Bujagali Falls is located 6 km downstream from the start of the River Nile from Lake Victoria at Jinja, in the warm heart of Uganda.
For detailed information about many of the Adventure Tourism Actvities available near Jinja and Bujagali Falls see...Adventure Tourism
13,000 years ago movements in the tectonic plates overlapping at the edge of the Western Rift Valley shifted the outlet for Lake Victoria (Nalubale) east to a point beside what is now known as Jinja – place of the rocks - Uganda’s second largest urban centre. This exit point, the only major outlet for the lake, was partially dammed by a granite outcrop that came to be known as Rippon Falls, the start of the River Nile, while the source (defined as the furthermost point in the catchment area) is in Rwanda and the southernmost point in the catchment area is in Burundi.
Lake Victoria formed with the gradual filling of a wide, shallow depression in the centre of the African continent about 400,000 years ago. It has dried up at least 3 times since then and most recently re-filled about 14,700 years ago [Wikipedia]. Water from the lake flowed down towards Lake Kyoga and carved through the surface layer of red soil to the granite base 40m below forming down, forming white-water cataracts.
In the 1st millennia BCE Bantu-speaking peoples migrated from West Africa into Great Lakes region. The Bantu expansion introduced agriculture into those parts of East Africa either not reached previously by Nilo-Saharan farmers or too wet for millet, slowly intensifying farming and grazing over all suitable regions of East Africa, including the Nile valley.
The first large cascades on the Nile downstream from Rippon Falls came to be known as Bujagali Falls. For many centuries as much as 1.2 million litres per second tumbled 4 metres down between several forest clad islands, creating a roar, echoed at times by hippos lining the banks and filling the air, along with over two hundred species of birds (endemic and those that use the Nile as a migratory path north to south). A particularly beautiful section of the Upper Nile, the name derives from the Bachwezi spiritual leader called Mandwa BUDHAGALI who lived nearby.
The west bank forms the boundary of the Buganda Kingdom and the east bank is the boundary for the Busoga Kingdoms (united since the early 1900's into a single kingdom under the Kabazinga of Busoga.
Bujagali Falls has for long been held as spiritually important by people living in the area. It was named after the River spirit called “BUDHAGALI”. This spirit has manifested itself in over 30 human spiritual leaders. Whoever claimed to be the new spiritual leader was given a task of floating across the river on a piece backcloth, to demonstrate his/her magical powers. If he/she managed to perform this task successful, then he was acclaimed as the new spiritual leader, the title “MANDWA BUDHAGALI” now meaning being reincarnated by the Budhagali Spirit. The investiture ceremony took place in the presence of other spiritual leaders, the local chiefs and the residents.
The current Mandwa Budhagali succeeded his father in early 1970s. He is over 80 years old and has maintained his spiritual status up the present. There are 5 shrines near his home in Budhagali Village, where he can be consulted. These days there are many churches and mosques in the area but some people still visit the witchdoctor for advice, herbal medicines and regarding spiritual matters.
For centuries, travellers had argued about where the River Nile began. Julius Caesar said that the one thing he most wanted to know about the world was 'where was the source of the Nile?'. In the 19th century it became an international obsession involving such legendary explorers as Richard Burton, John Hanning Speke, David Livingston and Henry Morton Stanley. In 1857-8 Burton and Speke travelled west from Zanzibar but did not reach Uganda. Once great friends and travelling companions they famously disagreed, Speke correctly envisaging the outlet at the north of Lake Victoria, while the more eloquent Burton - translator of The Kama Sutra and author of The Perfumed Garden - believed the Nile flowed from Lake Tanganyika and that the Victoria Nyanza was seasonal.
In 1860 Speke left Zanzibar on a new expedition to prove his theories regarding the origins of the Nile and on 28st July 1862, was the first European (on record) to reach the outlet from Lake Victoria where the river starts.
'After a long struggling march, plodding through huge grasses and jungle, we reached a district which I cannot otherwise describe than by calling it a 'Church Estate'. It is dedicated in some mysterious manner to Lubari (Almighty), and although the king appeared to have authority over some of the inhabitants of it, yet others had apparently a sacred character, exempting them from the civil power, and he had no right to dispose of the land itself. In this territory there are small villages only at every fifth mile, for there is no road, and the lands run high again, whilst, from want of a guide, we often lost the track.'
Was Speke describing Bujagali Falls? The description above may well have been made from the west bank at Bujagali Falls - 'the Church Estate'; it was near enough to the start of the river so that later in the day (28 July 1864) he was able to travel further upstream to Ripon Falls and identify there as the start of the river that Herodotus, the Greek 'Father of History' - 5th century BCE, wrote of as Egypt's Gift. Speke was aware that this was not the ultimate source and previously correctly identified the Kagera River, which is fed from the Virunga mountains in Burundi (southernmost) and Rwanda (furthest source), as the major in-flow to Lake Victoria (Nalubale).
From there, Speke travelled back down stream to rejoin Captain Grant (his travelling companion) and continued north for another 6,500km to the Mediterranean Sea and back to Britain. The Royal Geographical Society organized "the Nile duel" in London between the two explorers set for September 16, 1864. But on the before day of their much publicised debate, Speke was killed in a mysterious hunting accident. Tragic accident or suicide? An inquest ruled his death was accidental but it added further intrigue to the geographical mystery.
It took another 13 years (4th April 1875) before Henry Morton Stanley's epic circumnavigation of Lake Victoria finally proved Speke had been correct.
In 1910 Winston Churchill passed Bujagali Falls on his journey through Africa down the Nile, after which he forcefully advocated the need for a dam to harness the power of the Nile and help Uganda develop as a leading economy in East Africa.
Completion of the Owens Falls Dam in 1954 inundated Ripon Falls and Jinja grew as an industrial town. Over the years many sightseers and picnickers travelled out from Jinja, Kampala and elsewhere in East Africa to enjoy the natural splendour and roar of the river down through Bujagali Falls. A wrought iron archway dating from the 1960’s welcomes visitors and designates the entrance as Chillington Gate.
In 1996, Bujagali Falls saw a new type of visitor. Tourism was reviving in Uganda and worldwide, adventure tourism was growing in popularity. White water Rafting first commenced on the upper reaches of the River Nile shortly after the rapid-busting trips by Cam McLeay (Adrift) and Jon Dahl & Fraser Small (Nile River Explorers).
Their rafting trips offer clients some of the best wild-water in the World, combined with beautiful sections of lush, green, African scenery at the start of Africa’s longest river and one of the most important rivers in the World. The first major set of white-water rapids was at Bujagali Falls. Rafters setting out on a 28km trip; equipped with a helmet, paddle, life-jacket and modest training session; put in a reinforced inflatable raft with 8 to 10 others, were launched down the short sharp cascade through the main channel by the east bank – a 4 meter drop through a giant washing machine – beginning a voyage through a series of furious white-water sections interspersed with calm stretches and finishing with the 'Bad Place' at Itanda Falls.
Often rafts flipped dumping occupants into the churning water, dragging them under and spitting them back up to be rescued by the safety kayakers waiting downstream. Unconfirmed close encounters with the Bujagali Spirit have often been reported in the bars around the area of an evening. Other channels across Bujagali Falls were classed as 'Grade 6' (too dangerous to run commercially).
Since 2000 other adventure activities such as; kayaking, ATV / quadbike safaris, horse riding, a bungee jump, boating, sight-seeing, fishing & bird-watching trips, jet-boating, mountain biking, canoeing and tubing have been established. Jinja District and particularly the Bujagali Falls area have developed to earn the by-line 'East Africa's centre for Adventure'.
The reservoir formed by the construction of the 'Bujagali' Dam filled to its new level of 2011 meters above sea level in November 2011. Several sets of cascades including Bujagali and the Grade 5 rapids at Kyabirwa (Total Gunga) and Namizi (Big Brother / Silverback) were inundated. The raging power along the first 8km of the Victoria Nile has been diverted through the hydro-electric turbines of the new dam. Uganda now has a beautiful, small lake at the centre for East Africa's centre for adventure.