SunTrack Adventures’ discover Uganda trip offers the off the beaten track to discover community tourism, an affordable and ethical way to have the holiday of a lifetime
Murchison Falls, Queen Elizabeth, Bwindi Impenetrable. There you go, I’ve mentioned them. Now, can we move on and look at the real Uganda beyond the tourist traps?
I want to bring you to the real Uganda: The Greater Mukono Trails, to show you some examples of community tourism projects that offer affordable, ethical ways to have the holiday of a lifetime – ones that not only bring you places few people get to see, but that connect you to locals in a natural, enjoyable way, and benefit the most vulnerable communities.
First, some geography. The tourist traps mentioned above are all in the west of Uganda, along the Rwandan and Congolese borders. They offer some of the best (or, at least the most accessible) wildlife and hiking opportunities in Africa, and I don’t mean to denigrate them, it’s just that they attract as many touts and hawkers as they do tourists.
I’ll lead you back to these at the end, but allow me show you some fragile, beautiful, places along the way.
Community tourism is a precious, utopian thing that brings you on the road less travelled. It can’t survive in cut-throat tourist hot spots where money talks and idealistic community ventures simply get bought out or corrupted. It often involves taking public transport.
Let’s start with Mukono, about one-hour East of Kampala, a richly-forested town. It’s a comparatively affluent and tranquil town with elegant lodges set in communities where you can stay for about $10 in retro splendor. It has become a base for hikers and botanists, with one major community tourism agency offering hikes, village tours, flora and fauna hunts and forest picnics for roughly $50 a day – about a third of which goes to community development programs.
The gentle hill and community walks along eucalyptus-shaded trails through cornfields, coffee plantations, pine woods, tropical forest and fruit farms are enchanting. The best known trails lead one along the precipice of a high escarpment overlooking the Lake Victoria. One can walk for days in the gently-sloped hills staying in local guesthouses. It’s one of the few places in Africa where it’s safe and easy enough to walk without a guide, although having one with you invariably enriches the experience. Mukono is a place you will want to spend longer in than planned.
Staying in Mukono town is most practical, but to get the real flavor of the place it’s worth lodging in one of the surrounding farms or local homestays like guesthouses. Nomads Homestay is run by SunTrack Adventures and Ssamba Foundation, gives you the best experience of Greater Mukono including wonderful meals based around their home-made jams, juices, and vegetables. Other nearby lodges include Nakoosi Eco Lodge and Detim Hotel. One could spend a blissful holiday hiking from one to the other.
From Mukono, head to Kayunga for farms and waterfalls, which is not far as the crow flies (in fact one can arrange multi-day hikes to it), but one needs to get a taxi down to Kayunga to access it.
For walking and mountain biking, it’s pretty close to heaven: vines draping down like streamers from soaring, prehistoric trees, orchids and bromeliads clinging to branches and weird-looking proto-trees with roots sprouting from their trunks like flying buttresses.
Rocky waterfalls roar through the forest giving the air an amphetamine rush. Guided walks and night safaris reveal a range of monkeys, sunbirds, eagle owls, chameleons and tree frogs. A day-long walk costs about $75– with 20 per cent going to the community, 20 per cent to conservation and the rest to the guide.
SunTrack Adventures can organize visits to local tribes, dance ceremonies, cooking demonstrations and multi-day hikes, again with a percentage of their profits going to the community through Ssamba Foundation.
Team Leader | Tour Guide | Volunteer Travel Consultant
SunTrack Adventures | Ssamba Foundation