By Jonathan Benaiah (The Ugandan Tourist)
Hidden deep within the enclosure of Katsyoha-Kitomi Central Forest Reserve in western Uganda bordering the Kyambura gorge, in the outskirts of Queen Elizabeth National Park, you will find the clear waters of the visibly transparent Lake Kamunzuku (pronounced Kam-Un-Nzu-ku also read Kam-Un-Shu-Ku). Needless of any special marine viewing equipment, by a mere peek into the waters, you will see fish swimming so gracefully in the waters as well as the beautiful geology below the water surface. This Crater Lake will effortlessly blow your mind away like it did mine.
Triggered by news and stories of a transparent lake with calm still waters, I recently embarked on a journey with a group of friends to discover and rediscover some of the hidden gems in Uganda that in summation, make her the “Pearl of Africa”, we dubbed this trip “Rediscovering Wakanda” and you can certainly find some of the LIVE moments on the Twitter hashtag trend here. High on the to-do list was an opportunity to confirm the existence of the said transparent lake.
A traditional name that yields from the sexually transmitted pandemic, “Nzuku” from which the lake derives its name; loosely translates from the local dialect to mean gonorrhea in English.
Although for some parts of the year its waters are reported to be green in color I guess partly because of algae, for the larger section of the year, the waters are crisp clear because the lake is served by no Access Rivers but rather underground natural springs and it only has outlets serving neighboring wetlands.
These clean waters of Lake Kamunzuku are re-counted by the local people to have borne the spiritual healing powers that cleansed past generation of the terrible illness, gonorrhea. In the recent past, locals infected with the terrible plague would trek here to take a dip in the glass-clear-waters of Lake Kamunzuku and they would return home healed from their sickness.
My chat with Lawrence, a local tourist guide at Dave the Cave Eco-Lodge and Camping Site Center in Nyanzibiri, Rubirizi (a neighboring community tourism attraction) revealed that while the practice has hugely been substituted by innovativeness and the introduction of modern medicines, a few locals still visit the lake for the same purpose and history still flips her pages to present a story of healing and deliverance through Lake Kamunzuku.
At a fee of 50,000 Uganda Shillings (the equivalent $15 paid to the local council – community leadership) tourists on a safari to Queen Elizabeth National Park can visit the present day Kamunzuku Lake. This community tour involves a short detour off the Ntungamo – Ishaka – Kasese highway onto a dirt undulating road, past expanses of farmland (principally banana plantations) and water-filled craters, arriving at the entry point to Katsyoha-Kitomi Central Forest Reserve.
From this point, tourists hike (at a convenient speed) through the Forest Reserve which entirely engulfs this treasured lake. You may need between an hour and a half, and two hours to complete the voyage to and from the lake, depending on the pace your fitness levels or availability of time on your itinerary. The journey by foot then leads you through a relatively thick community of trees with black and white colobus monkeys, red-tailed monkeys, vervets and at rare sightings you may encounter chimpanzees. The expedition continues past streams of rushing waters treading on the end to end muddy paths (depending on the day’s weather).
Along the way you will share the path with locals carrying water and local brew (unprocessed alcohol) in jerrycans, who with the supervision of the National Forestry Authority (NFA), are the guardians of this forest ecosystem as well as the beautiful transparent lake therein.
During our visit it was quite visible that the locals are involved in cutting down trees and this worried me a great deal. Lawrence however informed me that NFA permits them every Wednesday and Friday to collect firewood from within the forest, for domestic use. The huge logs of timber ferried on heads through the forest are however said to be from a privately owned expanse within the Central Forest Reserve purportedly owned by a Chinese investor. This according to our guide, is closely monitored by NFA.
Seemingly abandoned but perhaps simply untapped, Lake Kamunzuku is today mostly enjoyed by the local boys and girls who spend the greater parts of their day diving into the clean waters and taking self-taught lessons on how to swim.
Opportunities for investment
In-depth details of this lake for example its depth remain a mystery to the local guides and its virgin state presents immense opportunities for investment in tourism infrastructure in the coming years. I would propose the introduction of a canoe to take visitors on short rides along the peaceful lake. Construction of a tourism information center which would also feature changing rooms and showers as well as offer drinks and refreshments for visiting tourists. It is also a good prospect for setting up a campsite, a zipline across the lake as well as birding tours.
10 things you most probably will need for this tour:
- Good hiking boots
- At least 1 litre of drinking water
- Long sleeved pants and shirts and a long pair of thick socks (stockings depending from which part of the world you come from)
- Sunscreen lotion for skin protection (particularly for international visitors)
- A hat or cap
- A camera or smartphone to capture the breathtaking moments
- A trash bag to collect all your garbage. Or you could still just throw them into your back pack and empty them in a dustbin after the visit.
- Of course a backpack to carry all your small necessities
- And if swimming is your kind of thing, then also throw in a swim suit (swimming costume depending from which part of the world you come from)
Please let me know if you have any questions or if you need assistance with planning a trip to this transparent lake. I delight in helping where I can.
Until next time, I remain yours truly, The Ugandan Tourist.