Kampala in Two Days

Kampala in Two Days

Diary of a Muzungu’s top five recommendations for spending two days in Kampala – Article by Charlotte Beauvoisin

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If you’re in Kampala on business – juggling meetings and flights – what could be better than enjoying Uganda’s gorgeous climate and a pool with a view? The 5 star Kampala Serena Hotel’s Maisha Spa is the capital’s best; the Moroccan-inspired sauna, steam and lavish massage menu are enough to make you want to stay another day. However, I always want to take the time to get out and explore and, in this article, I share my top five recommendations for making the most of two days in the city.

No. 1. Watch the Ndere cultural troupe

My number one recommended thing to do in Kampala is watch the cultural performance at the Ndere Cultural Centre. This highly professional show takes you on a musical dancing tour of Uganda and Africa. It is the best possible introduction to culture and the African way of life. I love every life-affirming second of it!

You can read my interview with Ndere’s creator, the irrepressible Dr Stephen Rwangyezi, on Diary of a Muzungu.

No. 2. Walk, cycle, drive or be driven – book a ready-made tour

To get a feel for the whole city, why not book a half or full day organised tour? Choose from walking tours, cycling tours or boda boda (motorbike) tours. If you prefer to be collected from home, a tour operator can customise a tour that includes some of the places listed here and pick you up from your residence. Generally, a ready-made tour combines history, a local market, something to eat and an insight into local culture. You can also opt for themed Kampala tours: historic buildings, art galleries, a slum tour or even a dark tour.

A good free resource for independently exploring Kampala’s historic buildings is Uganda’s Built Heritage mobile app, which is available as an APK file for Android https://bit.ly/3QpPFdM. Install the app, turn on the notifications and listen out for the ‘ping’ when you pass a historical building. The app even allows you to create your own walking, cycling or driving routes. Complimentary printed maps are available from CCFU, the Cross-Cultural Foundation of Uganda. (Jinja, Entebbe and Fort Portal maps are also available). You can read more on www.diaryofamuzungu.com.

Historic buildings that are worth a special mention include Kampala’s Baha’i Temple, the only one in sub-Saharan Africa. The hexagonal-shaped temple sits on a small hill to the north of the capital and can be seen from afar. The temple’s garden and tall trees make it excellent for a spot of urban birdwatching.

Bulange Mengo
Bulange Mengo
Makerere Uni Main Hall
Makerere Uni Main Hall
Ndere Cultural Center Kampala 2
Ndere Cultural Center Kampala 2

There is a small charge to climb to the top of the minaret of Gaddafi Mosque – the biggest mosque in East Africa – but the reward is the best view of the city. (Avoid Fridays).

The Royal Mile in Mengo links the Lubiri Palace and Bulange (Buganda Parliament). Book a walking tour with the Buganda Tourism Board to learn why this road is so famous. Statues of wildlife give an insight into important tribe totems.

Other culturally and historically significant buildings include the Kasubi Tombs, the Railway Station, Makerere University, Rubaga and Namirembe Cathedrals.

Experience a typical Ugandan village – without leaving Kampala – on Red Dirt’s  www.reddirtuganda.com peaceful day trip across Lake Victoria. The tour starts in Ggaba with a 30-minute ride in a wooden boat before your 20 km cycle off the beaten path. Wave to the kids – and avoid the pigs and goats! – as you ride dirt roads through banana plantations, maize fields and rainforest on this leisurely, guided, 2-3 hour bike ride.

Boda boda tours (organised by a registered company) allow you to easily tick multiple destinations off your Kampala bucket list. Boda boda motorbikes are undoubtedly the easiest way to get around Kampala but they can be very dangerous so make sure you always wear a helmet and a high-vis jacket.

A dark tour focuses on the macabre history of buildings and locations associated with Kabaka Mwanga and the Uganda Martyrs, and former President Idi Amin and Obote’s torture chambers. A dark tour is not for the faint-hearted, but it does give you an interesting perspective. Did you know, for example, that the official name for downtown Owino market is St. Balikuddembe, one of the Uganda Martyrs?

No. 3. Experience Lake Victoria

A visit to Kampala is incomplete without Lake Victoria, Nalubaale in Luganda, “the place of the spirits or ancestors.”

Despite its proximity to the capital, few of us spend much time exploring Lake Victoria. However, if you fancy a day on the water, the Mvule Boat www.themvuleboat.com is perfect for couples, families and groups of all ages. The classically designed wooden boat is equipped with expert coxswains and lifejackets so you can explore the lake, moor up and swim or try Stand Up Paddling. The fee includes tasty food such as freshly prepared guacamole and a stir fry lunch, beers and sodas, board games, music, blankets (and plenty of lounging around). The boat needs a minimum number of five people to set sail (but that can be made of people from different groups), or you can hire the whole boat for you and a party. Ask about the sunset cruise.

For a more strenuous interaction with the lake’s spirits, rent a Laser, canoe or windsurfer from the Victoria Nyanza Sailing Club (just off the Expressway near Munyonyo). The club runs sailing courses four times a year and organises kids sailing courses with their fleet of children’s optimist boats. To make a booking, contact the manager Emmanuel on WhatsApp 0755159732 or visit www.sailugandavnsc.org

Does all this sound like too much effort? If so, don’t panic, one of the simplest ways to enjoy Lake Victoria is to eat fish (tilapia or Nile Perch) by the lakeside. For local flavour, sit on the quayside at Gaaba. Monday is market day and a riot of colourful vegetables and kitenge imported from Mwanza on the Tanzanian side of the lake. Another local favourite is the Kabaka’s Landing Site at Mulungu (2km beyond Munyonyo). Here you can watch the fish being landed, weighed and descaled. The menu is simple: deep-fried fish with or without chips and kachumbari salad. Expect to sit on plastic chairs and eat with your hands. For more tips, read “Eating fish” on Lake Victoria on www.diaryofamuzungu.com.

For the best views of Lake Victoria – and a little more comfort – have a drink on the terrace at Cassia Lodge on the top of Buziga Hill or visit the bar at the Hotel Diplomate in Muyenga. Tip: Diplomate’s reviews are very mixed, but the view is unbeatable.

Parliament Kampala
Parliament Kampala

No. 4. Eat

New restaurants – from all corners of the globe – spring up weekly. Indian food is particularly good, thanks to the country’s Asian community. For an authentic Ugandan eating experience, check out the St Anthony’s Restaurant on Lumumba Avenue, famous for luwombo (smoked fish served in groundnut sauce), kalo (millet bread served in woven baskets) and other local foods.

Flick through The Eye for contact details of a long list of Kampala restaurants, cafes and bars.

No. 5. Parte after parte

With the pandemic (mostly) behind us, Kampala is reclaiming its title as the party capital of East Africa. Ugandans love life and they will always – somehow – find money to party!

Not a late-night bird? The National Theatre www.uncc.co.ug and Alliance Française www.afkampala.org/ have a regular programme of cultural activities. Head to the National Theatre for traditional African dance, jam sessions, movies, stand-up comedy and the occasional festival, in addition to theatrical and musical productions. One Sunday per month, Sofar Kampala www.sofarsounds.com/kampala/ hosts live music sets and performance poets in a rotating choice of intimate venues across the city.

Do you only have two days to spare in Kampala? (Don’t you wish you had more time here…?)

1 Comment

  1. Charlotte | Diary of a Muzungu

    If you like the sound of no. 1 – the Ndere troupe – read “Shake your kabina! A musical, dancing tour of Uganda” on Diary of a Muzungu.

    As for no. 2, history and arcitecture buffs might find this blog useful:
    “History in your hand – exploring Kampala, Entebbe and Jinja sing a mobile app.”


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