Kampala is the capital of Uganda. Established in 1890 on top of Kampala Hill, it has a population of approximately 1.8 million people. It was initially built on seven hills but has grown to over 21 hills.
Don’t plan on getting anywhere fast. Traffic is backed up most of the day, but particularly in the morning and evening.
If you need to travel, do that by Boda boda. A Boda boda is a motorcycle used for transport throughout East Africa. It is the easiest form of transportation as one weaves in an out between cars, trucks and buses that are stuck in traffic. But in the picture above, on a Friday afternoon, even the Boda-bodas come to a stop in the heavily congested traffic!!
Let’s take a ride on one of these before we start our tour.
As you can see we just whisked around nine cars that were waiting to turn. Because of that, you can get to somewhere in about 30 minutes while in a car it could take up to two hours!! So, Boda boda it was for most of my stay in Kampala!
Should I Take a Guided Tour?
I highly recommend one, especially a walking tour in a city you’re visiting for the first time. You can do lots of research prior to visiting a country, but finding your way around at first can be quite challenging. Especially in areas that don’t have the easiest of public transportation.
For the tour in Kampala, I chose Kampala Walking Tours. I highly recommend this organization. You can have your choice between a three-hour tour or a six-hour tour. I chose the six-hour tour because I had a limited time that I was spending in Kampala and wanted to see as much of the city as possible.
As with many countries in Africa, Uganda was colonized by the British. Independence for the country was gained on October 9, 1962. The Independence monument in central Kampala shows a woman in bondage lifting a baby high in the air who is raising his hand in triumph. The monument signifies a newborn country that has been freed from colonialism and bondage.
As you travel in Kampala and the rest of the country, you’ll see British influence in many places. One of these influences is Barclays Bank, which can trace its origins back to 1690. And if you were watching the Boda-boda video closely, you’ll notice the Ugandans drive on the left side of the road.
Uganda National Mosque
West of the city center is a mosque which was started in 1972, by Idi Amin, who was Muslim. Once he was overthrown from power, work on the mosque stopped.
After 25 years, the building of the mosque started again, but only after demolishing what Amin had started. Funding came from the late Libyan leader Colonel Gadaffi. It was originally named the Gaddafi Mosque after the Libyan leader, but the name was changed after his death.
The National Mosque is the largest in Uganda. The main hall has supporting columns for the roof and gold dome. It can hold up to 15,000 people with another 1,100 in the gallery.
The stained glass windows are from the island of Murano, which is known as the Glass Island of Venice, Italy.
Walking to the top of the minaret is a part of the tour.
But be prepared for 304 steps to get you to the top.
From the top of the minaret is one of the best 360 degree views of Kampala.
The Shree Sanatan Dharma Mandal Hindu Temple
The British Empire brought Hinduism to Uganda in the late 19th and early 20th century. The Hindus helped in building major infrastructure projects and also establishing services and retail markets.
When Idi Amin came to power in 1971 he adopted a policy that included religious and ethnic cleansing. During that time, he forced the Hindus and other Asians from Uganda.
Today the Hindus are a tiny minority of the country but use the temple built in 1954.
I’m not a shopper when it comes to markets but take me to a market in a different country and I can wander around for a while. But it’s always nice to have somebody pointing out some things of interest along the way. There is always so much in these markets with thousands of people milling about. It’s easy to miss something.
So let’s take a picture tour of the markets in Central Kampala and see some of the unique items for sale that one doesn’t always find in a regular market.
City markets are always alive with people.
One can buy chicken that has already been butchered or buy your own and do the work yourself.
I love radishes. They are hard to find in Pristina, Kosovo where we live. These radishes have to be the biggest that I’ve ever seen!!
Barkcloth has been made in Uganda for centuries. It is listed on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List. The cloth is made from trees that are a part of the Moraceae family. The bark is beaten into strips from the fibrous inner bark and is made into many different items.
Have you ever heard of “paper” clothing? If you have, then it was barkcloth that was being referenced.
Ever tried silverfish? No, not the insect but the fish that is known as mukene in Uganda. It’s eaten whole…..head, fins and guts! It is supposed to have many nutrients. Did I eat it? No, I think I’ll save it for the next time I’m in Uganda!!!!!
Kampala Old Taxi Park
If you need to go somewhere in Kampala or outside into other parts of Uganda, then you need to go to the Kampala Old Taxi Park. And if you are a tourist and don’t need that type of transport, be certain to visit the taxi park anyway. It is quite a sight!!
Hundreds of minibusses/taxis that are known as Matatus fill this area each and every day. It’s amazing that a person can find their way to the correct taxis, but if you look at the signs on the taxis you will eventually find the one you want. It is organized chaos!!!
Kabaka Palace and the Idi Amin Torture Chambers
This palace is known by many names. It is the Mengo Palace, Lubiri Palace and the Kabaka Palace. But really it is the Royal Palace of the King of Buganda. Ever heard of Buganda? It is a kingdom within Uganda. It is the largest of the traditional kingdoms within the country. But you’re probably wondering why there is a kingdom or monarchy within an independent country? It’s a very complex history and I’ll sum it up very quickly to keep it simple!
Buganda’s history goes back to the 14th century. Following Uganda’s Independence in 1962, the kingdom was abolished by its first Prime Minister, Milton Obote. He ordered an attack to oust the king. And who was the person who led the attack? Idi Amin, who would eventually stage his own coup and overthrow Obote. Amin then became the president of the country in 1971.
An Armory Turned Into a Torture Chamber
The armory was built by the Israelis for Amin when he took power. Amin later took the armory, emptied it and turned it into torture chambers during his reign of terror.
There are five elevated chambers within the facility. The entrance door was electrified and the under the cell doors was water which was also electrified. Men and women were held in the same cells without food or water. While there is no actual count of how many people were killed in this facility, most believe the number was 200,000.
After visiting the torture chambers, we climbed back up the hill with our guide who then took us to the Kabaka Palace. Kabaka is the title of the king of the Kingdom of Buganda. The Kingdom, which was abolished in 1962 shortly after Independence, was reinstated in 1993. Since that time, Ronald Edward Frederick Kimera Muwenda Mutebi II has reigned over the Kingdom. He is the 36th Kabaka of Buganda.
The gate of the palace has a very traditional design to it.
The king does not live in the palace. The palace is used by the king for hosting dignitaries and is closed to the public. It is the featured image in this post.
It was a long day of walking, but a very interesting day of History Thru Travel.