What strikes first time visitors as special or unusual when they arrive in Kampala, Uganda?

So you have taken the bold step to visit Kampala (Uganda) and you are wondering what to expect?

Check out our list of all the fun, unusual, annoying and strange things you may come across. Don’t say we didn’t warn you!

1. Boda-bodas – The streets are lined with them. Boda-boda drivers have their own set of rules; they drive on the road, on the pavement, across roundabouts, switch lanes without warning, may run you over without warning, so beware and check the road multiple times before you cross and while you cross. There are no zebra crossings in Kampala town.

2. Friendly people – The people in Uganda are known for their friendliness. Visitors are welcomed with bright smiles and anyone and everyone on the road will be happy to leave what they are doing just to talk to you (especially if you are a muzungu). 

3. Rolex – Nope, not a watch. Here, people eat rolexes rather than wear them. A Rolex is a Ugandan streetfood of eggs rolled in chapatti (flat unleavened bread). It has been named as one of the top picks in African streetfood. So how on earth did the name “Rolex”come about? Simple. “Roll eggs”. Try saying it really fast multiple times and see what you end up with.

4. Traffic jams – Your visit to Kampala will not be complete if you do not get stuck in a traffic jam. With an over-supply of cars and small roads, Kampala has become the city of traffic jams. Furthermore, cars do not follow road rules should there be a traffic jam, with cars driving bumper to bumper. We would not recommend you drive if it is your first time in Kampala and you are not well-versed with lack of road rules driving. The best way to get through this experience is to listen to music, keep calm and looking out of the window always helps. It’s very entertaining.

5. Green vegetation – No matter where you are in Kampala, you’ll see lots of trees lining the streets, in between houses, around commercial buildings, everywhere. It is the beauty of living in Kampala. The further out you go towards the sub-urbs, the more greenery you’ll see. 

6. Relaxed pace – You will either be bemused or frustrated with the relaxed pace with which Kampala locals live. Whether it is serving you at a restaurant, whether it is picking you up in a taxi, whether it is simply walking over to you, they will take their sweet time. Because what’s the rush? If you’re from a fast-paced city, you’ll simply have to keep calm, ask twice, and just remember you are on holiday. If you are looking to move here for work/business, then you’ll need to start meditation as well. 

7. Lots of fresh fruits – Pineapples, papaya, watermelon, passion fruits! Could this be heaven? Staying in Kampala means that you’ll get lots of vitamin C while you’re around. And even the juices are fresh! None of that “oh it’s fresh in the sense that it is from a packet or prepared from pulp”. Nope – it’s straight from the fruit.

8. Entertainment at traffic lights – We only have a few traffic lights in Kampala city. But while you wait for the lights to turn green (sometimes it never does), there are a couple of things you will notice.

  • Traffic police men that make the traffic worse rather than better – even if the lights are working, they will take matters into their own hands all for the worse.
  • Mobile markets – an entire line of vendors walking past your car, all selling different things. Forget going to the market, if you need anything urgently, this is the time to buy it. From bananas to garden tools to school biology charts of the human digestive system, they have it all.
  • Finally, you won’t miss the vast array of street children and disabled people knocking on your windows or “attempting to clean” your windshield. Whilst some of these may be genuine beggars, you have to realise begging has become an occupation in Kampala. It is not unusual to see girls holding multiple babies or old men in wheelchairs. Based on our experience, it is easier to beg in Kampala than to get a job. So if you want to be charitable, please do so – you may help a soul, but be careful with any phones/valuables. Keep these away from sight or they may be snatched.

9. Weather – The amazing thing about Kampala is you can walk around in shorts and flip-flops. At an average temperature of 28 degrees Celcius, the weather is pretty great. When it does rain, it’s pretty scary. Think extreme thunderclouds, lightning and sometimes hail storms. These usually last anywhere between a few minutes to 1 hour. Then they pass, the sun is out, and you won’t know it even rained. Unless the roads are flooded and traffic jams have built up.

10. Everyone speaks English – Yep. Regardless of all the good or bad points above, everyone speaks English so you’ll be absolutely fine. Uganda was a British colony and the schools still teach English as the main language. English is the formal language of Uganda. 

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