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Uganda safaris and tours: Hotels and lodges

Semliki Safari Lodge
The Semliki Safari Lodge has eight double rooms that allow for total comfort. Guests are also accommodated in large canvas tents with permanent thatched roofs. The tents have en-suite bathrooms with running water and private verandas with a breathtaking view. Sofas are piled with cushions, with ample lounging spaces. The lodge’s resident chef offers a creative mix referred to as the ‘Best food in Uganda’. Everything is homemade, from the fresh bread to the soups. The lodge employees are from the surrounding communities.

Semilik Safari Lodge offers guests interesting activities like chimpanzee trekking, guided walks and hiking, jungle walks fishing, bird-watching, spot lit night drives, game drives and visits to local communities. The lodge is working closely with the Indiana State University of the US in primate research projects. The cost for double rooms for foreign non-residents is US 6 and for East African Nationals US 8.

The mystery of Kabale
Bunyonyi Safari Resort (BSR), located deep in the highlands of Kabale District, southwestern Uganda, is a secret yet to be discovered. Located on the shores of Lake Bunyonyi, this unique tranquil place has spacious, self-contained and spacious cottages right at the waterfront. Guests can tour the numerous islands on the lake by motorboat. ‘Bunyonyi’ means ‘little birds’ and, indeed, at BSR guests are woken up every morning by the chirping of numerous birds. Some of the areas across the lake are famous rare bird species. Lake Bunyonyi is about 900m deep and it winds around numerous hills, creating islands. It has signs of volcanicity and mystery still surrounds its formation. It is a bilharzias-free lake and therefore safe for swimming. The area is also mosquito-free.

BSR have a pad out in the water for guests to sunbathe ands swim in private. Form there or the balcony, one can occasionally view the elusive water birds, the otters, as well as the surrounding hills. Guides will take guests round and give them the historical and cultural backgrounds of some of the islands. Visitors can also meet the pygmy tribes. In the evenings, one can enjoy a barbeque dinner with a campfire by the lakeside.

Lake Bunyonyi is one of the places in Uganda where guests can get clayfish, BSR’s specialty. The cuisine is mostly African but the chef is well versed in all continental dishes. Self-catering is also allowed at a minimal cost for small groups. Bunyonyi Safari Resort extends from the cottages to a small hilltop overlooking the lake. From this vantage point, the view of the Lake Bunyonyi, its surrounding islands against a backdrop of the volcanoes of Muhavura is splendid. The hall on this hilltop is furnished with a bar, a pool table, darts and other games. It is ideal for conferences and parties. The surrounding gardens are well manicured and beautiful.

BSR is offering special full board rates this season of US per person per day. Visitors should look out for BSR’s new introductory package of US 0 per person for a two-night weekend that includes accommodation, meals and transport to and from Kampala, and lake tours. The minimum number of this tour is 12 people sharing in doubles. This tour can be combined with gorilla trekking in Bwindi or a visit to Lake Mburo National Park or Queen Elizabeth National Park at an added cost.

Hotel industry comes of age
The Uganda hospitality industry has evolved rapidly into a dynamic institution that places the interest of the client above all else. A visit to Uganda may be marked by stops in the following regions represented by a number of towns: Jinja, Mukono, Kampala, Entebbe, and towns within the refreshing tour circuit of western, north-western and north-eastern Uganda. In all these regions and towns, the hotels meet international standards and offer value for money.

Kampala, Entebbe and Mukono
Central Uganda boasts the country’s top hotels, with Kampala having hosted major international and regional conferences. Kampala has a variety of hotels that cater for different categories of tourists.

Colline Hotel
Colline Hotel is an old establishment in Mukono about 15 kilometres east of Kampala. The three-star hotel boasts a town-countryside tropical setting. It is an hour’s drive from Entebbe International Airport through Kampala along Jinja road. The hotel has more than 100 self-contained rooms, with 24-hour room service, DStv and direct telephone communication. It caters for transit tourists heading to and from Kampala.

Mukono’s unique setting in an area with bird life is reinforced by its high service standards. Colline offers guests unhindered access to all facilities such as the steam bath and health club. With a large garden, swimming pool and well-equipped health centre, Colline Hotel is another home away from home.

The hotel has two restaurants, Maxims and Kob, serving continental, international, oriental and local cuisine. It has three bars fully stocked with alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. The hotel has a launders residents’ linen. Cultural troupes perform there regularly, keeping the guests fully entertained.

Hotel Africana
Hotel Africana overlooks the beautiful Uganda Golf Club’s par 72 Kitante course. The hotel is 40 minute drive from Entebbe and a mere three-minute drive to the city centre. It has 115 rooms compromising five suites, 23 deluxe rooms and 87 twin-bedrooms. The rooms are elaborately furnished to meet client needs. They are individually air-conditioned, have private baths and showers, telephones, multi-channel TV, radio and fridges. For children under three years, accommodation is free of charge while those between three and 12 pay half the rate of a single room. There are also rooms with connecting doors for families, and there is a large swimming pool.

Hotel Africana has a well-designed purpose-built, air-conditioned conference and banquet rooms, complete with modern audio-visual facilities, to cater for any function. Due to its location, the hotel offers a suitable venue for workshops of 10 to 250 people and outdoor functions of up to 1,000 people. The conference rooms are equipped with a high-speed wireless Internet connection.

Holiday Express Hotel
Located in the heart of Kampala at the junction of Luwum and Dastur Streets, Holiday Express Hotel allows business tourists to access vital services such as foreign exchange, downtown shopping and transport in and out of Kampala. The facilities are designed to meet regional and international standards. All the 42 rooms are soundproofed to allow maximum comfort. This eliminates the CBD-related cacophony. The hotel has a special rate for East African nationals. All the rooms are fitted with TV with more than 10 channels and a spacious study area. Holiday Express has hosted business tourists from Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Burundi and Congo.

Hotel Equatoria
Hotel Equatoria is part of the Imperial Group of Hotels chain – Grand Imperial, Imperial Botanical Beach Hotel, Imperial Resort Beach and Hotel Equatorial. It is located in Kampala’s central business district, about 40 kilometres from Entebbe International Airport. Its strategic location provides an ideal environment for conferences, meetings, workshops, parties, recreation and rest. Hotel Equatoria has features that supplement its quality of service. Recently the hotel added 30 more shops to meet the shopping needs of the guests. Hotel Equatoria has one of the biggest shopping malls in the country and 89 air-conditioned rooms, 24 of which are executive class, with satellite television and in-house movies. Security is guaranteed as an electronic key card system is used. The executive rooms have a sitting area complete with speed special satellite Internet connections, mini-bars and direct dialing telephone services.

Grand Imperial Hotel
The Grand Imperial Hotel is one of the first hotels in Uganda built in the colonial era. It is the only hotel that has been used by every governor of the colonial era. The 103 rooms, including suites, reflect the urban elegance and easy southern charm of the city. The hotel, part of the Imperial Group of Hotels, is centrally located in Kampala, and is just a 30 minute drive from Entebbe International Airport. All the rooms have high-speed Internet connection, electronic safes and mini-bars and direct dialing telephone services. The hotel has a swimming pool, saunas and Jacuzzi, massage rooms, steam and spa baths, a shopping mall and a large secure car park. It also offers free personalized airport service, forex bureau and doctors on call 24 hours.

Imperial Resort Beach Hotel
The five-star Imperial Resort Beach Hotel is situated in Entebbe on 27 acres of landscaped gardens on the shores of Lake Victoria. It is only a seven-minute drive from Entebbe International Airport, and a 30 minute drive to Kampala. The hotel is the finest convention centre in Uganda and a global landmark, offering technologically advanced conference facilities overlooking the lake.

With 191 rooms on six floors, extensive conference and banquet facilities and restaurants and bars, it is an ideal venue for meetings. A modern amphitheatre, 1 km private beach stretch along Lake Victoria, swimming pool and health club are just some of the delights.

Imperial Botanical Beach Hotel
The Imperial Botanical Beach Hotel has hosted a number of key conferences, including a summit of African leaders and former American President, Bill Clinton. It has modern well-equipped conference facilities, high-speed internet connection in all rooms, electronic safes and mini-bars, direct dialing telephone service, swimming pool, saunas and Jacuzzi, large secure car parking, free personalized airport service and a doctor on a 24-hour call.

Speke Resort & Country Lodge
Speke Resort and Country Lodge is a luxurious resort on the shores of Lake Victoria in Munyonyo, 12km from Kampala. This resort is spread over 50 acres of pristine land. It hosts leisure travelers, business and executive groups, weddings and other special travellers, business and executive groups, weddings and other special events. It is the epitome of an ultimate resort in the Great Lakes region. The emphasis is on exclusivity and comfort, with the décor incorporating ethnic design elements from various African communities.

The resort extends for over 400 metres along the shores of Lake Victoria. Landscaped gardens with indigenous plants and trees attract colourful birds and butterflies. Wide and well-lit pathways link the cottages, apartments and public areas. It includes 10 self-contained cottages, 20 serviced studio rooms, 11 one-bedroom apartments and 24 two-bedroom apartments with the latest amenities such as telephones, internet access and satellite TV. It has a large swimming pool, a restaurant, grocery, bar and an equestrian centre with 29 thoroughbred horses. There is a jetty where guests can hire speedboats

Mweya Safari Lodge
Mweya safari lodge is located on a peninsula in the heart of the Queen Elizabeth National Park. It offers sumptuous meals and luxurious accommodation and there are amazing views from every room, an abundance of game and birds. Easily accessible by air and road, Mweya Safari Lodge is the perfect place to start a refreshing experienced of Uganda.

Paraa Safari Lodge
Built in the early 1950s, Paraa offers visitors the dramatic Murchison Falls and a large variety of bird and animal species. Winston Churchill walked the 85 kilometres from Masindi to view the falls. Paraa is sandwiched by Lake Kyoga and Lake Albert in north-western Uganda and Murchison National Park. During Uganda’s political turmoil, the lodge collapsed but today the story is different. Guests can access it from Kampala by road or air

24 hours in Kampala
I had decided to venture into the unknown – Uganda. With only a sketchy knowledge of the history of the country, I had covered most of Kenya and my visits to Tanzania were becoming monotonous. Coming all the way from Mombasa, the thought of flying to Nairobi then to Entebbe offered a mixed package. On the one hand, I would arrive fast and embark on my working holiday, but on the other, I would miss invaluable experiences that my grandchildren would love to hear.

I settled for the long journey by road from Mombasa. The Mombasa to Nairobi trip was uneventful and by morning, I was on my way to the Malaba border. Through the Kenyan towns of Nakuru, Eldoret and others, which I knew like the palm of my hand, we reached the border and disembarked, passport in hand. I eyed the surroundings curiously. We completed immigration formalities and set off from Malaba through Tororo to Kampala. The Owen Falls Dam provided a spectacular view of the source of the Nile. And Kampala beckoned.

By 6:30pm, the bus arrived in Kampala. Dusk was swiftly giving way to night and I had not made any accommodation arrangements. I tried to recollect the names of some of the hotels and approached an all too willing taxi driver (here they are called ‘special hires’). I addressed him in English and mentioned the names of the various hotels that came to mind, three to be precise, but he immediately ruled out two as being upcountry! So, he took me to the one in town. It was a three-star hotel. I was caught in the horns of a dilemma. I didn’t wish to appear as someone with no clue of what I wanted, yet I had this ominous feeling that the cost would subject my pockets to unwarranted, self-inflicted shock therapy. I decided to bite the bullet and approach the receptionist, who appeared rather busy with some clients. I waited. The wait seemed rather long; I know places in my home city (Mombasa) where the moment you step in you are literally lavished with service.

I boldly confronted the receptionist and politely asked her to attend to me. Turning the look of being offended by my perceived interruption, she promptly read out the room rates. The figures sounded rather odd; USh 100,000 etc. I settled for the cheapest, which was USh 100,000. Someone told me the Kenyan Shilling was quite strong regionally so I need not worry, just spend and be happy. I fished out a wad of notes and counted USh 100,000 for that night. I was shown the self-contained room with a sitting area, a TV with numerous channels, among a host of other things. I settled in the room, took a shower, started counting the money while reconverting the currency mentally to Kenya Shillings, and realized that i had spent a whopping KSh 8,000 even before dinner!

I was however determined that the little shock therapy would not ruin my first evening in Kampala. Furthermore, there was no way I could dine at the same hotel as that would choke any attempts at sampling Uganda’s growing economy. I moved to Steers on Kampala Road around the CBD. There was little difficulty in following the directions to the fast food joint. They seemed more efficient than the three-star hotel.

It was Friday and I began my nocturnal tour at about 8:45pm. The city was teeming with not just vehicles, but human traffic too. I got a ‘special hire’ to the ‘happening places’ as the seemingly enlightened driver called them. He quickly noticed two things: that I was new in Uganda and that I was from Kenya!

The driver through the city took me to what he rated as a client-friendly pub in the heart of the city and a couple of other places after which I thought: “well, i now know Kampala!” I decided to go it alone and the next 24 hours were a real rollercoaster ride. I entered what I later was told was a sleazy joint (not my type) and moved on to what surprised me most – a Kenyan nyama choma joint. There was a good number of Kenyans and Tusker flowed like water. It felt good to be ‘home’ again. The joint-hoping craze went on, this time with a group of homeboys who seemed to disappear in what I considered dark alleys, only to re-emerge stone drunk! I was told that they had gone to ‘re-charge the Tusker’ with some potent traditional gin by the name Kasese Kasese.

It was well past midnight. Back home, I would be worried about the police and robbers but here that did not bother the Friday night crowd. I met a young woman who said she was a Ugandan university student and we went to a disco. I do not remember the names of the clubs because we entered no less than three that night. The mood was real carnival with folks partying hard. I learnt a lot from the student on why people seemed so relaxed and at ease with foreigners.

The last disco we entered was playing a floor-closing number. It was 5:30 in morning. I escorted my guide to a special hire, paid for her trip back to campus wherever it was, and I took mine to my USh 100,000 hotel room. Later, some homeboys who promised to show me a ‘more affordable’ place lived up to their promise. I moved to an equally decent hotel within the CBD for less than half the previous cost!

I spent the afternoon visiting the famous Makerere University, Entebbe International Airport and its environs, the National Museum, Ndere Cultural Centre, the palace of the Kabaka of Buganda and the National Parliament. I went to bed early that Saturday evening because of the long journey ahead. In any case, the bus was set to leave at 7:00am on Sunday. I arrived back from Kampala with fond memories, having spent 24 great hours in Kampala. I most likely will go back, particularly to visit my university friend whom I guess must be about to graduate.

About the Author: Robert is a tour consultant in Kenya and has planned business and vacation safaris for over 10,000 tourists in the East African region. He is a tour operation- major and involved in National tourism policy development in Kenya.

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