Weekend Getaways from Kampala

Weekend Getaways from Kampala

However much we all may love Kampala, there are times, usually every 3 weeks or so, where it is absolutely imperative, for your own sanity and personal well being, to get the hell out of Kampala! Here are a few suggestions of places nearby to Kampala that can be visited on the weekends, without having to eat into your holiday allowance.

Bulago Island

I’ve already written a review of this so won’t repeat myself, but check out the article here. This is a great option for big groups looking to have their own luxury villa on Lake Victoria for a weekend.

The Equator

Always dreamed of straddling the line between the northern and southern hemisphere? Well, now you’re in Uganda your dreams can come true! To reach the official equator line from Kampala you can take a mutatu down towards Masaka (about 1 – 1.30 hours outside of Kampala) and asked to be dropped off just before. Supposed attractions here include watching flushed water drain straight down (as opposed to clockwise in the northern hemisphere and anti clockwise in the southern) apart from that there are some good photo opps at the equator monument and some small craft stalls. This trip can easily be done in a day from Kampala, or you could possibly stretch it out over a weekend by staying somewhere like Mpanga forest which is on the way…


Jinja is best known as being the source of the Nile – aka Victorian explorers bête noire. Even going to see the river in all its might is breathtaking and worth the trip, but it  is also currently being promoted as the extreme sports capital of Africa as it offers such extreme sports as white water rafting (one of the top 5 in the world we’re told), quad biking, bungee jumping and other water activities including tubing and speed boating. The two main companies to go with for these extreme sports are Adrift and Nile River Explorers. For those not keen to have their brains dashed out against a rock you can also take the more leisurely option of Zen tubing ($75 for a full day) or a sunset cruise which Nile River Explorers offers ($45 per person).

Rafting in Jinja

Jinja is a 2 hour drive up the Jinja road from Kampala. A taxi would cost you about 80,000 UGX or you can grab a mutatu for much cheaper! Here are a few options for places to stay:

  • The HavenThe fanciest of the options but still a steal compared to the ludicrously priced Wildways Lodge just down the road. The Haven is very popular with the Kampala expat community and as a result booking is crucial. The main draws of this place are the breathtaking views of the Nile (a prime spot for the less adventurous among you to watch the rafters go by) and the amazing food they offer (especially the breakfast). The cheapest way to stay here is in a tent which costs US $40 a day but includes 3 meals, while luxury bandas costs US $85 and bungalows are US $95. Tel: 0702905959.
  • Hairy Lemon Island – Hairy Lemon is actually located on the river Nile, so you really can’t get much closer! You can get there either by taking a mutatu or car to Nazigo and then their canoe will shuttle you across to the island (FYI last boat leaves at 6pm). Or you can get a taxi from Jinja – they even provide numbers of recommended guys on the website. Accommodation prices range from US $22 (camping) to US $60 for their cottages which this includes breakfast lunch and dinner. Tel: 0772828338 / 0752828338.
  • Adrift Riverbase CampThis place is linked to the rafting company and is generally known as the party place to stay, It’s full of backpackers and adrenalin junkies, as well as a fair share of rafting guides looking to prey on young, innocent female backpackers. Dorm accommodation here costs US $10 and camping is US $5 (or US $40 if you want the ‘safari tent’ option which includes the tent and mattress). With this  you also get a free shuttle bus to and from Kampala. Tel: 0772237438.

Kibale National Park

If you want the real deal chimp experience (ie no cages) you may want to head all the way to Kibale to see them in the wild. I have actually met some people who think that the chimp tracking is even better than the gorillas. Kibale Forest is a lot less densely covered than say Bwindi so chances of seeing the many primates it holds are much more likely. When we say chimps here we’re not talking Michael Jackson and Bubbles or the guy on the PG tips advert – these primates are big! There are approximately 1,420 chimps which live in around 11 communities. Make sure you sort out a chimp tracking permit before you go as well as there are limited numbers. They cost US $150 for non residents. You can do this by contacting Moses from the wildlife authority on 0772577641

This trip can be done in a weekend although you may want to extend it a bit to get the most out of it and check out some other places in the area. You can take an express bus from Kampala to Fort Portal. The Post Bus leaves from the main post office on Kampala Road at 7.30am and costs 18,000 UGX, or Link Bus leaves from Nakivubo Stadium and costs 20,000 UGX. Buses take between 4.5 to 6 hours depending on traffic and the number of stops made en route. From there you can take a special hire taxi or mutatu on to Kibale National Park.

  • Chimpanzee Forest Guesthouse This is about 23 km from Fort Portal towards Kibale NP and has great views of the park. They can organise you a special hire taxi from Fort Portal for about 40,000 UGX. Cottages here cost 180,000 UGX for 2 people and 270,000 UGX for full board (double occupancy). Tel: 0772 486 415.

Lagoon Island Resort

The closest island to Kampala is home to this luxury resort. It’s is probably a better option that Bulago Island if you’re only going with one or two people. Prices are USD $220 per person for a double and this includes meals and the ferry. You can get there from the Munyonyo – Speke resort marina.

Phone: 0777 511 339
Website: http://www.ug-lagoonresort.com/

Lake Mburo

About a 5 hour drive outside of Kampala this could technically be fit into a weekend if you left work a bit early on the Friday and were willing to arrive back to Kampala late-ish on the Sunday. Its about a 3.5 to 4 hour drive west of Kampala between Masaka and Mbarara. It’s tricky to reach it by public transport –  you would need to catch a mutatu to Mbarara at Sanga and then you’d need to try and pick up transport to the main park gate. It’s much easier to take a private car. In the national park you can do nature walks and a boat ride to see crocs and hippos. Park entrance is about US $30 a day (and night). This is the only place in Uganda where you can find impalas.

Places to stay:

  • Mburo Safari Lodge – Accommodation here is in the main lodge or cottages and there is also a camping area.
  • Rwonyo Tented Camp – This place is located at the park’s headquarters. A dorm bed costs 10,000 UGX and camping is 30,000- 40,000 UGX. If you’re camping make sure to bring everything (including water purifier and cooking equipment).

Mabira Forest

This large forest is on the way up to Jinja and boasts a range of monkey and bird sightings. You can get to Mabira by taking the Jinja road out of Kampala. If you go by mutatu you can grab one from the Taxi park and asked to be dropped at the forest (journey should take about 1.5 hours).

One place to stay here is the Rainforest Eco-lodge, in Najjembe, which is signposted right off the Jinja road. You can rent a private bungalow for $180 USD (per person for a double room, for full board) and $220 (single). If you only want bed and breakfast it’s $140 USD (per person for a double room) or $180 (single). Their number is 0414 258 273. Inside the forest you can stay in the forest centre’s own bandas that can sleep up to 6 people (15,000 UGX for a double) as well as an accompanying campsite. Guides can also be hired for a small price from the forest centre for hiking around the forest.

Mpanga Forest

This is probably the nearest (but also smaller of the two mentioned) forest to Kampala. It can be reached in about an hour from Kampala by a mutatu which you can pick up from the New Taxi park. Make sure to get a mutatu going to either Masaka or Mpigi. If you take the Masaka bus ask to be dropped on the main road by the Mpanga entrance and either walk or try and get a boda boda (if you phone the management they should be able to arrange a ride to meet you). If you go to Mpigi you can grab one of the many bodas hanging around to take you to Mpanga for about 4,000 UGX for two people.

It is also a very good idea to pick up any supplies first in Mpigi (drinks, snacks etc) as things are very basic in the forest. There is one hut within the forest that you can rent for 40,000 a night and if you want food just let them know on arrival and they will provide at an extra cost (around 10,000 UGX a meal). You can also camp in the clearing and bring your own cooking equipment if you want the full Ray Mears experience. Entrance to the forest also costs an extra 10,000 UGX.

There are a number of short walks you can do within the forest and there’s a plethora of monkeys and birds to keep you entertained. Be warned – there is no electricity there so torches are an essential as well as a deck of cards to fill the time after dark. You can book accommodation and let them know you’re coming by phoning one of the park rangers John (0776 949 226) or Michael (0776 416 416).

Murchison Falls National Park

The cheapest way to visit Murchison falls and do a safari is probably to organise it yourself. You can get to the national park in around four hours from Kampala by taking the Masindi Road. It’s at least another hour inside the park to get the attractions like the falls themselves or Paraa ferry.

Make sure to arrange accommodation somewhere like Red Chilli Rest Camp or the Murchison River Lodge beforehand as they book up very quickly. If you leave at lunch time on a Friday and don’t mind a lot of driving then you could do this trip in 2.5 days.

Murchison Falls

Potential activities include Chimp trekking just inside the park at Kaniyo Pabidi (can be done in half a day), visiting the impressive Murchison Falls themselves and spending a day safari-ing in the morning and taking the river cruise up towards the base of the waterfall (seeing hippos and crocs on the way). You can pick up safari guides at the park and book the boat cruise on the day.

If you don’t want the hassle of organising everything yourself, however, you could just go with go with Red Chilli Backpackers, based in Kampala (Gangaram Road, Mbuya) but with its own safari camp in Murchison. A 3-day tour costs US $270 and includes a game drive, boat trip, and a hike up to the Falls. This price covers all entrance fees, accommodation and transportation, but not meals and drinks. For a deluxe tour of US $325 you can also include a trip to the rhino sanctuary and for US $425 you can add chimp tracking.

A third option (especially if you’re trying to do it all on a budget) is to stay just outside the park. I recommend somewhere like the Boomu Women’s group. You can reach them at 0772 448 950 but they suggest you SMS as phone is not always turned on.

Ngamba Chimp Island

This island on Lake Victoria is one way to go and see the chimps without having to head all the way down to Kibale and also has the added bonus of getting out on the lake. Ferries leave at 9am and 12.45pm from Entebbe and costs about $88 per person for 2 people leaving Saturday morning or on a slow boat $66 – although you may be able to get it for cheaper if you go in a bigger group or by just going down to somewhere like Entebbe boat club and asking about boat hire. If you stay overnight you’re also eligible for the one-on-one chimp experience and an early morning walk in the forest with the chimps.

Phone: 0414 320 662 / 0772 221 880
Email: info@ngambaisland.org
Website: http://www.ngambaisland.org

Ssese islands

This is the furthest out of the Island getaway options and probably requires a long weekend (or at least for you to leave at lunchtime on a Friday to catch the ferry. You can either get the ferry (Earth Wise ferries) from Port Bell docks at the end of Port Bell Road, or from the Entebbe/Nakiwogo landing site.

If you go from Port Bell, ferries leave on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday. It costs 50,000 UGX for first class and 20,000 UGX for standard class (on the lower deck but perfectly passable if you don’t get too seasick). Saturday and Sunday’s ferries are direct to Kalangala and leave at 8am (arriving at 11.30am) whereas Monday and Friday’s leave at 7am and stop at a number of islands on the way before arriving at Kalangala at midday.

If you’re travelling from Entebbe/Nakiwogo the boat leaves at 2pm on Fridays, arriving at around 5pm. You can also leave from Bukakata landing-site just before Masaka but this is about a 2hr drive from Kampala.

There are a number of campsites on Kalangala if you’re interested in camping/looking for the most budget option. These include Hornbill campsite, Islands Club and Kingfisher camping site. Non camping options include Ssese Palm Beach, Ssesse Islands Beach Hotel and Mirembe Resort Beach hotel.

Other popular islands within the Ssese group include Bugala and Banda Island.

Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary

Perhaps not the most romantic way to experience your first rhinos but this is in fact the only place in Uganda where you can catch a sight of the beasts these days. The sanctuary is located just off the Gulu Highway at Nakitoma and is about a 2.5 hour drive up the highway from Kampala. You can either do it as a day trip or stay over in their accommodation which costs USD 40 for the guesthouse, USD 15 for the budget rooms and USD 5 for camping. You can also get lunch and dinner included for an extra price. I have heard mixed reviews of this place, but it could be a nice break if you’re just looking to get out of Kampala and want to see a bit of wildlife, or if you have a secret burning passion for rhinos…Rhino tracking costs USD 30 per person and those sleeping over will also be expected to pay a park levee of USD 10.

Phone: 0772 713 410
Email: angie@rhinofund.org
Website: http://www.rhinofund.org

About Lucy

A Kampalite as of the start of 2012 - I'm really loving my time here and planning to stay for a while. I’m originally from London where I’ve worked for a range of NGOs and am now hoping to try my hand overseas, plus London is way too cold and grey and full of pigeons. I’m currently in search of interesting job opportunities and experiences here and elsewhere – until global warming kicks in that is and then I can head back to the UK as it should have removed the pigeons. Get in touch at lucy@livinginkampala.com.