Banda Island is part of the Ssese Islands on Lake Victoria, Uganda. Only 1km by 2km, it is owned by Dominic, an eccentric British Kenyan ("I was going to move to Paris but I thought fuck - why don't I buy an island instead") Dom has built stone huts for his guests, while settling for a modest castle for himself, with views of the lake and hammocks on the beach. The guest toilet is in a circular building in the middle of the rainforest, with a throne like toilet in the middle.
Like turning up at Glastonbury Festival after the crowds have gone home, to find a few stragglers left by a campfire, Banda Island is a place where people intend to stay for a few days but end up staying months. A typical day involves eating, lounging, hippo-spotting, making your way through the donated book selection, and sitting around a fire on the beach - all accompanied by Dominic's homemade banana gin in a plastic kettle.
This little place on the lake shore - opposite the huge Overlanders place - is quiet and pretty with room for camping as well as the huts. Each of these is perfectly comfortable, even though the shower is more like standing under a dripping tap! But it's the staff that make this place - young, friendly and with Ronald cooking delicious food. Try the crayfish curry. The lake is stunning, especially from the top of the hill, the 29 islands seeming to float on its surface.
P.O Box 242,, Kabale, Uganda
Google map: bit.ly/nktzRQ
You can't beat the combination of being close to nature 24/7 but having all the home comforts of a hotel. So, Nile Safari Lodge ticked all these boxes.
We were greeted with a cold towel and a refreshing juice on check-in and treated like kings from then on. Our lodge was sat on the edge of the Nile and from the balcony we could see hippos floating by and monkeys playing on our roof and in the trees. However, the highlight was watching around 70 elephants feeding on the opposite bank while we sipped our sundowners.
The private outdoor shower attached to the room was a treat - one day we had a monkey peeping over to see what was going on!
This lodge was recommended to us by a family member who works for the parent company, Geolodges. There were plenty of other touches which made our stay, including tea and coffee brought to our lodge along with the wake-up calls and hot towels being brought to us after a long safari. I'd highly recommend it for those planning a safari in Uganda.
Mailing address: Unit 8, Plot 1-3 Coral Crescent,
Lower Kololo, Kampala
+256 41 425 8273
+256 31 226 0758
The lodge is around six hours from Kampala so it's probably best to hire a driver to get there.
Being a veggie it can be tricky eating out in some parts of the world. So when I’m presented with a choice from the menu it comes as a bit of a surprise, so much so that what I tend to do at Govinda’s pure vegetarian restaurant on De Winton road in Kampala is go for the thali lunch that works out at incredible value.
The lunch is a buffet with a selection of salad starters, various chillies and pickles three or four curries and soups plus puris chapattis and rice which is always followed by a sweet and washed down with an endless supply of chas a rather refreshing butter milk drink.
Being a buffet you can pile your thali tray as high as you like or just go back for several helpings and do this all for the price of 10,000 UGX which is about £2.70. Yum!
Plot 9, Dewinton Rd. (Kampala), Kampala (at Iskon Hare Krishna Temple Building)
Google map: bit.ly/ht3ErN
People here are very laid back and the feeling is contagious! We managed to go three days without a cup of coffee didn’t seem to mind.
You hear the words "Hakuna Matata" everywhere. Literally.
Internet services down nationwide all day? Hakuna Matata...
Flights cancelled? Hakuna Matata...
Two hours in wall-to-wall rush hour traffic in Kampala? Hakuna Matata...
In the Mukono District, about an hour outside of Kampala, Uganda, we met Edward Mukiibi and Roger Serunjogi, coordinators of the Developing Innovations in School Cultivation (DISC) project. Edward, 23, and Roger, 22 are improving nutrition, environmental awareness and food traditions by establishing school gardens at preschool, day and boarding schools. By teaching kids early about growing, preparing, and eating food they hope to cultivate the next generation of farmers and eaters who can preserve Uganda’s culinary traditions. “If a person doesn’t know how to cook or prepare food, they don’t know how to eat,” says Edward.
One DISC student, 19 year-old Mary Naku, says she’s gained leadership and farming skills from the program. “As youth we have learned to grow fruits and vegetables,” she says, “to support our lives.” Thanks to DISC, students see agriculture as a way to make money, help their communities, and preserve biodiversity.
At the HIV/AIDS Resource Center in Katuna (on the border between Uganda and Rwanda and one of many towns along what is known as the Northern Transport Corridor—a span of highway that stretches from Mombasa, Kenya through Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan and all the way to Djibouti), we were introduced to the important work of the Solidarity Center and Uganda’s Amalgamated Transport and General Workers Union (ATGWU). The Solidarity Center is a non-profit launched by the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), to empower workers around the world by helping them form unions.
The Center and ATGWU are working with truckers, who have some of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS in Eastern Africa due to the frequent and lengthy delays at the border which often lead to boredom, drinking and unsafe sex, by providing care, support and information through one-on-one or community group outreach. The Center also provides free testing for truck drivers, already more than 5,000 of them to date.
We would be remiss if we didn’t mention that Uganda, like most of the countries in Africa, is full of contradictions. While we were there, the "Bahati Bill" was introduced in parliament, calling for life in prison—and in some case the death penalty—for people found “guilty” of homosexual activity. As gay marriage laws are passed around the world, including most recently in Mexico City, it's hard to believe that lawmakers would punish people for being gay or having HIV/AIDS.
But as we traveled we couldn’t help but immediately feel, and fall in love with, the pulse and energy of the bustling country.
As a fellow writer commented, porters for your gorilla safaris are essential. This encourages local employment and money back into the local community.
When I was looking at this I found World Primate Safaris as a specialist gorilla safari operator who seemed very good with excellent local knowledge. They are the sister company of World Big Cat Safaris and once again seem to know their stuff.
Gorilla Safaris - www.worldprimatesafaris.com/destinations/rwanda/main-attractions/
World Primate Safaris - www.worldprimatesafaris.com
Overall, the Aponye Hotel in Kampala, Uganda is a very good budget option in the heart of the bustling city center. It is in walking distance from restaurants, markets, ATMs, the bus station and more. Approximately $40/night, the room was very simple, clean, with air-conditioning and hot showers, and Wifi in the lobby.
Apollo House, Plot 17b William Street, Kampala
I booked a wildlife holiday in Uganda through Prana Holidays. (I use them for all my travels). It was a great 10 days and the highlight was the trek to see the mountain gorilla in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park. I was forewarned that it was hard work and that it may be useful to pre-arrange a porter to help with my luggage. Being a normal bloke, I decided not to do this as I could manage. If I ever do this again (which I hope I get the chance too) I will definately get a porter. The ones on our trek were amazing, only young but so fit and strong as well as helpful. Not just carrying bags with camera's etc but actually encouraging and at times pushing people up slippery slopes. It would have saved me a bucket full of sweat and made an amazing experience even better.
Uganda Wildlife Authority - www.uwa.or.ug/bwindi.html
Prana Holidays Uganda Trip - www.pranaholidays.com/discovery-adventure-holidays/uganda-gorillas-in-the-mist/
Amazing mix of colours, sights and sounds.
Best tip - buy a couple of kilos of crickets from the old lady sitting under the umbrella at the very far end of the market. Crickets? Yes, don't be squeamish! They are caught by children for Ugandan pennies, de-winged, and then kept alive in a huge covered barrel, which keeps them docile and sleepy.
Fry them quickly over a high heat - they taste exactly like prawns! My children couldn't stop eating them, and we had to fight them for a grown up share!
Grown up tip: fried crickets are delicious nibbled as you sip your Ugandan beer sitting in the sunshine, waiting your meal to arrive freshly cooked...yum.
Kampala Market, centre of Kampala, by the taxi rank.
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