Sightseeing made easy in Kampala

A new innovation, the Kampala Sightseeing bus was launched last week to promote domestic tourism by taking people on tour around Kampala’s historic and beautiful sights. NICHOLAS BAMULANZEKI was on board.

I didn’t know what to expect last Thursday when I was invited to tag along with a team of selected personalities on the maiden tour of Kampala aboard a double-decker bus.

For starters, I didn’t feel any urge to tour Kampala, a city I have grown up in and convinced I know the main corners. Besides, the endless traffic jams and potholes have made me shy away from passing through the city centre during daytime.

However, David Nsubuga, CEO Promote Uganda Safaris, persuaded me it would be worthwhile.

“We have started this initiative to boost domestic tourism because there are several attractions in the outskirts of Kampala that people miss due to lack of information or the inconvenience associated with manoeuvring around the city,” he told me.

“And this is not an entirely new concept because it is offered in several other countries.”

It was fun aboard the bus

Indeed, the sight of the double-decker bus at BMK house, the departure venue, convinced me this could be memorable. The bus is painted in colours of the Uganda flag and my first impression was the free high-speed Wi-Fi on board.   

Dubbed Kampala Sightseeing bus,’ this maiden tour attracted several high-profile personalities such as Tourism state minister Godfrey Kiwanda, Quality Chemicals boss Emmanuel Katongole, plus several diplomats.

By 10am when we set off, the bus was almost full as the ‘passengers’ exchanged pleasantries. The top of this double-decker offers a unique view of the city and for once, the traffic jam is not an issue because the bus moves quite slowly to allow everyone get the feel of the city and also take photos.

There are also guides who are ready to answer any queries. Our first ‘sight’ on the route was Kampala Serena hotel, then Speke hotel before joining Kampala road at the junction of Bank of Uganda headquarters.

The beautiful guides

Some people on board seemed a bit perplexed by the sight of beggars on the streets. A few notes were handed over and in return were endless praises at the generosity. Ironically, whereas many on board spent a great deal of time on their phone cameras snapping away, people on the streets were also capturing the images of the unique double-decker.

When we approached Clock Tower, the slow traffic prompted one person to wonder whether there was a major accident or interruption but one of the female guides pointed out ‘it is business as usual.’

Going up to the Ring road was refreshing from the hustle and bustle of the city. We were able to enter the Lubiri and some seized the opportunity to take selfies against the Twekobe. After a brief visit to Bulange, the seat of the Buganda kingdom, we stopped over at Café Javas in Bakuli for refreshments.

Next stop was the Kasubi tombs, where we found the Katikkiro and some Buganda kingdom ministers waiting for the team. The Katikkiro commended the initiative and expressed hope that sightseeing will boost local tourism.

From then on it was a stroll through Makerere Kikoni, where many onboard got perplexed at the slum dwellers. A run through Wandegeya, Mulago hospital and the Uganda museum brought us to Acacia mall, where we stopped for some onboard to do some quick shopping.

What was now left was visiting the Kololo Ceremonial grounds before our return to BMK house. This was indeed a worthwhile journey and offered me first-hand information, a hands-on feel and unlimited access to these treasured sites, not to mention the VIP treatment at all the locations we toured.  

All in all, this journey was quite refreshing even for a city born like me. The ambiance on board the bus is overwhelming and the tour guides also did their best to ensure no one was left out.

Nsubuga later intimated that this is just a start of a big project aimed to involve at least a dozen buses.

“We are still experimenting but we are overwhelmed by the feedback,” he said.

“In fact, we have already got requests to have night bus rides as many tourists have been told Kampala has the best nightlife in the region,” he says. “But that will greatly depend on how the day tours go.”

Facts about sightseeing bus

The Kampala Sightseeing bus has a designated route with more than a dozen sites to visit as well as designated stopovers along the way.

It starts at BMK house off Colville street, to Serena hotel, Speke hotel and Bank of Uganda where it joins Kampala road.

Thereafter, it moves around the Constitution square, Kampala Boulevard, and Post Office building.

On joining Entebbe road, it branches off to Nakasero market, then Clock Tower, Kibuye market before connecting to Ring road.

From there, the tour goes to the Kabaka’s lake, then the Lubiri and goes through the Royal mile to Bulange. From there, the bus goes to Lubaga cathedral, and then Namirembe cathedral before it stops over at Café Javas in Bakuli for refreshments.

Thereafter, the journey continues to Kasubi tombs, Makerere Kikoni, Makerere University, Wandegeya and Mulago.

From there, the journey goes to the museum, Acacia mall, then the Independence grounds before returning to BMK house.

The double-decker accommodates 64 people and the journey takes between three-and-half hours and four hours.

Ugandans and East Africans pay Shs 100,000 while foreign tourists pay $30 (Shs 108,000). This includes soft drinks and light snacks.

The double-decker does two tours a day; first between 9am-1pm and 2pm-5:30pm. Official tours started on Christmas day and will be daily.

Kampala Sightseeing bus fleet so far includes three double-decker.

© 2016 Observer Media Ltd