Although a bit further from the centre, this areas hosts some of Kampala’s oldest and best tourist sites, including the Kabaka’s palace, Gadaffi mosque, Kasubi tombs and the cathedrals of Namirembe and Rubaga. Punctuated by hills, this area also boasts some great views of the city as well as an insight into Kampala’s rich history.
Old Kampala is named so because it was the site of the original fort and capital of Kampala founded back in 1890 by the British. It’s more notable today as being the focal point of Kampala’s Islamic community and home to the impressive Gadaffi mosque. There is a definite Asian style, if some what run down feel to the area and a great contrast to the newly built areas such as Kololo and Nakesero.
Just up the road from Old Kampala, Mengo is a bustling hub of shops, and the local Mengo market (as well as a baffling number of petrol stations…). Sprinkled with some of Kampala’s most impressive cathedrals, Mengo offers a range of options. If you head on up to Mengo hill from downtown Mengo you will find the Buganda parliament and it’s ‘Royal Mile’ (named after the road of the same name in Edinburgh, Scotland) leading to the Kabaka’s (Buganda king’s) palace, an impressive building with a somewhat sinister recent history…
Renting accommodation in Mengo and Rugaba is definitely cheaper than areas like Kololo in the centre of town due to the fact it’s a bit further out. Renting a two-bedroom bungalow in this area ranges from about 300,000 – 600,000 UGX per month (roughly $120 to $240). Most landlords also require an average of six months rent upfront (the minimum being 3 months).
Old Kampala is a slightly different kettle of fish as it is much more built up with old buildings and mainly limited to apartments – extensive research has shown that apartments here rarely go on the market and are generally owned and rented by the local Asian population.
- Backpackers – located on Albert Cook road in Mengo, Backpackers is one of two well-known hostels in Kampala. It’s your standard travelers hostel with basic dorm rooms for affordable prices – with dorm rooms from 18,000 UGX. Tel: 0772 430 587
- Namirembe Guest House – prime location on Namirembe Hill, next to the cathedral with great views down across Kampala. Rooms cost between US$35-55. Tel: 031 210 9937
- Tuhendes Safari Lodge– Located on Martin Rd, Old Kampala. Tuhende’s restaurant also has accommodation attached. This is a great location (if a little noisy) for both central Kampala and the tourist sites further west. Dorm rooms are under US$10 and private rooms are around US$30. Tel: 0772 468 360
- Adonai guesthouse – not to be confused with the place of the same name in Muyenga! Nice, quiet guesthouse. Prices around US$ 70 per room but discounts for longer stay can be negotiated. Tel: 0772 380 148
- ICU Guesthouse Kampala – Again there are multiple branches of this guesthouse so make sure you get the right one! Its on Bazzekuketta Rd, in a quiet area of Rubaga near the cathedral, often full of volunteers, but a good budget option. Has double rooms and a dorm. Tel: 0775 193 270.
- Mengo market – located on Albert Cook road in the heart of Mengo this 24-hour outdoor markets sells a whole range of street food including the usual rolex, chicken and sausages on a stick as well as a whole range of odds and ends. Really comes alive late at night.
- Topshop – Probably the best stocked of the numerous mid-size grocery stores in Mengo (although there’s a new contender ‘Mengo Shoppers’ sure to give them a run for their money!). There are a number of small supermarkets either side if you have time to shop around.
- Quality Supermarket – Located in Old Kampala on Martin Rd road. This Asian-run supermarket has a great selection of less commonly found items, including lasagna sheets and Heinz tomato soup, which I have never been able to find anywhere else!
- Savers – Adjoining Café Java’s this mini-mart is on the more expensive side but has a fairly decent selection of products.
The Mengo/Old Kampala area hasn’t got a whole load of recreational options on offer. There is, however, a swimming pool (slash nightclub) – Jacaranda – that has slightly murky waters but otherwise is a much cheaper option (at 6,000 UGX entry for the day) than some of the more central hotel pools.
The 3 well-placed and relatively close hills of Mengo, Namirembe and Rubaga also offer a good walk (around 3-4 hrs) with some great views of the city (and if you’re feeling pious, places to worship). Opposite Namirembe Guest House, there is also a football pitch, technically owned by the local school but generally left open for those that fancy a kick about. On sundays you can also go along and watch the semi professional games played there. Otherwise many of the numerous bars dotted around Mengo and Old Kampala, such as Jacaranda, Maggies bar, De Base and Timotez bar in old Kampala, all have pool tables – usually around 1,000 UGX a game.
Restaurants & Cafes
Most of the establishments in these areas are small local bars and shops, any of which can be a fun place to grab an after work beer or some local food. There are too many (and most of them without names!) to mention all but below are a few suggestions. There are few ‘western style’ restaurants and bars, but in my opinion it’s the local places that make it all the better as you get to experience more of the ‘authentic’ Kampala life. Many are family-run establishments and people are generally very friendly – always happy to sit down and have a chat with you… and it’s a great way to practice your Luganda!
- Tuhendes – One of my favourite restaurants in Kampala – great for people watching in the mayhem that is Old Kampala, and it has a real street vibe with great quality food. A three-course set meal, with a steak main will set you back only 18,000 UGX (US$7) – bargain!
- Maggie’s – Does a selection of local food including pork dishes.
- Backpackers – Backpackers hostel serves basic western fare and has recently invested in an outdoor pizza oven for a selection of homemade pizzas. Be aware, though that food service isn’t great and orders can often get mixed up!
- Namirembe Guest House– Does general local food for lunches and evenings and buffets on Sunday and a BBQ on Friday for around 25,000 shillings. Quite a Christian crowd and vibe to it due to its proximity to the Cathedral which also means sadly no booze…
- Café Javas – Part of a chain of good-quality cafés across Kampala – Java’s has a good selection of coffee and food including sandwiches and burgers. This branch is located next to City Oil Bukuli.
Mengo/Old Kampala isn’t really known as a big party area (amongst locals or expats). Most nightlife consists of small local bars, which, sadly, don’t have toilets. This can make epic drinking sessions quite tricky… unless you’re comfortable with the Ugandan roadside pissing technique or live nearby. There are, however, a few exceptions (mentioned below) that can get pretty raucous on the weekends.
- Mona Lisa – Good local bar/club in Mengo that shows international football games and at night turns into a lively club. Arriving after midnight you’ll be charged around 3,000 entrance. Thursdays have special guest artists and costs around 10,000 UGX entrance.
- De Base – New edition to Mengo nightlife – found on Albert Cook road right next to Jacaranda’s, this pub is in a thatched hut with fairy lights all round – basic range of drinks and tends to get busiest on the weekend.
- Maggie’s Bar- Just up the road from Mona Lisa, also a fair bet on a night out.
- Jacaranda – Found on Muteesa Rd just before Backpackers – good value pool by day that transforms itself into a pumping nightclub every Sunday evening! Between 3,000-5,000 UGX for this night time extravaganza.
- Mengo Hospital – a private, non-profit community hospital administered by the Anglican Church in Uganda.