x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Kampala is a fragrant and frenetic capital city

My Kind of Place: The Ugandan capital, just a five-hour flight from Dubai, is one of Africa's greenest cities.

Kampala, the capital of Uganda, is a thriving, commercial centre with a large expatriate population. John Green / Corbis
Kampala, the capital of Uganda, is a thriving, commercial centre with a large expatriate population. John Green / Corbis

Why Kampala?

Uganda is known for its verdant landscape and wildlife, especially the mountain gorillas in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, around 500 kilometres from the capital city of Kampala, and the magnificent Murchison Falls, just over 300km from the city. At the source of the river Nile in Jinja, a two-hour drive from the capital (80km east of Kampala), engage in some adrenalin-rushing white-water rafting. Yet Kampala itself, the commercial hub of Uganda, is itself an intriguing place where you can feel the entrepreneurial pulse of this country at every corner – a far cry from the damage wrought by years of political and economic instability, not least during the rule of president Idi Amin when my parents, along with every other Asian who was not a Ugandan citizen, were
expelled.

Kampala is one of Africa’s greenest cities, with parks and golf courses within the city centre. Walk from the large gardens directly onto the busy streets, with cars and trucks bumper to bumper, and a plethora of motorcycle taxis (boda-bodas) weaving through, and you’ll get a taste of the frenetic city that Kampala is today.

Lying on the equator in an elevated position, the weather in Uganda varies from warm to hot with short bursts of tropical rain. It is this marvellous climate, the fertile soil, the unique combination of national parks, game reserves, forests and the largest freshwater lake and longest river in the world that earned it the title “pearl of Africa”, thought to be from Sir Winston Churchill.

A comfortable bed

Check into the Kampala Serena, right in the heart of the city. This is more of a resort than a hotel, where the themed restaurants and bars spill into the tropical gardens with trees and plants and a small stream. The hallways and restaurants are decorated with African mosaics and the opulent rooms are reminiscent of a colonial past. With the array of restaurants, a swimming pool with palm trees and a waterfall and the best spa in the city, you might not feel like leaving (www.serenahotels.com/serenakampala; 00 256 414 309000). Rooms start at US$285 (Dh1,046) including taxes.

If you prefer smaller boutique hotels and don’t mind being a 10-minute taxi ride from the city centre, Le Bougainviller is a quaint hotel in Bugolobi (www.bougainviller.com; 00 256 414 220966). Rooms start at $110 (Dh405), including taxes.

Find your feet

The Kibuli Mosque on Kibuli Hill is the biggest Islamic site and the oldest mosque in Kampala. Don’t miss out on the Kasubi Tombs, the burial place for Kings of Buganda called Kabaka. Afterwards, visit the serene Bahai Temple within the city, surrounded by beautifully manicured gardens. Just outside Kampala in Entebbe are the vast botanical gardens, laid out in 1901, very close to the large Lake Victoria.

Meet the locals

Have some Ugandan coffee and a Panini at Café Pap (13 Parliament Ave, City Centre) or sit outside and have lunch at Kampala’s favourite Italian restaurant, Mediterraneo on Acacia Avenue (00 256 414 500533) or at the new Bistro Café in Kisementi (00 256 757 247876)

Observe the busy fruit and vegetable market in Nakasero, while women in traditional clothing sit and call “Madame … mango”, and “Madame, take some pineapple” sitting under a sea of colourful umbrellas to shade themselves from the glaring afternoon sun. They might cut a slice of mango for you to try – always a pleasure on a hot day but check that the knife looks clean.

Book a table

With the thriving expat community in Kampala, there are plenty of cuisines to choose from. For Italian, try Mediterraneo on Acacia Avenue (00 256 414 500533) where a meal for two costs about 50,000-80,000 Ugandan shillings (Dh70-Dh112). Also on Acacia Avenue is the expensive Indian restaurant Khana Khazana (00 256 414 233049), which is set on a golf course in a residential villa. A meal for two costs 80,000-100,000 Ugandan shillings (Dh112-Dh140).

If you’d prefer to sample the local cuisine, dishes like matooke, posho, steamed chicken and ground nut sauce in banana leaves, try iBamba restaurant at the Uganda Museum (00 256 712 281631); reasonably priced at 18,000-25,000 Ugandan shillings [Dh25-Dh35] for two.

What to avoid

Boda-bodas might seem like the easiest and quickest way to get around the city, but they also account for almost half the road accidents. Ask your hotel to organise a car or a taxi.

Go there

Emirates Airline (www.emirates.com) flies direct to Entebbe (an hour outside Kampala) in five hours, from Dh2,190 return, including taxes.

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