Entebbe and the Equator

Entebbe. What comes to mind? For me, it is Idi Amin, 1970s dictator – and a hijacking at Entebbe Airport in that same decade. The decade of hijackings.

There’s bound to be more to the former Ugandan capital than the memory of this rather sad chapter in history, and I was curious to learn. So when booking a flight to Rwanda recently, I decided to make a brief stop there, for a tiny taste of Entebbe.

Welcome to Entebbe

It’s the thought that counts, right?

Entebbe is a green city on the shores of Lake Victoria. At just under 60,000 km2 – about the size of Latvia – it is Africa’s largest lake, shared between Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania.

A city on water, with plenty of trees and green spaces: that sounds promising.

I only have an evening and a full day in town and want to use the time well. And just like in Addis Ababa a few months ago, the solution is to search ‘free walking tours in …’. What first pops up is GuruWalk, a community of local guides offering free walking tours in their cities.

In Addis, we were too late for the free walking tour, and ended up just following the route on our own. That worked well enough, but it would have been even better with someone telling the stories.

Here in Entebbe, I get lucky. Turns out, the local guide has availability the next day. ‘I’ll meet you at your lodgings at 07.40,’ says Amos. Whoa, that’s early! But also, that means I’ll get even more out of the day than expected.

Things to see and do in Entebbe

Bright and early the next morning, Amos and I head down the hill, towards Lake Victoria. Turns out I am his only guest today. Great! Full focus on the city, then.

Public transport in Entebbe is mostly by boda-boda (motorcycle taxis)

On the way, we walk through Entebbe Golf Course. Not because I’m particularly interested in golf. I’m not a good player, and I find it mind-blowingly boring to watch. But it is a large, green, leafy space and nice to walk through this morning. At this time of day, we are the only ones out on the course, until we bump into Tiperu, here to collect firewood.

The grass is still damp from the early morning dew and my (not so appropriate) shoes get wet. It will be hot soon enough though, so might as well enjoy it.

In the middle of the golf course is a cricket oval. It’s all very British.

Continuing on, we pass by Entebbe’s Municipal Council building, just across the road from Muzinga Square Park. Muzinga is the local word for canon, and sure enough, in the park is a canon, said to have been left behind by Tanzanian forces during the uprising against Idi Amin, a monument to commemorate their victory.

Muzinga Square Park – and thus the canon – is the property of Yoweri Kaguta Museveni Tibuhaburwa, Uganda’s president since 1986. Consequently, photos are not allowed. I sneak one anyway, sort of from the hip whilst pretending to be busy looking elsewhere.

We continue down the road towards Lake Victoria, to Uganda Wildlife Conservation Education Centre (UWEC) – or Entebbe Zoo, as the locals call it.

Uganda Wildlife Conservation Education Centre (UWEC)

UWEC was founded in the 1950s, to care for injured and orphaned animals, often confiscated from smugglers. Most of the animals here are endangered.

Throughout the zoo, these signs pop up: a necessary reminder!

And insurance companies get creative.

How can you resist the Simba insurance policy?

The zoo is located on the banks of the lake, very idyllic and with wonderful views.

This one wanted to play.


The chimps have their own island; which is practical, as they don’t swim.

Early in the morning, it’s quiet here on the chimp island. A few hours later, however…


The chimpanzees here are orphans, rescued by UWEC. All have names and you can read their background and characteristics on boards along the river surrounding the island. Amina, for example, was rescued from traffickers at Entebbe airport and brought here on 5 January 1989. She was on her way out of the country, most likely to the Soviet Union. She is friendly, short-sighted and has a good appetite for porridge.

Not all animals have the space they need, however. It is painful to see a jackal run back and forth in an enclosed space not much larger than my living room. Same with the baboons. Bearing in mind, the animals here are rescued, perhaps it is the lesser evil.

UWEC works with schools and provide education about wildlife. We bump into several groups of eager school children, being quizzed about the animals present.

Lion facts

National botanical gardens of Uganda

Next to UWEC is the botanical garden in Entebbe, all 40 hectares of it, and also with beautiful lake views. Most of the trees and plants here have medicinal uses. You might recognise the one on the right. Entrance is 10,000 Ugandan shilling (ca 2.4 EUR/2.7 USD), and includes a guide telling you about the trees and plants and their medicinal properties

By now, the sun is high in the sky, and it’s lovely and peaceful to wander through the garden. There’s a little cafe here, where you can sit and enjoy the views and perhaps a local beer. .

Equator in Lake Victoria

On offer (but not part of the free walking tour, naturally), is a boat journey on Lake Victoria. It’s possible to take a 30-minute trip  – or a 1-hour one, going out to the sign marking the exact spot of the Equator. As it turns out, neither of my guides have been out to the sign before, so off we go. Price: 100 EUR/400 000 UGX, but probably negotiable (I didn’t try).

Aero Beach

On the way back from the Equator, I want to stop at Aero Beach, a peculiar airplane graveyard next to the old Entebbe Airport.

There are rumours some of the planes here were involved in the hijacking I mentioned initially, but that must be just an urban myth. The largest plane here by far is a retired Boeing 707, originally used by BOAC. My mind immediately and gleefully goes to mysteries set in the 1950s.

The graveyard seems to be playground for local kids, who run around, slightly out of control, climbing on – and in – the planes, completely disregarding warning signs. I ask, and get shrugs in return. TIA. This is Africa.

Equally disconcerting is a huge group of children ready to run out into the water, with a woefully inadequate number of adults there to look out for them. Some of them can’t be much older than 2. The lake has a few  designated safe swimming areas, and warning signs are put in place elsewhere. But what to do when people don’t care? An estimated 5,000 people are killed in Lake Victoria every year – most of them drown, some die of bilharzia, and some by hippos or crocodiles.

Lake Victoria is one of the deadliest lakes in the world

Back on land, Amos and I continue the walking tour. We have passed the estimated 4 hours long ago, and it’s time for coffee and perhaps a spot of shopping.

Gorilla Conservation Coffee

About half of the world’s remaining 1,063 mountain gorillas can be found in Uganda. They are not safe, and it is us humans who pose the threats. Humans poach, intrude on their already fragile habitat, and spread infectious diseases.

Fortunately, there are people who want to do something about it. Behind this orange wall, in this rather modest house, is a cafe, serving delicious Gorilla Conservation Coffee. The founder of this social enterprise is Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka, a wildlife veterinary. She learned that coffee farmers who lived near Bwindi Impenetrable National Park got an unfairly low price for their product. As a result, to survive, they were forced to encroach on gorilla territory for food and fire wood.

The company pays coffee farmers who live next door to the gorillas $0.50 per kilo above the market price. It also offers the local farmers training in sustainable production methods – good for the gorillas, the environment and the coffee.

Gorilla Conservation Coffee makes a special effort to support women coffee farmers, helping to provide opportunities for women’s economic empowerment, disrupt male financial dominance and break ingrained stereotypes in the communities.


Entale African arts and crafts

Finally, we can’t not check out at least one market, can we? Amos takes me to Entale African arts and crafts market, to meet his lovely wife Trishila, who runs one of the stalls, and his 2-year-old son.

Entebbe traffic

Entebbe is a nice city to visit. It is on the water, it’s very green, and has large open spaces. Easy to breathe. Once you get away from the roads, that is. Entebbe is typically African in its approach to common sense traffic rules, i.e. there aren’t any. In stark contrast to neighbour Rwanda, traffic in Entebbe is unruly and unpredictable. Again, in my experience, traffic, and not guerrilla warfare, is the greatest danger on this continent. As in most African countries, the Vienna Convention on road traffic do not apply in Uganda. Speed limits? What’s that? Red light? Go ahead, or even speed up. Stop for pedestrians at zebra crossings? Of course not! It’s everyone for themselves. Not surprisingly, Uganda has one of the world’s highest traffic death rates, and it is increasing! Consider yourself warned.

Entebbe or Kampala?

You can choose to visit Uganda’s capital, instead of – or in addition to – Entebbe. Kampala is ca. 35 km away from Entebbe; both have international airports with good connections around the world.

Everyone I have spoken with here in town, insists Kampala has more to offer. But it is also much more chaotic and congested, with even worse traffic.

A chaotic, congested, but interesting capital city – or a slower-paced green city on the lake? Your choice.

Entebbe and the Equator is a post from Sophie’s World