Christmastime in Kampala

Christmas in Kampala

Christmas time in Kampala is on its way! With it will come merriment, parties, specials, and oh yes, its own unique set of challenges. If you’re new to Kampala or have never spent Christmas here before, it’s important to take note of some of the changes that will occur during the holiday season. So today we will cover where to go to find the best deals, where to avoid, and some of the very Kampalan hassles that are bound to rear their ugly heads.

First let’s cover shopping. Things are about to get kind of nuts up in here. If you want to buy some products downtown, I suggest doing it now-now. The shops around Nakesero and Owino Market generally start to become horribly clogged (with Christmas music blaring for hours because who doesn’t love that?). As the weeks near the holiday, prices will skyrocket. So we would suggest doing all your shopping early, and avoiding the main in-town areas if you can avoid it.

In terms of deals at places like Game, Shoprite, and Nakumatt, there are often bargains promoted as December nears. Some of the gift sets they offer (such as luxury shaving kits or home essentials) can be fantastic deals, and make wonderful gifts for coworkers or domestic employees. Some of the best gifts to purchase are crafts and local art. These can be found and the local markets and craft stalls fairly easily. However, bring your best bargaining skills (or a friend who can) because what you’d normally pay 20,000 UGX for can go for double in the blink of an eye.

Now let’s move on to the not-so-great side of Christmas here. It goes without saying that many of Kampala’s workers are underpaid during the best of times. Well, they also want to buy presents for their families, so don’t be shocked when the price for simple services rises severely. Bodas, taxis, deliveries, and independent contractors will likely start charging more as we inch closer to December. You can, of course, go about this in two ways. You could decide that in the spirit of the holidays you will pay more for now, and come January, go back to paying normal prices. Or you can haggle your ass off. Either way is fine, but if you decide to haggle be prepared to stand your ground.

Another darker aspect of the holidays is bribery and safety. If you drive around Kampala be prepared to be pulled over often. The all too familiar, “So… how do we resolve this?” that police ask in expectation of a little cash will likely become more forceful and even come with threats to confiscate your driver’s license or car. Whether you hold your ground there or not, I won’t judge. However, you can be prepared for such instances by making sure you know the laws and rules of the road thoroughly (and yes, they do exist). Also as a personal note, bursting into tears when a male police officer stops you often results in uncomfortable confusion, and a mild warning. Sure, it’s not a great practice to get into the habit of, but when the rule of law can leave you open to harassment, why not use ever advantage you have?

Now we come to safety. So Kampala is a fairly safe city by any measure. Terrible things can and do occur, but especially for East Africa, it fairs pretty well (seriously, try telling an expat in Nairobi you think Kampala is dangerous and watch as they double over in laughter). However, muggings and assault tend to go up exponentially around Christmastime. A sad fact is, even criminals have mouths to feed and presents to buy. So their tactics get bolder and more dangerous as we near the holidays. Last year a string of assaults and robberies in Bukoto near Christmastime spared nobody, expats and Ugandans alike.

So while I’m generally the sort of person who feels safe taking a trusted boda back to my place at 2am, during late November and December, I generally rely on taxis. When I go out, I don’t take my cards on me unless I have to, I never take important documents unless it’s required, and I only keep enough cash on me for what I’ll need that night. Be extra wary around expat mainstays such as Acacia, Kisamenti, and Kololo. And I know this should go without saying, but please (please!) only take bodas from the stage.

Christmastime can be amazing here. We have fun expat parties (way less stressful than family get-togethers if you ask me) and gift giving can be a unique expression of gag gifts and exclusive finds. Just make sure you shop early, keep your wits about you, and take a few extra precautions. Remember that expecting it is half the game. Good luck, and happy holidays!

About Lizabeth Paulat

Hi, I’m Lizabeth, a freelance writer whose been stomping around Kampala for the better part of two years. I came here while pursuing a story and decided never to leave. I’m originally from Seattle and have found refuge in both the sun and the culture of Kampalans (plus I still get the rain when I’m feeling homesick).I’m always trying to unearth new and interesting stories about Kampala’s culture and development and am so exited to have an amazing platform to explore the city with. I hope to bring a bit of know-how and a bit of fun to Living in Kampala. Feel free to contact me any time at