Looking to learn a little more about Uganda and its culture? Read our guide on Uganda’s rich history, the friendly people, and some cultural highlights and activities we recommend – all with responsible and authentic tourism in mind.
Uganda's history and culture
In 1894, the United Kingdom ruled the Uganda area, which established laws and regulations across the territory. Uganda gained independence from the UK on October 9th, 1962. Although Uganda has experienced unrest in the past, it’s now a peaceful, safe, and tranquil place.
The country takes its name from the Buganda Kingdom, which encompasses a large portion of the south of the country, including the capital Kampala. Five traditional Bantu kingdoms have remained and retained some cultural autonomy. They are called Toro, Buganda, Busoga, Bunyoro, and Rwenzururu. Besides these five kingdoms, there are around 56 distinct tribes that still exist in Uganda.
Five cultural fun facts about Uganda
- Pan-fried grasshoppers, Nsenene, are the ultimate delicacy in Uganda. If you’re offered Nsenene, don’t skip out on your chance to try them!
- Over 30 indigenous languages are spoken in Uganda. Although English and Swahili are the official languages, many people speak Luganda. Try saying ‘Asante Sana!’ (Swahili), or ‘Webale Nyo!’ (Luganda) – those both mean thank you very much!
- Entebbe was the capital of Uganda before independence in 1962.
- Uganda is home to one of the smallest churches in the world. On top of Biku Hill in Nebbi Town lies Bethel Church. It’s only 2.3 m wide and 2.4 metres tall and was constructed in 1996.
- The equator runs through Uganda. Want to see it with your own eyes? You can visit and take a picture at the monument for free. If you’re travelling west, you’ll find the monument around 420 kilometres outside of Kampala on the Kampala-Masaka road.
The people of Uganda: friendly, funny, reserved
Many people who visit Uganda fall in love with the country because of the hospitality they receive. To match the Ugandese kindness and customs, you must begin every conversation with lots of pleasantries. Ask people “How are you?” and add other friendly questions before getting to the point.
Once you do strike up a conversation, they’ll open up and crack jokes with you. Ugandans are joyful and expressive with their voices. Prepare to hear lots of cheerful “EeeEee's!!”.
Ugandans also love to hear about your family. They want to know if you’re married, if you have kids, see pictures of your parents, and learn about your hometown. Don’t take this as an invasion of privacy - family is a very important part of Uganda's culture, so these questions are just a way of getting to know you.
The people of Uganda are proud of their country and culture, and if you’re open to it, they’ll happily share its secrets and hidden gems with you.
Experience Uganda’s culture
Experiencing Ugandan culture is less about seeing something specific and more about interacting with individuals and learning about their opinions and way of life. That is also why we love self-driving and road-tripping so much compared to organised tours, as it allows for unexpected and authentic encounters.
The best way to understand Ugandan culture is to get off the beaten tourist track. Don’t forget to buy a fake Rolex from the stand outside your hotel, opt for homestays, or chat with a local boda guy. These experiences might feel low-key, but it’s the most authentic way to understand the modern culture of Uganda.
Having said that, there are plenty of organized ways to delve into Ugandan culture and contribute to responsible tourism. Check our list below.
The best cultural activities in Uganda
Here's a list of our favourite cultural and community tourism activities in Uganda:
- Ndere Centre, Kampala - the Ndere Cultural Centre opened in 2003 and is now the home of one of Uganda’s best cultural dance groups, the Ndere Troupe. They perform every Wednesday and Friday at 7 pm, and do a family show at 6 pm.
- Boda Boda Tours, Kampala – want to see all of Kampala’s attractions as a local? Join a motorcycle tour and hit up all of Kampala’s main attractions. Get in touch with Ricky’s Bodaboda City Tours or Walter’s BodaBoda tours for more info.
- Karamoja – this ethnic group is located in the northeast of Uganda and named after the Karimojong people. If you walk through Moroto, you’ll learn about their pastoral lifestyle and cattle herding. In some ways, the Karimojong are quite isolated from the rest of Uganda, which makes visiting here feel like a cultural time capsule. Check the Kara-Tunga website for more information on community tours and activities in the region.
- Kibale Cultural Tourism Centre - Kibale Forest is home to ancient tropical rainforest, chimpanzees, rich birdlife and dozens of unique crater lakes. The Tourism Centre in the village of Bigodi offers swamp walks, banana beer preparation & tastings, coffee processing experiences, tea plantation visits, traditional healer experiences, and more. These responsible tourism activities are all brought to you by the local Kibale community.
- Homestay, Boomu Womens Group - this homestay offers a campsite and bandhas (basic) with the option of ordering tasty, homegrown food. The place is set in a nice garden at walking distance from the southern entrance gate to Murchison Falls National Park. Boomu is run by a women's organisation and all proceeds go to the community.
- Golden Monkey and Batwa Trail - golden monkeys are listed as an endangered species, just like mountain gorillas. In Mgahinga National Park, two different habituated golden monkey troops can be observed by visitors. The Batwa pygmies are the indigenous people from Uganda who were once hunter-gatherers but have since been removed from their forest life. On the trail, they’ll show you how they used to live, how they gathered food, and what their music and dancing were like. By visiting them, you’re helping keep their culture and heritage alive.
- Sipi Falls – enjoy the roaring waterfalls, thriving farms, and village landscapes of the Karamoja plains in eastern Uganda. Home of Friends organises hikes, cave adventures, coffee tours, and more.