Things to do in Entebbe

Entebbe is a typical first stop on a Uganda trip, being the location of the international airport. It isn’t just an airport stopover place though, there are lots of things to do in Entebbe too. It’s on Lake Victoria, the largest lake in Uganda and an easy place to walk around. We chose Entebbe to start our trip around Uganda, rather than venturing into the capital city, Kampala, because this was a self-drive trip and driving in crazy Kampala seemed an unnecessary adventure.

After our flight from Kyiv, we gave ourselves a couple of nights to recover and get used to being there before setting off on our tour of the country – with chimp and gorilla trekking to come.

Entebbe might be a town, but it didn’t want to be left out among places to visit in Uganda and there were several interesting things to do in Entebbe, with some wildlife experiences to offer, including Entebbe zoo and the Entebbe botanical gardens.

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Entebbe Zoo or Wildlife Education Centre

Entebbe Wildlife Education Centre used to be called Entebbe Zoo, but it’s really more of sanctuary. It provides a home for various rescued animals from around the country, mainly in large enclosures representing different fauna of the different areas. Even if you are not generally into zoos, it’s one of the most interesting things to do in Entebbe before you explore the wildlife in the rest of the country.

It’s really not like a zoo we’ve visited before in other countries, being overgrown in places and most importantly, having as much wildlife outside the enclosures as inside. At one point there was a row of cages housing black and white colobus monkeys. On top of the cages and beside, red tailed colobus monkeys were jumping around, and attempting to fight the black and white ones!

The trees in the grounds of Entebbe zoo were full of local birds – huge marabou storks and cranes, brightly-coloured beeaters and other tropical species. It was here that we saw the shoebill stork, an incredibly weird-looking bird that has a really creepy walk. This was in an enclosure, with a sign that said: “This bird is generally solitary”. “Not surprising,” said Kris.

Shoebill stork in Entebbe Zoo
Creepy-looking shoebill stork in Entebbe Zoo.

Chimpanzees rescued from the pet trade and from bush meat live in an area one side of a body of water, where they can climb up the local trees. there doesn’t seem to be anything stopping them swinging through the trees and away, but since they are endemic to Uganda, perhaps it doesn’t matter if they do.

chimanzee lying in Entebbe Zoo with its legs crossed
Just chilling out

Some of the rescued chimps are kept in Entebbe Zoo, and others have been released onto an island in Lake Victoria where they can live a more wild-like existence. You can visit to the island by boat on a half-day trip for $88. We were going to see them in the wild in Kibale so we gave that a miss.

We watched them for a while- at one point a lizard wandered into their area and one chimp quickly ran down to catch it by the tail, bearly missing.

Entebbe Zoo, or Entebbe Wildlife Education Centre really does focus on education. It was full of school children in uniform on trips. Teachers were giving them lots of information on the wildlife of their country, to which many were taking notes and others were just commenting:
teen 1: “I like lions”
teen 2: “I think they’re stupid”

Is this just teenage ‘I hate everything’ or is your attitude to large manmals like lions altered by how familiar you are with them? As we saw when we got to Queen Elizabeth National Park, some Ugandans live alongside lions so maybe it’s like our attitude to hedgehogs?

Entebbe Wildlife Education Centre cost $15 each to get in.

Entebbe Botanical Gardens

Another of the things to do in Entebbe for wildlife lovers, Entebbe Botanical Gardens was created by the British during colonial times in the early 20th century where they planted examples of trees and plants from all over the world. Some areas look like English country parks with large trees in open grass, while others are tropical rainforest. Apparently the first Tarzan film was made there, although that could just be a fun rumour because of the areas of vine that scantly glad Lord Greystoke could swing in on.

Part of Entebbe Botanical Gardens that looks like an English country park
Part of Entebbe Botanical Gardens that looks like an English country park
Part of Entebbe Botanical gardens that looks like it come from a Tarzan film
Part of Entebbe Botanical gardens that looks like it comes from a Tarzan film

We were shown around by Patrick, a guide who approached us at the entrance. He was incredibly knowledgeable about the trees, plants and birds, explaining the medical uses of various local plants, for example, one used as a wash for chickenpox and another as medicine for malaria. Black and white hornbills flew through the trees, announcing their arrival with the typical helicopter sounding wingbeats we got used to in Thailand.

Vervet and black and white colobus monkeys played above our heads, swinging from branches. According to Patrick, the Entebbe Botanical Gardens discourages people from feeding the monkeys because it isn’t natural, but instead grows lots of fruit to provide them with food.

Vervet monkey in Entebbe Botanical Gardens
Vervet monkey

We walked together for a couple of hours through the grounds, learning and birdwatching.

Entebbe Botanical gardens has a campground where you can stay next to Lake Victoria, with a small eatery next to it.

We paid 20,000 shillings each to get into the gardens and then paid 20,000 for our guide, which was well-worth the extra money.

Zika Forest

The Zika Forest in Entebbe probably once had a beautiful name, but like the Ebola River, its name is now connected with disease. The forest is a small area for research into mosquito-born diseases. It was here that the Zika Virus was discovered in and where it was first detected as having moved into colobus monkeys.

The site has a tall tower with a ladder and wooden stations on different levels for studying the vertical distribution of mosquitos in the forest. Different species live at different levels and different species carry different diseases. Our guide, Ema, gestured to us to climb up the ladder. We stood at the bottom, looking up into the canopy as the steps went up and up.

Photo of the metal tower going up into the canopy in the Zika Forest

If you are familiar with our travels, you’ll know that Kate has a fear of falling off things so there was no way in the world she was setting foot on that ladder. Kris bit the bullet and started to ascend the rungs. He got as far as the first station, the malaria level, complained that it was very hot and sweaty and came down again. We’re sure the view is great but we were happy to look up and admire the researchers who must have climbed it to sample the mosquitos.

Ema took us on a walk through the Zika Forest after looking at the tower. He showed us a cave that had been hollowed out of the surrounding rock by a hermit. Apparently an American researcher had found him and brought flowers (which I’m sure was exactly what he needed, being a hermit living in a forest, but the thought was there I suppose. Now Ema makes sure there are always flowers inside. He also put a blue and white plastic sheet down as a ‘carpet’ and a blue plastic chair “to make it nice for visitors”. We took the obligatory photos sat in the chair to post on Instagram with the hashtag #zikaforest….

Kris, sat on a blue plastic chair in a small cave - an unexpected thing to do in Entebbe

You may be slightly concerned with including visiting a place called the Zika Forest on our list of things to do in Entebbe, but Zika Virus only affects pregnant women, by causing microcephalus in unborn children, basically babies with small heads. Since neither of us was a pregnant woman, we felt safe. We also had long-sleeves on and plenty of insect repellent and didn’t get bitten, so hopefully didn’t contract any other diseases.

Kate and Kris standing next to a sign for the Zika Forest in Entebbe

Zika Forest is off the Entebbe-Kampala road just past Kisubi University. It’s signposted and there’s a rough track down to the site from the road. The site isn’t obvious except for the sign and a couple of caravans in a field. Ema approached the car and we paid him each and 5,000 each to guide us around the site.

Entebbe Reptile Centre.

We headed to see this after Zika Forest, seeing a sign pointing off the Entebbe-Kampala road. Each time we tried to take a turn off, it was either a dead end, or narrow track or a village with no further signs. We didn’t yet have a phone with data so we couldn’t Googlemap it. Now, later, we realised that confusing signage is a typical Ugandan thing.

We’ll publish more on our observations of driving in Uganda soon.

After a couple of failed attempts at finding the Entebbe Reptile Centre, we gave up. There should always be somewhere to go back to visit in a place. A later Google revealed that it’s nowhere near where we were and we’d never have found it without 3G.

Lake Victoria

We only had a couple of nights in Entebbe so we didn’t explore much of the nightlife but the main area seems to be on the banks of Lake Victoria. Just down from Victoria Mall, there’s a row of hotels with bars and restaurants on the lake.

Kate and Kris by Lake Victoria
Having a beer by Lake Victoria

Uganda being on the Equator, it gets dark at about 6 pm each night and does so quite quickly. Once the sun has gone down, it’s dark. Like, really dark. We discovered that this means that nightlife around the lake tends to shut down at about 8 pm. It’s a good idea to head there for sunset around 5ish, then eat dinner and go.

Lake, beach and sunset
Sunset at Lake Victoria

2 Friends Entebbe was the first place we tried, as it had been recommended by an old colleague. It’s owned by an Icelandic guy who we chatted to at the bar. We ate a whole tilapia fish from Lake Victoria and drank local Ugandan beers.

Close to 2 Friends, is Freedom bar, which has a reggae bar feel. This place isn’t connected to any accommodation as far as we could see. It’s a bar and kitchen on the beach, with painted bits of driftwood and packing crates to make the furniture. This one seemed to be more frequented by locals than the others

A beach bar in Entebbe
Freedom Bar

Where to stay in Entebbe

We stayed in two guesthouses in Entebbe, at the start and end of our two-week trip. While this means we are by no means experts in Entebbe accommodation, we have recommendations.

Carpe Diem Guesthouse

Our very first stop in Uganda was Carpe Diem Guesthouse, a small building in big grounds with a view towards Lake Victoria. We had a large double room with a bathroom and ceiling fan which was very comfortable. The breakfast was huge! A full cooked breakfast, although as we got a special room rate from Booking.com, we had to pay an extra 50,000 shillings each for it (about $15). The hotel organised our airport pick up and the staff were friendly.

View of the gardens of the Carpe Diem Guesthouse
View of the gardens of the Carpe Diem Guesthouse
Carpe Diem Guesthouse breakfast - scrambled eggs, bacon, beans, pancakes and toast
Breakfast at Carpe Diem Guesthouse

La Feve Bed and Breakfast

On our last night in Entebbe, we stayed at La Feve Bed and Breakfast, a big colonial-style house in large gardens. We had a large double room on the ground floor with its own bathroom, which was a bit more basic than the Carpe Diem Guesthouse, but still comfortable. Outside in the gardens there was a restaurant and bar, where we had breakfast and gin and tonics in the evening.

The only problem with both of these places was that they were quite far from the bars and restaurant on Lake Victoria. It took us about 30 minutes to walk down there, and we had to take transport back.

There are several forms of transport in Entebbe. A couple of nights, we took boda boda back. These are motorbike taxis, the same as xe om in Vietnam. We used to travel this way to work every day when we were teaching English in Vietnam, but this was slightly different. In Vietnam, we could rarely speak to the drivers, but in Uganda, English is a first language, so the drivers could speak English and we could easily direct them.

We also took car taxis, organised by the guesthouse. One night, we used Uber. I don’t know if Uber actually properly operates in Uganda. When we use Uber here in Kyiv, the driver knows where we are and where we want to go, but in Entebbe, the driver accepted the ride and then asked for all of this information. It was fine, and cheap, but it seemed a bit dodgy.

Alternative places to stay in Entebbe would be next to Lake Victoria, where there are a lot of hotels and guesthouses with a view of the lake, like 2 Friends Hotel and Andarita Beach Hotel.

Shopping in Entebbe – Victoria Mall

As with many visitors, we were using it to get ready for our trip around Uganda, so one of the important things to do in Entebbe was shopping . There are a couple of shopping centres in Entebbe – Imperial Mall and Victoria Mall. We used Victoria Mall for most things. There’s a big supermarket there with all kinds of international items to stock up on. Seriously, jelly babies, hot cross buns and corn flakes. All rather expensive.

Useful for exploring Uganda is the North Face shop, which sells a range of outdoor gear. We also sorted out a sim card at the Airtel shop there. We bought a sim card, with 9 gb of data on it, for 30,000 shillings. This meant that we had access to Googlemaps throughout our road trip. One thing we didn’t realise is that access to social media is taxed in Uganda, so you have to pay extra to look at Facebook, Instagram etc. We didn’t pay it, which was a bit annoying because we then had to find wifi to contact friends and family and to post on our Facebook page.

We only had one full day, and three evenings, but we found lots of things to do in Entebbe. However, it was really a base to start our big Uganda trip, so stay posted for more blog posts on gorilla and chimpanzee trekking and safaris. Subscribe to our blog so you don’t miss one.

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