Reasons to Go
The bustling town of Jinja is situated at one of the sources of Africa’s longest and most renowned rivers: the River Nile. The Nile has long been a symbol of life and prosperity for all the countries it passes through, before its journey ends in Egypt, far north of here.
Jinja has quickly become East Africa’s adrenaline capital, and thrill-seekers can get their fix white water rafting, kayaking, quad biking, bungee jumping or horse-riding through crumbling colonial ruins.
Natural beauty is never far away. Serene nature walks on the river bank and boat cruises on Lake Bujagali can be taken at a more comfortable pace for those who like the gentler sides of life.
Things to Do
White Water Rafting
The main draw of Jinja is its heart-palpitation-inducing white water rafting.
There are three different levels of rapids to choose from. Class three rapids are for intermediates, class five rapids for experts and adrenaline junkies, and class two rapids for families and beginners.
Helmets, life jackets, safety training and photos of the experience will all be included as part of the tour package.
There are no hippos in this part of the Nile and crocodiles are extremely unlikely (there has not been a crocodile related incident in 20 years of rafting).
The class five rapids are situated in violent sections of the river, including a waterfall, so are typically reserved for seasoned rafters - and of course done at your own risk.
For white-water kayakers, the Nile is one of the best rivers in the world.
If you have experience, but would benefit from a refresher, experienced guides and multi-day courses are available.
River Surfing is also available for those willing to brave the cold waters.
However, for beginners and families, a more sedate option is to kayak on the flat-water of Lake Bujagali.
Lake Cruises and Birding Tours
Full and half day birding cruises are offered by specialised operators, providing the chance to see the local birdlife from the water.
Notable species include the martial eagle, white-backed night heron, rock pratincole, papyrus gonolek and crimson-rumped waxbill.
If you are looking for an extra thrill, then a 44 metre bungee jump is available for the brave or foolhardy at Adrift’s Nile High Camp.
Bungee jumping can be done both at night and during the day, but most people do it in the day to fully appreciate the madness of it all - plummeting down before dipping your fingers into the Nile as the elastic pulls you to safety.
Adrift follow New Zealand safety standards, and per the guidelines regularly check that the equipment is safe to use.
Of the adventure activities, horse-riding, quad biking and mountain biking are all available from hotels on the Upper Nile
Places to Stay
Hotels in Jinja itself are generally catering to business and conference goers, rather than adventure travellers.
Instead, visitors looking for adventure should stay in one of the many properties in Bujagali or further downstream on the west bank.
In Bujagali, Jinja Nile Resort is an established and popular option, albeit in need of a little refurbishment.
Downstream, Wildwaters Lodge is a wonderful luxury lodge set on its own island at the Kalagala Falls. There are 8 canvas and thatch cottages, plus an excellent restaurant.
Wildwaters works well as a top-end base for some adventure sports, and is also a great option for some relaxation after a long and exciting safari.
Geography and Geology
Jinja is located 80 km east of Kampala on a wide peninsula bordered by Lake Victoria to the south and east and the Nile - with the now-submerged Ripon Falls - to the west.
Water is the defining feature of Jinja. It was first used as a colonial crossing point and then in 1946 work began on the construction of the first hydro-electrical power project, which eventually opened in 1954 as The Owen Falls Dam.
Riparian woodland surrounds the banks of the Nile and is a wonderful habitat for monkeys and birdlife.
Is Jinja the source of the White Nile?
While it is accurate to say that water surges from Lake Victoria into the Nile at Jinja - and this does mark one of the major sources of the White Nile - the full answer is a little more complicated.
Lake Victoria is not the sole source. As it feeds the Nile, so Victoria is fed by the Kagera River, itself a major river that flows from a watershed in Rwanda’s Nyungwe Mountains to form the border between Burundi and Rwanda first, then Rwanda and Tanzania, and finally Tanzania and Uganda.
Since 2006, the Rwandan branch of the Kagera River has been internationally accepted as the source of the White Nile.
With the ever improving road network in Uganda, Jinja is now less than a two-hour drive from Kampala - although city traffic can affect this depending on the time of travel.
There is currently no air option, so visitors including Jinja in a longer itinerary often fly into Entebbe and then are driven onwards to Jinja.
When to Visit
You can visit Jinja year-round. The flow of the river is dam-controlled and so is not affected by the rains.
The most popular time to visit Uganda is in the drier months of late June to October and late December to early March, but it is possible (and enjoyable) to travel outside these times.
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