Jinja Travel Guide

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Jinja is one of Uganda ’s largest urban centre, lies 80km to the east of Kampala on the shores of Lake Victoria . Approaching the town from Kampala involves travelling across the Owens Falls Dam and over the world’s longest river, the Nile, which starts its 6,500 km journey to the Mediterranean Sea on the west side of Jinja. A golf course and gardens are laid out along the banks and the river’s starting point is marked with among other things, a   bust of Ghandi and on the west bank is a monument marking where the English explorer, James Hanning Speke became the first European to see the much speculated Source of the River Nile.

The town centre overlooks the lake. Large houses with big yards are a part of the legacy that the original developers gave the town, with quiet, tree lined streets giving ambience to the laid-back and warm welcome that visitors generally experience on arrival. Rush hour in Jinja is very different from that in Kampala . With much less traffic it is very easy to get around. At least half of all vehicles are bicycles. Generally there’s be a cool breeze blowing in from Lake Victoria , clean air rather then smog to breath.
In places there are views out over the lake helping to sooth the soul. Parking is rarely a problem. The almost exclusive use of bicycle taxis around the town centre enhances the slow but steady feel to life here. A recent Town Council campaign to clean up the streets and shop fronts has made Jinja even more attractive.

Prior to the Owens Falls Dam being completed in 1954 a huge cascade called Rippon Falls formed a major natural feature beside the town and the roar of millions of litres of water dropping 5 meters provided a lullaby to everyone living in Jinja. The Nile has always been a major obstacle to human movement between eastern and central Africa and wasn’t spanned until the railway bridge was completed in 1930. Jinja was known as the ‘place of the flat rocks’. It provided a focal point in any east/west land journey and many of the people living in what was just a small settlement beside the mouth of the river, worked providing ferry services. The town began to grow towards the end of the 19th Century and with the building of a port, Jinja became better connected by lake steamers with Port Florence (now Kisumu), Port Bell and other centres around Lake Victoria . In 1912 the Busoga Railway, running from Jinja to Namasagali, was opened. Cotton produced in the fertile areas around Lake Kyoga could then be exported through Jinja. In 1923 the Uganda Railway was completed as far as Jinja and relatively easy access by land to Nairobi and the Kenyan coast became possible. Jinja grew much larger with the construction of the Owens Falls Dam and after the dam had been completed, industries utilising the large amounts of hydro-electric power available close at hand, were constructed near the town. Housing for managers and workers, shops and council buildings, utilities and services accompanied this expansion.

Tourism is providing a new impetus to Jinja’s economy. Good accommodation, a peaceful laid-back friendly atmosphere, beautiful weather all year round, features of natural beauty including lake views and the ‘Source of the Nile, plus lots of things to do in the near vicinity such as the adventure activities at Bujagali Falls; these are all elements that are contributing to Jinja’s growing popularity as a tourist destination.

There are some very nice hotels throughout the town and nearby; The Jinja Nile Resort, Kingfisher Resort, The Hotel Triangle, The Crested Crane, The Sunset Hotel, Timton Hotel, The Victoria Panorama, Hotel Millennium, The Mayfair, The Safari Inn, Bellevue Hotel, Tourist Bay Hotel and The Cool Breeze are just some of the options available.

Guest Houses, most with lovely grounds to relax in are also to be found around the town; Gately on Nile, The Palm Tree, 2 Friends, Busoga Trust Guesthouse and The Ling Ling, are amongst of the best.

There is one Backpackers and several hotels offer camping.

Take a walk along Main Street and the adjoining streets in the evening and you will encounter lots of restaurants and bars with in/outdoor and pavement seating. Cafes such as Ozzies and The Source Cafe offer good food and drinks. Upmarket restaurants such as 2 Friends and Gately (Continental), Palm Tree (Tex-Mex), Ling Ling (Chinese), Leo’s (Indian), all compliment the wide variety of meals available from hotels and eateries; ranging from takeaway to banquet. With such good weather prevailing here, almost every place offers outdoor seating as an option. Good food and hospitality are easy to find in Jinja.

While in Jinja try golfing beside the Nile, a boat excursion from the Source of the Nile , there are swimming pools and gyms or just take a walk down tree lined back streets. Visit to The Central Market, which is one of the nicest in the whole of Africa gives visitors a pleasant insight into what people use and how the various cultures found here inter-relate. You’ll find a welcoming environment without being hassled or having souvenirs pushed in your face.

There’s also a lot to do in the nearby area and you don’t need a car to get about. Taxis are readily available or try a ride on one of the little motorcycle bodaboda taxis which in this lovely climate make for a memorable trip. A boat ride out to nearby Samuka Island is another special voyage, giving a different perspective of Jinja while looking back to the town from the lake. Bujagali Falls is only a few kilometres away and nearby Mabira Forest provides a cool haven if the sunshine gets to be too much. At 1100m above sea-level and almost on the equator, Jinja has a great climate with a lovely laid-back atmosphere, lots of good accommodation and a real taste of Africa at it’s finest.

Bujagali Falls - Jinja

Several kilometres downstream from ‘The Source’, the White Nile takes its first big step down along the 6,300 kilometres through to Lake Kyoga, over Karuma and Murchison Falls , into the top end of Lake Albert . Then out of Uganda , into southern Sudan and after seeping through The Sud it eventually meets up with the Blue Nile in the centre of Khartoum . About one eighth of the flow reaches Egypt and eventually joins the Mediterranean Sea .   The cascade that forms this first step is called Bujagali Falls or ‘Budhagali’ in Lusoga, the language of the Busoga people who live in this area to the east of the Nile . The river is split between 7 channels and the roar of the 1.8 million litres per second average flow, fills the air. A blanket of sound to comfort all who sleep within earshot. For thousands of years this site has been visited by humans and the beauty of the place must have been a big attraction. Over many generations Budhagali has been a sacred site for the Busoga people and it is not uncommon to see witchdoctors and ordinary folk coming down to the riverbanks to make sacrifices and offerings to the spirits who live by the river and in the large mvule trees nearby. Nabamba Budhagali is a witchdoctor who has lived in the area for many years. His compound is on the approach road to the site and he is the 39 th Jaja or priest/caretaker of the spirits who live at Budhagali Falls . Nabamba can be visited for advice and information about the spiritual aspects of the site. He and many other traditional leaders want to the site to be left free of further development and they have established that the spirits will not be shifted to make way for the proposed Bujagali Dam.  

This new dam is scheduled to be built in the next few years. Although it is called the Bujagali Dam it is to be located two and a half kilometres downstream from the Bujagali. The water will back up to a projected depth that will take the flat water level to halfway up the falls. This means that the section that is currently rafted will be below the new level as will 2 other major rapids (Total Gunga and Big Brother/Silverback). It doesn’t mean an end to the rafting but trips will have to start further downstream and use sections of the river that were previously only rafted on two day trips. Bujagali Falls and the nearby area has become known as East Africa ’s centre for adventure.

White water rafting is high on many people’s list of things to do here. With some lots of good rapids (including some maximum class 5 ones) and a beautiful river with high volume it’s ideal. There are some very exciting sections with space between to lay back and float along taking in the scenery and enjoying the wildlife, particularly the many species of birds to be found here. There are now four rafting companies offering 1 day trips covering 31 kilometres and two-day trips (45km) with overnight camping. Adrift Adventure Co and Nile River Explorers have been operating since 1996, Equator Rafts started in 2002 and Nalubale Rafting in 2005.   For those who want to take an easier line, each company offers clients the option of taking the safety boat and they also offer family float trips so that children less then 14 years old can also enjoy time on the water from the Owens Falls Dam down to Bujagali.  

There are no crocodiles or hippos in this section of the River.   These upper reaches of the River Nile are becoming a ‘must do’ for international kayakers. There have been several competitions held over the last three years and Ugandan kayakers have finished prominently in the results. On any day there will be groups from all over the world here pitting their skills against the challenges that the river throws up at them.

Quad-biking is another popular activity that has been available for several years from Bujagali Falls . All Terrain Adventures offer guided ATV safaris ranging from 1 or 2 hours to several days. The safaris are unique to this part of the world making it possible for; groups, families and individuals to get off the beaten track, see special parts of the Nile and the farms, forest and villages beside the river.  

Two Kilometres upstream beside the Jinja Nile Resort is the Nile High Camp which has a 44 metre bungee jump.   If jumpers want an extra adrenaline rush, there is the option of being dipped into the river instead of just being dangled above.   Often performing at various sites around the area is the ‘Ugandan Acrobatic’ Jeremiah Bazale. This amazing man lost the use of a leg from polio when he was very young. To the accompaniment to the Budondo Cultural Group he performs feats of strength and balance and the donations that are collected fund the group.  

The Bujagali Swimmers are a small, select group of men from the local village of Kyabirwa who, for 5,000 shillings, will grasp a plastic jerry can and plunge through the falls. Not a safe occupation as about a year ago one of the Bujagali Swimmers was killed while doing this.  

There are 3 campsites offering various types of accommodation, restaurants, a café and lots of small food stalls and shops by Bujagali Falls . All offer spectacular views and varying levels of service to cater for the picnickers, backpackers, overland groups and more discerning visitors. There are lively bars with lovely views and quieter havens for those wishing to take in the natural beauty of the area with just the roar of the river to listen to. 

Part or or all of this text stems from the original article at: Peter Knight


February 14, 2006 change by giorgio

April 15, 2005 change by sher

February 15, 2006 change by pk_uganda

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