Cultural highlights Uganda
If you’re looking to learn a little more about Uganda and the culture it has to offer, 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.
A Brief History & Overview of Uganda
Uganda 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 they have retained some cultural autonomy. The five kingdoms are Toro, Buganda, Busoga, Bunyoro, and Rwenzururu. There are around 56 distinct tribes that exist in Uganda.
In 1894, the Uganda area was ruled by the United Kingdom, which established laws and regulations across the territory. Uganda gained independence from the UK on October 9th, 1962. Although Uganda has had some unrest in the past, it’s now a peaceful, safe, and tranquil place.
The People of Uganda: Friendly, Funny, and Reserved
Many people who visit Uganda fall in love with the country because of the hospitality they receive. To match their kindness and customs, it’s important that you begin every conversation with lots of pleasantries. Ask people “how are you?” and other friendly questions before you get to the point.
Once you do strike a conversation, they’ll open up and crack jokes with you. Ugandans are joyful and expressive with their voices. Prepare to hear cheerful “EeeEee!!”.
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, learn about where you come from. Don’t take this as an invasion of privacy - family is very important to them, so these questions are just their way of getting to know you.
They’re proud of their country and culture, and if you’re open to it, they’ll be happy to share it with you. Do your best to bust a dance move, speak Luganda, and try some matooke, and we bet you’ll make instant friends.
Uganda’s Cultural Highlights & Activities
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 raodtripping so much compared to organised tours, 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 rolex from the stand outside your hotel, opt for homestays, or have a 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 you can delve into Ugandan culture and contribute to responsible tourism.
Here are a few of our favourite responsible tourism activities in Uganda:
- Ndere Centre Kampala - 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 7pm, and do a family show at 6 pm. The centre is also home to unique art, artefacts, and architecture.
- Boda Boda Tours – Want to see all of Kampala’s attractions while getting around like 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 – Karamoja is in the northeast and is named after the Karamojong people. If you walk through Moroto, you’ll learn about their pastoral lifestyle and cattle herding. In some ways, they’re quite isolated from the rest of Uganda, making them a cultural time capsule. Although Karamoja doesn’t have as many amenities as other parts of Uganda, visiting would be an unforgettable off-the-beaten track cultural experience. Visit the Kara-Tunga website for more information on tours and activities.
- Kibale Cultural Tourism Centre – Kibale is located in Western Uganda, a 5-6 hour drive from Kampala and en route to or from Queen Elizabeth National Park. Kibale Forest is home to ancient tropical rainforest and dozens of unique crater lakes. The Tourism Centre in the village of Bigodi offers swamp walks, banana beer preparation and tastings, coffee processing experience, tea plantation visit, traditional healer experiences, and more. These responsible tourism activities are all brought to you by the local Kibale community.
- Lake Mutanda- Kisoro - Mutanda Lake Resort is a perfect base for gorilla trekkers, but also a wonderful place from which to explore the stunning southwestern region of Uganda. You can explore the lake in a traditional dug-out canoe, the same as the local fisherman use. It’s harder than it looks! You can also go on a guided village walk and visit a local school, farms and traditional healer. Lake Mutanda has picturesque views of volcanic Virunga mountains. These volcanoes, bordering Rwanda and DR Congo, can be climbed and make for a challenging and off the beaten track day hike.
- Mgahinga National Park – Golden Monkeys and Batwa Trail – Like mountain gorillas, golden monkeys are listed as an endangered species. In Mgahinga National Park, there are two habitated golden monkey troops which 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 their music and dance. 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.
Contribute to Responsible Travel & Tourism in Uganda
On your roadtrip Uganda adventure, you might be humbled by the kindness and hospitality people offer you. If you decide to donate or give back to the community – we recommend you follow these suggestions to ensure your contribution is as positive and impactful as possible.
Generally, it’s not recommended to hand out money, clothes, pens, or other items to children. Although you mean well, it encourages begging and a distorted view of foreign tourists. Instead, show genuine interest, play and talk with these kids as you would with children from your own country.
The same applies for leaving stuff behind in your room: it's better to give it to the lodge owner than leave it for the maid to find, which might lead to friction among the staff. Most lodges have a tipping box and distribute tips equally among all the staff. If you enjoyed the service, just be generous and contribute to the tipping box. As for your driver, guide or ranger, tipping is highly appreciated.
If you want to donate funds or supplies – find a local organization that you can contribute to. These charitable organizations ensure that your donations are distributed in a fair and equitable way.
We hope that you enjoy the people of Uganda as much as we do. From community tourism to cultural highlights, there are a range of ways to learn about and enjoy the rich history and traditions of Uganda.
What was your favourite cultural highlight in Uganda? Share your tips with Roadtrip Uganda - we’d love to hear your story!