Kampala was for a long time my favourite African city, simply because of how friendly and wonderful the people are.
I’ve been to Kampala three times, and it just so happens I’m blessed to be writing this article from Kampala right now, from my apartment in the bustling Bukoto area.
In truth, Kampala is not the easiest city to visit.
The traffic is insane and the city itself is hilly and not very well designed.
A good word to describe the city is “messy”.
However, the good news it does have decent amenities, supermarkets, gyms, restaurants, malls and so on, as long as you know where to look.
Typical Kampala Road
In This Guide:
- Map of Kampala
- Acacia Ave
- City Centre
- Lake Victoria
- How To Get To Your Accommodation
- How To Get Around Kampala
- How To Get Internet In Kampala
- Food In Kampala
- Safety In Kampala
Map of Kampala
As you can see, Kampala is not a big city by world standards.
However, even travelling short distances can be troublesome due to the traffic.
If you are coming for a specific event such as a conference, work, business etc, I strongly recommend staying very near to the area you will be frequenting.
Even though Uber is convenient and works well, you can be sitting in traffic for well over an hour just to get a few kilometres across town.
Let’s break down each area:
Acacia Avenue is a favourite place amongst expats and tourists, as it’s one of the more developed malls in the city and in a very safe area too.
I stayed right beside the mall on my first visit to Kampala and thought it was a great choice. The mall had everything I needed to be comfortable and there was a lot of accommodation in the area that made it easy to find somewhere to stay.
Do note there is a lot of nightlife in the area too, so noise might be an issue depending on where you stay. And obviously, if you’re looking to party it up this is the ideal spot.
Overall I think it’s the perfect area for a first-timer to stay, as you should feel safe and the accommodation options are comfortable.
Where to stay in Acacia Avenue
For the backpacker:
Stay at the Bushpig Backpackers.
This is a classic backpackers hostel right on Acacia Avenue with everything you could need – free wifi, private rooms and dorms, a cosy little hostel lounge and even an onsite restaurant and bar.
Acacia Ave is also on a hill, so you get quite a nice view over the city from this place.
Breakfast is also available to nurse those hangover mornings, as staying on Acacia Ave is bound to give you some memorable nights out (I’ve had countless of my own here!)
For the luxury seeker:
Stay at Four Points by the Sheraton.
This is a little lower down on Acacia Avenue further from the mall but also further from the bulk of the nightlife.
Sheraton properties are usually reliable and this one is no exception.
It’s a short walk to Independence Park, the National Museum and the Uganda Golf Club, and in one of the safest areas in town.
As with most Sheraton hotels, there is a beautiful buffet breakfast on offer each morning, and you have all the expected amenities like air con, television, free wifi, swimming pool, gym, and on-site dining and bar.
Ntinda is similar to Bukoto but a little more up market.
This means you might meet a few more foreigners staying around this area, and more restaurants and things to do.
It’s also home to Ntinda Mall, a big shopping complex popular with locals.
Ntinda can be a nice area to stay if you want to be nearby the city and still be an area with things happening, but not in the city itself.
To be honest, if you stay in Ntinda you probably won’t ever need to leave the area, as it has all amenities closeby – bars, restaurants, gyms, supermarkets, shopping and so on.
I’ve personally never stayed here, but spent a few days roaming around here over the years and it’s a decent spot.
Where to stay in Ntinda
There are not many great backpacker options around here, but a decent place to stay if you need to base yourself in Ntinda is the Protea Hotel.
This is a Marriott property and is a top-notch 4-star hotel.
You’ll be able to enjoy the open garden, gym, international restaurant and bar, free bikes and free wifi.
It also has an indoor pool for guests to enjoy and free parking if you have a vehicle.
Bukoto is a local area without many hotels or western style restaurants, however the area is lively and reasonably safe.
I walked around alone at night in Bukoto without any issues at all – that’s not to say issues cannot arise, but personally I had a safe experience.
If you would like to live in an area where you don’t see too many foreigners, they sell street food on the corners and it’s mostly local eateries and small local supermarkets, Bukoto is your spot!
It’s also quite centrally located, not far from Acacia and about a 15-minute drive into town if you avoid rush hour.
Where to stay in Bukoto:
For the budget traveller:
Stay at Lark Suites. You’ll get a private room with private bathroom, kitchenette, television, fridge, all for around $15-$20 during low season.
It’s also in a decent area and you’ll only be a short Uber away from the main parts of the city. If you’re game to use the local public transport, there are stops nearby.
For the luxury seeker:
Stay at the Kabira Country Club. It’s one of the most well known spots in Kampala and considered a landmark by most – oftentimes you’ll hear things like, “Meet me at X restaurant, it’s not far from the country club”).
It has an on-site restaurant, pool, gym, sauna, children’s playground, and it often serves buffet breakfasts and dinners.
People also tend to come here for day trips just to lounge by the pool and have lunch or a few drinks.
If you’re after a upper-end place to stay in a centrally located area, this is the spot.
Lugogo is a “nice” area not far from town.
It’s home to the big Lugogo Mall and the Lugogo Sports Stadium.
It’s a good compromise if you want to be close to town, and have amenities closeby, but don’t want to stay in town itself.
The Lugogo Mall has a big Carrefour supermarket, many banks/ATMs and a few good cafes/restaurants.
It also has an excellent quality gym which isn’t cheap, but gives you fresh towels, sauna/steam rooms, very modern equipment and a smoothie bar.
The area gets quite busy during rush hour, but overall it’s a comfortable place to stay.
Gym in Lugogo
Where to stay in Lugogo
For the budget traveller:
Stay at Tropical Sands. These villas are not well known but are owned and managed by a couple of local artists and offer quality accommodation at a reasonable price. The villas are self contained and you’re a short walk from the beach. Free bike rental too. Check the latest rates here.
For the luxury seeker:
Stay at Ikurangi. This eco retreat is true island living and the type of place where you can simply kick your feet up and enjoy. The “outdoor” bathrooms are wonderful and the free breakfast is different each day. There is a private chef onsite if you feel like making a request, and an onsite pool which you can enjoy in the privacy of this boutique resort. Snorkelling gear and bikes are also available for guests. A truly charming place and worth every penny. Check the latest rates here.
Kampala city centre is not very big, which is probably why the traffic gets so bad during rush hour.
The city is hectic and not for the faint-hearted, but it is safe by world standards and can be a lot of fun too.
Personally, I wouldn’t recommend staying in the city as commuting anywhere would be a nightmare, however, there are a few popular hotels there which should be comfortable if the city is where you need to be based.
I remember once going into the city for a meeting at 6pm, and the traffic jam was so bad the driver told me to just get out and walk because I would get there so much faster (which was true).
After the meeting at around 7:30, the traffic was still bumper to bumper, so I sat in a cafe and had dinner and by the time I left at around 9:00, it was still bad!
That should give you an idea of the traffic nightmare you’ll be experiencing if you decide to live in the city itself.
Where to stay in Kampala City Centre
For the budget traveller:
Stay at The Five Horsemen.
This is a backpacker’s hostel which is not in the city centre itself, but is actually in Kabalagala which is very nearby.
There are 6 bed mixed dorms and very reasonably priced.
The property also has an on-site restaurant and bar, and free wifi throughout – everything you need in a good hostel!
It’s a very chic, artsy hostel – as any backpacker knows these are the more homely types which are typical across East Africa and you’re bound to meet some other interesting travellers here.
For the luxury seeker:
The most reliable place is the Sheraton Kampala.
It’s one of the most well-known hotels in the city and right by the Independence Monument.
This is a great place to be in the city as it’s not on the main thoroughfare but is just a couple of blocks away which is very walkable.
As for the hotel itself, it has all the amenities you could expect from a high-end hotel, including a garden restaurant, a breakfast room, a pastry and coffee shop, and a quality restaurant. There’s also a pool bar and of course, the Sheraton Garden.
As expected, you also have a fitness centre, a beauty salon, sauna and free wifi.
As you may already know, Kampala shares part of the great Lake Victoria which spans four different countries (Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda).
In Kampala, this is mostly focused on the Munyonyo, Port Bell or Kaazi areas.
This naturally has become a more tourist-oriented part of the city, with a few lakeside resorts and restaurants, and just more development in general.
Staying here can be a good option if you don’t mind being further from the city and are simply on vacation (perhaps a few days relaxing after the gorillas) or just want a quieter area for your stay.
Where to stay in Lake Victoria
Stay at the Speke Resort.
This is a very popular hotel/resort where people like to come on the weekends to enjoy the lakeside views while enjoying a few drinks or some lunch.
It’s got a multitude of activities available for guests such as fishing, horse riding, bike riding, or just enjoying yourself in nature as it’s surrounded by greenery.
It also has all the standard amenities of a well-designed resort such as a fitness centre, restaurant, air conditioning and so on.
Note you will be a fair distance away from the city out here, however, if that’s what you’re after then this is the perfect spot.
If you’re looking for something cheaper, there aren’t any backpacker style properties in the lakeside area, but you could try something like Yellow Haven Lodge.
It’s a charming property a little further up the lake and closer to the city.
They offer a range of different rooms/lodges, and is a mini resort with its own pool, restaurant as well as a sauna and an outdoor fireplace.
It’s also right on the lake so you have a private beach area to enjoy the water at your leisure.
It’s a few notches down in price compared to Speke, so if you want to stay lakeside but are a little more budget conscious, this could be a good option.
How To Get To Your Accommodation
If you’re flying in, you’re mostly likely landing at Entebbe Airport.
Entebbe is quite a distance from Kampala, and in traffic it can take you over an hour.
If you haven’t arranged a transfer with your accommodation, you will need to get an airport taxi.
Depending on the time of day and your negotiation skills, expect to pay between 100,000 and 140,000 UGX (around $40-$50 USD).
How To Get Around In Kampala
Typical Kampala traffic jam
The easiest and safest way to get around is simply to use Uber.
Cars are plentiful here and the rates are reasonable.
Expect to pay around 20,000 to 30,000 UGX for a 7-10km ride.
If you want something cheaper, you use the local “taxis” which are small vans that run around town like little buses.
It can be quite hard to figure out the routes and they’re usually not marked clearly, so most locals just know which ones go where. Of course, you can simply ask a local to help you and they will – Ugandans are very friendly!
Alternatively, many people use motorbike taxis, which are everywhere.
You can expect to pay between 1,000 to 5,000 UGX, depending on how far you’re going.
Obviously, moto taxis are more dangerous than taking a standard Uber or cab, especially in Kampala traffic. Keep that in mind and try to avoid using them during rush hour.
How To Get Internet In Kampala
Internet is a decent speed in Kampala and you can get a sim card easily.
Just head to any Airtel or MTN store and ask for a sim card.
You will need your passport and be over 18.
Internet might cost you around 30,000 UGX for 10GB.
Food In Kampala
Posho and goat
You will be well-fed in Kampala – no need to worry about that!
While I didn’t find many memorable restaurants around town, there are plenty of places to eat and keep yourself full.
You will find a lot of cafes/coffee shops selling western style food, and the local food is also very satisfying – usually stews like katogo, rice dishes like biryani and pilau, and the famous Ugandan rollex (“roll eggs”) which is like a local burrito made with chapati and eggs.
Tap water is not advisable to drink, but bottled water is inexpensive and easy to get. Most accommodations will provide a few bottles for you.
The big supermarkets like Carrefour also will have all your western comforts and are reasonably priced.
You can also order food in using the Glovo app which is very handy – simply download it and you will have a selection of various restaurants that can get delivered to your door. I used it almost daily.
Safety in Kampala
Kampala is generally a safe city if you exercise general travel smarts and common sense.
Phone snatching from car windows is an issue, so always keep your windows wound up or only slightly ajar, especially when you’re stuck in traffic, and especially at night.
Don’t walk around while twiddling on your phone – if you need to use your phone while walking in busy areas, go into a store or to the side and use it discretely.
Don’t wear a lot of valuables.
Nightlife is lively and it’s generally safe to go out to clubs and bars – people are used to foreigners and as long as you don’t cause problems you should have a great time.
Just keep your wits about you and you will be fine.
Questions? Leave them below!