over Karembe Hill (2,478 m/8,130ft).

Highlights

• meals & camping at the family of Mama Bena
• Bushara Island’s flora and fauna
• visit to Bwama Island, a former leper colony
• Punishment Island
• fruit lunch at Dr Sharp’s Island
• Batwa “Pygmies” on Rwanda border
• mountain peak picnic with volcano views
• exceptional Buhinga cultural dancers
• walk-in craft shop opened just for you
• hearty final meal at Edirisa on Lake Bunyonyi

Facts

length: 2 days; difficulty: 3
areaLake Bunyonyi west coast + major islands
departuresdaily at 9am

Price

• five people or more: USD 180 per person
• four people: USD 200 pp
• three people: USD 250 pp
• two people: USD 320 pp
• one person: USD 520

Includes everything during the two days (tented accommodation, guiding, meals, water, juice and all activities and contributions) and 2 nights at Edirisa on Lake Bunyonyi, before and after the trek.

Itinerary

DAY 1

If you have taken up our offer of a free night before and after the trek, you will wake up at Edirisa on Lake Bunyonyi and be treated to a substantial breakfast at 9am. If you have opted for a less basic accommodation elsewhere, we will collect you by boat and bring you to Edirisa in time for breakfast (if you wish to take it with us of course).

The paddling will begin at 10 in the morning, following a detailed briefing of about 30 minutes.

Your first stop will be Bushara, an island campsite. After our guide shows you its beautifully wooded shore, a glass of passion fruit juice will refresh you.

You will move to Bwama Island next, a former leper colony, and canoe past Punishment Island, an islet where pregnant unmarried girls used to be left to die, to the slightly bigger Sharp’s Island.

Dr Sharp was a British missionary doctor, the founder of the leper colony. His beautiful island home is now a lodge – the site of our light fruit-based lunch.

A couple of hours in the dugouts will bring you to our Day 1 destination. Opposite Kyevu market lives Mama Bena’s friendly family who will receive us at 5pm. They happily allow us to pitch our tents close to their fantastic grass-thatched home, and will serve you excellent local food.

The guide will finally invite you to climb to the top of the peninsula, to see one of the humblest primary schools of the Bunyonyi area that enjoys a priceless view.

DAY 2

After breakfast at 7:30am you will be paddled to Kyevu. Here you will bid a temporary farewell to our canoe captains (and most of your luggage) and embark on a day of trekking.

The first hour will be spent walking alongside a pretty and extensive swamp. You will meet the Batwa (‘Pygmies’) who will show you some traditional dances and try to teach you how to use the bow and arrow.

Some metres before the Rwandan border you will find a steep slope that rises into Karembe Hill (2,478 m/8,130ft). One needs approximately an hour to deal with the most challenging part. Afterwards the climb is much more gentle and enjoyable – in 30 minutes you will reach the top and have a lavish picnic there, enjoying the view of Muhavura, a volcano shared by Rwanda and Uganda.

The gradual descent back to Bunyonyi, will take three to four hours. You will be entertained by a top-quality performance of Bakiga dances and encounter a makeshift craft shop that local women open just for us.

Our dugouts will be waiting at the beginning of the Bufundi peninsula, to take you to Edirisa on Lake Bunyonyi for a tasty buffet dinner at 6pm.

Alternatively you can decide for a final lunch at Nature’s Prime Island, a private island lodge opposite Edirisa, only some minutes away.


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3 days

Mother of All Treks (3-day Canoe Trek)

Tom Karemire sharing the story of his island; photo by Marcus Westberg

Get floored by local hospitality as you paddle, hike and camp around Lake Bunyonyi. In three days you will touch on all major islands and both coasts of the lake. The two nights will be spent with amazing families in the villages, in fully-equipped tents pitched on their compounds. [Mama Bena’s Bonus + island overnight]

Highlights

• meals & camping at the family of Mama Bena
• Bushara Island’s flora and fauna
• visit to Bwama Island, a former leper colony
• Punishment Island
• fruit lunch at Dr Sharp’s Island
• Batwa “Pygmies” on Rwanda border
• mountain peak picnic with volcano views
• exceptional Buhinga cultural dancers
• walk-in craft shop opened just for you
• camping & cultural program at Tom’s Homestay
• Upside Down Island
 craft making with Mrs Anna
• hearty final meal at Edirisa on Lake Bunyonyi

Facts

length: 3 days; difficulty: 3
areaLake Bunyonyi west coast + east coast + major islands
departuresdaily at 9am

Price

• five people or more: USD 230 per person
• four people: USD 270 pp
• three people: USD 320 pp
• two people: USD 410 pp
• one person: USD 690

Includes everything during the three days (tented accommodation, guiding, meals, water, juice and all activities and contributions) and 2 nights at Edirisa on Lake Bunyonyi, before and after the trek.

Itinerary

DAY 1

If you have taken up our offer of a free night before and after the trek, you will wake up at Edirisa on Lake Bunyonyi and be treated to a substantial breakfast at 9am. If you have opted for a less basic accommodation elsewhere, we will collect you by boat and bring you to Edirisa in time for breakfast (if you wish to take it with us of course).

The paddling will begin at 10 in the morning, following a detailed briefing of about 30 minutes.

Your first stop will be Bushara, an island campsite. After our guide shows you its beautifully wooded shore, a glass of passion fruit juice will refresh you.

You will move to Bwama Island next, a former leper colony, and canoe past Punishment Island, an islet where pregnant unmarried girls used to be left to die, to the slightly bigger Sharp’s Island.

Dr Sharp was a British missionary doctor, the founder of the leper colony. His beautiful island home is now a lodge – the site of our light fruit-based lunch.

A couple of hours in the dugouts will bring you to our Day 1 destination. Opposite Kyevu market lives Mama Bena’s friendly family who will receive us at 5pm. They happily allow us to pitch our tents close to their fantastic grass-thatched home, and will serve you excellent local food.

The guide will finally invite you to climb to the top of the peninsula, to see one of the humblest primary schools of the Bunyonyi area that enjoys a priceless view.

DAY 2

After breakfast at 7:30am you will be paddled to Kyevu. Here you will bid a temporary farewell to our canoe captains (and most of your luggage) and embark on a day of trekking.

The first hour will be spent walking alongside a pretty and extensive swamp. You will meet the Batwa (‘Pygmies’) who will show you some traditional dances and try to teach you how to use the bow and arrow.

Some metres before the Rwandan border you will find a steep slope that rises into Karembe Hill (2,478 m/8,130ft). One needs approximately an hour to deal with the most challenging part. Afterwards the climb is much more gentle and enjoyable – in 30 minutes you will reach the top and have a lavish picnic there, enjoying the view of Muhavura, a volcano shared by Rwanda and Uganda.

The gradual descent back to Bunyonyi, will take three to four hours. You will be entertained by a top-quality performance of Bakiga dances and encounter a makeshift craft shop that local women open just for us.

Our dugouts will be waiting at the Bufundi peninsula and the ride to Habukomi Island and Tom’s Homestay will be just some minutes long. A late evening swim will cool down your body, a night meal with a local family will pacify your stomachs. And then … a campfire with a chat about traditional beliefs (ghosts included)!

DAY 3

After breakfast Tom will take you for a walk to the top of Habukomi and hear about the island’s history. A canoe route close to Upside Down Island will be a good excuse to hear its unbelievable story.

The rest of the morning will be spent at Kyabahinga peninsula, where Mrs Anna will demonstrate how local crafts are made. By lunch time you will be back at Edirisa on Lake Bunyonyi for a tasty buffet lunch that will complete the experience.

Alternatively you can decide for a final lunch at Birdnest @ Bunyonyi Resort, an upmarket lodge with a swimming pool and Bunyonyi’s best cuisine.


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