The Central region of Uganda is largely occupied by Buganda, part of the Great Bantu who is believed to have migrated from the west and central Africa.
These scattered bands of people were organized into clans. The original five clans were Ffumbe, Lugave, Nnyange, Njaza and Nnyonyi. Members of these clans will never miss a chance to remind you of this fact!
Back then, however, the region was so sparsely populated it was known as ‘Mwaawa’ meaning, ‘a place of few people’.
There were constant quarrels between clans to determine who was stronger or better than the other. That was until one clan leader by the name of Bemba showed more guile to become the overall leader. Unfortunately for Bemba out of his house reputedly called Buganda. That, in a nutshell, is how the lines of Buganda kings (Kabakas) began 700 years ago. The present Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II is a cultural leader.
The southern parts wrap themselves around Lake Victoria in a loving embrace typified by some really beautiful beaches. Banana plantations once covered many slopes of these hills, because plantain bananas are the staple food of this region
However, due to the population pressures, the plantations have given way to real estate developments and all other attributes associated with modernity. By virtue of being chosen by the British colonialists as the administrative centre of Uganda, there are buildings that reflect the past. To be sure, not many but a couple still carry the solid stamp of colonialism.
You cannot talk about Central Uganda without mentioning the Buganda Kingdom since the two are part and parcel of the same thing. This whole character of this region is shaped by traditions closely related to the rule of the Kabaka (king). It is a realm that goes back 700 years. Absolute monarchy is no more but loyalty to the Kabaka is an underlying factor of people’s lives.
Kampala City at a Glance
A first-time visitor to Kampala could be forgiven for being shocked by the apparent chaos in this cradle of happiness. Please don’t be alarmed it is part of the Kampala charm. Spread over various hills, the city offers modern amenities amidst brilliant sunshine. Accommodation facilities vary from budget to luxury, the choice is yours. Kampala oozes with the zest of life. This explains the exciting motorbike taxis (locally known as Boda boda). Their urgency to get you to your destination is well-matched with the excitement you get while manoeuvring through the city suburbs.
Nevertheless, Kampala today bustles with infectious jamming energy from the various entertainment spots and shoes throughout the year no wonder it is referred to as East Africa’s entertainment capital. It can be jammed or quiet in some areas then immaculately pristine in others but the mix of sounds and colours convey a city that cannot easily succumb to boredom.
Moving around Kampala- Kampala traffic jams can be frustrating just like other cities around the world but with the flexibility of moving on Boda bodas, you can manoeuvre and get to your destination in time. However, you are advised to use a helmet while using Boda bodas
Using commuter taxis is yet another awakening experience, taking through the cities, suburbs and outskirts of the city. You’re advised to move with someone familiar with the city as it may be easy to get off from a totally different corner of Kampala.
Fresh Fruit in Kampala- The tropical climate along the equator provides quite a conducive weather for vegetation and fruits throughout the entire year. You should visit and enjoy the freshness right from the garden.
Uganda Martyrs Trail
Uganda Martyrs Trail is Uganda’s exclusive faith tourism experience found nowhere else. The trail takes you through the first Christian missionaries and martyrs trails. It ends up at Namugongo, east of Kampala, where most of the Uganda Martyrs were burnt at the stake.
Today every 3rd June, a public holiday, Uganda and the rest of the Christian world commemorate the Uganda Martyrs. Of the 45 martyrs, 22 are today saints in the Roman Catholic church. The other 23 are from the Anglican Church of Uganda.
Three popes, including the current Pope Francis, have visited the Namugongo shrine and Uganda Martyrs Museum.
It was in the 1800s when Christian missionaries first wandered into central Uganda. Their subsequent influence is clearly seen today in the churches perched atop of the most prominent hills in Central Kampala.
The Catholics were given Rubaga Hill where the cathedral imposingly stands. This Romanesque structure with the twin belfry has all the trappings of great houses of worship found in Europe or South America. Once inside the grandness is intensified by the colourful paintings and mosaics that depict a mix of both European and African influence united in their faith. It is here where you will find the remains of the first African Catholic Bishop in Uganda, Bishop Joseph Kiwanuka.
St. Paul’s Cathedral Namirembe
St Paul’s Cathedral (commonly known as Namirembe Cathedral) on Namirembe Hill is where the Anglican Church of Uganda built the oldest cathedral in Uganda. There have been at least four versions of this church since 1890 as some were destroyed by fire. The present-day structure was constructed between 1915 and 1919. It probably has the largest pipe organ piano in Uganda.
The Bahai faith was introduced in Uganda at the beginning of 1958. The Bahai Temple, the only one of its kind in Africa and one 6 worldwide, was built and completed in 1961 atop Kikaya Hill in Kyebando, a Kampala suburb.
Designed by Charles Mason Ramey, the temple sits on 50-acre immaculate gardens that attract people from far and wide. The tranquillity you experience in and out of the temple is in itself triumph to the designer.
Found in Old Kampala, the National Mosque stands to overlook the central business district of Kampala. Originally named after the late Libyan leader, Muammar Ghaddafi, the National mosque is Africa’s second-largest mosque. Visits to the mosque are permitted under the rules of the establishment. A walk to the top of the minaret gives you a panoramic view of Kampala.
Uganda Wildlife Education Center
Within a 40-minute drive from Kampala, a visit to Uganda Wildlife Education Center (UWEC) in Entebbe is fun for both the young and old. Popularly known as the zoo, the centre sits on the shores of Lake Victoria. A visit to the centre is a microcosm of what you will find in our famed national parks.
Not far from the centre is Uganda’s first botanical garden, the Entebbe botanical gardens, which is itself a magical wonder for nature lovers. Here you will get to see Uganda’s first tea plant-today it is a tree.
Some of the major species of wildlife from across Uganda can be found at the wildlife Education Center including lions, waterbucks, different bird species and leopards and these are just a few of what visitors get to see during the visit. The joy of the centre is that you cannot help but marvel at the fact that these animals are within touching distance and knowing that you should not touch them.
Conquer your fears, pop in at the snake park, which is situated along Kampala-Entebbe highway. Let the handlers guide you into understanding, caressing the holding these misunderstood reptiles. All the dreaded culprits are there including mamba, Cobras and vipers alongside pythons for good measure.
Hard to believe, but at the snake park, it is frequently loved at first flight. Fear gradually gives way to fascination, as they coil and wrap themselves around you. You can get really close to the most dangerous reptiles at the snake park and still get back to your hotel safe and sound. Every Precaution is taken so that nothing gets loose.
You will get a kick out of watching the pythons and other snakes watching you. A snake’s tongue is always in motion because it is the organ it uses to smell out any prey. Some of the varieties of snakes here have a lifespan of more than 40years if given proper care.
Arts and Crafts
Kampala City has a host of craft and art galleries to buy colourful kitenge (African textiles), sculptures, paintings and other souvenirs to take back home with you. You will find them in the city centre, the suburbs and the numerous malls.
On display is a wide selection of items that define Uganda. It could be a clay pot, sandals, various drums, flutes or milk carriers. It is impossible to know exactly what you fancy until you are actually there. But one thing is for sure, you cannot leave Uganda without a souvenir to remind you of this lifetime experience!
The Uganda Museum
The Uganda Museum is found on Kira Road in the Kamwokya suburb which is a 15-minute drive from the city centre. The Uganda Museum is an ideal starting point to get some of the solid grounding information about the country, its people, cultures, traditions. Some of the exhibits go back decades especially capturing the colonial period while a few other exhibits go back thousands of years before.
The grounds of the museum offer sanctuary for some quiet reading or a short rest before you move to your next destination. Also, in the neighbourhood is The Acacia Mall for a great shopping experience and curio shops at Kisementi. The grounds also offer a sanctuary for checking your itinerary or a short read before you move on to your next spot.
If you are lucky, someone may even demonstrate a musical instrument to tickle your ears alongside an opportunity to buy Uganda art and craft. On the museum grounds is a cultural village which is very popular with school children because it transforms book text into reality.
The first Ford Model T to hit Uganda’s roads gives the impression it can go for another round while providing a highlight of Uganda’s Automobile heritage.
All ethnic groups of Uganda have displays at the museum that help convey a substantial part of their heritage
Cultural sites in the central
From Twekobe (Kabaka’s Mengo palace) to the giant Bulange (Buganda’s parliament) in Mengo right in the heart of Kampala, one gets a firsthand cultural experience in central Uganda. The Mengo Palace has been the official residence of for generations of reigning monarchs since 1885. The magnificent reed and ring work representing the 52 clans of the Baganda, the equally long and straight poles wrapped with barkcloth all contribute to the mysticism, respect, and awe going back to the 14th century.
Uganda has its share of ancient mysticism. Few are exciting as the tales and myths that surround the short-lived Bachwezi Empire. Only three kings, Ndahura, Mulindwa and Wamara are recorded to have resigned. No one is quite sure where these tall regal cattle-keepers came from and why they seemingly disappeared.
Over the tears, however, the folklore associated with Bachwezi has taken on religious fervour symbolized by such sites as Nakayima Tree Located on a hill that overlooks Mubende town, nearly 143 km west of Kampala. Nakayima, a favourite medium for Ndahura, once lived here and her spirit resides in the tree which also symbolizes fertility and other blessings.
Certain rituals must be undertaken to have any chance of getting any favours from Nakayima. This includes circling it while making your offerings all prescribed by a jjaja who acts like a guardian at this shrine.
Uganda is one of the few countries in the world where the imaginary line that divides the earth into two halves passes. The Uganda Equator crosses into Uganda at appointing situated 72km south of Kampala-Masaka highway. At this point, there are two cement circles marking the Equator line and it is worth stopping if you are travelling to Masaka or Kampala for a photo moment.
Also, watch a demonstration by a local entrepreneur on how water swirls in opposite directions in the Northern and Southern Hemisphere at the Equator line. Other Equator markers are located in Kasese District within the Queen Elizabeth National Park, 420km southwest of Kampala.
On your way to the western region from the capital, Kampala you cannot miss the Equator in Mpigi. Like a colossus, you can plant one foot in the southern and another in the northern hemisphere.