Lizzie Williams
South Africa ZA
Jul 14, 2014 July 14, 2014

Lizzie is a reputed guidebook writer and author of the Footprint guides to South Africa, Namibia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

Category: Highlight of the Month

Jinja is a prominent town on Uganda’s share of Lake Victoria and is the source of the River Nile, and the scenic waters around Bujagali just upstream, are East Africa’s playground for adventure activities.

Jinja is the second largest city in Uganda, and sits attractively on Lake Victoria some 80 kilometres east of Kampala, linked by a ribbon of busy settlements surrounded by tea and sugar plantations. It’s best known as being the source of the Nile, and you can visit the spot where it spills out of Lake Victoria where’s there’s a plague celebrating when the first explorer John Speke made the discovery in 1862. Undoubtedly the greatest river on the African continent, the White Nile starts it life at Jinja and joins the Blue Nile in Ethiopia, and then the longest river in the world continues on its 6,650 kilometre journey to the Mediterranean.

But the source of the Nile is equally known as one of East Africa’s most popular adventure destinations. Some eight kilometres upstream, Bujagali Falls was until recently a raging one kilometre or white-water rapids, but since 2011 the Bujagali Dam has contained the foamy cascades and made it into a serene lake surrounded by tropical forests full of birds and monkeys. Now known as Lake Bujagali, here in the early mornings the Nile valley is shrouded in slowly-lifting mist, white egrets feed on the grassy banks and cormorants dry their wings on rocky outcrops, and later in the day vibrant sunsets reflect orange and purple off the river. Given its proximity to Kampala, natural beauty, good accommodation and facilities, and numerous exciting activities, it’s one of Uganda’s most popular attractions.

The well-established white-water rafting continued after the dam opened, and now starts three kilometres further downstream from the former falls and covers about a 30 kilometre stretch of the beautiful river. With lots of big, high-volume rapids, very exciting sections are mixed with quieter stretches to lay back and enjoy the scenery. The Nile is also a ‘must do’ for international kayakers, and the less experienced can tackle the rapids on a tandem kayak trip. Or you can ride a powerful jet-boat through the spray, blasting across the rapids, and just inches from rocky outcrops. For those who don’t want to get their feet wet, there are bird-watching and lunch and sunset cruises by pontoon boat around the forest-clad islands on the lake, or you can peacefully paddle your own dugout canoe.

On the lakeshore, there are horseback and mountain bike trails, and leisurely guided trips go to viewpoints along the river, while thrilling quad-bike adventures show you the lush countryside around Bujagali village. The 44-metre ‘Nile High Bungee Jump’ is literally a cliff-hanger because the platform is suspended over the edge of a cliff and gives jumpers the opportunity to water touch – a single headfirst splash in the river on the first bounce. A good way of learning more about rural life is to join a village walk. Knowledgeable villagers escort you around Bujagali and show agricultural production, building techniques and point out different plants and animals. The lifestyle and traditions of the villagers are all carefully explained, and the walk finishes with a traditional meal. Jinja and Bujagali is the source of the Nile, and with the long line of adventure activities on offer, it’s also Uganda’s source of adventure.

Best time to visit
There’s no bad time to visit Jinja and the surrounding region, thanks to its location close to the equator and year-round moderate temperatures, but as most activities are outdoors, it may be wise to avoid the rainy seasons from October and November from March to May.