Lake Mutanda is one of the most interesting lakes in Uganda located in the far southwestern part of Uganda. It is a small jewel, freshwater lake hidden in the mountainous landscape close to Bwindi impenetrable national park and Mgahinga national park in Kisoro district. Lake Mutanda is one of the most scenic lakes in Africa with dramatic landscape of lush and verdant sprawling highlands; it is drained by the Rutshuru River flowing northwards to Lake Edward.
Being a freshwater lake, Lake Mutanda is dotted by about 15 Islands with lush trees and shrubs, beautiful scenery of sprawling highlands with green vegetation, plantations, and terraces of crops along the slopes of the hills. This amazing scenery is set against a stunning backdrop of cloudy peaks of the Virunga Mountain Volcanoes.
The chain of volcanoes of the Virunga Mountain Range spans the boarders of Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Uganda shares only 3 of its prominent 8 Volcanoes. These include; Mount. Muhavura, Mount Gahinga and Mount Sabinyo, these three volcanoes make up Mgahinga national park.
While at Lake Mutanda, these mountains are very visible, rising up in the background over the lake and the sprawling highlands, with white fluffy clouds floating across their peaks. In the morning, thick clouds of mist shroud the lush highlands, and create mystic scenery over Lake Mutanda and such an awe-inspiring view! Sometimes in the night while stay around the lake, visitors get the chance of seeing smoke or fires from the active Volcano of Mount Nyiragongo at a distance.
How to access Lake Mutanda
Lake Mutanda is located about 30 minutes’ drive from Kisoro town and it can be accessed from either Kampala capital of Uganda or from Kigali capital of Rwanda via the Cyanika border of Uganda and Rwanda in the south western part of Uganda. It is a 8-9 hours’ drive by road from Kampala to Kisoro driving via Masaka – Mbarara – Kibale – Kisoro highway to Lake Mutanda, quite a long drive however very scenic and interesting for adventure tourists.
To reduce the driving hours from Entebbe airport to Kisoro, there are available flights from Entebbe airport to Kisoro airstrip operated by Aerolink Uganda Limited. The flight is barely 2 hours since it is usually a connecting flight with other national parks. It is also 35 minutes’ drive from Kisoro airstrip to Lake Mutanda.
Arrivals from Kigali international airport to Lake Mutanda are also possible and much closer compared to Entebbe airport since it is a 4-5 hours driving from Kigali to Kisoro via Cyainka or Katuna borders.
Tourist activities on Lake Mutanda
Lake Mutanda contains about 15 Islands. The 15 Islands of Lake Mutanda are barely untouched with just a few inhabited by a local community with a few being tiled to grow crops & tree plantations. A number of the other islands are virgin with only overgrown vegetation that is rich with wildlife. The biggest island on Lake Mutanda is named after the lake itself – Mutanda Island which is inhibited by a local clan community called the “Abagesera”.
The Abagesera have grown crops such as peas, bananas, and sugar canes on the island and a good portion of this island is covered by trees and shrubs. They have also built a church on top of the island and local worshipers from the mainland canoe to this island to attend service at this church.
Therefore, visitors also travel to this island in a traditional dug-out canoe or boat and while on the island, they are able to view the scenery from different perspective and also meet with the local communities for cultural torus and community walks.
The other Islands on Lake Mutanda are the punishment Islands which in the early days was a place (Island) designated for criminals of the society who did wrong. They were taken to this punishment island and dumped there to die as a punishment for example it was an abomination for a young girl to get pregnant before marriage, so she would be dumped at this island to die with no way to escape, the elderly with no one to care for them were also dumped on this island, thieves and other unwanted people would also be dumped at the punishment island to die. Today if you visit the Island, in the caves, you will find skeleton remains of the dead people at the Island as proof of the incident. The local people however fear the punishment island because of the belief that they are haunted by the dead.
Another intriguing island on Lake Mutanda is the Python Island. This is a home to the python snakes. Only brave visitors can access this island for chances of seeing the resident snakes although the pythons are rarely seen.
Taking a boat trip or a canoe ride on Lake Mutanda is one of the best water experiences in Uganda. Canoeing is a great way to discover the lake while enjoying the calm waters with the feel of the cold breeze and coolness as a way of relaxing. Go round the islands on the lake while also enjoying the views of the landscape and amazing scenery. The canoes on Lake Mutanda are made out of the wood frames in that they can float on water quite very well. If a canoe ride scares you, opt for a boat instead as they are much better built compared to a canoe.
You will also encounter some birds and Otters on the lake during the canoe rides. There are few birds found at Lake Mutanda and this is because of the high elevation and cold weather that is unfavourable to many species. Lake Mutanda has an altitude of about 1,800 meters above sea level. Some of the commonly seen birds include Pin-tailed Whydah, Great Cormorant, Pied & Malachite Kingfisher, & sunbirds. Otters are common in the lake; meanwhile there are few fish species about 3 including Cat & Mad Fish.
Mountain Biking tours
Lake Mutanda is also a good place for mountain biking. For good mountain bikes, biking the mountain landscape around Lake Mutanda is quite exhilarating. Adrenaline junkies can spend hours biking on the slopes of the Virunga Mountains offering a feel of the wind rushing pasting your face as you scramble down steep slopes as gravity pulls you back down the mountains towards the shores of Lake Mutanda.
Hiking on the hills around the lake offers great vantage points for wonderful views of Lake Mutanda and the Volcanic Mountains. While at Lake Mutanda, one can visit the Garama caves which is a tourism trail created by the Uganda Wildlife Authority and the United Organization for the Batwa Development in Uganda. This trail is purposely to support the Batwa people who settled in the area before the current Mgahinga national park was gazetted as a national park. The Batwa stayed in the Garama caves before being resettled. The Batwa guides will offer visitors a tour of 2340 meters long cave and insight of the Batwa culture.
Lake Mutanda is also within reach of Bwindi Impenetrable national park and Mgahinga national park as destinations for mountain gorilla trekking experiences and other trekking adventures such as the Golden monkey trekking and Bird watching experiences. It is about 1-2 hours’s drive from Lake Mutanda to Bwindi Impenetrable national park to sectors of Rushaga and Nkuriungo which are the closest gorilla trekking sectors of Bwindi forest and about 45 minutes’ drive from Lake Mutanda to Mgahinga national park.
Accommodations at Lake Mutanda
Lake Mutanda Safari Resort
This accommodation facility is strategically located at the base of Lake Mutanda. This lodge offers great views of the lake and the Virunga Mountains. It is both a mid-range and Luxury accommodation facility with cottages perfectly offering views for the Lake. The rooms are spacious and well designed with en-suite bathrooms. Lake Mutanda restaurant blends with the swiss chalet and African Architecture with skilled chefs proving great meals for guests. The bar is also fully stocked with all kinds of drinks allowing you to sip on your favourite evening tipple as you watch the sunset over the lake.
Mutanda Eco-community centre
This is a community-owned eco-lodge located on the southern shores of Lake Mutanda. Camping facilities, food, and accommodation are provided. You can even get involved in their volunteering to support the local community during your stay. The volunteering experience includes teaching swimming lessons to children, working at the health centres and teaching conservation education at the nearby Chihe Primary School.
Other accommodation facilities around Lake Mutanda are hotels in Kisoro town and also accommodations close to Mgahinga national park and Bwindi impenetrable national park such as Travellers Rest Hotel, Muchi Lodges, Chameleon Hill Lodge just to mention a few.