A Living Museum, Biodiversity, and the History of Kings in Kampala, Uganda
Crested cranes can be spotted on safari — the bird graces Uganda’s flag, whose stripes echo its striking plumage. | Photo: Nel Botha

A Living Museum, Biodiversity, and the History of Kings in Kampala, Uganda

The Pearl of Africa, Uganda is renowned for its precious wildlife — and in the heart of this unspoiled habitat, you’ll find the capital city of Kampala. The historic centre of the Buganda kingdom, it was built on seven hills that still remember the tales of the royalty that ruled them. For visitors with a restless soul and a hunger for outdoor adventure, Kampala is just the place to appreciate nature’s diversity. 

~ This guide is a collaboration between writer Joyce Wachau Chege and Kennedy Majanga, frequent visitor and local expert ~

National par in Kampala,Uganda

Upon Arrival

The best times to be here are December to February and June to August. This is when you can participate fully in trekking, with the best chance to see gorillas and chimpanzees in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

I tell first-time visitors to walk around confidently, but remain alert and aware of their surroundings (i.e. get your head out of your mobile phone!); anyone with less-than-good intentions can smell the distracted newbie in town like a hungry predator.

Along those same lines, people from here know better than to accept food and drink from strangers. Instead, they strictly stick to eating and drinking in restaurants, where quality is assured and you’ll be in safe surroundings.

I also tell travellers to avoid arriving burdened by a lot of luggage: you can find anything you need on the streets of Kampala at an affordable price, and you’ll not only travel light but actively contribute to the economic growth of the place.

The best museum to start your journey and get a sense of the city is the Uganda Museum on the Kira Road, with collections detailing the country’s archaeology and ethnography. Its Cultural Village — a living museum depicting the indigenous architecture and lifestyles of the people of Uganda — features huts constructed with natural and local materials like spear grass for the thatch, reeds, mud and wattle for the walls.

The oldest museum here, with plenty of artefacts to discover it traces the origins of the Ugandan social, political and economic ways of life.

Parents should take their kids to Centenary Park for fun and diverse activities enjoyable for everyone, like bike riding through the park’s green spaces and boating in the small lake.

Food from the Heart

Among the foods my city is most proud of, matoke tops the list. Unripe bananas that have been boiled and mashed, this speciality is often served alongside some meat stew. The Ugandan rolex — an egg omelette and vegetables rolled up and wrapped in a chapati — is also a must, and tasty any time of day. I like to go to 2K Restaurant, with its fresh locally sourced food, to enjoy these local delicacies.

When we get together to celebrate and have a drink, tonto, also known as mwende bigere, is what people here traditionally choose. It’s made from fermented ripe bananas stored in a pit for nearly seven days. To enjoy a round, I like to gather my friends and go to Ninety9 by The Embers at Protea Hotel Kampala Skyz, with its breathtaking rooftop view and amazing sunsets.

When we eat completely local, I go to Shaka Zulu Foods in Nakawa. I know the food here is affordable and well made, complemented by a great ambience that sets the mood. Everything is good, but their pillau — rice dishes with a choice of goat, beef or chicken — is a favourite.

Another classic option, the Feedrite Restaurant in Kamwokya specialises in a variety of dishes including luwombo. Originally a royal dish, it’s meat, vegetables and seasoning that are combined in a banana leaf parcel and steamed.

Shopping Locally

My city is known for producing the best coffee, a variety known as Robusta. 

The best food market in Kampala is the weekly SouthSide Farmers Market, where you’ll find speciality food vendors and fresh produce from both organic-certified farms and also those that are organically managed.

The best market to buy everyday items like clothes, accessories, home goods and tourist items is the indoor-outdoor Nakasero Market (where these wares are available inside).

To buy real local souvenirs, I always take visitors to Bagala Craft Market. The products — ranging from sculptures to baskets to woven and wearable items — are hand-made locally, and the vibe is genuine and warm thanks to the friendly faces selling their handicrafts here.

We know to avoid using foreign currency as it will be hard to make any purchases; most transactions take place with Ugandan currency (the shilling) and sellers will decline any other form.

Getting Deeper Into Kampala

A great book to learn more about my city is Ghosts of Kampala: The Rise and Fall of Idi Amin by George Ivan Smith, an observer’s account of the international tragedy of Amin’s rule.

Most people know about Queen Elizabeth National Park, called the ‘Medley of Wonders’ in tribute to its profusion of wildlife, but another important site to visit is The Kasubi Tombs — where the Kabakas (kings) and other members of the Buganda royal family were buried — as this place means so much to the Ugandan people.

Though destroyed by a fire, the tombs are being rebuilt and carefully restored in a manner befitting their spiritual and political stature. At the tombs, you will get to know the Buganda kings as you gaze at the royal regalia that once belonged to them.

My city is a place people are attracted to because of its dynamism. In keeping with its status as Uganda’s capital city, the local buzz, lively activities and exciting festivals keep visitors entertained.  

Most people think of my city as just the capital of a landlocked African country, but really this is a destination that sets an example to show just how much communities can gain and grow due to tourism. In Kampala, in addition to the city’s bustling appeal, you can find everything there is to admire in nature, concentrated in one place: bird watching, wildlife reserves and many different flora species.

Locals are proud that all of this variety for visitors creates a valuable sustainable growth opportunity for the country at large and benefits for local people in particular — a win-win for both humans and wild creatures too.

Getting Around Kampala

One thing you should know about getting around my city is that minibuses (matatus) will save you a lot of money since they are the cheaper mode of transport.

The best way to travel in my city to have as little impact as possible is walking. 

Another transport choice is to hop on a motorbike, or boda-boda — this is actually faster than the minibuses, though not for the faint of heart. But if you are daring, in a hurry and need to beat traffic, boda-bodas are certainly quick!

Outside The City

To get away and into the outdoors, I enjoy going to Jinja, three hours to the west of Kampala. Here the source of the Nile, at Coronation Park, is marked by a garden and a statue of British explorer John Hanning Speke, the first European to lay eyes on this spot.

For a day trip just beyond my city, I like to visit Entebbe and pay a visit to the Uganda Wildlife Education Centre, where I get to learn about conservation as well as being able to interact with the animals one-on-one.

Many people will head to the reptile village and botanical gardens of Entebbe, but locals know to go to Kibale National Park to trek, see the mountain gorillas and chimpanzees, and commune with the surroundings while enjoying the company of the primates.

I really enjoy the view of my city from the top of the Sheraton Kampala Hotel, where the panorama of the capital is laid out before me, with iconic landmarks on view like the Independence Monument and the piano-shaped National Theatre.

Connecting with Locals

When I want to have fun and celebrate being out of the city, I go to the Griffin Falls Camp, a gem in the heart of Mabira Forest, for some zip lining, to recharge with activities like archery and camping, and to revel in nature. For those brave souls made for thrill-seeking, the challenge of climbing to the top of the canopy to soar through the treetops is well worth it.

To hang out with my friends at a real insider spot, I enjoy Endiro Coffee where perfectly brewed Ugandan coffee is served. Endiro’s vision is to ‘brew good’ by being a company that partners with others to end child vulnerability globally through coffee and its people, related products, profits, services, spaces and stories. Knowing that what’s in your cup is grown locally is also quite encouraging; you’re supporting the growth of local businesses. 

The best resource for finding out what’s going on around town is eventbrite.com.  The website helps you find the events happening in Kampala during your stay.

When I want to enjoy my city without spending much (or any) money, I visit Rafiki Memorial Wildlife Conservation Initiative, aimed at helping mountain gorillas and their habitats, as well as empowering the surrounding communities with necessary education on how to achieve sustainable incomes.

The live music at Otters Bar is my first choice for contemporary hits and good vibes. For dancing, I go to Planet Sports; and for traditional music, Ndere Cultural Centre is the place to enjoy Ugandan cultural dances and music too. Their cooking lessons also teach people how to prepare local dishes.

Finding Solitude in Kampala

When I want to go somewhere to sit and relax in my incredible city, the seclusion of the Rainforest Lodge in Mabira Forest leaves me revitalised when I need some downtime. Apart from being a great place to unwind, it’s hard not to be dazzled by the forest’s resident 312 species of trees, 315 species of birds, 218 types of butterflies and 23 small mammals.

The place that makes me proudest of my city is the Uganda Museum, where the history of my people is well preserved and the country’s character is captured in all its glory. Being immersed in the familiarity of my own culture, and seeing how well it’s represented here, keeps me grounded.

Visitors can begin to understand just how far we have come since the days of the infamous Idi Amin Dada Oumee and his brutal dictatorship, and the museum also gives you a true sense of the rich cultural heritage of the Ugandans. 

When the Seasons Change, This City Shines

For wildlife spotting at its peak, I recommend the long dry season (June, July and August). Trekking with the mountain gorillas and chimpanzees is easily doable then, due to the low vegetation that doesn’t obstruct walking or hinder views.

Travellers should book their gorilla permits in advance and wear light, comfortable clothing that makes it easy to traverse the trekking trails (also ensuring they carry sunscreen with them). The skies during these months are nicely clear and adrenaline fans can indulge in water activities like kayaking and boat racing.

The short rainy season (September, October and November) is the best time to bird watch and witness the dry plains coming to life in striking shades of emerald. Since the vegetation is low and still growing at this point, it is easier to spot animals seeking out watering holes. Accommodation occupancy is low and rates are affordable. 

The short dry season (December, January and February) here is magical when you can bask in the warm sun and enjoy wildlife viewing and safaris too. December is a particularly special time, if you plan to be here when Christmas is being celebrated.

The long rainy season (March, April and May) is excellent for looking at the green scenery that is bursting into life spurred on by the rains. There are also not many people visiting, so you’ll have ample time and space to enjoy your activities. When rainfall proves a hindrance to hiking, this is the ideal opportunity to explore the historical and cultural sites where you can learn a thing or two about this amazing country.

Joyce Wachau Chege

Local Expert

Joyce Wachau Chege is a young Kenyan writer with a degree in Mass Communication. She is a correspondent for MyGov and also runs her own blog, Wachau Joyce. An enthusiastic observer with a niche in human interest stories and an experience of four years, she has had a handful of pieces published, working to change lives one story at a time. She is licensed as a journalist by the Media Council of Kenya (MCK).

Kennedy Majanga

Local Expert

Kennedy Majanga was born and raised in Kakamega where he has spent most of his life. Professionally, he currently holds the position of an Assistant Account Executive at Levanter Africa Limited. He is passionate about his work and has dedicated five years to honing his skills. He also engages in photography. He studied at the Catholic University of Eastern  Africa (CUEA). Outside his work, he loves football and volunteering, taking every opportunity he can to give back to the community.

    Time to Read:  10 Minutes
    Local Expert(s): Joyce Wachau Chege and Kennedy Majanga
    26 February 2024
    Destination Guide

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    Learning to Love Our Travel Misadventures
    Though it’s tempting to focus on romance, ultimately reality is what makes travel memorable.

    Learning to Love Our Travel Misadventures

    We’re often inspired when we read about other people’s journeys, or are enticed by images they post of what certainly appear to be their trips of a lifetime. So we can easily fall head-over-heels for the rosy travel pictures they paint; but how do we keep the romance going when things don’t go to plan for us in real life?

    When it comes time to book that next trip, the romance of travel as captured in the stories, songs and imagery of a place can be a strong motivator. Our expectations are already soaring well before the journey begins.

    However, with notable (and noteworthy) exceptions, for the most part travel writers, musicians and photographers don’t spend much time capturing the unpleasant parts of the voyage; rotten weather, bouts of sickness, occasional must-see or must-do disappointments, sporadic disillusionment with inconsiderate fellow travellers or dismay at overhyped destinations.

    Perhaps, though, it’s better to look at travel a different way. We learn to love (or live with) the ‘faults’ of the people in our lives; why shouldn’t we do the same with our journeys? After your passport, a re-setting of expectations can be the second-most important thing you take along with you.

    So if the mark of a strong relationship is loving the person warts and all, that’s precisely how you can make the most of travel experiences too. While smooth sailing may be the least stressful, it turns out that the bumps in the road, the awkward moments and unexpected situations, make for the best stories (and can also cement your bond with a travel companion).

    Learning to Love Our Travel Misadventures

    And while you may never be able to completely eliminate the negative (after all, there will always be unforeseen moments in any adventure), it’s still possible to accentuate the positive. To go with the flow. To find the silver lining to that cloud; while you may be soaked to the skin touring on a rainy afternoon, the unforgettable rainbow after the showers will make it all worthwhile.

    For me, the most memorable (and funniest) travel moments are inevitably those that were unplanned or unexpected. Like the chance evening encounter with Johnny, a jaunting car driver in Killarney whom we’d met earlier that day. After reuniting over pints and live music, as the night wore on I unintentionally agreed to give him a lift home from the pub — but surely he lived nearby? — and as it turned out Johnny’s house was well out of town, down a rutted country lane without a streetlight to be seen.

    My companion at the time (behind the wheel as I blithely passengered) wasn’t entirely delighted to be on unfamiliar roads after sunset. But once we’d deposited our new best friend on his doorstep, finding our way back through the pitch black we stopped in a layby to look at the Irish night sky — we’d never seen so many stars, millions of diamonds resting on deepest indigo velvet.

    Or the time visiting Crete when, after a long, hot, dusty trip from the airport, another companion and I just missed the not-very-frequent ferry to car-free Loutro and discovered that we had at least an hour to kill. We settled in a waterside taverna and spent the time enjoying a delicious Greek salad bursting with locally sourced freshness, sipping ice-cold Mythos beer, and watching the sun glint off the gently lapping waves.

    Initially a bit annoyed with the inconvenience, it immediately switched us into a more relaxed frame of mind by necessity. And by the time our ferry, the Daskalogiannis, arrived at the Sfakia dock, we were fuelled up and ready for further adventures to come.

    So it turns out that the challenges, the misadventures, and the rough spots can be at least as lovable as the perfect moments. And several decades into my travel romance, I’m pleased to report that the honeymoon is far from over.

    Emily Cathcart

    Resonate Team

    From her base in Ireland, Emily Cathcart was delighted to join Resonate as a Content Manager and has been revelling in the opportunity to collaborate with writers worldwide ever since. Emily enjoys encouraging authors through the creation process and also helping non-writers to tell their tales — all with Resonate’s ethical principles in mind. When she isn’t busy commissioning or editing, she can be found, camera in hand, seeking out-of-the-way discoveries for her own site that’s literally All About Dublin. And when Emily’s not working on any/all of the above, she’s writing articles and photo essays as a freelance journalist for publications from boutique magazines to national newspapers.

    Time to Read:  3 Minutes
    Resonate Team: Emily Cathcart
    14 February 2024
    From the Editor

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    Dried Apricots, the Taste of Summer in Winter
    Not just a healthy, delicious treat, organic dried apricots provide much-needed energy during bitter Hunza winters.

    Dried Apricots, the Taste of Summer in Winter

    Nestled within the magnificent Karakoram Range, Hunza is an isolated heaven ringed by appealing snow-capped mountains. Shielded from the accessories of modernity and sheltered from the hustle and bustle of urban life, this beautiful locale portrays a peacefulness rarely found elsewhere. 

    Here dwells a hardworking community of warm-hearted individuals, reflecting both good physical health and sound mental well-being. Their lives are entwined with a love of nature and a healthy diet, notably influenced by an abundance of organic fruits such as apricots, apples, pears, and a plethora of other varieties thriving in a setting reminiscent of the Garden of Eden.

    However, the joy of this heaven dims in the harsh winters of northern Pakistan. During this challenging season, the people of Hunza don’t have ready availability of fresh fruits. Instead, we rely on an old kind of strength that has been passed down through generations.

    Freshly picked apricots ; the fruit that reigns supreme in thriving local orchards. | Soneya Ali
    Freshly picked apricots; the fruit that reigns supreme in thriving local orchards. | Soneya Ali

    The secret of access to the delicious taste of organically preserved fruits during the winter lies in the hard work of each community member during the summer season. With great attention, locals preserve the fruit from their gardens, ensuring a lifeline of nourishment throughout the winters. And among the cherished fruits filling local orchards, the apricot reigns supreme.

    The delicately hued fruits provide a two-fold advantage through their seeds and flesh. From late June to mid-July, the orchards of Hunza are immense, with the sight of ripening yellow-orange produce stretching towards the horizon. The organic process of preservation starts when these juicy fruits are completely ripe and have achieved maximum sweetness. 

    Apricot drying begins with handpicking. We use ladders and specially made baskets, known as ‘girran’, for apricot picking. This method is essential as it is gentle on the fruit, preventing any bruising or damage and ensuring that only the ripest specimens are selected. 

    Specially made baskets — girann — are used for gently collecting the ripe apricots. | Soneya Ali
    Specially made baskets — girann — are used for gently collecting the ripe apricots. | Soneya Ali

    After the apricots are collected, the seeds are separated from the fruit. This can be done by splitting the apricots into two halves using our hands. As apricots are soft fruits, carefully opening and removing the pits is a simple yet time-consuming process.  

    After removing the seeds from the apricots, the remaining flesh is then spread out on locally crafted trays called ‘shaqqh’, making sure that the fruit is spread out in a single layer to ensure even drying. The fruit-filled shaqqh are placed in a sunny area for two days, where the warm sun and gentle breeze help to facilitate the drying process. 

    Next, the fruits are placed in a shadowy area under a tree for one week. This process allows the natural moisture in the fruit to continue evaporating gradually, leaving behind 90% dried apricots. Finally, the dry apricots are transferred to larger trays and are collected together in the same place for two weeks.

    This step-by-step method allows us to dry them while preserving their original flavour (sweetness and a pinch of sourness) and maintaining their soft texture, avoiding making them too rigid and chewy.  

    The fully dried organic fruit still has its beautiful flavour and soft texture. | Soneya Ali
    The fully dried organic fruit still has its beautiful flavour and soft texture. | Soneya Ali

    However, at the time of the ripening of the apricot crop, the monsoon season begins, making it challenging for us to monitor the drying progress properly. We have to ensure the apricots do not come into contact with water or become wet, as this could impact the quality of the final product. 

    To combat dampness, after the initial drying process the dried apricots are usually placed in a ‘batarin a dapp’ basket. Along with the girann baskets used for gathering and the shaqqh trays where drying begins, the batarin a dapp are locally fashioned out of long stems taken from a unique tree, the Beek. With holes to assist in preventing the dry apricots from getting moist, these baskets play a vital role in encouraging the ventilation that helps dry apricots stay fresh. 

    But the real storage challenge begins after the apricots have been fully dried. Due to warm weather continuing until October, there’s a greater chance for the dry fruits to be infested by insect larvae. To protect the precious fruits of our labour, we use walnut leaves. When putting the dry apricots in the storage basket they are layered; after every layer, fresh walnut leaves are placed in between, helping to safeguard the sweet dry apricots.

    All this hard work results in the joy of fresh fruit throughout the tough winter. | Ali Ahmed Jan (@ali_ahmad_jaan)
    All this hard work results in the joy of fresh fruit throughout the tough winter. | Ali Ahmed Jan (@ali_ahmad_jaan)

    It’s worth noting that the specific techniques and methods used by the Hunza people may vary within the community, for example among the Shinaki, Burosho, and Wakhi people, and there could be small variations in the process based on individual preferences and available resources. 

    But whatever the subtle differences, the result of all this hard work conveys the joy of fresh fruits in winter in various dishes like dried apricot juice (chamus) and dried apricot soup (bartarin-a-dawdo). Additionally, the seeds extracted from the apricots play a significant role in many traditional dishes of the Hunza culture like giyalin, burus-shapik, mulida, and many more. These dishes provide the apricot’s distinctive quality of sweetness with slight sour notes, while the apricot oil itself tastes similar to almond oil but with greater smoothness and a sweet aroma. 

    It is truly a fruit with endless benefits! From serving as a source of pride when furnished to guests, to offering protection from harsh weather while giving us the energy to stay warm; and from being a healthy, delicious snack, to providing a source of income for locals. It all springs from the humble apricot, reminding us of the fragrant joy of a summer garden during the harsh winters of the Karakoram Range.

    Bartarin-a-dawdo (dried apricot soup), one of many traditional dishes of the Hunza culture where apricots play a significant role.

    Soneya Ali


    Soneya Ali is a traveller and freelancer born and raised in Gilgit Baltistan. Her upbringing in this breathtaking environment inspired her to explore and write about the different cultures, foods, and places that are not very well-known to tourists — and these discoveries have driven her to share her experiences through her blog. Her dedication to travel is evident in everything she writes, and her readers can always count on her for reliable content.

    Time to Read:  4 Minutes
    Storyteller: Soneya Ali
    1 February 2024
    Local Stories - Food and Drink

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