Famous as the historic source of the Nile River, Jinja is now the adrenaline capital of East Africa. Get your fix of white-water rafting, kayaking, quad biking, mountain biking and horse riding in a gorgeous natural setting with crumbling colonial architecture. The Nile River’s world-famous rapids are under threat, however. In 2011 the Bujagali Hydroelectric Project buried around half of the rapids under a giant reservoir. Although the government has pledged to not further dam the river, Uganda still needs energy and so a new hydroelectric plant is planned for Kalagala Falls. Though worker strikes and faulty construction have it behind schedule for now, it’s expected that the Isimba Dam will flood some key rapids and even an island lodging as early as October 2018. It’s not the end of rafting though. Meanwhile locals keep pushing to keep Jinja’s tourism industry alive with offerings that have wisely begun to diversify.
The Top Attractions and activities in Jinja town
Whitewater Rafting in Jinja:
This is arguably one of the top things to do in Uganda and Jinja town particular. The Grade 5 Whitewater rafting experience in Jinja is the best in Africa. It is a scary activity but also very exciting and thrilling like nothing else. Whitewater rafting is organized as a half or full day activity. The activity not only involves navigating through the rapids but also making stops at some of the islands. The islands have an amazing collection of green vegetation, birds and primates like Vervet monkeys.
Prepare to be thrown out the raft at least once as you head downstream but with nothing to worry about – You will be rowing with some of the most experienced crews in the world. The crew will pick you up each time you are thrown out of the raft. You do not need to be experienced to take part in the activity. The companies know how to handle both beginners and expert rafters. Whitewater rafting in Jinja occurs throughout the year and costs between $140 and $150. All whitewater rafting companies take safety seriously. Participants are given protective gear and escorted by several rescue kayaks. So why not go for whitewater rafting in Jinja? The memory of floating down rapids of the longest river on earth will stay with you for the rest of your life.
This experience is similar to white water rafting but with a difference. Instead of using the balloon rafts, you conquer the rapids using a high speed boat moving at speeds of up to 90 kilometers per hour. This activity costs $75 for adults and will also give you the same adrenaline rush typical of all the other water activities on the Nile.
The Big Game Mini-Golf course in Jinja is intriguing. It was constructed with large statues of the big five (leopard, buffaloes, lion, buffalo, elephant and rhino) and other creatures. A typical golfing day involves putting past the rhino, rounding the python, teeing past the hippo, hacking from inside the buffalo or bogeying beside the lion. It is unique golfing experience and comes with a lot of fun, drinks and mingling with the local high class and tourists from all over the world.
Visiting the source of the Nile:
Using a boat, tourists can go to the point where the river begins its journey to the sea. John Speke was the first European to discover the source of the Nile in 1858. The site where Speke stood and first spotted the source has been turned into a park with beautiful garden that are perfect for relaxation and marveling at the river Nile. It is one of the most visited places in Uganda. One needs to take a boat to go up to the exact place considered the source of the Nile.
Visit the rural village:
A tour of Jinja and Uganda in general is incomplete without a close encounter with the local people. A visit to one of the villages allows you to experience how Africans in the rural areas live their lives. You can choose to camp near a group of village houses or live with one of the families for a day/night. While with a local family, learn how to cook local food like Matooke or work with the men to make the local potent gin known as “Waragi”. A guide should be with you to act as an interpreter.
Go for a Quad biking adventure through the forests, villages, farms and the banks of the river Nile. You do not need to have any experience in order to take part in Quad biking. The Quad biking companies provide free practice sessions for participants. During the briefing and training session, participants are warned against overtaking and riding at very high speeds. It is important to be away of kids and animals crossing the roads. Quad biking in Jinja is very adventurous and by the end of the day, you would have learnt a lot and seen how the rural people live their lives.
Though not as intense as white water rafting or Bungee jumping, Horseback riding is a great way to experience the Nile River and the countryside. The horses are healthy and owned by an Australian expatriate. Like Quad biking, this activity takes you through the banks of the river Nile and villages of Uganda enabling you watch the locals go about with their daily lives. Prepare to see excited young children following you before disappearing back to their homes. The horse ride also offers opportunities to view beautiful forests, valleys and hills around the river banks. You do not need to have any experience with horses to take part in this activity. All participants are escorted by professional and experienced guides.
Kayaking and Canoeing:
These are just some of the numerous activities that can be done on the river Nile. Kayaking and canoeing offer travelers opportunities to not only experience the great Nile River but also the surrounding villages, local people, farmlands and birds. These activities offer more effortless and quiet experiences compared to whitewater rafting. All participants are trained before embarking on these activities by experienced instructors. The participants learn the flow of the river, back and forward paddling, basic strokes, rescue and capsizing skills. More experienced Kayakers can choose to go to river sections with stronger current and rapids. The company supplies the kayaking/canoeing and safety and equipment. The cost of kayaking starts from $125.
Mountain Biking in Jinja:
Like horseback riding and Quad biking, Mountain Biking in Jinja is organized to allow visitors explore the river Nile and nearby villages. This activity is very challenging physically considering the unpredictable terrain and routes taken. The activity takes between one and three hours through village farms and the banks of the river. There is an option of biking at the Mabira Forest Reserve located 20 kilometers away from Jinja town where participants are carried by car to the starting point. While at riding through this dense forest, take time to marvel at the beautiful trees, plants, butterflies and monkeys. The Mabira track also leads to hidden local villages, sugar and coffee plantations. By the end of the activity, you would have an idea of how the rural peasants go about their daily lives in Uganda. The cost of maintain biking ranges between $30 and $40 and includes lunch or a picnic at the forest. All the available mountain bikes are of high quality, robust and imported from Europe. The guides are experienced and know how to repair a bike in case it breaks down.
Visiting Mabira Forest:
Mabira forest is the largest natural lowland tropical forest in central Uganda. It’s about 2 hours drive from Kampala past. The forest is home to over 200 species of birds and about 5 of primates. The forest has become a popular place for camping.
Launch Cruise along the River Nile:
The construction of a Dam at the former Bujagali Falls formed the Bujagali Lake that is perfect for boat cruises. This activity can take half a day and is a great time to mingle with others, party and enjoy beautiful moments with close friends. There are both day and night boat cruises which all offer opportunities to eat and drink while marveling at the river Nile and its creatures like bats, monitor lizards, monkeys, otters and birds. Those who love fishing can cast their lines to catch large Nile Perch. Apart from Launch cruises downstream at the Bujagali Dam, boat cruises are also arranged close to the source of the Nile.
Bird Watching in Jinja
Uganda is known as a one best places for birding in the world – Jinja and the particularly the Nile river are no exception. Birding tours are arranged by companies in Jinja for both inexperienced and seasoned birders. The companies provide binoculars, recording devices and a book for identifying the species. Birding is done using boats by the river banks, the numerous islands and close to the source of the Nile. Bird are most activate in the morning hours and in the evening as they prepare to roost. Birding tours take at least two hours but arrangements can be made for full day Bird watching for seasoned birders. Those who opt for the full day birding experience can expect to spot at least 40 bird species in a day. Birding for two hours costs $40 while the Full day birding tour costs $90.
Sport Fishing in Jinja:
Jinja has some of the best fishing spots in Uganda and in the Nile Perch; the River Nile has one of the largest freshwater fishes on earth. It is possible to catch Nile Perches weighing over 150 kilograms. Fishing is arranged throughout the day. The best time for fishing on the Nile is in the morning but afternoon trips have also been known to produce amazing catches. Fishing is open to both experienced and first-time anglers. Full day fishing starts in the morning and ends late in the evening with breaks for lunch. For the full day option, anglers need to move packed lunch. The companies arranging the activity provide all the necessary fishing gear, bottled water, safety and camping equipment. Apart from the Nile Perch, the other notable species are the tilapia, cat fish and yellow fish. Anglers are required to release all the fish in the water except for those that won’t recover after being caught. The fishing techniques used include spinning, bait fishing and trawling.
Visiting the Ssezibwa Falls
The Ssezibwa Falls are located along the Kampala – Jinja highway. The local Baganda people consider it an important cultural site where the spirit of their ancestors still rest. Tourists love the place because of the crystal clear water falling from a steep cliff into the nearby forest. Visiting the place isn’t all about the falls. The scenery is beautiful with lush green forests that act as sanctuaries to birds and small primates. While at the falls, do not forget to visit the local snake cave where people still perfume rituals to appease their ancestors.
Tubing the Nile:
This is another of those amazing adrenaline raising activities that makes Jinja such a great place to visit. The activity involves drifting along the river Nile on an inflatable tube while sun bathing, marveling at the birds, beautiful islands, green forests and local people washing by the river banks. The companies offer both single and tandem tubing in either calmer water of the turbulent rapids of the Nile. To guarantee the safety or participants a group of safety Kayakers escort the crew.