5 things you must do in Kampala

2014-04-13 15:00

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Boda bodas are motorbike taxis that are fast, affordable and scary

1 Ride or die

Seasoned visitors to Kampala know that “special hires”, as the private cabs are called, are too pricy for daily use.

Minibus taxis, while widely used, are better suited to long-distance journeys. The motorcycle taxis, known as boda bodas, are best for a local commute.

It’s probably a good time to insert the disclaimer that their drivers are fairly lawless characters hated by pedestrians and other road users alike.

Once you get past their death-defying manoeuvres as you zip through Kampala’s standstill traffic, there is a bit of a thrill to be had before your arrival – perhaps a little weak-kneed, but in good time – at your doorstep.

Gorilla trails can be found close to the city

2 Be one with nature

When Lonely Planet magazine hand-picked Uganda as its number one tourist destination in 2012, it mostly referred to its foremost attraction – the rugged terrain bedecked with mountain ranges, forests and lakes, the natural homes of a stunning array of birds and beasts.

In Kampala you’re never too far away from a gorilla-tracking site, a hiking trail or a waterfall. It’s the perfect base for a safari holiday.

From your base in Kampala,
you can access magnificent mountain ranges, great lakes and lush forests

3 Get familiar

You’ll be fine as a conventional English speaker since, along with the region’s Kiswahili, it is Uganda’s official language. Luganda is the predominant native tongue within Buganda, the province where Kampala is situated.

But the localised influences, such as literal translations from Luganda or current affairs events, shape a turn of phrase that is uniquely Ugandan. Only a Ugandan will understand that when someone says, “You’re lost!”, they mean they haven’t seen you in a while.

Or if they would like you to move over on a seat, they’ll ask you to “extend”, from the Luganda word ‘sembera’.

The Owino Market is home to half a million traders with goods piled to the sky

4 Shop till you drop

Even by shopping mall standards, the ones in Kampala fall pretty short, boasting some unimaginatively architectural design, poor lighting and exorbitantly priced chain stores aimed at the much talked about growing upper middle classes of east Africa.

(There is a Mr Price and Woolworths in all the major malls.) The remaining majority of Kampala is more likely to purchase things like clothing at the sprawling maze of chaos infamously known as Owino Market.

An estimated 100 000 people elbow their way through throngs of shouting vendors (roughly half a million), piles upon piles of goods from cheap Chinese-manufactured electronics to second-hand clothing brought in from Europe.

A word to the wise. Never attempt to navigate Owino as a first-time visitor on your own.

You can buy fish fresh off the boats at Lake Victoria – or order it already prepared

5 Eat like a king

Designer Adèle Dejak once launched a fashion accessory range inspired by the Ggaba fishing community. It’s not hard to be inspired by the bustle of this landing dock on Lake Victoria’s northern shores.

Here, fish fresh out the lake is sold by auction and if you fancy it, you can enjoy fried or grilled fish to order, accompanied by mashed green bananas steamed in their own leaves.

Ugandans make a science of roasting pork and you can easily traverse the city looking for the best pork joint without tiring. A general rule of thumb is that the best ones are very simply presented, often harbouring a few plastic tables and chairs.

Served usually with your choice of kachumbari (a chilli tomato relish), cassava, greens or salads, this meal is as good an alcohol accompaniment as it is a hangover cure.

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