Jinja Tourist Guide

Jinja Tourism Guide.

'what's the rush'
at East Africa's centre for adventure.

An up-to-date Tourism Guide for Jinja with information and a history of the area.

Adventure Activities
Bujagali Falls
Uganda Travel Guide

Jinja Tourism Guide - 'East Africa’s ‘adventure capital’

Jinja Main StreetJinja is located at the northern end on Lake Victoria in South Eastern Uganda. Lying just north of the Equator, but at an altitude of 3,750 feet (1100 meters) above sea level, it enjoys a very pleasant climate with temperatures ranging from 63 to 82 degrees F. (17 degrees to 28 degrees C).

Jinja is spread out with few high-rise buildings outside city center. It retains a much more ‘laid-back’ feel relative to the nearby capital of Uganda, Kampala and is currently undergoing major renovation – for example the recent construction of a new multi-storied central market and road repairs as well as many new hotels.

Jinja - sunset over the Nile

As you approach Jinja from Kampala, the district’s most significant geographical feature is immediately obvious. Jinja 'Town' is situated on the east bank of the River Nile, where the longest river in the World, the Nile starts its 6,670 km journey from Lake Victoria to the Mediterranean Sea. After what can be a very slow section getting through Kampala traffic to Mukono, the drive to Jinja passes through an interesting parts of Uganda with small townships, farmland, Mabira Forest, tea & sugarcane plantations.

You cross the Nile at the Owens Falls Dam (completed in 1954) and will find Jinja a laid-back contrast to Kampala – a very friendly place with a focus on tourism and welcoming hospitality.

Jinja - "what's the rush" in East Africa's adventure capital.

Jinja Central Post Office

Large houses with big yards are a part of the legacy that the original developers gave the town, with quiet, tree lined streets giving ambience to the laid-back and warm welcome that visitors generally experience on arrival. Rush hour in Jinja is very different from that in Kampala. With much less traffic it is very easy to get around. At least half of all vehicles are bicycles and small motorcycles (boda-boda taxis). Generally there’s a cool breeze blowing in from Lake Victoria, clean air rather than smog to breath.

Along the Main Street there are views out over the lake. Parking is rarely a problem. Boda-boda motorcycle taxis provide an easy way to get around the town and are found on almost every street corner. There is a slow, steady feel to life here. A recent Town Council campaign to clean up the streets and shop fronts has made Jinja even more attractive.

Source of the Smile Guesthouse in Jinja, Uganda, East Africa

Tourism is providing a new impetus to Jinja’s economy. Good accommodation, a peaceful laid-back friendly atmosphere, warm weather all year round (almost on the equator but 1150 above sea level makes for a very pleasant climate), features of natural beauty including lake views and the ‘Source of the Nile, plus lots of things to do in the near vicinity such as the adventure activities at Bujagali Falls; these are all elements that are contributing to Jinja’s growing popularity as a tourist destination.

There are some very good hotels and guest houses throughout the town and nearby; many restaurants with a wide variety of cuisines. There is also backpackers’ accommodation and camping in the town and nearby. Take a walk along Main Street and the adjoining streets in the evening and you will encounter lots of restaurants and bars with indoor, garden and pavement seating.

Source of the Nile boat cruise

In Jinja Town:
Start of the River Nile in Jinja Uganda East Africa Visit the 'Source' / Start of the River Nile: In Coronation Park there are cultural displays and craft shops. In the gardens beside the Golf Course a plaque refers to John Hanning Speke (the first European to visit the area) and a shrine to Mahatma Gandhi. From here you can take a boat cruise at the start of the River Nile out into Lake Victoria.
Entry * East African 5,000/= * Foreign Visitor 10,000/= * Car 2,000/= * Minibus 5,000/= *

Restaurants: Uganda, Indian, European, Chinese and Middle Eastern - Jinja offers good food for everyone.

Jinja restaurants dining bars cafes good food

Accommodation: There are many options for all budgets; hotels, guesthouses, and backpackers in and near Jinja. TripAdvisor has comprehensive information with contacts and rates and we recommend that you follow this link - http://www.tripadvisor.com/SmartDeals-g480250-Jinja_Eastern_Region-Hotel-Deals.html for listings.

A boat ride from the Source of the Nile Gardens out to nearby Samuka Island is another special way of seeing the town, giving a different perspective of Jinja while looking back to the town from the lake. Bujagali Falls and nearby Mabira Forest are only a few kilometres away.

Craft Shops and Art Galleries - located along the Main Street and Iganga Road are many craft shops and a several art galleries.

Jinja Uganda map smallJinja pictures 1Jinja pictures 2

Tourism in Jinja.

Bujagali Falls before Nov 2011By the early 1990’s tourism was reviving in Uganda, and worldwide adventure tourism was growing in popularity. By having the natural beauty and big cascades a few kilometers downstream, starting at Bujagali Falls, Jinja received an extra advantage in 1996 when commercial White-Water Rafting first commenced on the upper reaches of the high volume River Nile shortly after the rapid-busting trips by Cam McLeay (Adrift), Jon Dahl and Fraser Small (Nile River Explorers).

In November 2011 the completion of the Bujagali Dam submerged several of the large rapids above the dam but rafting trips shifted their start point to below the new dam and extended further down the Nile.

Jinja and Bujagali Adventure Tourism - a guide to the many adventure activities in the area, on and beside the River Nile at East Africa's centre for adventure.

Adventure Activities A List of Adventure Tourism Activities

whiteater rafting on the river nile ATV Quadbike Safaris from Bujagali Falls Kayaking and canoeing on the Nile

Jinja Adventure Safety AssociationJinja Adventure Safety Association - we take your safety seriously


Traveling to Jinja.

Vine Air from Entebbe to Jinja flights

Jinja is only 80km from Kampala but allow at least 2 hours (currently there are roadworks that can delay even longer) by road, the slowest section is getting out of Kampala and past Mukono. From there (apart from a stream of slow heavy vehicles) the going is generally much easier and you pass through areas of sugarcane and tea plantations, Mabira Forest and down from Mbiko into the Nile Valley, crossing the River over the Owens Falls and Nalubale Dams. A new bridge is currently being built for completion by 2016.

Google Maps - directions from Kampala to Jinja.
Google Maps - Nairobi to Jinja.

Jinja is also a relatively easy day's drive from Nairobi in Kenya (580 km) and for a relaxing long-weekend away from the "big smoke" and fast pace of Kenya's capital or other cities in East Africa. Unless it is to visit friends or family why bother with the extra hours spent continuing on to Kampala when you can find great accommodation, activities, sight-seeing, rest and relaxation in and near-by this small city where the River Nile leaves Lake Victoria.

By Air: The Jinja Airfield is now back in operation. Companys offering flights from Kajjansi Airfield near Kampala and from Entebbe Airport include Fly Uganda , and KE Aviation

Package Tours are available with many professional tour companies based in Kampala, Nairobi and Jinja. The variety of activities is extensive - for individuals and groups, corporate functions and team building activities, family trips, organisations and anyone looking to get time out from the hustle and bustle of the big cities like Kampala and Nairobi.

En-route from Kampala to Jinja:
Mabira Forest

Mabira Forest - where you will be able to see the primates, birds, and butterflies.
Ssezibwa Falls - a Buganda Heritage site.

Mabira ForestInformation about Mabira Forest.


A Brief History of Jinja and the start of the River Nile.
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.

Jinja Map

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 catchments area) is in Rwanda and the southernmost point in the catchments area is in Burundi.

The Luganda word for the stone is “ejjinja” and at the village overlooking the river there was a large stone from which the town got it's name. The stone can still be seen today.

The municipality covers an area of 11.5 square miles (28 Square Kilometres).

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.

Rippon Falls at Jinja at the start of the River Nile

Until about 1900 Jinja was no more than a very small village situated near the place where canoes made the crossing of the Nile from Busoga into the neighbouring tribal kingdom of Buganda.

By 1890 the Napoleon Gulf as the bay through which the waters of the lake funnel into the Nile is called, was becoming of increasing importance as the main ferry on the route from Kampala to the Kenyan port of Kisumu, and in 1901 the Protectorate Government administrator in Busoga moved his headquarters from Iganga to Jinja.

Only 30 years earlier (1862), the the first European visitor, English soldier and explorer John Hanning Speke had arrived on the west bank opposite Jinja, confirming for the outside world that Lake Victoria was the START (not the SOURCE) of the White Nile.

John Hanning Speke - Jinja Tourist Guide pictureFor centuries, travelers 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 traveled west from Zanzibar but did not reach Uganda. Once great friends and traveling companions they famously disagreed, Speke correctly believed that the Nile flowed out of Lake Victoria, while the more eloquent explorer, Richard 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. Twelve years later Henry Morton Stanley's epic circumnavigation of Lake Victoria in 1874 proved Speke had been correct.

Only the people who lived near the great lake knew that the Kiyira (River Nile) flowed from it. But although they daily witnessed the beginning of its journey, they did not know where it eventually led nor of its significance for mankind.

Speke described his “discovery” thus: “We were well rewarded, for “the stones” as the Waganda call the falls was by far the most interesting sight I had seen in Africa”. The falls that Speke saw, naming them the Ripon Falls after the President of the Royal Geographical Society in London, are now submerged.

In 1906 Jinja declared a township. Early plan shows grid pattern of streets, with a Collectorate building at head of pier, Busoga Square (as a “Union Jack-“ layout), Bell Avenue (then called Nile Avenue) separating the residential area from the commercial area to the north, and a Bazaar and market place at the intersection of Main Street and Bell Avenue. Population was 3,000 within a township of 8.3 square kilometres.

Beginning in 1910 and completed in 1912, a railway was constructed from Jinja to Namasagali as part of a route that connected Mombassa with Eastern Congo. The railway was primarily used to transport cotton from the areas around Lake Kyoga. The cotton was stored in Jinja and then shipped across to Kisumu and then by rail to the coast.

In 1913 Administrator F.M. Simpson prepared an expanded plan for Jinja, which sought to introduce green belts as a means of segregating races. However, the pre-existing grid structure had become firmly established and was gradually extended north and east to provide more residential plots. Simpson’s plan relocated the market to its present site in an attempt to segregate European from Asian and African trading.

In 1925 a proclamation was issued, enlarging the town boundaries to include a total area of 16 square kilometres and by 1928 the railway from Mombassa was extended to Jinja. A road / rail bridge was built across the river and by 1931 Jinja was connected by rail with Kampala.

Jinja Town 1950The District Administrator at that time prepared a new plan for Jinja. A E Miram was pessimistic as he saw little future for the growth of Jinja in light of the rapid expansion of Kampala. His plans, however, introduced the idea of a drive (i.e. Nile Drive) along the river and lake banks. The first full-time Conservancy Office and Sanitary Inspector in Uganda was appointed to Jinja. A total of 444 houses existed in Jinja at this time.

However industrial development started and in 1937 when a thermal electricity plant was constructed in Jinja and first cotton mill constructed at Kirinya. Coronation Park was laid-out and considerable pressure was exerted for the upgrading and provision of “African” housing sites, resulting in the proposal for Mpumudde Estates.

The biggest effect on industry in Jinja began in 1949 with the start of construction of the Owens Falls Dam which was completed in 1954. The significance of this is indicated by the opening ceremony being attended by the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip.

Owens Falls dam construction 1950

The first industries in Jinja were based primarily on agricultural production, particularly cotton, sugar and timber.

After the construction of the dam Jinja got a tremendous advantage in the race for economic progress. The Government’s decision to gazette Jinja as Uganda’s industrial town and the enactment of a policy that provided for preferential electricity tariffs for the people of Jinja saw a rise in the number of industries.

Such conditions led to the birth of the textile manufacturing industry, a brewery in Njeru, and a plywood factory, which was the first in East Africa. Later, a copper smelter for the treatment of copper concentrates from Kasese in Western Uganda, a tobacco factory and the first steel rolling plant in East Africa, the East African Steel Corporation opened in 1963. In 1964, the Uganda Grain Milling Company opened up the Jinja Flour Mill, while in 1965, the Madhvani family opened up the second textile mill, Mulco Textiles.

Jinja and Bujagali Adventure Tourism Map

Click on the map for a higher resolution version