Entebbe is a peninsula town on the northern shores of Lake Victoria. It is the most charming town, a summer-like lake resort where residents do no more business than is necessary. The town spreads passively, carelessly over the peninsula, in an equally lazy fashion, to the lake. Its houses are more like lost among the trees, for a significant part of Entebbe is heavily wooded.
Entebbe is even more attractive when seen close at hand than when viewed from afar. It is a picnic-suggesting haven amid a well-timbered botanical gardens park, where the grass comes down to the water’s edge.
When you hike up to the high ground, like on Nsamizi Hill, you can see a glimpse of Lake Victoria through a gap in trees or a barrier of palm trunks from every point.
The view from the height upon which the State House stands is unequaled for charm. It shows a broad arm of the sea, alive with islands, stretching inland to recede from view among the tree-covered hills. It is a flood of blue water pouring eagerly into the great green forest.
Sprawling along the Lake Victoria shore, some 35 kilometers south of Kampala, Entebbe exudes a tropical languor atmosphere. And particularly for those with a strong interest in natural history (and who aren’t looking for budget accommodation), it makes for an altogether more appealing introduction to Uganda than the capital, Kampala.
And even if you stay in Kampala, this pretty lakeside town is only worth visiting for its lush green golf course, spectacular scenery, and wonderful botanical garden. The garden, teeming with birds, practically guarantees close-up views of black-and-white colobus monkeys.
Entebbe’s attractions, like Ngamba Chimpanzee Island, Mabamba Swamps, and Ssese (Kalangala) Islands on Lake Victoria and UWEC Zoo, are a rewarding introduction to Uganda’s incredible gifts.
Entebbe is a popular choice for Ugandans on holiday. Most inbound travelers can’t avoid it because it is the only international airport in Uganda. Many tourists spend a day or two here before or after their countryside journey.
There’s accommodation to cater to all travel styles. From budget hostels to upmarket luxury hotels, restaurants, and bars, Entebbe cuts off the crowded and noisy Kampala experience.
Entebbe is connected to the mainland with a single road like United Kindom and Bahrain and is the only connection to international air traffic. Also, by water, like the famous colonial explorer John Hanning Speke, you can leisurely float between Entebbe, Tanzania, Kenya, and other Ugandan ports on Lake Victoria.
Entebbe can be one of your most exciting African cities on large water bodies to explore with just a bike. Even traveling between Entebbe and the mainland is exciting because the first city you enter inland is the bustling Ugandan capital, Kampala. Where local and international cultures mix and mingle to create a vibrant environment for evolving modern new cultures.
Minibus taxis from Kampala to Entebbe leave from the old taxi park every ten minutes or so and take up to an hour. Entebbe has a central taxi park in Kitooro town, about 3 km from the International Airport, where you can catch a Kampala-bound public taxi.
You’ll find the other taxi park between the police station and Victoria Mall in the main colonial town. You can catch a direct ride from here to Kampala for about 6,000 UGX.
Private taxis are all over the place, but one that will often cross your sight while you stroll or ride around busy roads is the yellow-striped airport taxi. These park at the airport, on the roadside at Flight Motel in Kitooro town, and they are what most tourists use for private travel to the city and back.
They charge in US Dollars (between $50 and $100), which makes locals avoid them. But sometimes charge in Uganda Shillings during the low tourist seasons. You could negotiate 100,000 UGX for a ride to Kampala.
You can take a ‘Boda-boda’ (local name for motorbike taxi) from or to Kampa for about 30,000 to 50,000 shillings if you find taxis and minibusses annoying and slow.
Here’s how; stand at any busy roadside, raise your hand high and yell ‘BODA-BODA!’ when you see any motorbike pass your way without a passenger. Just don’t bring up your rights to getting a passenger helmet; they never have any. Take the Boda-Boda ride if riding a motorbike in the streets of African traffic without a helmet doesn’t trigger your fear of motor accidents.
You can also reach Entebbe from inland Masaka Town on the east of Lake Victoria via the Ssese Islands or Nakiwogo Port by boat or ferry.
Entebbe has a great selection of shopping malls within the peninsular and along the highway to Kampala. For a more Ugandan feel of the local markets, visit the Kitoro town center open market. The town is surrounded by cheap and upmarket supermarkets like Upland supermarket, Airgate, Pearl Supermarket, and Entebbe Shoppers.
Imperial Mall, opposite the entrance to the state house, along the route to Botanical Gardens and UWEC, also has forex shops, clothing, crafts, and the legendary Riders Restaurant and Bar.
Victoria Mall in the town along the highway gives you several shopping options, including international retail stores like Carrefour, upmarket restaurants like Javas Cafes, and fast-food restaurants like KFC. The mall has a cinema, forex exchange, banks, Kids and safari wears shop. Visitors can buy souvenirs outside the mall from the sprawling art and crafts market.
As you head out of Entebbe, Coinworth, Capital Shoppers, and Cynibel Supermarket, along the old (not the expressway) highway towards Kampala City, stand out as great shopping points.
Bureau such as Jetset Forex Bureau (Kampala Road & Entebbe Airport), Unimoni (Imperial Shopping Mall), and Metropolitan Forex Bureau (Victoria Mall) will change money faster and inexpensively than banks and bureaus in Kampala.
Many travelers with a late evening flight head down early to Entebbe to enjoy a pleasant afternoon rather than getting stuck in the Kampala traffic. Lake Victoria Hotel, Lake Heights, Hotel No.5, and Botanical Beach seem happy to store luggage for visitors who pay to use the swimming pool or have lunch. Lake Victoria Hotel is perhaps a more pleasant setting to spend a few hours than the rest. The Imperial Gardens Hotel is convenient to wander down to the Botanical Garden or Wildlife Education Centre (Zoo).
Lake Victoria Hotel pool is open to non-residents on payment of 20,000 shillings per person; kids pay 10k. The Imperial Botanical Beach Hotel has a vast in-house swimming pool for 15,000 shillings; children pay 10K. Protea Hotel (just outside the airport), Lake Heights Hotel, K-Hotel, and Hotel No.5 offer 15k per person public swimming pools.
Entebbe Botanical Garden is an attractively laid-out mix of indigenous forest, beaches, picnic lawns, flower and fruit gardens, and nature walking trails. You can also access boutique hotels, shopping malls, souvenir shops, and restaurants outside the protected area.
The botanical gardens are a desirable birdwatcher’s destination. They offer an excellent introduction to Uganda’s birds ranging from Lake Victoria specials such as grey kestrel, yellow-throated leaflove, slender-billed weaver, and Jackson’s golden-backed weaver to the more widespread but striking black-headed gonolek, Red-chested sunbird, grey-capped warbler, and common wattle-eye. In addition to various shorebirds, the impressive palmnut vulture and fish eagle are common, and a pair of giant eagle owls are resident. Forest birds include the splendid ross, great blue turaco, and the noisy black-and-white casqued hornbill.
Some fans claim that some early Tarzan films were shot in Entebbe’s botanical gardens. An unverified legend that gains some plausibility when you compare the giggling of the plantain-eaters that frequent the botanical garden with the chimp noises that punctuate the old movies.
There are some mammals around — no chimps, of course — but you can be confident of seeing vervet and black-and-white colobus monkeys and tree squirrels.
Entebbe botanical garden is a beautiful place to picnic, take nature walks, and hang out at the beach. It is an excellent setting for family photography. Daily admission to the Botanical Gardens per person is 3,000 shillings, vehicle 2k.
UWEC zoo is a sanctuary for rescued animals that would be unable to fend for themselves in the wild. It plays an essential role in protecting rare and threatened animals.
The lions are some of the zoo’s residents of much interest to many visitors. Their nocturnal vocalizations add a distinct sense of place to a night in any nearby hotel. Other famous animals include a pair of recently reintroduced tigers, cheetahs, black rhinos, and a variety of smaller predators common in Uganda’s national parks.
The zoo’s aviary provides the most reliable opportunity of getting a close-up shot of the celebrated prehistoric shoebill bird.
Entebbe’s most attractive feature on the drive towards the airport is the open expanse of the 18-hole golf course sloping towards Lake Victoria. A far friendlier setup than the snotty Kampala Golf Club, it’s also far more affordable: non-members pay 30,000 shillings, and club hire costs 20k
It’s also one of few golf clubs worldwide where a hooked drive on the 3rd might hit a rhino (in the neighboring Wildlife Education Centre). Entebbe gets hot during the day, so head out early or take the late afternoon tour.
Further afield, the Mpanga Forest, Mabira Forest, and Mabamba Swamp make good day trips, mainly if you are interested in birds. The Nile corridor at Jinja offers a range of activities, including horse riding and white-water rafting trips, all of which are feasible as day trips from Entebbe or Kampala. Let’s look at some other options below.
A couple of domestic flight operators based out of Kajansi Airport, 28 kilometers on Entebbe-Kampala Road, offer aerial tours over Entebbe, Kampala, and far across the country. Prominent local operators include
Price estimates can be $175 over Kampala for 30 minutes, $375 to the Ssese Islands for 90 minutes, and $375 to Jinja for 90 minutes. Prices are for a Cessna airplane that can carry three passengers, and they’ll also take you up to do acrobatics!
Situated 23km southeast of Entebbe, the 50ha Ngamba Island forms part of the Kome archipelago, a group of about 15 islands and islets separated from Lake Victoria’s northern shore, 10km-wide Damba Channel.
The island is a sanctuary for orphaned chimps relocated there from the Uganda Wildlife Education Centre (UWEC) in Entebbe and the smaller Isinga Island in Queen Elizabeth National Park. UWA authorities saved many of the island’s chimps from captivity or smuggling. They brought them to the island for rehabilitation and care.
Wild Frontiers operates an Eco-lodge on the island, with four permanent luxury cottages, ten standard camping tents, and five standard camping tents.
Caretakers feed the chimpanzees fruits from a viewing platform that allows visitors to observe and photograph them through a fence. Day trips to the island intentionally coincide with the pre-arranged supplementary feeding times of 11.00 and 14.30, when the chimpanzees come within meters of a raised walkway.
Proceeds from tourist visits go directly back into the sanctuary’s maintenance and the organization’s other chimpanzee-related projects.
By prior arrangement, half-day trips by motorboat leave Entebbe at 09.30 and 13.00 daily. These enable access to two daytime chimpanzee feedings from the visitors’ platform, plus the early morning feeding in the holding facility. Kayaks are available to explore the island bays searching for monitor lizards, otters, and some of the 154 recorded bird species. In contrast, other optional activities for overnight visitors include visiting a local fishing village, a sunset cruise, and fishing.
Standard day visits cost upwards of US$88 per person, depending on timing and group numbers. Visits can be arranged through most tour operators in Kampala or direct through the exclusive operator, G&C Tours (0772 502155; email@example.com).
This small (100 acre) patch of the remnant forest lies a couple of hundred meters off the Kampala—Entebbe road at Kisubi, 14mi (23km) from Kampala. If you’ve insufficient time to visit larger and better-known forests or are short of money, a visit to Zika provides a cheap and convenient taste of a tropical forest.
The Entebbe-based Uganda Virus Research Institute owns the forest. It contains a unique (in Uganda) four-story metal tower used to ascertain what sort of bugs inhabit which strata of forest vegetation. You’ll also find a fa narrow metal ladder, which will elevate you into open skies above the trees to enjoy a bird’s eye view of the forest canopy. A small walking trail network also explores the forest at ground level.
From Kampala, turn right just beyond a ‘Kampala 23 km’ sign immediately before Mivule Primary School on the right and Kisubi Savio Primary School on the left. Follow a left turn behind the school after 50m. A caretaker will have you sign a book and pay a quasi-official fee of Ush3,000.
No more than 15km west of Entebbe as the crow flies, the Mabamba Swamp extends across more than 38 sq mi (100 sq km) from a shallow, marshy bay on Lake Victoria’s northern shore.
Mabamba swamps are an Important Bird Area, home to an excellent selection of water-associated bird species. The mashes are the most reliable place in the country for shoebill sightings.
Villagers at the small lakeshore village of Mabamba offer dugout trip into the swamp for about 40,000 shilling per head. The unit cost is lower for larger groups, and the guides are usually capable of locating shoebills within a few minutes. Even if you’re out of luck on that score, it’s a lovely and mellow boat trip.
Other localized birds you’re likely to see include pygmy goose, lesser jacana, gull-billed tern, blue-breasted bee-eater, and the papyrus-specific Carruthers’s cisticola and white-winged warbler.
Entebbe and Mabamba lie at least 25mi (40km) apart by road, and the trip there takes about one hour. At Mabamba jetty, the dugouts leave for the swamps. Travelers dependent on public transport should have no problem getting to Kasanje, from where they will probably have to charter a boda-boda or taxi to get to the swamp.