A new tourism experience has emerged in the south-western region of Uganda. South-west Uganda is a richly endowed and beautiful tourism hub of Uganda. Fondly referred to as the Switzerland of Africa, there is found the beautiful lake Bunyonyi that twists and winds round numerous hills and mountains giving an adorable panoramic view. This region is also home of the endangered mountain gorillas which are the trademark of Ugandan tourism. Other attractions such as Echuya bamboo forest reserve, Lake Mutanda and the Virunga mountain ranges also lie in this region.
Within these natural beauties and wonders is kept an interesting history, cultures and communities. Notable of these communities are the Batwa communities who are regarded as the most primitive culture in Uganda. However they have beliefs, norms and ways of life that are worth learning about.
Named after the trademark tourist attraction in Uganda, the Gorilla highlands tour experience is one exquisite adventure that is well packaged with all the wonders that South-West Uganda has to offer. The product prioritizes community tourism most. According to the director Mr. Miha Logar, the package was aimed at reducing over dependence on gorilla trekking but using it to market other touristic potentials of the region such as Lake Bunyonyi, islands, cultural tourism and community tourism.
The gorilla highlands experience is a collection of activities which include canoe trekking, island hopping, community visits, forest walks and home stays. These activities are preceded by visits to the Bakiga museum located at Edirisa studio in the heart of Kabale town. Here is the animated history and culture of the Bakiga people who have been energetic farmers through generations.
The most interesting bit of the gorilla highlands’ experience is probably island hopping in dug-out canoes on Lake Bunyonyi. The Lake is often calm thus rendering it safe to use a canoe. Guests are able to visit and learn about numerous islands and their history. Bwama island also known as Lepers’ island has an isolation centre for Leprosy patients from the region and as far as the now Burundi. It is here that they were treated by Doctor Sharp a missionary doctor who also happened to reside on a different island named after him. Amidst these two islands is the historical and infamous “punishment island”. It is a tiny patch of bushy land where only one tree stands in solitude. This is where young girls who got pregnant before marriage were dumped to die for this was an abomination then. Interestingly, men who could not afford hefty bride price were free to rescue the “dumped” girls and take them on as wives.
Hiking up the hills is such a laborious adventure but it tees one up for a one-in-a-million panoramic view of Lake Bunyonyi and its islands. Guests are also able to visit schools, homes and a hospital on some of these islands. On Kyabahinga hill, guests are treated with a visit to a traditional healer called Omugurusi Jeremia. He takes them through sessions about how it was like treating illnesses and other social concerns in traditional African society. He will explain the uses of the various herbs and how they work to counter disease. On the same hill is Iannick a self styled Rastafarian with keen interest in the history of Africans relative to the wide world. You will surely learn a lot from this gentle man. Groups of women specializing in art and crafts making can also be visited on different islands. It is also possible to enjoy locally prepared lunch from one of the homes along this trail.
Visit to the Batwa communities are an insight to different worlds of civilization and culture. The gorilla highlands experience looks to use tourism as a means of improving the lives of Batwa communities within the region. The Batwa guide for Gorilla highlands Mr. John Kanusu can lead the guests in Echuya forest reserve for a nature walk. In the process he tells the Batwa way of life before they were relocated from the forest. These were their key hunting and gathering grounds. They now only can pick bamboo sticks for construction purposes.
Another of the many highlight in the gorilla highlands is Lake Mutanda in Kisoro. The lake lies in the back ground of the Virunga mountain ranges soaring before. Three of the highest peaks are well visible on a good weather day. The terrain and features around this area are a manifestation of the erstwhile volcanic activity responsible for their existence.
The emphasis that the Gorilla Highlands experience has based on community tourism is a bold step towards bridging the gap between communities and tourists. More communities around South-Western Uganda are innovating ways of benefiting from the already existing resources and the untapped cultural resources. On Habukomi Islands a graying but stout old man Mr. Tom offers camping home stays in his compound a few metres steep descent from the banks of Lake Bunyonyi. It is a local experience with basically local facilities but a great deal of learning about the community too.
Speke Uganda Holidays is privileged to market the Gorilla Highlands experience to its clients. We look forward to adding our effort towards strengthening community and cultural tourism through partnering with Gorilla Highlands.