From the sky, Lake Bunyonyi looks like a huge aquatic scorpion with its pinchers extended outwards. Its tail curves north west, and its long snaking shape makes it feel like ancient channel that has been blocked, and flooded. It is surrounded by terraced hills where local farmers grow groundnuts, plantains, sweet potatoes, and cabbages in patchworks of adjoining fields, so it appears like someone laid a volcanic red and verdant green quilt over each hill.
This crown of hills form a protective wall around the lake, shielding it from the rest of the world, and allowing legends to grow upon its shores. Locals along the lake warn of its great depths, which are said to occasionally pull people down to never be seen again. Some deem it is the second deepest lake in Africa, but it seems nobody has found its bottom yet to verify.
The Bakiga and Batwa Pygmy tribes that live along the lake tell curious stories of how tilapia were introduced to the lake, but the lake rejected them, covering the surface in their dead bodies in a massive die-offs in the thirties and sixties. They also tell a story of a witch that turned Bucuranuka island upside down to spite local sorghum brewers that would not share their beer with her.
The isolation of the lake stews an alternative reality that is quite pleasant to bask in for a while. Twenty-nine islands rise above the middle of the lake, in the body of the scorpion. They create little secluded look-outs, and endless quiet coves where swimming docks extend out through the tall papyrus reeds into auras of silence.
Local farmers traverse the lake in small dug-out canoes, with wooden paddles shaped like big spearheads, and Ugandan Crowned Cranes glide over the waters in pairs from one romantic roost to another. Clouds flow in over the hills, casting dancing shadows on the lake, and in the afternoon, the sound of children emerging from school and jostling into their little boats to paddle back home echoes over the lake.
Besides the scenic ambience and local culture, it is the cuisine that makes Lake Bunyonyi such a desirable destination. Fresh water crayfish, said to be introduced from Louisiana in the seventies, flourish, drawing travelers to the shores like sirens of the lake. Fishermen lure them into woven traps with cabbage and sweet potatoes, and lakeside restaurants serve crayfish masala with chapatti, giant crayfish stuffed avocados, garlic crayfish pizza, and toasted crayfish paninis.
The biggest danger of Lake Bunyonyi is it is very hard place to leave. There is always one more island to see, one more crayfish dish to try, one more day to be lost on the lake. So jump in a dugout canoe, and paddle yourself to one of the islands in this scorpion lake for a break from the world, and some insight into what makes Lake Bunyonyi such a restful destination. After all, with no natural predators in the lake besides the local otters, someone has to help control the local crayfish population. Consider it your duty to do so.
Author’s Note: We stayed in the Byoona Amagara geodomes on Itambira island, and highly recommend you do the same. The geodomes are spectacular, opening onto views of the lake, the crayfish at the restaurant are delicious, and the staff are super friendly.