Located 60 miles (100 km) east of Uganda’s capital, Kampala, Jinja is best known as an adventure sports playground. Nestled between green swathes of forest and the sloping banks of the river Nile, this town attracts everyone from volunteers and backpackers, to serious adrenaline junkies on the trip of a lifetime. Here are 10 reasons to visit.
The source of the Nile
Most people associate the Nile with Egypt, but the source of the world’s second longest river begins in landlocked Uganda, specifically in Jinja. It takes water three months to complete the 4000- mile journey from Jinja to the Mediterranean sea.The source is, understandably, something of a tourist attraction these days, marked by souvenir stands and cafes. It’s on the eastern bank of the Nile, which is known as ‘Omugga Kiyira’ among local people. There’s a small entry fee to reach the jetty but once you’re there you can jump on a boat bound for the spurt that spawned the river. Boat trips start at US$40 per hour.
Jinja has long been famous for its extreme sports, notably white water rafting along the river Nile. Although some of the waterfalls that gave rise to the crazy rapids have been contained by dams in recent years, there are still some good spots to get up close and personal with white water. All Jinja hotels, backpackers hostels and resorts can organise white water rafting excursions. It’s advisable to use a reputable company as the rapids can be dangerous. Nile River Explorers and Adrift Adventure are two of the best; they both offer full and half-day Nile adventures from $125 per person. And you’ll be in good company — Adrift Adventure has hosted some famous folks in the past, including Prince William, Mikka Hakkanen, Ewan Macgregor and Charlie Boorman.
A trip to Jinja doesn’t have to be all about extreme sports. You can kayak the Nile rapids, but If you’re not an adrenaline junkie, there’s no need to despair; there are plenty of gentler ways to experience the river, from boat trips to slow rafting and kayaking. Kingfisher Safaris Resort, on the edge of Jinja, organises daily boat trips along the Nile. Kayak The Nile offers gentle river paddling excursions. The price for a half day’s paddling starts from US$85 per person and includes transport from Kampala or Jinja town. Its two-day introductory kayak school caters to complete beginners (from $230 per person).
Besides experiencing the Nile by boat, one of the best ways to see the second-longest river in the world is by riding on horseback along its eastern bank. Nile Horseback Safaris runs one- to three-hour Nile safaris in groups arranged according to experience. They cater for everyone from beginners to advanced riders. Overnight extreme safaris can also be arranged.
Life in Jinja may revolve around water, but it’s a great spot to take to the sky. You can strap yourself into a glider and soar through the air, gaining a bird’s eye view of the glorious river Nile down below. Fly Mami Afrika is among the best-known paragliding operators in Uganda, and the only one operating in Jinja. Flights last between 15 minutes and an hour, and begin from Mbale on the Kenyan border (a two-hour drive from Jinja), winding up in Jinja after a flight that can reach about 200 meters in altitude.
Uganda’s extreme sports capital certainly lives up to its name, with some of the best white water rafting on the African continent. But there are plenty of other extreme sports to get stuck into in Jinja, including bungee jumping and jet boating. Adrift Adventure has bungee jumping packages from $115. The 44-meter high platform and rope are engineered to New Zealand standards, easing worries about safety; the company says that you’re more likely to have an accident driving to the site than you are during the jump. Participants relax beforehand in a special Congolese King’s throne – a luxurious way to begin the experience!
Jinja might not be a foodie’s paradise but it is home to some of Uganda’s most chilled-out eateries. Main Street is the principal thoroughfare, where you’ll find great spots for relaxing such as Flavours Coffee Bar and The Pearl Restaurant, Lounge and Bar. The Keep is Jinja’s best brunch restaurant – their pancakes and cream cheese bagels go down a treat – while The Source Café and Gately on Nile are also worth a visit. Many of the more upmarket hotels also have their own in-house restaurants.
Great places to stay
From backpackers hostels to plush resorts, Jinja has a good selection of places to stay. Jinja Backpackers is nestled on the banks of the Nile in green surrounds and has a great little on-site restaurant, Mezzanine. Emerald Backpackers, near the centre of town, also has some lovely gardens and a great bar area with a pool table, wi-fi and friendly staff. In the mid-range category, Kingfisher Safaris Resort’s main draw is that it’s far outside town, between the forest and the Nile. Two Friends Guesthouse is more central, and its bar/nightclub is a popular spot on weekends for drinking and dancing, among locals as well as tourists. The plushest hotel is surely Jinja Nile Resort, which also has a lovely pool that’s open to non-guests for a fee.
Give something back
Given its reputation for extreme sports and outdoor fun, it’s no wonder lots of people come to Jinja to volunteer. Giving back to the community is one way of maximizing a stay in Jinja. Opportunities are available to teach in local schools, work with children in orphanages and work on eco-projects. We recommend choosing well-known, reputable companies, although there are also some excellent grassroots projects worth supporting. Check www.idealist.org and www.projects-abroad.com for ideas.
Many of the guesthouses and coffee shops in and around Jinja sell arts, crafts, clothing and jewelry that has been fairly-produced by people in nearby communities. Jinja Fair Trade exports its products overseas, including women’s scarves and headbands. Jinja Jewelry is a faith-based group that creates jobs for formerly unemployed people to make fairly-produced beads, bracelets, necklaces and other pretty items.
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