Entebbe. It’s a town of civility and bright reflections. A town of dazzling history and paradoxes. A town of both old and new. A town that evokes genuine, small-town charm.
Well, this incredibly scenic town, which is set on a peninsula stretching into the mighty Lake Victoria, some 37 kilometres southwest of the Ugandan capital Kampala, doesn’t really need a comprehensive introduction – but perhaps its emerging tourism scene does.
See, just a few years ago, Entebbe was on a few international tourists’ bucket lists. Even though a big number of travellers to Uganda enter the country through Entebbe International Airport, in the past years just a tiny fraction would stick around to see this town in all its awesome glory.
Nexus of change
But now Entebbe presents a nexus of change. Over the past few years, Entebbe-ans have slowly but surely learnt how to promote what this perennially chic town has to offer.
Uganda’s former capital city and the scene of the 1976 Operation Thunderbolt – one of the most daring military operations in world history – Entebbe comes across as an improbable contender for the honour of the most beautiful town in Uganda. And yet that’s exactly what it is, thanks principally to its strategic location.
To draw in tourists, Entebbe has been newly invigorated with high-end hotels and cool restaurants and bars, as well as one hell of a modern shopping mall, the Victoria Mall. Ah, and the new four-lane Entebbe-Kampala Expressway!
A bit of a showpiece, the Victoria Mall is the perfect modern hangout that is of late luring hordes of local and foreign tourists alike with its sleek cafes, bars, supermarkets and restaurants.
From the Victoria Mall, you can stroll just a few minutes up the street, where you’ll find several restaurants and bars serving up a variety of foods and drinks. A typical lunch at Faze 3, which has a sweeping view of the lake, might include the pot pie, great Ugandan coffee and fruit shakes. Fans of Chinese food can try the China Garden while those interested in good pizza by the lakeside are catered for by the nearby Goretties Pizza.
For accommodation, there are several options in Entebbe, catering to both the high-end and budget traveller. Options for the latter include, among many others, Boma Guesthouse, which is located on Julia Sebutinde Road; the Banana Village Eco Resort, located off Garuga Road (12 Kilometers from Entebbe town); and Entebbe Travellers Inn, located on Portal Road right in the town centre.
Entebbe Backpackers, located on Church Road, is the perfect anchor point for international travellers to Entebbe, grounding them with the gift of new connections. This one offers hostel-style accommodation facilities and camping options for budget travellers.
For the high-end traveller, we recommend the 4-star Imperial Botanical Beach Hotel on Lugard Avenue, which is known for attracting a jet-set and star-studded crowd. The hotel offers the option of spending a night in the same room in which former US President Bill Clinton slept when he visited Uganda about two decades ago. The price for this room is $1,750, while others go for as low as $100 per night.
The Laico Lake Victoria Hotel, located strategically on the Kampala-Entebbe Airport Road, is another high-end facility set near the golf course. Describing itself as the “true oasis of tranquility”, this 4-star hotel overlooks Lake Victoria and is only a five-minute drive from the airport. However, as luxurious as the hotel might be, many might find its rates a tad exorbitant for an urban Ugandan hotel with the entry-level rooms staring at $143 per night.
For those who are not interested in the restaurants, hotels and bars, there are several fun, exciting and inviting things to do in Entebbe, no matter what kind of experience you prefer…
Uganda Wildlife Education Centre
For many years, the main tourist focus in Entebbe was the Uganda Wildlife Education Centre (UWEC). Originally known as Entebbe Zoo, this is a sanctuary for a wide range of wildlife. Ideal for a family day out, a visit to UWEC rewards visitors with up-close encounters with wild animals such as giraffes, rhinos, lions, elephants, leopards, buffalos, zebras, antelopes, etc… In fact, you’ll get to see Africa’s Big Five – all in this 72-hectare sanctuary. And in-house guides are always on hand to help you unlock UWEC’s hidden secrets.
If you are an avid golfer, Entebbe has you covered. Located just opposite State House and on the shores of Lake Victoria, Entebbe Golf Club also offers classes for those who want to make a foray into this elegant game. It also has two tennis courts, one basketball court and a cricket oval. And for history buffs, this is said to be the oldest golf course in East Africa!
Another highlight in Entebbe is the National Botanical Gardens of Uganda, established way back in 1898. The gardens are ideal for strolling in the afternoons and are of special interest for wildlife, including the black and white colobus and tree squirrels. For birdwatchers, the gardens are said to be home to more than 100 bird species and if you are lucky you might spot the verreaux’s eagle owl, Africa’s largest owl. Plants species here are said to be over 2,500, mostly tropical and sub-tropical.
Ssese Islands, Reptile Village & the Chimpanzee Sanctuary
The Ssese Islands is an archipelago floating on Lake Victoria. Just three hours by ferry from the mainland, the islands offer several leisure activities, including nature walks, fishing, kayaking and quad biking.
Those interested in reptiles can visit the Uganda Reptile Village, which is located about one kilometer from the town centre on the Entebbe-Kampala highway. This facility was established to teach locals how to co-exist with reptiles safely. You’ll find here all types of chameleons, snakes, crocodiles, etc.
And then there is the Chimpanzee Sanctuary on Ngamba Island, just a few kilometres offshore from Entebbe, where you’ll be rewarded with up-close encounters with our closest cousins.
In Entebbe, life is a beach
Even though the aforementioned activities are rated high among what most tourists enjoy in Entebbe, natural beauty remains the main motivator for travel to this town. Because it’s on a peninsular, Entebbe provides visitors with numerous unspoiled beaches catering to people from all walks of life. For those seeking rest and relaxation, few places in Uganda can match Entebbe’s beach life. However, Lido Beach and Aero Beach can sometimes get chaotic, especially during public holidays when Kampalans export their disorderliness to Entebbe.