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L Victoria wildlife and beautiful shores birth tourism businesses

Rusinga Island Resort constructed at the shore of Lake Victoria in Homa Bay County. [James Omoro, Standard]

A drive from Mbita to Rusinga Island along the shores of Lake Victoria in South Nyanza reveals several new investments targeting holiday lovers. Just a decade ago, the area was a grazing field for hippos and perfect spot for crocodiles to bask after hours in water.

Only a handful of farmers took cattle to the lake shore for fear of crocodile attacks.

But today, several lavish hotels have come up in the region, reawakening the once sleepy towns of Homa Bay, Mbita, Sindo, Sori and Muhuru Bay in Homa Bay and Migori counties.

It is now common to see people, including those celebrating honeymoons, go for a taste of the allure of Lake Victoria’s hidden treasures and islands. At Rusinga Island, the establishment of the Mbita Causeway, which has improved access through more secure road transport, is the icing on the cake.

Other luxurious hotels and resorts are Riofa Organic Restaurant, Beach Resort, Rusinga Lodge, The Governor’s Camp on Mfangano Island and the Blue Ridge resort. On the small island, nearly 20 luxurious hotels have set base.

And with the investments and the huge potential, the price of land has started to skyrocket.

According to Wilson Odoyo, the Rusinga Central chief, the price of land on the shores of Lake Victoria has increased by 220 per cent in the last 10 years. An acre, which used to sell at Sh250,000, now goes for Sh800,000.

“My office witnesses land transactions between buyers and sellers. The land at the shore of Lake Victoria is in high demand,” says Mr Odoyo.

Mr Mboya Owuor, the Rusinga East chief, says: “People no longer sell their land unless they are compelled by inevitable circumstances.”

In Rusinga Central, deep in the village, about 5km from Mbita town, lies Riofa Organic Restaurant and Beach Resort. Director Dennis Siro says the lake shore enhances the survival of the hotel by attracting tourists. “We have hippos, which locals see as a menace. But the hippos attract tourists. We have put up a fence to enable tourists to enjoy viewing hippos without fear of being attacked.”

But his business faces stiff competition from other hotels. “Customers are there but we have to meet their needs to outshine our competitors. That is how we have survived for the last two years,” says Siro.

About 4km from Riofa is an ongoing construction of Rusinga Island Resort. The hotel’s Manager Young Odongo says building a hotel at the lake shore attracts more customers. It is however a costly affair, he says.

“Many tourists like swimming and boat racing in the lake. These are some of the things which make our hotels more popular,” he says, adding that the cool environment has been the other advantage.

A few meters from Rusinga are three other islands that have also witnessed a scramble for land. They are Takawiri, and Mbasa islands, and are also known for bird watching.

For Takawiri, however, its smooth-edged coastal curves, crystalline water and beautiful white sand along its beach line have turned it into a tourism paradise for local and international tourists.  A scramble for its land is also at its peak, with locals claiming that an acre now goes for Sh2 million.

Unlike those at the Kenyan coast, most small Lake Victoria islands are narrow, with brown silt beaches, where fishermen dock boats. Narrow footpaths lead you up the gentle slopes to villages. “When it is holt, a cool breeze comes from the lake and neutralises the sun rays. The breeze makes a big difference between a hotel situated along the shore of Lake Victoria and the ones away from the shore,” said Odongo.

Rusinga MCA Okuku Miregi, who is also an entrepreneur in the hotel industry, says the hotels are opening Lake Victoria shores for tourism.

Miregi says some of the hotels are situated on unique sand, which attracts tourists. “Lake Vitoria beaches have the potential for tourism. If organised well, many people will come here instead of going to the coast,” Miregi said.

He added: “We have unique sand on Takawiri Island. If more focus is put on tourism by the incoming county government, Homa Bay will be like Mombasa as far as tourism is concerned.”

Homa Bay Deputy Governor Hamilton Orata says the county administration had put measures in place to enhance tourism by improving roads to allow ease of access to Lake Victoria’s shores.

He says they have created enabling environment to encourage investment in tourism. “Our county is endowed with many tourist attractions. We have created enabling environment for investors to construct hotels, which are a key factor that promotes tourism,” Orata said.

Africa’s largest freshwater lake, Victoria, is emerging from the shadows to take its rightful place as one of the most beautiful tourist attraction destinations in Kenya.