Elegant adventure and travel destination
Author, Charles Miller described Uganda as “set in a diadem of roller coaster hills, spattered with the glowing embers of tropical flowers, brightened with clouds of butter flies and sweetened with the conversation of a million tropical birds.” It has been famously known as the ‘Pearl of Africa’, admired by many for its picturesque countryside.
Uganda is known for the source of the Nile and the reign of Idi Amin Dada, the latter not flattering. But after years on the decline the country is rising from the ashes to become a travel planner’s dream- an elegant adventure destination.
You will find a unique mix of unspoilt mountain and lake habitats, jungle, cascading water falls that form the base of its attraction to adventure seekers, and the savannah.
Another exotic experience in Uganda is its ‘banana forests’. There are large banana plantations around this scenic country.
JINJA – ‘The Source of The Nile’
An excellent starting place on a safari to this charming country is Jinja, long known as the source of the longest river in the world, The Nile.
Uganda’s second largest urban centre after the capital city Kampala, it lies on the shores of Lake Victoria, 80 km east of Kampala and 120 km west of the Kenya border towns Busia and Malaba. The town overlooks the calm, picturesque lake.
.At 1100m above sea level and almost on the equator, Jinja has a fantastic climate. It has a lovely laid-back atmosphere, plenty of good accommodation, quiet tree lined streets that give ambience to the place. Visitors get a warm welcome. Traffic is generally light, making it easy to get around and at least half of the vehicles are bicycle and motorcycle taxis. Parking is abundant.
Heading to Kampala from Jinja involves crossing the Owen falls Dam on the world’s longest river. It begins its long journey to the Mediterranean Sea on the west side of Jinja town. Before the Owen Falls Dam was completed in 1954, a huge cascade, 5 metres high, called Ripon Falls formed a major natural attraction and the roar of millions of litres of water dropping 5 metres provided a soothing lala salama to everyone in Jinja. Ripon Falls was, at the time, hailed as the starting point of the Nile and it was the sight that met the famous English explorer John Hanning Speke in 1862, when he became the first European to see Lake Victoria.
Speke named Ripon Falls after George Robinson, 1st Marquess of Ripon, the Viceroy of India and President of the Royal Geographical Society of England at the time. The area was locally called Place of Rocks or Place of Flat Rocks translated as Ejjinja in the local Baganda language. The British used this reference to name the town Jinja, established in 1907.
When the Owen Falls Dam filled up in 1954, the water level rose and the 5 metre high cascade was no more. What remains today, is a mere ripple and on the west bank of this ripple stands a monument marking the spot where John Hanning Speke stood in 1862.
A few kilometers downstream past the Owen Falls Dam, lies Bujagali falls. The Busoga people call it Budhagali , here the river is split between 7 channels and the roar of millions of litres of water per second flow, fills the air.. For thousands of years, this site has been visited by humans and the beauty of the place must have been a big attraction. Budhagali has been a sacred site for the Busoga people and it would not be a surprise to see witchdoctors and ordinary folk going down to the river banks to make sacrifices and offerings to the River gods.
A new dam is scheduled to be built here to create yet more electricity; it is the proposed Bujagali Dam. It is to be located two and a half kilometers downstream from the Bujagali falls. The water will back up to a projected depth that will take the flat water level to halfway up the falls. Thus the second cascade will slowly vanish and the Bujagali falls will go down into the annuals of history as the Ripon falls did in 1954.
White Water Rafting
White water rafting is one of the adventure activities at Bujagali falls, and it is one of the major contributing factors to the growing popularity of Jinja as a travel destination. It has lots of good rapids (including some maximum class 5 ones) and a beautiful river with high volume. There are some exciting sections with space between to lay back and float along taking in the wildlife, particularly the many species of birds to be found here. There are no crocodiles or hippos in this section of the river.
These upper reaches of the Nile are becoming a ‘must do’ for Kayakers. Indeed, some competitions have been held here over the last few years. Companies offer ½ day and 1 day trips covering 31kms and 2 day trips (45kms) with overnight camping.
They also offer clients the option of taking the safety boat and the family float trips so that children less than 14 years old can enjoy time on the water. With the new dam set to be built in a few years time, the section that is currently rafted will be covered by the new water level, as will two other major rapids (Total Gunga and Big Brother/ Silverback). It will not mean an end to rafting, but the trip will have to start further downstream and follow sections of the river that were previously only rafted on 2 day trips. Now is your chance to visit the Bujagali falls and take pleasure in its virgin beauty.
If rafting is not your thing, consider, Quad Biking. It involves a guided safari, up to four hours long, along the banks of the River Nile. The adventure is unique to this part of East Africa, making it possible for individuals, groups or families to get off the beaten track and see special parts of Nile not usually considered; the farms, forest and villages- the warm heart of rural Africa. They also offer kid Quads.
Three kilometers from Jinja town beside the Jinja Nile Resort is the Adrift/ Nile High Camp. The camp has a bar overlooking the Nile, with a spectacular view of the river and a 44 meter high bungee jump. For the young and the young at heart, this is your chance to literally touching the source of the Nile! For an extra adrenaline rush there is the option of being dipped right into the river.
The Bujagali Swimmers
There is a group of young men from the local village around the falls, who for a few shillings, will do one of the craziest things you can imagine. They will get hold of a plastic jerry can, shut it tight, using it as a floater and without a life jacket, plunge through the falls. Potentially hazardous but fun to watch.
You will find some pleasant hotels and guest houses throughout the town, most with spacious grounds in which you can relax and take it all in Take a walk along the town’s main street and the adjoining streets in the evening and you will encounter lots of restaurants and bars with in/outdoor and pavement seating. With such good weather prevailing here, most establishments offer outdoor seating as an option.
There are three campsites by the falls offering various types of accommodation, restaurants, a café and lots of small food stalls and shops.
By Michael Kinga (email@example.com)
-tour guide/travel consultant based in Nairobi.