Kampala is home to over 1.2 million people and is the commercial capital of Uganda. Banks, insurance companies, tech-startups, social enterprises, small businesses of all kinds, government offices, international humanitarian aids organizations – they’re all here. The daily hustle is ON. Traffic is crazy. The sun is blazing. It’s all we can do to get through the day and relax over a drink at one of the many lively night spots.
When the weekend finally rolls around, Kampala people need to get out of this concrete jungle and commune with nature. If you’re new in town, maybe you just don’t know where to go or how to get there. This guide has all the details you need. Native to Kampala? Are you exhausted and want to stay in and binge watch bootleg series? Or maybe you’d rather spend your money in town and don’t care about seeing anything green? Hopefully these suggestions will inspire you to make a change.
Getting out of town doesn’t take much work. The roads aren’t half bad and the distances won’t kill you – as long as you get on the road EARLY. Public transport is cheap and easy to find, even if its not the most comfortable. In that regard, here are my 5 suggestions for fun, budget weekend activities, that will get you out of town, and refresh you for the week ahead.
A little note: These are places my friends, The Real Uganda volunteers, and I love and visit regularly. I received no compensation in return for any recommendation. These are my 2017 best picks for weekend itineraries near Kampala. Quoted costs are for foreign nationals, and are subject to change. Ugandans pay in local currency for tourist activities. Want more choices for accommodation and food? Pick up The Eye Magazine, a comprehensive guide to Uganda, for visitors and new-comers.
1. ADVENTURE – WHITE WATER RAFTING AND ZIP LINING
Saturday: There are 2 or 3 full-service rafting companies in Uganda. Google Adrift or Nile River Explorers and give them a call a day or 2 in advance. They’ll tell you where in Kampala their pickup point is. For $140, you’ll get free transport, a full day of white water rafting, and a rad lunch. They both have lively tented camps overlooking the Nile, with cold beer and great food. I’d stay the night and party with all the people you almost drowned with. Who doesn’t bond over shared
Sunday: Mabira Forest Integrated Community Organization (MAFICO) runs a 6 line zip-line at Griffin Falls in Mabira Forest. They call it the “Super Skyway” and it’s so rad. $60 gets you a well-guided nature walk and about 4 hours in the canopy. Your funds go toward the local community. The employees are all from the local area, as well. It’s money well spent in an obscure location, just outside of Lugazi Town. Give them a call/whatsapp on +256-776634926 a day or 2 in advance to book. Board a taxi from Jinja Town (or Kampala, it’s on the main Kampala-Jinja highway) heading to Lugazi. Get out at Simple Supermarket and tell the bodaboda riders you’re going to Wasswa Village. They’ll know where to take you!
2. SOURCE OF THE NILE AND SHOPPING – JINJA TOWN
Saturday: Rise early to beat the heat and traffic on Jinja Road and head out to Jinja Town. You can board a taxi from either the Old Taxi Park or from almost any taxi stage along Kampala Road. It takes about 2 hours. There are MANY bed and breakfasts that have both a swimming pool and amazing Lake Victoria view. My current favourite is Sergio’s, a solid mid-range (quiet) option with pretty good pizza. Brisk Hotel Triangle is more budget friendly and a little louder. Gately on the Nile is the over $100 option, but worth it if you really want a treat. Relax poolside at Sergio’s during the day and over lunch. Evening? Get reception to call you a bodaboda and head over to Bourbon Bar & Grill. The open air bar is right on the lake. For a late night dance try The Office. Awesome DJ.
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Sunday: Coffee, craft markets, and the Source of the Nile. Easy choices are Space Bar, Flavours, and Source Cafe, each with okay breakfasts and proper coffee. Space has the best overall fair, Flavours the best garden, and Source the best cookies and brownies. All have wifi. All are on Main Street so it’s easy to cruise each one til you find the vibe (and menu) you like. Once satisfied, it’s time to shop. Jinja’s main craft market is also on Main Street. Bargain hard for jewellery, batiks, African print clothing and accessories, wood carvings, beaded sandals, “mzungu” t-shirts… There is something for everyone on your shopping list. At least spend a buck and get a pair of earrings. Jinja’s economy appreciates the boost.
Get lunch at Moti Mahal on Iganga Road. Easily THE best Indian food in Jinja, if not Uganda. Then back on a bodaboda to the Source of the Nile. Bypass the craft market, it’s over-priced compared to Jinja Town, down to the water. Drink a cold Nile Special (right on the Nile!) and digest that amazing lunch. Did you know some of Gandhi’s ashes were spread at the Source of the Nile? Check out the shrine. Then negotiate with the million guides driving you crazy for the boat ride to the actual Source. It’s really quite rad.
Once you’re back on dry land, get a bodaboda to the Kampala stage and board a taxi for home.
3. CONSERVATION & RELAXATION – ENTEBBE TOWN
As Entebbe is only an hour away from Kampala, this is an easy day trip. But I like to relax poolside during the day and head out for a drink and a dance at night, so I make it a weekend. Accommodation options include Entebbe Backpackers for budget (loud and fun), Central Inn for mid-range (quiet and clean), and Gately Entebbe for boutique (peaceful and great food).
Saturday: Board an Entebbe taxi from Kampala’s Old Taxi Park. Use bodabodas to find your hotel, those guys know where everything is. Have a light lunch at Nicky’s Pizza, on airport road, then catch a boda to Entebbe Wildlife Education Centre (affectionately called “the zoo”). Learn about their conservation efforts, sponsor an animal’s upkeep as a cool gift, and view wildlife in large mixed grazing habitats. My favourite is the giraffe and ostrich area. But they also have a few rare white rhinos, a small chimp island, and a dwelling place for lions. It’s feeding time around 3 or 4pm.
Not far from the zoo, you’ll find the botanical gardens. A nice place for a late afternoon nature stroll, but be sure to get a local guide. They ask only a few dollars, and totally know their stuff. You won’t know what you’re looking at otherwise. For supper go for Ethiopian on Airport Road. 4 Points and Amazon Pub are lively night spots, also serving food.
Sunday: Poolside at Lake Victoria Inn. They have 2 huge pools and a high diving platform. Go early before the crowds come. Have a late lunch at Anna’s Corner. They do great burgers and salads and have a shady, relaxing garden. When you’ve had enough, time to board a taxi from the Entebbe park back to Kampala – and to the real world.
Protip: Leave alone the Saturday responsibilities and spend the day drinking and eating fresh roasted fish at Banga Beach. A random dude will show up with a boat for hire. Bargain hard and enjoy.
4. WILDLIFE – MASAKA AND AREA
Saturday: Board a taxi from the Masaka taxi park in downtown Kampala at 7am. About 1.5 hours into the journey, you’ll cross the equator. Get off and have a lovely breakfast at Equation Cafe. They’ve got great coffee, and the chapati chips and guacamole, or fresh veg and chicken wrap are perfect for early morning. Get a passing taxi or bus on to Masaka Town. It should take another 1.5 hours. There are a range of places to stay in Masaka, but airbnb has some of the coolest. If you’re not an airbnb user, check out Banda Lodge. They’re good for all price ranges with private and dorm rooms, and a swimming pool.
Have the Belgian chips with mayo at Plot 99 in town, then call a bodaboda man to take you to Nabajuzzi Papyrus Wetlands, out on the highway toward Mbarara. Go after 3pm. If you’re lucky you’ll see a shoebill stork. Something I’ve only spied at the zoo.
Sunday: If you’re REALLY ambitious (gone by 5am) and have the budget (get a local car and driver) head out on the highway to Mbarara. After about an hour, you’ll see signposts for Lake Mburo National Park on your left. Once inside the park ($30 each and $10 for the vehicle), follow the signs to Rwonyo Rest Camp. Here you’ll find a Uganda Wildlife Authority guide to take you on a walking safari ($15). Have a basic lunch at the rest camp and don’t miss the boat ride ($15) that launches early afternoon. Whether on foot or by boat, you’ll see a variety of antelopes, zebras, hippos, a million birds, and WARTHOGS.
After all that excitement, it’s time to head back to Masaka taxi park to board your transport to Kampala. Pray it stops in Lukaya so you can get some roasted bananas (gonja) and chicken. It’s the best window-service supper money can buy!
5. HIKING – SIPI FALLS
This one requires a long weekend. You’ll see totally new human and physical geography, and it actually gets cold at night! You need to book your accommodation in advance. My budget suggestion is The Crow’s Nest. But I always stay at Lacam Lodge, the solid mid-range option. Its quiet, has gorgeous multi-course meals, and sits right on top of the main water fall. The rushing water is the back ground to your conversation. The view is spectacular.
Friday: Leave Kampala on YY Coaches by mid-morning. They leave pretty much every hour, don’t over crowd, and have wifi. They’re found at Qualicel Bus Terminal, downtown Kampala. The bodaboda riders know it. The ride to Mbale Town is about 4.5 hours. Once at the Mbale bus park, board a Kapchorwa taxi and get off about an hour later, at Sipi Falls. Hotels are all signposted off the main road and easy to find. There’s not much going on in Sipi, so you’ll likely have dinner and drinks at your hotel. If you arrive in late afternoon, its totally worth a stroll.
Saturday: Talk to reception and arrange a half or full-day hike through the falls. Neither are more than a scramble, and you don’t have to be in super shape, but you do need to arrange a packed lunch for the full day option. Want a little more thrill? Ask about the abseiling. Enjoy an evening with drinks and amazing sunset over the valley below.
Sunday: Coffee tour. Again, ask about this at reception. Sipi Falls is a major coffee producing area. Starbucks sells it. This tour will take you through the entire process from garden to cup. You even get to grind your own beans at the end. If you’re a coffee drinker, don’t leave this place without purchasing coffee beans. Have lunch and catch a taxi back to Mbale by early afternoon, so you can board YY Coaches from the bus park before it gets too late.
There you go! 5 easy, budget options to get you out of Kampala on the weekend. A little green will add years to your life. Your lungs will thank you.
A closing note about re-entering Kampala, from any of the above, on a Sunday night. It’s ugly. Basically every person from Kampala that left town for the weekend is coming home at the exact same time. And there’s only 1 proper way in, no matter which direction you’re coming from. Know before you go, pack drinks and snacks, and make sure your electronics are fully charged.