Jinja Uganda Itinerary & Best Things to Do in Jinja
Located 80 kilometres east of Uganda’s capital Kampala is the town of Jinja. Originally a fishing village, it was founded in 1901 by British settlers as a hub for sugar cane and cotton farming.
Today, it’s often called “the adventure capital of East Africa”. Its location on the shore of Lake Victoria makes it the perfect place for water sports, such as white water rafting, kayaking, and stand-up paddling.
Jinja is also famous for being situated at the source of the White Nile — one of the major tributaries of the longest river in the world.
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Best Time to Go to Jinja, Uganda
Jinja is located close to the Equator, therefore has consistently warm temperatures, high humidity, and a lot of rainfall throughout the year.
The warmest months are February and March with average daytime temperatures of 30°C (85°F) and nighttime temperatures rarely dropping below 18°C (64°F). If you’re averse to heat, it’s best to avoid visiting during this period. The lowest temperatures are in May (around 25°C during the day).
Although it can rain at any time of the year, the wettest months are April and November with up to 19 days of rain. January has the lowest chance of rain.
The peak tourist seasons in Jinja are in July, October, and February. Bear in mind that prices for hotels, flights, and tours will be most expensive during this time.
I visited Jinja in October but since I traveled by local buses and Couchsurfed, I wasn’t affected by the high prices.
How to Get to Jinja from Kampala or Kenya
If you’re going to book activities in Jinja, like white water rafting, etc, check with the company if they provide a shuttle service to and from Kampala. Some companies offer it for free if you book an activity with them.
Otherwise, here are three different transportation options to get to Jinja:
Jinja has a small domestic airport: Jinja Airport (IATA: JIN), also known as Kimaka Airstrip, located about 4 kilometres (2.5 mi) north of Jinja’s central business district. It only serves flights to and from Entebbe International Airport.
By Express Coach
Jinja is on the East African Highway, which links Uganda to Kenya, DR Congo, Rwanda, and Burundi.
Most coaches coming from Kenya or Tanzania will pass through Jinja on their way to Kampala (and vice versa). Keep in mind that it’s not an official stop, so you need to tell your driver to drop you off in Jinja. Just be sure to remind them, otherwise you might end up in another city… or country!
A matatu is a shared minivan taxi used by locals to travel within the city and beyond. Personally, it’s my favorite way to travel in East Africa as it’s the cheapest and the most interesting. By interesting, I mean crazy.
In Kampala, you can get a matatu from the massive taxi park on Burton Street. Look for the Jinja sign, or if you can’t find it, just ask around. The fare is about UGX 6,000 – 8,000 (approx. USD 2) per person.
Depending on traffic, it should take around 2 – 3 hours. Don’t take matatus if you have a tight schedule — they often wait until they’re full before they depart and they will be picking up and dropping off passengers along the way.
How to Get Around in Jinja
Jinja is quite spread out. Public transports in town are mainly boda bodas (motorcycle taxis). Fares shouldn’t cost more than UGX 4000 – 5000 for up to 10-kilometre journeys, but agree on the fare before you ride.
Keep in mind that outside of the main town area, the roads are in pretty bad conditions. Most boda boda drivers don’t usually provide helmets, as they don’t wear any either. If this is a problem for you, try asking your hotel if they can recommend a boda boda driver that provides a helmet. Or book through SafeBoda, a Ugandan e-hailing app.
The place where I was staying was in quite a rural area and I didn’t see any SafeBoda drivers, so I went with regular boda bodas. Plus, I didn’t have a local SIM card or internet connection, so it would have been difficult to book one anyway.
Things to Do in Jinja
I visited Jinja with no exact plans apart from wanting to see more of Uganda beyond its capital city. Although I knew the place was famous for adventure sports, I wasn’t physically, mentally, or financially prepared to take part in any. So, I went with a free-and-easy itinerary, and let Jinja present itself to me.
My Couchsurfing host, Rogers, is a philanthropist and director at Diep Ark Orphanage Home. He took two days off his busy schedule to show me around town, take me to see the Source of the Nile, and share a traditional meal together.
Here, I’ve listed down some of the best things you can see and do in Jinja, Uganda:
1. Visit the Source of the Nile
Since Jinja’s biggest claim to fame is being situated at the source of the Nile, it makes sense to start your trip with a visit to this famous spot.
Known as the world’s longest river, the Nile leaves Lake Victoria in Jinja and continues its journey of more than 6,000 kilometres to Egypt, where it flows into the Mediterranean Sea.
The exact spot is marked my a modest signboard that reads “The Source of R. Nile – Jinja – World’s Longest River” on a tiny island as pictured below. This is supposedly where the lake ends and the river starts.
To get there, you will have to hire a motorized traditional boat. At $20 per boat and no other tourist to share it with, I found it too expensive, so I was happy to see it from the river banks.
If you choose to go, this is what you should expect to see:
Depending on the water level, you may be able to stand on the signpost slab for photos.
Also in the vicinity are some souvenir shops, as well as several restaurants and bars. If you’re a beer drinker, don’t forget to try the Nile Special beer and donate the bottle to the “Drunk Tree”.
On the opposite side of the river (the western bank), there is the Speke Monument to honor John Speke, a British Indian Army officer who was the first European to see the source of the Nile.
You will also see the Mahatma Ghandi Monument here. After his death in 1948, his ashes were scattered in all the major rivers of the world, including the Nile.
Take note that there’s a fee to enter the Source of the Nile area:
2. Go on a Nile Cruise
If you want to spend a longer time on the river itself, consider going on a Nile cruise. Sunset cruises typically last for around 2 hours, but there are also full-day options that will take you to see rainforests along the river.
Along the way, you can spot animals, such as birds, otters, and primates. Most of the cruises come with an open bar and all-you-can-eat buffets.
3. Go White Water Rafting
White water rafting is the most popular activity in Jinja. With class 3, 4, and 5 rapids, white water rafting in Jinja is exciting for all skill levels. If you’re a total beginner, class 3 is ideal for you. It does require some maneuvering skills, but you can learn them pretty quickly.
Class 5, on the other hand, features some difficult descents with a relatively high chance of falling over. In any case, you will have crew members following you in a kayak. Tour packages include lunch, equipment, and guides.
4. Do Other Water Sports
Other than rafting, there are a few other water activities you can do in Jinja:
- Stand-up paddling
- River boarding
5. Try the SUP Hammock
6. Go Bungee Jumping
Would an adventure capital be called an adventure capital be without bungee jumping? I doubt it.
Jinja is the only place in Uganda and one of the few places in Africa where you can bungee jump. Boasting an award-winning 5-star crew and following the New Zealand / Australia safety standards, bungee jumping by Adrift Uganda allows you to jump over the Nile, which ends with a little dip in the river itself.
The maximum weight is 260 kg, so you can jump with a friend!
7. Go Mountain Biking
Most of the activities in Jinja center around the River Nile, but if you don’t want to get wet, you can explore the shore on a bike instead. You can either rent a bike and go on a self-guided adventure, or join day tours / multi-day safaris like the ones offered by Bikeventures.
Bikeventures is a social enterprise that donates all their profits to the COOP (Cycling out of Poverty) foundation.
Other options for exploring the Nile shores include quad-biking and horseback riding.
8. Go Bird Watching
If you love birds, you’re in luck. The river provides a fertile environment for many bird species to call this place home. You have a chance of spotting hornbills, kingfishers, guineafowls, flufftails, and pelicans, among many others.
Prime Safaris & Tours offer birding safaris of varying lengths, from 2 hours to 24 days!
9. Explore Jinja Town
Jinja is an industrial town but there are still some parts that are charmingly quiet with lots of greenery and some colonial buildings.
Take your time exploring the local markets and shopping for souvenirs. You can also find a bookstore and art shops.
10. Have a Barbecue
Or specifically, have a Car-B-Que at Explorers River Camp, a lively resort / campsite with a river spa, a water slide, a rope swing, and an outdoor lounge overlooking the river. The barbecue pit is so cool it deserves a mention. And the camp itself is shrouded in greenery.
From what I see in both Jinja and Kampala, Ugandan people sure love to party! Jinja has its own bars and night clubs, including one with an outdoor terrace over the river.
My visit coincided with Halloween night, so Rogers and I, along with two other travelers he hosted, and a few family members went to celebrate at one of the clubs.
12. Volunteer for a Cause
If you have more time to spare in Jinja, consider volunteering with the many organizations and charitable causes in the area. From volunteering in orphanages to teaching English in rural schools, the opportunity are endless. If you can’t contribute your time, donations are always welcome.
Arianne — the Canadian traveler I met — had just completed a volunteering program in a local school.
When she returned to Canada, she founded a charity called One Heart to Another to help the poor families in Africa. What I love about it is that once you donate, they will post a photo of the families that receive your donation, holding a placard with your name on it, and the items they bought with your contribution. That way, you can be certain that your money goes to the right people.
How Many Days Do You Need in Jinja?
Some people visit Jinja only as a day trip. If you’re going to do white-water rafting, some tour operators can arrange transportation to and from Kampala, so you don’t have to spend the night in Jinja.
However, if you plan to do more than that and enjoy Ugandan countryside at a more relaxed pace, I’d recommend spending at least 2 days.
I didn’t do any water activities in Jinja. But in general, if I take part in water sports or any strenuous outdoor activities, I’d prefer staying an extra day to recuperate and do my laundry.
Where to Stay in Jinja
Bikeventures House Uganda – Located 300 m from the Coronation Park, this property provides free WiFi, luggage storage space, a washing machine, and bicycle rental for guests. From USD 10 per night for a bunk bed in a mixed dormitory room.
Jinja Base Camp – Features an outdoor pool, a restaurant, a sun terrace, and a bar. Barbecue facilities are available. Guests can also relax in the garden or shared lounge area. From USD 15 per night for a bed in a dormitory room, with breakfast.
Royal Park Hotel – Located in Jinja town center, 400 m from the local market and 10 minutes to the supermarket. All units come with a flat-screen TV and a private bathroom. From USD 45 per night for a Deluxe Single Room with balcony. Inclusive of breakfast.
Nile Front Cottages – Located 1.8 mi from Source of the Nile, this property comes with a garden and a terrace with lake views. Nearby points of interest include Rugby Pitch and Jinja Golf and Tennis Club. From USD 105 for a Deluxe Room with breakfast.
Is Jinja worth visiting?
Yes, it was for me. I didn’t do any of the adventurous activities that Jinja is famous for (unless riding a boda boda counts), but still enjoyed my visit immensely.
Sometimes I visit a place not to see or do the typical tourist attractions they have, but just to observe and experience the local lifestyle. And that’s precisely what I did in Jinja. It is a good place for you to get a glimpse of the rural life in Uganda but is still developed enough to travel comfortably in.
In short, Jinja has a lot to offer — both in the water and on land — and definitely deserves 2 days out of your trip in Uganda. It also makes for a great stop if you’re on your way to Kenya.