The perfect scenic place to unplug is Lake Bunyonyi

Lake Bunyonyi, Uganda. Photo | Wendy Watta

What you need to know:

Lake Bunyonyi in South Western Uganda is a great stopover before or after gorilla trekking at Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

After about a week in Kampala, I plan to head to Lake Bunyonyi in South Western Uganda for a few days of serenity. This trip wasn’t in my initial plan, and I really only heard about Lake Bunyonyi while chatting to a waiter at a creperie in the Kololo neighbourhood where I had gone for breakfast three days prior. After looking up how to get there, I made a rough plan, starting with finding affordable accommodation on I settled on Om Hostel, booked an overnight bus, and eight hours after leaving Kampala, I arrived in Kabale town. Then I got a motorbike to the banks of Lake Bunyonyi, where the hostel had sent a canoe to pick me up. It was still too dark when I arrived, so we silently paddled along in the dark, and I couldn’t make out much of the surroundings.

At daybreak, when I was finally able to see my surroundings, I was blown away by the beauty of the place. At 1950m above sea level, the lake sits at the center, surrounded by green terraced hills of up to 2,400m high, sparsely dotted with homes and farms. The lake has 29 islands, and exploring them isn’t altogether out of question. 

Being the rainy season, it was quite cold, but that didn’t deter me from contemplating a morning swim. I padded to the end of the wooden jetty and gingerly dipped my toes. The water was freezing! At over 40m, this is said to be the second deepest lake in Africa and I was too cautious to just dive right in, never mind that the lake is said to have no hippos, crocodiles or even diseases. 

With palms planted flat on either side of my hips and feet dangling from the edge of the jetty, I plunged into the icy waters. I swam towards the center for a few hundred metres, then stopped to take in the breathtaking scenery. I felt like I am floating in a valley of sorts, surrounded by green hills. Noticing how eerily silent it was, particularly after the motorbikes in Kampala, I swam back to the jetty. Feeling all warm and revved up from the swim, I swam one more lap. 

 Jetty at Om Hostel in lake Bunyonyi, Uganda. Photo | Wendy Watta

My room was a basic wooden overwater log cabin that, frankly, I was surprised was only about Sh2,500 per night. Om Hostel has even cheaper camping grounds and shared dorms. It sits on one of the islands of the lake, right on the water's edge. My room is at the very bottom, next to the jetty, and walking up to the restaurant requires a hike. If I happen to have forgotten anything in my room, I can’t go back for it. The restaurant is the highest point of the property, so the views are worth the climb. When I’m handed the menu, my eyes immediately travel to the porridge, which would be the perfect drink after that cold swim. 

The sun makes no appearance for the rest of the afternoon, as a storm rages on outside. I’m tucked into my cozy bed, drifting in and out of sleep after the long trip the previous night. I’m woken up by birds chirping on my balcony, and when I go back up the hill to the restaurant, there’s a bonfire roaring, which is no mean feat given how wet the ground is. Barnett, one of the staff members, comes over to teach me some words in the local Bakiga language. From what I recall, ‘hello’ is ‘agandi’

The rest of my stay is spent swimming, lazing on the hammock, reading a book, and taking a canoe out to the surrounding islands. Lake Bunyonyi is a great stopover before or after gorilla trekking at Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, one of the main tourist activities in the country. It’s also near the Rwandan border, should you wish to cross over. If like me, though, you just need a scenic place to unplug, just pack your bags and go.