On Safari in Uganda? Stop in Kampala First
May 8, 2017
By ANDREA BARTZ*
Before taking a small plane to one of Uganda’s 10 national parks (for game drives, gorilla trekking, walking safaris, and the like), visitors typically fly into Entebbe, about 30 miles from Kampala, the nation’s capital. Many tourists treat their night or two in the country’s only densely populated corner as, well, an inconvenience. But Kampala is a joy to explore, with lively bars, charming restaurants, slick art galleries, and bustling shops.
Just ask Rachel Landman, a British expat who figured she’d spend a yearlong sabbatical in the sunny city; that was back in 2011. Today, she co-owns two Ugandan tour companies, Kombi Tours (which organizes budget, midrange, and luxury safaris to Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Rwanda) and Savannah Wings (bespoke plane safaris through the same regions). “Uganda is under my skin now,” she says. “After six years, I feel I’m still scratching at its surface.”
And in Kampala, a city of roughly 1.5 million, that surface is changing rapidly, with hip new spots popping up every month. Landman shared her favorite to-dos for a pit stop in Uganda’s capital. She recommends selecting an itinerary beforehand and organizing your transportation via your hotel (or a tour operator), since even Ubers aren’t great at finding addresses. “And try to avoid movement in the early morning or between 5:00 and 8:00 p.m. when traffic is heavy,” she warns. “It’s the perfect excuse to prop yourself up at a bar or restaurant for sundowners and dinner.”
Uganda National Mosque
This is Kampala’s Eiffel Tower or Statue of Liberty—the skyline-shaping icon visitors can’t help but visit. The place of worship seats 15,000 people and took more than 30 years to construct. Dress conservatively and prepare yourself for an exhausting climb to the minaret’s apex: The view is worth the sweat.
Most tourists file through the craft markets at Buganda Road and behind the National Theatre. “Sadly, they pump out quite unoriginal products these days,” Landman says. A better bet is Banana Boat’s three outposts (a few minutes’ walk from each other). “They sell ethical and authentic crafts,” she says, “but shoppers need to ask what’s from Uganda, as there are also Kenyan products.”
Kampala’s current It bar is intentionally rough around the edges; expect well-dressed mixologists blending house-infused spirits into eminently Instagram-able cocktails. “Here’s where you’ll find the emerging middle-class artisans,” Landman says.
Uganda has long been a top African exporter of coffee—often the cheap, low-quality kind. Endiro’s team began working with plantation owners, teaching them to harvest specialty-grade beans and raising the bar on Uganda coffee quality, so that farmers are seeing a tenfold increase in their incomes. This mini chain also nails the hipster ambiance . . . and serves a damn good cuppa.
One Minute South
This island villa, accessible only by boat, gets its name from its close proximity to the equator. Hammocks, fruit orchards, and even a croquet lawn dot the grounds, and an infinity pool overlooks Lake Victoria—a fertile playground for sailing, fishing, and bird-watching.
Khazana the Verandah
Kampala’s Indian population is massive, so ethnic food isn’t hard to come by. This plein air spot (the sister restaurant to the city’s hugely popular Khana Khazana) serves rich chicken tikka masala, palak paneer, and more on a pretty tiled patio.
If you’re interested in rubbing shoulders with Kampala’s elite, try this elevated English pub, known for its creative snacks and cocktails and its view overlooking the Sheraton’s gardens.
This sun-drenched gallery, founded in 2002, showcases contemporary art from Uganda and other East African nations. It’s the perfect place to pick out a painting, sculpture, or other work for your collection.
There’s a good reason this steakhouse is a must-visit for omnivorous tourists: It’s one of the best spots to try exotic game, such as smoked crocodile, ostrich, and kudu (a kind of antelope).
For beautiful wind chimes, vases, candleholders, and kitchenware, visit this small social enterprise: It provides fair-wage jobs to unemployed Ugandans crafting upcycled home goods from discarded glass.
This Italian deli, known for its lovely deck and its tasty meat and cheese plates, is transitioning into a steak house. “It’s a nice place to drink wine—imported, obviously,” Landman says.
When it opened, this shop sold only hip T-shirts printed in-house. Now it’s expanded its inventory to include made-in-Africa apparel, accessories, home goods, and stationery in a slick retail space.
“Oddly, this place has cocktails as good as they get,” Landman says—so don’t let the name turn you off. It’s a combo bar/upscale hostel where pretty young things gather to sip mixed drinks and draft beers while relaxing in the earth-toned lounge.
This Italian restaurant, set inside a boutique hotel, is hugely popular with Kampala’s expats—“so you’ll need a reservation any night,” Landman says. Come for the candlelit ambiance; stay for the surprisingly authentic fare.
Nkemnji Global Tech
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