Before 1906, Jinja was a fishing village that benefited from being located on long-distance trade routes. The origin of the name “Jinja” comes from the language of the two peoples (the Baganda and the Basoga) that lived on either side of the River Nile in the area. In both languages “Jinja” means “Rock”. In most of Africa, rivers like the Nile hindered migration, this explains the ethnic boundaries along the Nile as one moves north from the river’s source on the northern shores of Lake Victoria.
However the area around Jinja was one place where the river could be breached due to the large rocks near the Ripon Falls. Here, on either bank of the river, were large flat rocks where small boats could be launched to cross the river. These rock formations were also accredited with providing a natural moderator for the water flow out of Lake Victoria. For the original local inhabitants, the location was a crossing point, for trade, migration and as a fishing post.
This might explain why, despite this barrier, the two tribes have very similar languages, and the more powerful Baganda had an enormous influence on the Basoga. The area was called the ‘Place of Rocks’ or ‘The Place of Flat Rocks’. The word for stones or rocks in the language of the Baganda is ‘Ejjinja (Plural Mayinja), and in the Basoga dialect this became Edinda. The British used this reference to name the town they established – “Jinja”
People & ethnicity in Jinja
Jinja District is part of Busoga sub-region, which includes the districts listed below, and was home to an estimated 2.5 million people in 2002, according to the national census. The majority of the people in Jinja District belong to the Basoga ethnic group and Lusoga is the most widely spoken language.
HIGHLIGHTS AND MAIN ATTRACTIONS OF JINJA AND THE SOURCE OF THE NILE
On the shores of the River Nile and huge Lake Victoria, Jinja is Uganda’s fourth largest town, having once been the capital city. Its tropical atmosphere and lush vegetation are big attractions, but the main highlight is undisputedly the River Nile. Thought to be the home of the source of the Nile, the world’s largest river spanning Egypt Sudan and Uganda, it holds major spiritual significance for the local people and offers some thrilling grade 5 rapids for us visitors.
Jinja is a compact, low rise town with little historical interest, apart from some interesting Asian architecture from the colonial period. It suffered at the hands of Idi Amin’s government, having once been the industrial heartland, but you can still head out to the leafy suburbs to experience a taste of it in its prime.
For adventure seekers, here you can embark on a thrilling excursion down the Nile, through sets of wild rapids, up to grade 5, interspersed with relaxed sections of beauty where you can sit back and enjoy the picturesque surroundings. Bujagali Falls is perhaps the most famous section – the source of the Nile. Known for the sheer volume of the cascading water rather than the height of the falls, it is here that the force was created to empower the rapids. Thrust into the limelight in recent times, Bujagali Falls was flooded in late 2011 to create a 200-megawatt dam. Owen Falls Dam, created from flooding the impressive Ripon Falls in 1954, was inadequate to meet the rising need for electricity.
A hub for tourism and spirituality, it was not uncommon to see witchdoctors on the lush banks. Now a dam, the waters are calm and peaceful and a place of sacred value to the Busaga people has been submerged. You can still enjoy white water rafting here, although as two major falls Kyabirwa and Big Brother have been submerged, you will be starting further downstream and continue past the previous stop point.
For families there are nice rides avoiding the rapids completely, focusing on the stunning vistas and wonderful biodiversity of the region. There is a startling variety of birdlife, attracted by a multitude of fish, including Nile perch, tilapia and tiger fish, which in turn have a great life in the oxygenated paradise. Listen to the call of fish eagles through the early morning mist, or set out on a canoe at sunset. Jinja has become a hive of activity, with not only white water rafting, but also bungee jumping, wild jet-powered boats up the Nile, quad bike safaris and horseback safaris.
YOU CAN HIRE A FISHING BOAT IN THE CALMER WATERS DOWN STREAM AND AT WEEKENDS THE BUDONDO CULTURAL GROUP PROVIDES MUSICAL ENTERTAINMENT AT CHILLINGTON GATE.
Jinja is one of the most scenic towns in Uganda. It is located in Eastern Uganda and its only two hour’s drive from Kampala. Jinja town was once the leading industrial town because of the hydro-electricity dam along the Nile. The expulsion of Asians in the late 1970’s by the Ugandan Dictator Idi Amin Dada marked the beginning of its collapse as the industrial hub of the country. As the Asians left, the economy crumbled and the Ugandans who replaced them at the time were too inexperienced to manage the industries. The collapse of the industries was not only felt in Jinja but throughout the country. With the overthrow of the government of Idi Amin, many of the Asians returned but the town never got back to its former glory. Instead other town’s benefited as hydro-electricity power become available in all other districts. Kampala city and Mbarara District are now the leading industrial centres of Uganda.
The relocation of industries elsewhere has had one advantage – It has left Jinja a quiet and serene town that is perfect for relaxation away from the noisy capital. Hotels have sprung up and tourism has been promoted aggressively. The river Nile is the key attraction in Jinja with almost all tourism activities centered on it. The town attracts tourists throughout the year who wish to relax after a long safari in the different parts of Uganda while enjoying the beautiful tranquility of the river Nile. The Nile supports a number of adrenaline raising activities like bungee jumping, canoeing, white water rafting, Kayaking, horseback riding and quad biking among others. No wonder Jinja has come to be referred to as the “adrenaline centre” of East Africa. Apart from water sports, visitors can also tour the old colonial style buildings, old Hindu temples. Jinja is one of the best places for cultural tourism in Uganda. Before we discuss the attractions in detail, you might want to read about hiring a car in Jinja. You might also want to read about our 1 day Jinja tour or the 1 day Kampala city tour package
The Top Attractions and activities in Jinja town.
Whitewater Rafting: This is arguably one of the top things to do in Uganda and Jinja town particular. The Grade 5 Whitewater rafting experience in Jinja is the best in Africa. It is a scary activity but also very exciting and thrilling like nothing else. Whitewater rafting is organized as a half or full day activity. The activity not only involves navigating through the rapids but also making stops at some of the islands. The islands have an amazing collection of green vegetation, birds and primates like Vervet monkeys. Prepare to be thrown out the raft at least once as you head downstream but with nothing to worry about – You will be rowing with some of the most experienced crews in the world. The crew will pick you up each time you are thrown out of the raft. You do not need to be experienced to take part in the activity. The companies know how to handle both beginners and expert rafters. Whitewater rafting in Jinja occurs throughout the year and costs between $140 and $150. All whitewater rafting companies take safety seriously. Participants are given protective gear and escorted by several rescue kayaks. So why not go for whitewater rafting in Jinja? The memory of floating down rapids of the longest river on earth will stay with you for the rest of your life.
Jet Boating: This experience is similar to white water rafting but with a difference. Instead of using the balloon rafts, you conquer the rapids using a high speed boat moving at speeds of up to 90 kilometers per hour. This activity costs $75 for adults and will also give you the same adrenaline rush typical of all the other water activities on the Nile.
Bungee jumping: This is one of the craziest activities you will ever do in your life. It involves jumping from a tower (44 meters high) and down towards the Nile waters with a rope tied to the ankles. Bungee jumping is common around the world but we are talking about doing it over the longest river on earth. As one leaps from the raised platform, they get a birds view of the terrain below. This activity is not for the faint heated, It take 2 minutes at most but the memory will last a lifetime. The Bungee jumping site in Jinja is arguably the best and most thrilling in Africa. The jumps are organized both during the day and in the night. The crew has won several international awards for organizing the activity to the highest possible standards. Bungee jumping in Jinja costs $115 per person.
Golfing: The Big Game Mini-Golf course in Jinja is intriguing. It was constructed with large statues of the big five (leopard, buffaloes, lion, buffalo, elephant and rhino) and other creatures. A typical golfing day involves putting past the rhino, rounding the python, teeing past the hippo, hacking from inside the buffalo or bogeying beside the lion. It is unique golfing experience and comes with a lot of fun, drinks and mingling with the local high class and tourists from all over the world.
Visiting the source of the Nile: As already noted, the river Nile is the longest river in the world. It flows from Uganda all the way to Mediterranean Sea after passing through several countries like South Sudan, Sudan, Ethiopia and finally Egypt. Using a speed boat, tourists can go to the point where the river begins its journey to the sea. John Speke was the first European to discover the source of the Nile in 1858. The site where Speke stood and first spotted the source has been turned into a park with beautiful garden that are perfect for relaxation and marveling at the river Nile. It is one of the most visited places in Uganda. One needs to take a boat to go up to the exact place considered the source of the Nile.
Visiting the monument of Mahatma Gandhi: Gandhi is considered to be one of the greatest and most charismatic leaders of the 20th century. He is also considered to be the father of the nation of India and is remembered for the great role he played during India’s transformation into a democratic nation. Gandhi is also remembered for his work in Africa and one of his last wishes was to have some of his ash sprinkled on the river Nile. A guide can give more details about Gandhi and his work of activism especially in South Africa. Don’t go without taking a photo with the famous monument. You should also read about the best places to visit in Nairobi.
Visiting markets, churches and old Indian buildings: As an industrial town, Jinja has always had a large Indian community. These communities came here as traders as early as the 18th century and after the construction of the Uganda railways. Visitors can go and see the old Hindu temples and other estates owned by the Indian communities. After visiting these temples and other old architectural buildings, you should also go and visit the main Jinja market to see how local folks do business and go about with their daily activities. You might even want to buy some fresh fruits or souvenirs from one of the numerous craft shops. After completing this article, you might find the one about things to do in Mombasa interesting.
Visit the rural village: A tour of Jinja and Uganda in general is incomplete without a close encounter with the local people. A visit to one of the villages allows you to experience how Africans in the rural areas live their lives. You can choose to camp near a group of village houses or live with one of the families for a day/night. While with a local family, learn how to cook local food like Matooke or work with the men to make the local potent gin known as “Waragi”. A guide should be with you to act as an interpreter.
Quad Biking: Go for a Quad biking adventure through the forests, villages, farms and the banks of the river Nile. You do not need to have any experience in order to take part in Quad biking. The Quad biking companies provide free practice sessions for participants. During the briefing and training session, participants are warned against overtaking and riding at very high speeds. It is important to be away of kids and animals crossing the roads. Quad biking in Jinja is very adventurous and by the end of the day, you would have learnt a lot and seen how the rural people live their lives.
Horseback Riding: Though not as intense as white water rafting or Bungee jumping, Horseback riding is a great way to experience the Nile River and the countryside. The horses are healthy and owned by an Australian expatriate. Like Quad biking, this activity takes you through the banks of the river Nile and villages of Uganda enabling you watch the locals go about with their daily lives. Prepare to see excited young children following you before disappearing back to their homes. The horse ride also offers opportunities to view beautiful forests, valleys and hills around the river banks. You do not need to have any experience with horses to take part in this activity. All participants are escorted by professional and experienced guides.
Kayaking and Canoeing: These are just some of the numerous activities that can be done on the river Nile. Kayaking and canoeing offer travelers opportunities to not only experience the great Nile River but also the surrounding villages, local people, farmlands and birds. These activities offer more effortless and quiet experiences compared to whitewater rafting. All participants are trained before embarking on these activities by experienced instructors. The participants learn the flow of the river, back and forward paddling, basic strokes, rescue and capsizing skills. More experienced Kayakers can choose to go to river sections with stronger current and rapids. The company supplies the kayaking/canoeing and safety and equipment. The cost of kayaking starts from $125.
Mountain Biking: Like horseback riding and Quad biking, Mountain Biking in Jinja is organized to allow visitors explore the river Nile and nearby villages. This activity is very challenging physically considering the unpredictable terrain and routes taken. The activity takes between one and three hours through village farms and the banks of the river. There is an option of biking at the Mabira Forest Reserve located 20 kilometers away from Jinja town where participants are carried by car to the starting point. While at riding through this dense forest, take time to marvel at the beautiful trees, plants, butterflies and monkeys. The Mabira track also leads to hidden local villages, sugar and coffee plantations. By the end of the activity, you would have an idea of how the rural peasants go about their daily lives in Uganda. The cost of maintain biking ranges between $30 and $40 and includes lunch or a picnic at the forest. All the available mountain bikes are of high quality, robust and imported from Europe. The guides are experienced and know how to repair a bike in case it breaks down.
Visiting Mabira Forest: Mabira forest is the largest natural lowland tropical forest in central Uganda. It’s about 2 hours drive from Kampala past. The forest is home to over 200 species of birds and about 5 of primates. The forest has become a popular place for camping.
Launch Cruise along the River Nile: The construction of a Dam at the former Bujagali Falls formed the Bujagali Lake that is perfect for boat cruises. This activity can take half a day and is a great time to mingle with others, party and enjoy beautiful moments with close friends. There are both day and night boat cruises which all offer opportunities to eat and drink while marveling at the river Nile and its creatures like bats, monitor lizards, monkeys, otters and birds. Those who love fishing can cast their lines to catch large Nile Perch. Apart from Launch cruises downstream at the Bujagali Dam, boat cruises are also arranged close to the source of the Nile.
Bird Watching: Uganda is known as a one best places for birding in the world – Jinja and the particularly the Nile river are no exception. Birding tours are arranged by companies in Jinja for both inexperienced and seasoned birders. The companies provide binoculars, recording devices and a book for identifying the species. Birding is done using boats by the river banks, the numerous islands and close to the source of the Nile. Bird are most activate in the morning hours and in the evening as they prepare to roost. Birding tours take at least two hours but arrangements can be made for full day Bird watching for seasoned birders. Those who opt for the full day birding experience can expect to spot at least 40 bird species in a day. Birding for two hours costs $40 while the Full day birding tour costs $90.
Fishing on the Nile: Jinja has some of the best fishing spots in Uganda and in the Nile Perch; the River Nile has one of the largest freshwater fishes on earth. It is possible to catch Nile Perches weighing over 150 kilograms. Fishing is arranged throughout the day. The best time for fishing on the Nile is in the morning but afternoon trips have also been known to produce amazing catches. Fishing is open to both experienced and first-time anglers. Full day fishing starts in the morning and ends late in the evening with breaks for lunch. For the full day option, anglers need to move packed lunch. The companies arranging the activity provide all the necessary fishing gear, bottled water, safety and camping equipment. Apart from the Nile Perch, the other notable species are the tilapia, cat fish and yellow fish. Anglers are required to release all the fish in the water except for those that won’t recover after being caught. The fishing techniques used include spinning, bait fishing and trawling.
Visiting the Ssezibwa Falls: The Ssezibwa Falls are located along the Kampala – Jinja highway. The local Baganda people consider it an important cultural site where the spirit of their ancestors still rest. Tourists love the place because of the crystal clear water falling from a steep cliff into the nearby forest. Visiting the place isn’t all about the falls. The scenery is beautiful with lush green forests that act as sanctuaries to birds and small primates. While at the falls, do not forget to visit the local snake cave where people still perfume rituals to appease their ancestors.
Tubing the Nile: This is another of those amazing adrenaline raising activities that makes Jinja such a great place to visit. The activity involves drifting along the river Nile on an inflatable tube while sun bathing, marveling at the birds, beautiful islands, green forests and local people washing by the river banks. The companies offer both single and tandem tubing in either calmer water of the turbulent rapids of the Nile. To guarantee the safety or participants a group of safety Kayakers escort the crew. You might be interested in the top things to do in Kinshasa.
Where to stay – Hotels and Lodges for Accommodation in Jinja Town
Jinja has several accommodation options that include hotels, guesthouses, lodges, campsites and even hostels. These accommodation facilities are found in the middle town, residential quarters, banks and islands of river Nile. These facilities have been categorized as offering budget, mid-range and luxury services
Wildwaters Lodge: This lodge is built on one of the forested islands along the river Nile allowing visitors immerse in the nature. The lodge’s ten rooms are surrounded by thick forest trees and have balconies looking towards the river Nile and its rapids. The island receives a cool breeze while also providing a tranquil environment only interrupted by the sound of the roaring Nile and water birds. The room floors are made of timber while the roofs are thatched with grass. Each room is self-contained with locally made furniture, showers and bathrooms. The walkways connecting the rooms are made of wood and go all the way up to the main forest allowing visitors to take nature walks. Wildwaters lodge is suitable for those who have come for whitewater rafting and other river related activities. Apart from the primates and birds in the forest, tourists can also visit the river banks for a chance to encounter monitor lizards, otters, monkeys and water birds. The only way to reach this lodge is by boat.
Explorers River Camp Jinja: This Camp is built along the river Nile with views of the new Lake Bujagali. It has great scenery, a beautiful beach with majestic views of the Nile. The hotel has free shuttle services from Kampala to Jinja. Barbecue and camping is arranged by the beach-side while partying and marveling at the beautiful river. The hotel has good rates for their tented rooms which are very clean, with hot showers and free Wi-fi. Explorers River Camp is frequented by tourists who have come to do whitewater rafting, bungee jumping and quad biking. The trees around the hotel attract Vervet monkeys and several species of birds. Other services in the camp include yoga classes, pedicure, manicures and massage.
2 Friends Guesthouse: 2 Friends was opened in 2002 and offers mid-range accommodation facilities at the heart of Jinja town. The guesthouse now has Luxury rooms near the poolside with rooms that are decorated with great African art. The facility has both double and twin rooms of both the luxury and mid-range quality. Each room has a spacious bed, private shower and verandas looking towards the large swimming pool. Other services include Wi-Fi, Flat TV, Refrigerators and a safe. The hotel accepts VISA card payments accompanied by proper Identification documents.
Bilkon Hotel: This is another mid-range accommodation facility in Jinja built along the main road heading towards Kampala. The Hotel has 64 clean and comfortable rooms that are single, double or twin. All rooms have furniture, showers, a TV, air conditioning and marble fittings. The hotel also has a lounge area, a restaurant, a bar, barbecue, conference rooms and free internet. Bilkon Hotel is ideal for organizing meetings, parties and large weddings.
Brisk Hotel Triangle Jinja: Brisk Hotel overlooks the river Nile and offers 130 mid-range rooms. All rooms are self-contained and beautifully designed. Apart from the river Nile, one can also spot the great Lake Victoria from their room windows. All rooms have telephones, a Flat Screen TV, voicemail, Wi-Fi and high quality bedding. The hotel has a restaurant, bar, conference rooms, steam bath/sauna and gym center. Coffee and Tea is free and can be served at any time on request.
Gately on the Nile: This is yet another mid-range hotel facility within Jinja just next to Lake Victoria. The hotel started operation in 2004 and offers Family, Single, Double and twin rooms. The hotel offers laundry and room services as well as free Wi-Fi. There is a terrace lounge overlooking the beautiful gardens and Lake Victoria. The restaurant serves English breakfast, lunch and tea while the bar is stocked with drinks from across the planet. Barbecue facilities and outside catering is available on request.
Source of the Nile Hotel: Built on a hilly area, this hotel is only 210 meters away from the source of the Nile offering great views of Lake Victoria and the river Nile. The hotel is only and offers mid-range accommodation facilities. The hotel rooms are divided into single, twin and deluxe. All rooms are spacious with a large bed, drawer, tiled floors, a desk, a chair, a shower, a fan and a television. The hotel also has free Wi-Fi, a bar, restaurant, conference facilities and large panoramic gardens for relaxation.
Sunset Hotel International: This hotel is found within Jinja town. It offers mid-range facilities in sixty eight rooms. The rooms are of high quality with single and double options. Each room has a TV, fridge, large bed, air conditioning, showers, bathrooms, Wi-Fi and other high quality furniture. Some of the higher end rooms even have double Jacuzzi. The hotel has laundry service, luggage rooms, a conference center, a photocopying center, a gift shop, parking space, exit maps, fire detectors and facilities for the disabled.
The Haven Jinja: The Haven is built on the banks of the river Nile. It is among the best and most popular accommodation facilities in Jinja and can accommodate up to sixty people. It is frequented by those who have come for whitewater rafting and some of the other adventurous activities like Quad biking. The facility has self-contained bandas, cottages as well as standard rooms with verandas overlooking the Nile. Each room has a private safe, a mosquito net, towels, a large bed and flat screen television. The hotel also has a camping ground next to the river with barbecue facilities. Other facilities include a restaurant, free Wi-Fi, a swimming pool, a bar and conference facilities. Hotel quests never get bored when staying at the Haven thanks to the football, volleyball, table tennis, badminton and pool table facilities. Book with this hotel and enjoy relaxing by the great river Nile while spotting monitor lizards, vervet monkeys, birds, otters and fish eagles.
King fisher Safaris Resort: Kingfisher is located nine kilometers away from Jinja town near the point where Lake Victoria and the Nile River meet. The resort is owned by Germans and has twenty eight single rooms, seven twin rooms, four family rooms, six double rooms and two Luxury rooms. All the rooms have showers, laundry services and a veranda. On a given day, the resort can take ninety six guests. King Fisher has a camping site, a large swimming pool, a bar, a conference hall, children’s playground, a large garden and parking space. The hotel can arrange for taxis on request, help secure airline flights, provide mobile phones, postcards and stamps.
Jinja Safari Hotel: This is a luxury built along the banks of river Nile close to the very source of the Nile and the Jinja Golf Club. The hotel has twenty five guestrooms with private balconies and bathtubs/showers. The hotel provides laundry services, parking space, luggage rooms, outdoor manicured gardens, a bar, restaurant and off course free Wi-Fi.
Jinja Nile Resort: This resort is built along the banks of the river offering amazing views of the river and its own large gardens. The Resort has a total of 102 single and double rooms which all have a TV, a balcony and sitting area. The resort has a restaurant that serves intercontinental meals and a bar with a large collection of beers, wines and spirits. Other facilities include conference rooms, business centers, barbecue facilities, children’s playing area, a fitness center, photocopying area, catering services for outside functions, a high quality public address system and projectors.
Bridge Way Guest House: This guesthouse is built 100 meters way from the main junction leading to the source of the river Nile. Each room has a mosquito net, a fan and a reading table. The hotel has scenic gardens, a restaurant and a bar. Other services include conference facilities, outside catering and gardens that can be used for wedding receptions.
The Mansion Hotel: The Mansion Hotel is built in a quiet residential section of Jinja where the top politicians and businessmen stay. It is close to the Source of the Nile, Jinja Golf course and the section of the Nile that supports whitewater rafting. The hotel offers luxury accommodation facilities with beautiful gardens and a large swimming pool. All rooms have Televisions, a reading desk and a veranda. The hotel’s restaurant offers both local and international cuisine to be served in the dining hall or personal rooms. Other facilities include conference facilities, Wi-Fi, airport pickup and free breakfast.