Uganda - Attractions
A modern, bustling capital, Kampala suffered a great deal during the years of civil strife. In the decade or so since President Museveni came to power, the city has gone from a looted shell to a thriving city befitting the capital of one of the most rapidly developing countries in Africa. The electricity works, clean water comes out of the taps, damaged buildings are now habitable, many new ones have gone up, and the shops and markets are once again well stocked. These days, Kampala even has casinos, nightclubs and fancy restaurants. And it's safe.
Kampala is said to be built on seven hills, but the city centre is on just one of them, Nakasero. The top half of the hill is a garden city of wide, quiet avenues lined with large houses behind imposing fences. This is where you'll find the embassies, international aid organisations, upmarket hotels, government offices and the rich. The bottom half is a completely different world, composed of shops, small businesses, budget hotels, cheap restaurants, street markets, Hindu temples, and the bus station and taxi parks. The streets in this congested area overflow with people, battered old cars, lottery ticket sellers and pavement stalls offering everything from rubber stamps to radio repairs.
If Kampala's streets don't put a spring in your step, there are a few standard attractions. The Uganda Museum's most interesting feature is its collection of traditional musical instruments, which you're allowed to play. The Kasubi Tombs are on Kasubi Hill, a royal palace enclosure first built in 1881. This is where you'll find the huge traditional reed and bark-cloth buildings of the kabakas (kings) of the Baganda people. The Uganda Wildlife Authority Office, a few kilometres northeast of the city centre, makes bookings to see the gorillas in outlying Bwindi National Park.
Bwindi National Park
Bwindi is one of Uganda's most recently created national parks. Formerly known as the Impenetrable Forest, the park covers 330 sq km (128 sq mi) in the southwest of the country, very close to the Congo border. It encompasses one of the last remaining habitats of the mountain gorilla, and is home to half of the surviving mountain gorillas in the world - an estimated 320 individuals. Because of the unrest in Rwanda and eastern Congo, Bwindi has become the main place in East Africa to see the gorillas.
The park is one of the richest areas in Africa for flora and fauna, containing elephants, the rare giant forest hog and at least 10 species of primate. The park headquarters is at Buhoma, on the northern edge of the park, and it's here that gorilla visits start and where you'll find the park's only accommodation.
There are direct buses every day between Kampala and Butogota, the nearest town of any size to Buhoma. Butogota is approximately 350km (220mi) southwest of the capital. It's another 17km (11mi) from Butogota to Buhoma; there's no scheduled transport so you'll have to walk or hire a pick-up or motorcycle.
Jinja lies on the shores of Lake Victoria and is chock-a-block with old Asian-style buildings, reflecting the days when the town had a sizeable Asian community. The town was virtually owned by Asians until Idi Amin unceremoniously kicked them out of the country. Many of them have started to return and the town is once again becoming prosperous. Jinja is also one of the spots on which Mahatma Gandhi chose to have his ashes scattered. A statue commemorates Gandhi at a Hindu temple near town.
Jinja is close to the Owen Falls Dam, a hydroelectric station which supplies Uganda with the bulk of its electricity. The main Kampala to Jinja road runs across the top of the dam, and the railway line crosses on a bridge close by. Before the building of the Owen Falls Dam, the Source of the Nile was Ripon Falls, where the Nile left Lake Victoria on its way to the Mediterranean. The falls were inundated by the waters of the dam, but you can still make out where they used to be from the turbulence.
Jinja is about 60km (37mi) northeast of Kampala and is easily accessible by bus, taxi or train.