Me and my girlfriend took a two week holiday trip around Uganda, going clockwise from Entebbe to Kampala, via Masindi+Murchison Falls NP, Gulu, Mbale+Sipi Falls and from Jinja back to Kampala. The trip can be characterized as budget, so we gave up some comfort and travelled with public transport. Important to notice, we travelled in the festive season of December 2012, which means that prices may be a bit higher then normally is the case.
I have been staying in Kampala for some months, so I picked my girlfriend from the airport with the pick-up service provided by Entebbe Backpackers (20.000 UGS for pick-up, drop-off is 15.000 UGS). The room we stayed in at the Backpackers was fair, self-contained and clean (50.000 UGS). Breakfast, lunch and dinner are available and okay.
We visited the Botanical Gardens (entrance 10.000 UGS pp, guide an additional 10.000). The guide can show you around with some interesting information. Tour was interesting, not spectacular. We had lunch at the 1000 Cups Coffee House/ Anna’s Corner on Circular Road/Portal Road. Good sandwich with a coffee for 10.000 UGS. Afterwards, we went swimming at the Lake Victoria Hotel, this costs 10.000 UGS instead of the 5.000 mentioned in the guidebook.
We had dinner at the 4 points restaurant, good food but a bit cold and windy, should be the season.
The Matatu from Entebbe to Kampala costs 3.000 UGS per person and takes about an hour, depending on traffic etcetera.
In Kampala, we stayed at ICU Guesthouse, the Dutch-Ugandan-owned place in Rubaga, Western Kampala. Rooms are okay, communal showers and toilets and breakfast included. The rooftop terrace is a perfect place to relax and have a drink. Double room costs 62.000 UGS per night.
Dinner at Gusto, new place in Kisimenti, Kololo (below Iguana bar). Good tapas food and nice wine for an okay price. The plate of bread we ordered as a starter (yep, we’re Dutch) was unnecessary considering that on the side of most tapas we ordered there was bread on the side.
The next day we tried to arrange the bus to Masindi, contrasting to the Bradt Guide the Postbus services to Masindi are no longer active.
We took the Link bus (25.000 per person, holiday price) leaving Kampala at 10.00 am. It was not possible to buy tickets in advance, so we had to show up around 9.00 am to get a seat. The bus leaves from the crowded Buganda (??) bus station in town and it took us about 4 hours to get to Masindi.
Arrived in Masindi we first had lunch at the Traveller’s Corner, very lovely Fajitas (15.000 UGS) on the menu, but also local food and snacks available. At 18.00 pm we left from the office of Yebo Tours on the main street for a 3 hour drive to their camp site just outside the Murchison Falls NP. We booked a 24 hour safari which included all the food (dinner, breakfast and lunch at the camp), the car+driver+fuel, night in a tent, a 4 hour driving safari, a 2 hour boat safari and a hike to the top of the falls. Total cost: 190 USD p.p., which in our case came down to little over 1 million UGS. It was a bit of an exhausting trip: waking up at 5 am has never been my hobby, combined with all the safaris on 1 day. But it was worth it. Getting back to Masindi we spend the night in Alinda Guesthouse, we had dinner at Traveller’s Corner again, Alinda’s kitchen wasn’t busy and we decided not to take the change. The room was 50.000 UGS including breakfast. The room was good, spacious and self-contained. The location of the room at the road side made it somewhat noisy.
The next day we travelled to Gulu, a route not often travelled and therefore not handled in the guidebook. First, we had to get from the taxi park to Kigumba There was only a seven-seated car available for us at the cost of 5.000 UGS. Over 10 people were crammed into the car and via the dusty and bumpy roads we found our way within 1.5 hours. Arriving in Kigumba, we immediately got a place in a Matatu for the price of 15.000 UGS per person (fortunately, we could sit in the front seat, which provides the most space for us). The trip took around 3 hours up to Gulu, when we reached we walked up to the Acholi Inn Hotel.
We spend three nights in the Acholi Inn, I think a double room costs 102.000 UGS, but I am not sure because we stayed for a friend-to-a-friend-to-the-manager-discount. The hotel has a new wing with fair and very clean rooms, self-contained. Unfortunately, the long hallways of this wing where all interconnected and thin-walled with tiled floors, that made it very noisy. The swimming pool was good and clean, but the gym looked outdated. We haven’t seen the sauna and steam-room in practice. We spend our evenings at the new outside bar the Karibean Bar, opposite Kaunda grounds and just somewhat out of the town center. A good place filled with locals, but it seems like it still is a work in progress to finish up. Warm yourself at one of the fire places with a cold beer and some good pork and chips.
The town of Gulu isn’t much to look at and it isn’t flourishing with activities and places to go. Still, interesting to see a town recovering from some decades of stagnation.
At 6:15 am we reported for the bus service to Mbale (final destination: Busia on the border with Kenya), the bus left at 7 am to end up in Mbale via Lira, Soroti and Kumi after a 7 hour drive (30.000 UGS p.p.). We went straight to Sipi. Actually, we jumped off the bus on the junction where the road to Sipi leaves the road between Mbale and Kumi. From there, we took a Matatu towards *plaatsje* for 3.500 UGS per person, thereafter we got on the back of a BodaBoda to take us up to Crow’s Nest (13.000 UGS).
5. Sipi Falls
The Crow’s Nest enjoys a perfect view over the Sipi Falls and offers all you need when the requirements are not in multiple stars. We stayed in a cabin uphill, served with its own tank of to-be warm water (ask them to raise the fire to warm the water) for 50.000 UGX per night. Breakfast, lunch and dinner can all be ordered at very reasonable prices and guided walks to the falls, or to do coffee tours, are also very reasonable. Take note that most restaurants are working on pre-order basis: if you show up in the evening to eat somewhere else, they will often turn your request down (would be a nice additional note to the guidebook by the way). There is nothing much more to offer in Sipi, just a quiet town from where you can enjoy the mountains around Mt. Elgon.
After 2 nights we got a special hire (50.000UGX) to take us up to Mbale, where we got on a direct Matatu to Jinja (10.000 UGX per person). A two hour drive brought us to Jinja, where we first enjoyed lunch at Flavours. After that, we got a Boda to bring us to Bujagali Falls, nowadays Bujagali Lake. The power dam 3 km down the river has flooded the previously popular rafting spot.
6. Bujagali Lake
At Bujagali, we stayed at the Nile River Explorers in a walk-in tent. 80.000 UGX for a riverside tent. All meals available on order and bike rental etcetera provided. The bar is a bit noisy at nights, but has cold drinks, decent food and offers a good view of the former falls, now lake. Next door to the NRE is the Black Lantern, good food for a fair price. If you’re looking for a bargain for breakfast or any other meal, hop outside the gate and visit one of the chapatti stalls. Decent chapatis with all sorts of filling (chocolate and banana, avocado and tomato, anything).
Although the falls have been submerged by the lake, there is still a charge to visit “the falls”. 3000 UGX per person is charged to look across the Nile from a different angle. Am still amazed by the normality of selling tickets to see… nothing.
After cycling to Jinja, be prepared for a bumpy one-hour ride from Bujagali, we cycled across town; nothing fancy, nothing much to see. We ended up at the gate to the source of the Nile, in other words, the lake where the source of the Nile used to be seen by Speke. We didn’t pay the 10.000 UGX entrance fee, but drove back and parked our bikes to get a view across the Nile from the top of a small wall.
After two nights in Bujagali, we found our way back to Kampala via a BodaBoda from the gates of NRE to the gas station next to the roundabout on the Jinja-Kampala road (10.000 UGX). The Matatu to Kampala brought us there for 8.000 UGX per person in a two hour drive.
We stayed another night in ICU Guesthouse in Kampala, partied in MishMash, got robbed there and slept in the next day. The special hire from the ICU Guesthouse (see above) costs 70.000 UGX to take you to the airport in Entebbe.