Get to know Kampala
By Martha Hales
Sprawled across several hills, Kampala is a friendly rollercoaster ride of a city. It is mainly low-rise and fairly green, although the central business district is spawning shiny new high-rises at a steady rate. Many parts of Uganda's capital are manageable and calm, with orderly traffic and minimal hassle. To arrive right in the heart of the city, however, can be a bit of a crash course in African chaos, with gridlocked streets brimful of bumper to bumper vehicles crawling along while battalions of boda-boda motorbike taxis weave among them. Crowded markets, thronging pavements and hectic shopping streets might seem a little daunting at first but if you aim to see these busy thoroughfares on foot you can avoid the stress of the traffic clogged intersections. The slightly chaotic feel of the central zone is all part of the charm of Uganda's bustling, vibrant capital. We’ve come up with some ideas to help you make the most of your time in Kampala, and get to know it's local secrets.
The dining scene in Kampala is surprisingly varied, and you can get anything from pizza to sushi to classic Ugandan dishes. The national cuisine has influences from India and Europe. Ask any Kampalan to recommend a tasty local speciality and they will more than likely suggest a Rolex. This is the ubiquitous street snack which consists of chapati filled with egg which is mixed with onion, tomato, green pepper and cabbage, before being rolled into a wrap.
The classic Ugandan dishes are usually a meat or bean stew served with an accompanying carb side dish such as chapati, plantain, rice or ugali. There are other specialities such as skewers of chargrilled meat, mandazi donuts and fish dishes from the local lakes and rivers. The are countless places across the city to sample African food, from street stalls to upmarket eateries, which are often located in the hotels.
The café scene in Kampala is exploding, and there are now plenty of pleasant spaces to enjoy coffee, smoothies, brunches and light meals through the city. 1,000 Cups of Coffee on Buganda road showcases the finest Ugandan coffees and attracts an international mix of coffee lovers.
Take advantage of the rare chance for non-Muslims to visit the interior of a mosque when you venture to the Uganda National Mosque on Kampala Hill. One of the most compelling reasons to make the trip, as well as touring the prayer spaces and admiring the intricate tile work, is that you can climb the minaret from where the view takes in a vast panorama across the city.
On another Kampalan hill sits the Kasubi Royal Tombs, a historic thatched burial site where 4 of the Buganda kings have been laid to rest. It is of great historic and cultural significance to the Buganda people and appears on the UNESCO world heritage list. Unfortunately the tombs were severely damaged by fire in 2010 but the renovations are now in their final stages.
For a cultural overview of Uganda itself, the Uganda National Museum has a great collection of artefacts dating back over the last 2 million years. A highlight is the collection of traditional musical instruments.
Take some time out at the Maisha Garden, a rare stretch of open space. Regular cultural performances of traditional music, dance, storytelling and so on take place here, in a lovely green setting. A creative haven high makes the perfect break from the urban bustle of the city.
Shopping at Exposure craft market is full of temptation and a few minutes browsing will yield plenty of handcrafted souvenirs, such as jewellery, leather ware, African drums and carved wood. The lively Owino market is a whole different experience, where you can haggle for pretty much anything, from fruit and veg to homeware and clothing. It covers a huge 7 hectares and there are thousands of vendors, so even if you are just browsing you are bound to find something to buy.
Bold boutique in the Acacia Mall which is a platform for local designers from across east Africa but especially Uganda. It's a hub for local fashion labels and there’s a lot to admire, both on the hanger and in terms of the philosophy.
Outdoor nightclubs are a popular evening out in Kampala, where you can eat freshly barbecued meat, freshly made chapatis and drink good value beverages whilst listening to the hottest tunes of the moment - a one stop shop for a fun night out.
Make it happen
Uganda’s capital is a lively and energetic, while still being a manageable urban Africa experience. TravelLocal’s Ugandan experts can include time in Kampala in your bespoke itinerary. Why not get in touch with them today? To speak to someone in the TravelLocal office please call +44 (0) 117 325 7898.