We heard the sound of water hitting the rocks long before we arrived at the rapids. Upon arrival, the spectacle was mesmerizing as water bubbled, rose and fell, forming the popular white rapids.
There was an irresistible urge to draw closer for an experience in the middle of River Nile in Jinja, where it swings what looks like its jointless arms, then calmly flows, gains momentum and almost forcefully plunges into a linear-like dip.
We were out on a white-water rafting expedition and our eyes had only prepared us for what was to come; our boat propelling us into the rapids, flipping over and giving us a dose of adrenaline.
Rafting is a sweet rush of the adrenaline. It is one of many adventure tourism options in Uganda. Zip-lining in Mabira Central Forest Reserve over Griffin Falls in Lugazi is a much deserved therapy as you rise to treetops and buoyantly sail in the air from one tree to another supported by a strong metallic wire under the guidance of tour guides.
If heights are not your thing, a walk in tropical forests and woodlands is pure connection with nature; as the birds sing, playful monkeys jump from one tree branch to another, frogs croak in their water-logged homes, and more.
Mountaineers understand the language of scaling heights in rugged terrains. Adventure junkie, Paul Lumala, says a walk in your hood, before you can stretch your eyes and legs to surmount hills near and far is a good start.
One opportunity to hike and get to see wildlife is in Bwindi Impenetrable and Mghahinga national parks, which are home to Mountain Gorillas.
The adventure niche offers options beyond the wild. You can have dinner in the forest under the stars on a Saturday night, at Bush Baby Lodge in Mukono, where patrons sit, share a meal and narrate stories under the moonlight.
While you enjoy culinary treats, keep your ears open for calls or cries of the night owls, bush baby, nocturnal birds and animals which the guide will identify and track with you. If you love capturing images of birds, Yellow Haven Lodge, situated on the shorelines of Lake Victoria in Ggaba via Bunga, is the place to be.
The other adventurous option is camping in a countryside or urban campsite or the beachline in the Ssese, Buvuma or Koome islands, where Lake Victoria is home to several bird species in addition to watching fishermen go about their search for the day’s catch.
Tourism adventure packages ranges from soft to nature and hard adventure activities, which have the potential to attract more numbers and reduce the pressure on the conventional wildlife tourism attractions.
Marketing adventure tourism
Tour and travel stakeholders are aware of the opportunities and at an initial edition of adventure tourism expo organized under the auspices of Adventure Tourism Uganda, they deliberated opportunities, how to market and promote them and what needs to be done to standardize them.
Denis Ntege, the director of Raft Uganda, observes that Uganda needs to ride on its natural competitive advantages -the five ecological zones of Africa; the landscape, tourist attractions from the snow-capped ranges, lakes and the rivers, savanna grasslands, trails and treks of Bwindi, into the plains of Karamoja.
Tour guide, Juma Chebet, treated travelers to an experience of 100-meter long Sipi Falls in Kapchowa. “On the falls, you can do abseiling and we can take you hiking on Mountain Elgon. You can hike it for three to five days, You can also go for community visits because adventure tourism connects people to places,” Chebet explains.
Karamoja is a good place that tour operator, Theo Modo Vos, recommends for adventure tourism to reduce pressure on human-wildlife conflicts.
“For the first time, tourists are asking us what else Karamoja offers besides wildlife tours. Hiking excursions, community visits, rich cultural dances, birding, nature walks, cycling safaris and more,” Vos explains. When Thies Timmermans, a renowned cycling enthusiast and founder of Red Dirt, visited Uganda in 2012, he said: “Uganda is the perfect destination for cycling.”
Lumala, the president of adventurers, Mountain Slayers Uganda, observes that mountaineering has the potential to attract many tourists. But he says there is a need to improve the safety of tourists while on excursions.
“Each one of us has unique strengths, knowledge, and a market niche. Adventure tourism is a growing tourism product that attracts both the international and local tourists. We need to build synergies to promote the product,” he says.
Regulation and standardization
Ntege, who is also adventure tourism entrepreneur, says regulation of the adventure as a tourism product is urgently needed. “We need standards to harmonize, popularize and implement this product,” he says.
Under the Covid Economic Relief Resilience and Response Program of Mastercard Foundation, UTA- an umbrella body that brings together local tourism sector players, was supported to work with Uganda National Bureau of Standards to develop a framework of adventure tourism standards, as assignment that is in the final stages.
Boost confidence of tourists
Kawere adds that in the next two years, standards for adventure tourism will be in place. Ntege welcomes the idea saying it will boost the confidence of tourists to undertake activities in Uganda’s exploratory zones. Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) manages 10 national parks, where some adventures have journeyed on thrilling expeditions that have brought them into close contact with wild animals.
“I have cycled in national parks and guided by UWA skilled rangers. I have been hit by boda bodas while cycling in Kampala City and I would not advise anyone to ride in town. You are safe cycling on the back roads, ”Timmermans shares his experience with him.
The adventure cyclist adds that as he explores, safety remains paramount. Adventure tourism attracts certain groups of people who like to discover more for unique experiences.
“We offer walking safaris, water rafting in Murchison Falls National Park and hiking of mountains. Most of these are not fully optimized. We need to do more,” UWA’s business development manager, Dorcus Rukundo says.
On a road trip to Kisoro District, Frank Wetaka met Alexander Lex Bongers on a roadmaster riding to Kidepo Valley National Park.
“For the first time in my life, I was able to cycle 100 kilometers. This was a new adventure for me. We arrived in a village in eastern Karamoja. I have never seen it on any travel itinerary. There it was, a new place to discover near the Kenyan boarder,” Wetaka, a practicing safari guide with 18 years of experience, narrates.
Anna Grodzki, the director of Matooke Tours, says in order to improve services in the tourism sector, there is a need for continuous training for guides.