"Magical" and "beautiful" are just a couple descriptions you'll hear people say about this Ugandan destination!
Heading to Uganda? ILP volunteers are! They're teaching English to local kindergarteners near Kampala for a semester and using their vacation time to travel around and enjoy all this country has to offer, like Lake Buyonyi. Learn more about volunteering in Uganda with International Language Programs here.
Plan Your Trip To Lake Bunyonyi, Uganda
What Things Can I Do At The Lake?
There's so much to pack into your vacation to this lake. Lake Bunyonyi is a popular destination for both locals and tourists, so you'll find that there's tourist accommodations around the area which makes planning your trip a bit easier. You should be able to book tours or rent things pretty easily upon arriving!
You'll likely find tours as soon as you get to the town just outside of the lake, but we recommend checking with your hotel first to see what deals they can get you on activities.
Swimming + Canoeing
This is one of the few lakes you'll find that is safe for swimming (meaning it's known to be free of crocs, hippos, and a parasite that will keep you out of most other Ugandan lakes). So if you love swimming and being out in the water as much as we do, take advantage of it here.
You can even stay right on the lake so that your morning view is beautiful. Or, even go for a night swim before heading to bed.
Canoes here are "dugout", wooden, and carved in traditional style. You can go on a guided tour or simply rent one and explore yourself! Most people are able to explore most of the lake themselves in around 2 hours and recommend going in the morning mist adds to the experience. Don't forget to get some shots for your Instagram of these unique canoes.
Canoe rentals are in the $5-10/day range which isn't bad when you split it with your group.
Boat Tours To Popular Islands
Jump on a boat tour that will take you to see different islands and even to visit local communities who were original inhabitants of the area. The two main tribes here are Bakiga and Batwa (also known as pygmies). They allow you to come see their way of life and have even been known to perform a cultural dance for visitors. Pretty cool! There are operating schools on some of the islands and with the right tour you might even get a chance to visit the students who live here. This is a unique way to get to know more about the locals and their customs.
There are many small islands within the lake which can be visited on a tour. You might want to check out Kyahugye because it's the only island with wild animals! People don't really come here specifically to see animals (as there are so many other national parks that take care of that) but take a walk and you might get lucky enough to spot impalas, zebras, monkeys ... and of course birds! Lake Bunyonyi actually gets its name because there are SO many species here — it literally means "Place of Many Little Birds".
There are other islands that are quite well known for their historical past - any tour guide can give you the stories behind the islands.
Hike With Zebras
There are green, terraced hills surrounding the lake with trails where you can get to panoramic view points of the many islands throughout the lake. Because of the high elevation, the weather feels cooler here even on sunny days which makes your treks even more enjoyable. Pull on your hiking shoes and get exploring.
You can join little tours that will take you out to areas where you're most likely to spot some animals. Cross your fingers that you'll be able to spot impalas and zebras while you're out walking around the hills overlooking the lake!
We have all the details about visiting the island where you can hike around with zebras here (it's a must do).
Zipline + Ropes Course
If you're up for a little more high adventure, your hotel can help you arrange a day zip lining or playing around in a ropes course. After a few afternoons of paddling around the lake, napping in the hammock, and jumping for a swim, you may be itching for a little bit more adventure. A unique part of the course even has you flying right over the lake which is going to be a highlight for you, trust us.
One of the main draws for visitors here is how peaceful it is. Many tourists come here after gorilla trekking (because the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is nearby) and so they're looking for a quiet spot to enjoy the rest of their time in this country. Bring a book and just hang out!
If you time it right, you can watch the sunset and cross your fingers that you might get one of their famous beautiful, bright orange ones. A lot of the places you stay at will have things like hammocks and areas you can just relax and enjoy the quiet.
Tips For Your Trip
Pack for the weather! You'll be up in the mountains, so elevation will bring the temperature down a bit compared to the warmer weather you're used to in other parts of Uganda. In the morning and evenings, it can cool down quite a bit, so it's a good idea to bring a sweatshirt and longer pants. In April the temperature got down to about 50 degrees Fahrenheit, with some rain.
Especially if you come in the rainy season, it will likely be cold and drizzly. Most rooms are not super insulated so in addition to a good waterproof jacket for activities, you will want some warm sleeping clothes.
You will also want to bring (and use!) bug spray.
Spend enough time here. There's soooo much to do in Lake Bunyonyi. Our ILP volunteers who have visited said it was one of their absolute favorite vacations during their semester abroad in Uganda! They spent 5 days here and said that was perfect ... and actually would have stayed longer if they could. Make sure you allow yourself enough time to stay and enjoy the area if you can. Another group fit this in their 3-day vacation and had the same thoughts — you can easily spend more time here if you have it!
Combine this with another adventure. We mentioned this before, but some travelers add on a stay around Lake Bunyonyi after trekking for gorillas in the nearby Bwindi National Forest. Seeing gorillas in the wild is something few people ever get to do in their lifetime. For starters, they're only found in one part of the world (central Africa) which is right in your backyard if you're volunteering in Uganda for a semester.
The lake is located in Kabale, found in southwestern Uganda, close to the border of Rwanda.
Coming from Kampala, the drive to Kabale town is about 8-11 hours depending on the kind of bus ticket you purchase. There are plenty of buses and minivans you can arrange to get you here. Groups in the past have booked with Jaguar bus (you can WhatsApp Gordon +256 781 544600) to help you get reserved seats. You'll want to reserve seats for the way back because the bus starts in Rwanda, and you don't want seats to fill up and have to stand from Kabale to Kampala. Groups have worked with Aunt P with Jaguar Bus in Kabale to book the tickets back (her WhatsApp is +256 774 726933). You may need to make a deposit the day before to secure those seats (some groups have talked with their lodge or resort to get help sending that deposit to the proper ticket office in Kabale).
Get the VIP tickets — More than one group has suggested the VIP tickets (it's about 40,000 schillings, only 10,000 schillings more than the regular seats). The regular bus takes longer because it'll make more stops, so you're looking at about an 11 hour drive compared to the 8 hour drive on the VIP bus. The VIP bus also is roomier and a bit nicer. Most groups were glad they took the VIP bus both ways, or at least one of the ways (better opt for the VIP bus on the way back so you don't know what you're missing on the way there!). The regular bus still has seats what recline somewhat if that's helpful to know.
Some alumni mention that prices are a little bit negotiable if you want to go that route (best to reach out over Whatsapp with a profile that doesn't show what you look like — foreigners are typically charged more).
You have to go to the bus station ahead of time to pay in cash to reserve your ticket since there is no option of paying online.
Tips For The Drive — No matter which bus ride you choose, you will want motion sickness medicine for the drive. Like most roadtrips in Uganda, the roads are bumpy and some who said they weren't prone to getting carsick were so glad they brought someone to help settle their stomachs on the long drive.
There is no bathroom on board, but they make a few stops along the way so you should be fine.
It's a long drive. The trip will take longer than they say. Whatever time they say you will arrive, add two hours to that, at least.
From Kabale, it's just a quick 5-10 minutes to get to the lake. The hotel room you book will likely have more specific directions on how to get there from Kabale, or may include a pick up at the bus station (just ask if you're curious).
Your accommodation will also be able to help you to know how to book any excursions.
Dreamy Places To Stay
We love all the things to do here, but where to stay is another highlight of this vacation. There are so many picturesque cabins, lodges, resorts, and cottages to choose from. One of the draws is being able to stay right at the lake, so keep that in mind when you're booking your accommodation — imagine waking up to peek out the window or head out on the deck to admire the sunrise glittering over this gorgeous lake (it's all part of the experience). You'll find plenty of options for accommodations along the shores for a wide range of prices from just under $10-hundreds/night, so it really just depends on what you're looking for. You can even find some Airbnb homes around the lake and in Kabale!
Good to know: Our ILP volunteers have stayed at Hawks Eye Lodge and have highly recommend it! Another group really (really!) recommends Paradise Eco Lodge with rave reviews. Some groups who have traveled all together have asked for a slight discount (5% or 10% off, or free breakfast) if the whole group books together. It might not be an option for your group, but it could be worth asking about.
Another group absolutely LOVED staying at Supreme Adventure Park. Here's what they had to say "It's on an island, and the whole island is owned by the resort. You stay in cabins (or possibly a furnished tent), which include bathrooms with hot water for showers. All the rooms have nice lake views. The food is phenomenal, some of the best we've had our whole trip!' This was also a place that was able to arrange a group rate for 10+ volunteers. The staff at this place also had rave reviews and helped arranged the group's activities while they were here. You can also reach out to the staff on WhatsApp:
Here are a few more places you might want to check out, starting with budget rates first (around $10 and going up to around $60 a night). Remember, you can split twin rooms to lower the cost even more.
Byoona Amagara: Their website states that they are a non-profit organization who donates proceeds to education and sustainable community development at Bunyonyi, so can't help but be a fan of supporting that.
Bunyonyi Safaris Resort: Rooms at this place include breakfast, which we love. We also love their long list of activities on their website that they can help you arrange at a great price, including a massage for $10!
Craterbay Cottages: Split a twin room to make this cottage stay very affordable.
Bunyoni Overland Resort: These cabins have the option to add on breakfast if you'd like.
Birdnest Resort: If you don't mind splurging on the room rate a bit, you might want to check out this beautiful resort.
Bushara Island Camp: We have our eye on their dreamy sounding tree house rooms where a group of 3 can split the cost of the nightly rate.
We have spots available for you to volunteer in Africa with us!
ILP has a volunteer program with opportunities to teach local kids near Kampala and help with other humanitarian projects like building wells for communities to have clean drinking water. Spend your time in Uganda giving back and making a difference while you also explore and see all the beautiful destinations here.
Learn more about our Humanitarian Program in Africa by clicking that button!