Entebbe is a small city of about 70,000 people located on the shore of Lake Victoria 40 km south of the Ugandan capital of Kampala.
It doesn’t feel like a big, noisy, colourful African city. Instead, a sense of wild Uganda remains, with the forest and lake waters each seemingly trying to claim the space. Not quite tranquil, it is definitely pleasant.
Much of this is because the city is a product of Uganda’s modern history and really only retains any prominence because of the international airport.
Before the beginning of European influence in Uganda, Entebbe was the centre of the Bugandan Mugala clan and had little wider importance. Things began to change when the first Europeans arrived in 1879, a gang of hardy French missionaries, washed ashore after a horrendous 300km boat journey across Lake Victoria from Kisumu in what is now Tanzania.
The settlement grew increasingly quickly, when the East African Railway arrived in Kisumu in 1901, linking with the nascent steamship service across the lake and simplifying the journey from the East African coast considerably.
Entebbe was made the seat of government for the British Protectorate, sealing its position as the most important town. But that was to change in the 1930s when the railway reached Kampala, making the historical capital the centre of industrial production and increasing wealth.
Entebbe’s fortune’s began to wane, but it received unexpected support in the aftermath of the Second World War with the arrival of international flights and the creation of the airport in 1951.
But the good times were not to last. Upon independence in 1962, the new government made Kampala the formal seat of government for Uganda. Although some government ministries and State House remained, Entebbe lost the tussle for pre-eminence with Kampala and settled into its semi-retirement, content to welcome visitors and not much more.
The one footnote to this is the famous Entebbe Raid of 1976 when Israeli paratroopers completed an audacious rescue of the passengers of a hi-jacked Air France flight that had been diverted to Entebbe. The hulk of the aircraft remains, a curious testament to a troubled time.
People used to choose to stay in Entebbe for the atmosphere, prepared to endure the road journey to Kampala that necessitated. However, with the opening of the Expressway, the pain of driving to Kamapala has been removed making Entebbe our preferred choice for a short stay.
Things to do
We must be honest, there isn’t a great deal to do in Entebbe, but that is not a problem. Entebbe is normally used as a single night stay upon arrival or as a final night ahead of departure. However, if you do want to get out and about, there are a couple of options.
12km west of Entebbe lies the Mabamba Swamp, a Ramsar Site and Important Bird Area that is an excellent place to see the famous Shoebill stork. A road transfer will take you to the village of Mabamba where local boatman will take you out in local dugout canoes to look for the stork - and enjoy the general wildlife. This is a lovely half day excursion that works well when you have a few hours between flights.
Entebbe Botanical Garden
Established in 1902, the Botantical Garden has a certain faded charm, but it works well as a place in which to stretch your legs between arrival and a later internal flight or for a short excursion. There is a mix of indigenous forest, cultivation and horticulture, with a good bird population for birders needing an instant fix.
Uganda Wildlife Education Centre
This is an animal orphanage established as a sanctuary for animals unable to survive in the wild and as a base for important conservation work. A standard visit allows you to see the lion, two re-introduced black rhino and the aviary, but there is also a ‘Behind the Scenes’ tour available.
Shopping and Restaurants
Shopping malls have sprung up all over Africa and Entebbe is no exception. With the normal range of shops and cafes, sometimes it is nice to indulge or pick up a few essentials.
Places to stay
One of the best bits about Entebbe is that none of the accommodation options are far from the airport, making arrival and departure easy. There is not a large number of options, but there tends to be a place suitable for most needs.
The Lake Victoria Serena Hotel is the only luxury property available. A large, beautifully laid out, resort hotel in between Entebbe and Kampala it is a great place for a little luxurious relaxation.
The Protea Hotel is an African chain hotel used by both tourists and business clientele. Set next to the airport it provides a reliable service and excellent access to the airport.
However, Entebbe is best known for its small and characterful guesthouses. The best of these are The Boma and the Karibu Guesthouse. Both provide a warm and homely welcome, with comfortable rooms, lovely gardens and excellent food. If you like small lodges on safari, then The Boma or Karibu Guesthouse will be perfect for you.