Lakes Bunyonyi, Kayumbu and Mutanda are the most beautiful lakes of Uganda’s Gorilla Highlands region, and this trek covers them all. Between a camping homestay on a remote Bunyonyi island and the picturesque Kayumbu shore, you will experience a Batwa “Pygmy”-led crossing of Echuya Forest and finally reach Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
• meet all cultures of southwestern Uganda
• take in rarely captured 360º views of Lake Bunyonyi
• visit a traditional healer and a craftmaker
• experience the island hospitality of Tom’s Homestay
• cross Echuya Forest Reserve with Batwa “Pygmies”
• camp on a cliff overlooking Lake Kayumbu
• taste the lovely food of Coffee Pot in Kisoro
• change your perception of the culture of coffee
• overnight at Lake Mutanda’s former Punishment Island
• traverse the lake by motorboat and learn about its islands
duration: 4 days; difficulty: moderate
starting point: Lake Bunyonyi or Rushaga (Bwindi Impenetrable National Park)
area: Lake Bunyonyi – Echuya Forest – Lake Kayumbu – Kisoro – Lake Mutanda – Rushaga
distance: 70 km/44 mi (23% by boat)
departures: daily at 9am
Price: USD 590 per person (USD 980 when one person only)
Includes guiding, dugout canoeing and boating, meals and snacks, water, juice, all activities, tips and contributions, tented accommodation. It does not include transport back from Rushaga or accommodation there.
DAY 1 (Lake Bunyonyi)
If you have opted for our free night offer, you will wake up at Edirisa on Lake Bunyonyi and be treated to a substantial breakfast at 9am. If you have chosen a less basic accommodation elsewhere, we will collect you by a dugout canoe and bring you to Edirisa in time for breakfast (if you of course wish to take it with us).
A short tour around the forested peninsula will show you some pretty interesting things. Grass-thatched huts were erected for volunteers decades ago, an ingenious submerged swimming pool was later built to teach life-saving skills, a tree house was constructed by an Israeli lady, and there is more!
After a detailed briefing session the paddling will begin at 10am. Under the auspices of young skippers who have grown up on the lake, this will be a piece of cake. The first program item on the terraced hillsides of the Kyabahinga peninsula will be a dancing and singing presentation by nursery school pupils. At a trading centre above the school you will be invited to a cup of the local brew, obushera. (It is gonna be … unforgettable.)
The prize for your next activity, a relatively intense climb of about 30 minutes, will be tremendous lake vistas. Kyabahinga is uniquely located to give you an outlook over most of Lake Bunyonyi, its 29 islands and the distant Virunga volcanoes. You will hear the colourful tales, legends and historical facts related to the islands.
On the ridge of the peninsula you will meet Mr. Barara, a traditional healer, who will share some carefully chosen secrets of tropical highland flora. By 1pm Mrs. Annah, a craftmaker, 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 meal.
But Annah is more than just a good cook; she is a master of craftmaking. 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.
In the afternoon you will descend to the water and enter the dugouts …
distance: 6 km/4 mi (40% by dugout canoe)
minimum altitude: 1,960 m/6,430 ft • maximum altitude: 2,100 m/6,900 ft
To go deeper into this itinerary check out The Secrets of Our Most Popular Ugandan Hiking Route written by our guide Owen!
DAY 2 (Lake Bunyonyi — Echuya Forest Reserve — Lake Kayumbu)
You will wake up on Habukomi Island some 30 minutes away from the Kyabahinga peninsula. On this island of pelicans our legendary nightwatchman Tom Karemire runs a homestay. While you camp on a lovely meadow next to his house, he shows you around the island, tells you stories and prepares meals for you. For example, freshly made chapatis with local honey will be your breakfast delight.
However, since this is the day of a long, challenging trek to the other side of the mountains, you will wave Tom goodbye by 8am. The canoes will transport you to the other shore of Bunyonyi and from there you will slowly but surely ascend towards Echuya Forest Reserve, reaching it at around midday.
In Echuya you will be part of something unique: a Batwa “Pygmy”-guided nature trail. Our experienced partners will tell you how the forest used to be their home and how it remains a source of all kinds of natural cures and materials. You will be shown different herbs, plants that make rain, gold digging sites and more.
There is a swamp in the middle of Echuya that calls for rubber boots. Do not worry, our team will have packed some for you … The crossing of the woods is expected to take about 2 hours.
Your picnic lunch will take place above the twin Lakes of Kayumbu and Chahafi. The latter was a military outpost during the colonial times, and the trenches can still be seen. But your overnight destination will be the closer lake, Kayumbu, where we pitch tents on a church cliff overlooking the water surface. The plan is to be there by 5pm.
distance: 21 km/13 mi (15% by dugout canoe)
minimum altitude: 1,911 m/6,270 ft • maximum altitude: 2,514 m/8,250 ft
Learn more about our homestays in Little-Known Hiking Overnights in Southwestern Uganda by our tecnico Levi!
DAY 3 (Lake Kayumbu — Kisoro — Lake Mutanda)
Following your lakeshore breakfast you will start hiking towards Kisoro Town, through rural but densely populated areas . Compared to the rest of the itinerary, this section is strikingly flat.
Coffee Pot Cafe in the middle of Kisoro is owned by a German lady who makes excellent food. After lunch you will take about 3 hours to reach Lake Mutanda, visiting a coffee farming family on the hill in between. Even those who aren’t ardent coffee drinkers appreciate the expert guidance and the outlook over the lake.
A short motorboat ride will then bring you to a narrow island in the south of Mutanda, called Gahiza. Unmarried pregnant girls were traditionally left on this Punishment Island as a warning to other youngsters. With loads of rabbits on the island you won’t be surprised by what comes on the plate … (Vegetarian options available too, of course.)
The main accommodation solution at Gahiza Island Retreat is the campsite, shielded from volcano winds by African dragon trees believed to have been planted 600 years ago. However, small groups may be able to upgrade to the cabins.
distance: 25 km/16 mi (10% by motorboat)
minimum altitude: 1,800 m/5,950 ft • maximum altitude: 1,950 m/6,400 ft
DAY 4 (Lake Mutanda — Rubuguri — Bwindi Impenetrable National Park)
The isle of Gahiza is pleasant enough that you will love a slow morning. By midday the island’s motorboat will start moving towards Chameleon Hill Lodge, your fantastically colourful lunch break place on the extreme northern tip of Lake Mutanda.
Among the islands you meet on the way, you are sure to most remember Kyangushu or the Island of the Dead. In bygone times clan heads used it as a burial site to avoid bringing bad luck to the mainland. They believed that death was abnormal, so they would take their deceased ones to Kyangushu to make sure they remained there. (Another, more practical explanation is that keeping corpses on the island stopped wild animals from feasting on the corpses.) You can still notice some bones in a small cave on the side of the island.
On another island, Buhingiro, a colonial-era chief would set up camp while hunting hippos. Locals say hippo meat was at first a delicacy beloved by Batwa ”Pygmies” but later became everybody’s interest. Now they are long gone, but there is a peculiar hippopotamus tale from 2013 that connects Lake Mutanda and Lake Bunyonyi …
You have had astonishing surface-level views of the Virungas by now, but Chameleon Hill Lodge lies a bit higher and new panoramic dimensions will embrace as you eat. At 2pm you will hit the village trails for 3-4 hours, taking you nearly to the outer edge of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
Once at Rushaga, a place with one of Bwindi’s four entry gates, you may start preparing for the national park fun you have chosen …
distance: 18 km/11 mi (45% by motorboat)
minimum altitude: 1,800 m/5,950 ft • maximum altitude: 1,980 m/6,500 ft
Activities in Rushaga
• gorilla tracking (includes park entry fees): foreign visitors USD 700; foreign residents USD 600; East Africans UGX 250,000
• gorilla habituation experience (includes park entry fees): foreign visitors USD 1,500; foreign residents USD 1,000; East Africans UGX 750,000
• Batwa Forest Experience (includes park entry fees): foreigners USD 40; East Africans UGX 40,000
• community walk — more in the video:
• hiking: crossing the national park and nature walks — for the details and prices see below …
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