It would be hard to imagine a more picture-perfect body of water than Lake Bunyonyi, in southwestern Uganda. A flooded valley system not far from the Rwandan border, it is stippled with small hummock-like islands and surrounded by hills carpeted in terraced fields. Most visitors come here post-safari, after gorilla-trekking in nearby hills. Lake Bunyonyi lacks the natural nasties—hippos, crocodiles, gastrointestinal parasites—that make you think twice before dipping a toe into many other Central African lakes.
Bunyonyi’s serenity belies much hardship; Kabale district is one of Uganda’s poorest regions. It also has a bleak one-tree islet known as Punishment Island, where unmarried pregnant girls were once left to starve.
Based out of a hostel in the nearby town of Kabale, Edirisa (“window” in the local Rukiga language) is a nonprofit organization that has been running culturally sensitive trips in Uganda since 2005. Its flagship tour is a three-day “canoe-trek,” a self-propelled cruise between several of Lake Bunyonyi’s 29 islands, interspersed with walks through rural villages and overnight camping stays with local families.