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Monday, May 24, 2010

Lake Bunyonyi

Hello All,

On Sunday we traveled from Kampala (In the Central Region) to Mbarara (In the Southwest region). We are staying at the Lake View Resort Hotel here in Mbarara. This morning we all met for breakfast at the hotel and then loaded "Big Blue," the bus we travel on. We headed further into the southwest region to visit Lake Bunyonyi and Lake Bunyonyi Land Resort, located on the shore. The southwest region of the country is hilly and mountainous. These mountains are more similar to the Appalachian mountains than the Rocky Mountains. Due to the steep terrain the local people use terraces in order to preserve the land and prevent mud slides

On the way to the lake we took a short hike to see the farming plots and terraces closer up. James, is originally from this area and explained what we were seeing. On the hike we passed right next to a cell phone tower. I have noticed that there seem to be more of these than in the United States and the residents seem to have pretty good service every where we go. After talking to some of the Ugandan students about this I also learned that some of their cell phones have two cards built into them allowing them to receive service from two different networks/carriers. That would be like our cell phones in the U.S. being able to use Verizon and U.S. Cellular with the same phone. Wouldn't that be nice!
After our short hike we re-boarded "Big Blue" and continued to Lake Bunyonyi. Lake Buyonyi is close to the city of Kabale. Uganda is one of the only places in the world you can see wild gorillas. (They are in the mountain region intersecting Uganda/Rwanda/Congo). Kabale is the last major city before heading into "Gorilla Country" and offers a more upscale place for visitors to stay before they begin their gorilla tracking adventures. We drove through Kabale and turned onto a winding, narrow rode that would lead us to the lake/resort. This part of the journey was an adventure as there were steep drop offs next to the road and lets just say "Big Blue" wasn't built to drive on a narrow, winding, dirt rode.

Once we arrived at the lake it was beautiful and we were all very excited to take pictures. Lake Bunyonyi is the deepest lake in Africa and 3rd deepest lake in the world, reaching depths up to 6500 feet! We walked through the dining area of the resort down to the lake, where there were boats waiting to take us for a ride around the lake. We were split into four different motorized boats for our tour. There are several islands in the lake and one is called "Punishment Island". This island is very small and made up of just marshy grasses. It used to be used as a punishment for young women who became pregnant out of wedlock. They would be taken to this island and left to die. (There is no food on the island.) This was thought to make an example for other young women who were thinking of being promiscuous. Except the women didn't starve to death, as men who couldn't afford to give a woman's family money to ask for the daughter's hand in marriage (dowry) would rescue the women and marry them. The local people believed the girls were dying, but they were actually living in other villages.

The tour around the lake lasted about 1.5-2 hours and the scenery was absolutely gorgeous! The weather was also nearly perfect, about 80 degrees and partly cloudy. Many of us, including myself, discovered first hand the sun at the equator is definitely more powerful than it is back home;) Seeing all of the beauty around the lake and lack of visitors led me to think about the possibilities for the area. The lake is quite large, and would be great for recreational boating/skiing/swimming. If more nice resorts were built next to the lake I think it would be a wonderful vacation destination. I especially think it would be a nice place to stay and relax either before or after several days of gorilla tracking. What do the rest of you think? Do you think more tourist development in this area would be good? Do you see any potential negatives? Would you be will to stay here? Why/Why not? Is it sustainable? Of course there are many obstacles that need overcome before developing this location into a tourism hotspot can occur, but the possibilities are nearly endless! What are some of the obstacles you think have to be overcome in order to develop this area as a tourist destination?

Upon returning to shore after our boat tour, we were treated to tea/coffee and some sweet rolls. We then had a chance to further explore the Lake Bunyonyi Land Resort. They had several docks, both attached to land, and floating in the lake for sunbathing/swimming access. As I stated previously the scenery is absolutely gorgeous and the plant/flower life in the area is spectacular! This resort offers cabins which are kind of like tree houses for the guests to stay in. They are right off the lake and of course offer amazing views.

After exploring for a while we had lunch at the resort. Lunch had many of the usual options including, salad (similar to coleslaw), Matoke (banana used for cooking, similar to potatoes), mashed potatoes, rice, cooked vegetables, beef, and chicken. There was also a small craft store adjacent to the dining room which many of us had to hit up. Several students honed their pool skills on the pool table and others sat around and discussed our adventures.

Once we were all finished eating we loaded "Big Blue" and headed back for Lake View Resort Hotel at Mbarara. Once we arrived home, we all met up again for supper at the hotel. We head out at 8:30 a.m. tomorrow (Tuesday) for Queen Elizabeth National Park, where we will have a water cruise where we should see Hippos/Waterbuffalo/Crocodile and a land game drive later in the afternoon. We are all very excited!

Hope everyone is doing well back home, we'll update you again soon!

Cydney Karstens


  1. Hey Cydney,

    Your piece is a nice read. Let me take the opportunity to welcome you and your group to our lovely country....
    You'll all be blown away by the amazing scenery at Queen Elizabeth National Park; i can promise you that you won't be able to put your camera down! Enjoy!


  2. Cydney,
    Your blog post did a great job recapping the day and making us think more in depth about what we had seen and learned. The resort was an awesome place to spend the afternoon, going on a boat ride and eating lunch. However, I do agree with you in some sense that there are many obstacles to increase the growth of resorts in the area. You did mention the long windy roads; the lake is located very far back on these roads making the journey difficult for many. The closest city was Kabale, which does not seem very convenient for people staying at the resort to get to if needed. Also, because many travelers are not immune to the diseases present in the water, it is not very practical as a swimming place. I did, however, enjoy the boat ride around the lake and learning the history of the islands and surrounding land; this is a big attraction to the resort and I feel it is something that can easily bring tourists to the area.

    The drive to the resort and boat ride included some of the most beautiful scenery I have seen in my life. Tourists interested in seeing the hilly regions of the country should most definitely consider a trip to the lake and Kabale.

  3. Cydney! This was an awesome recap of our day and I know I will use your blog as a memory for my scrapbooks! Anyway, I also enjoyed my time spent at Lake Bunyoni. It was very relaxing and gave us time to settle down from all of the ripping and running that we have been doing lately. I wish that Lake Bunyoni would attract more tourists in order to keep this beautiful area up and running and to possibly add more activities or events. I think that this is a great place for people to stay while traveling through Uganda and its beautiful locations. But on the other hand, I wish that Lake Bunyoni could continue to remain a more secretive spot to preserve its beauty and so that it won’t become another tourist trap. By finding a happy medium between increasing tourist level and maintain sacredness, I believe that Lake Bunyoni would be a major contributor to Uganda’s sustainable development.

  4. I notices quite a significant challenge to the development of tourism on the way up to Lake Bunyoni. As Big Blue climbed and descended the treacherous slopes leading to the resort area, the rugged and dangerous nature of the red dirt road with ninety degree turns and vertical drops stood out to me. As overgrown vegetation whacked the open windows, I wondered how it would be possible to get any type of large machinery to the lake to build more attractions and resorts. The transportation issues of equipment and supplies would likely increase the costs dramatically, creating an issue for private developers with limited funds. Furthermore, looking to the future, how would it be possible for a tourist wishing to boat, water ski, etc. be able to haul a boat trailer up to the resort? From my experience driving the roads, I think it might be nearly impossible and most definitely dangerous. So, access issues make me question the ability of resorts to develop and then attract tourists.

  5. During our adventure today, I was struck by the change in atmosphere as we traveled from the rural country to the "touristy" resort. I think this type of atmosphere is required for a sustainable business when they are depending on tourism for business. I like that the place catered more toward a westernized culture than any other location we had visited on our trip. It was a neat experience.

  6. I think the biggest problem with this area as a tourist attraction is its inaccessibility. It is both far away from major cities and the roads are worse than in most other parts of the country (at least that we have visited.) The first thing that would need to be done is advertisement. Small resorts like this are often found more by word-of-mouth than advertisement. I think that by spreading the word of the lake, and playing up the story about Punishment Island, the resort could greatly increase their visitors. However, to get people to the resort, better roads will be needed. This is a problem in lots of rural areas in Uganda-not only are the roads full of potholes, but they are also too narrow.

    Despite of these potential challenges to overcome, I hope the resort does not take action upon them. The lake is clean and beautiful. Commercialization leads to litter and waste, another large problem in Uganda. If the resort can sustain itself without tapping into the bigger mainstream of tourism, the area can retain its natural beauty and appeal. I would like to come back and stay on the lake for a few days if it stays just the way it is.

  7. Hey Cyd!
    We just wanted to say hi and that we miss you!! We enjoy hearing about all your adventures, wish we were there! Are you having Starbucks withdrawls? Hope you're enjoying your trip, can't wait until you get back!
    Sam, Ronda, and everyone at the office

  8. I've only seen one blog, you're slipping few days left get to blogging. Sandy

  9. Personally, I don't think that transforming Lake Bunyonyi into a more "Americanized" tourist destination with speed boats and jet skis would be a good idea. I think that for Uganda to thrive as a tourist destination, it needs to maintain the natural, authentic feeling it currently has. I think that going too commercial would destroy Uganda's potential as a tourist destination because it's not a place that you go to do the same things you can do on overcrowded and polluted lakes in the US. Uganda's draw is it's natural beauty like Cydney describes in this post.

    I agree that Uganda does need to develop a lot more in order to let their tourism industry thrive. I just think that they should focus on developing infrastructure because I think that travel in-country is probably the biggest draw back of tourism in Uganda. If Uganda starts working towards appealing to tourists other than backpackers, I think the financial benefits are endless. Uganda has so much potential, but also has a lot of work to do in order to appeal to a wider range of tourists.

    With the roads as bad as they are it not only takes so long to get to different attractions in Uganda, but the roads are so bumpy and uncomfortable that older and wealthy tourists simply would not put up with it. In addition, service really needs to step up to more of a standard that higher end tourists expect when vacationing. Cydney mentions that we went on a 2-hour boat ride at this resort, but when we got back our lunch still wasn't ready. We had called ahead, so they knew we were coming and they knew we were out on a boat ride and how long it would take.

    If Uganda works on its roads and customer service, I think they will thrive as a tourist destination. One thing that I think they have to look out for is becoming too commercial because then I think they'll lose their appeal as an authentic destination.

  10. I think the roads pose a definite problem for attracting tourists. Not just the narrow, winding roads on the cliff edge to get to the lake, but also the entire infrastructure. All of the dirt roads are in bad condition and make travel very inconvenient, especially if people want to get out to these rural areas.

    I agree with Kristin about tourism on the lake as well. One of the best qualities this resort has is its peacefulness. We passed many people rowing in their long wooden boats, children who were singing to us from shore, and a primary school on one of the islands. All of this would be ruined if big motor boats and jet skis were speeding around the lake. I think more outside tourists would be attracted here because that's what makes it different from the lakes you see back in the US. It was much more serene.