What To Do & See In Entebbe?
Things To Do In Entebbe – If you’re heading to Uganda, the chances are that unless you come overland, you’ll enter the country via Entebbe International Airport. At this point, some visitors head straight out to the capital city or on Uganda safaris without a backwards glance. But this is a mistake.
Far from being just an airport hub, Entebbe is itself is a relaxed verdant tropical town, with plenty to see and do, and it’s definitely worth taking the time to visit. The small city is situated in central Uganda, about 40 km southwest of the capital city, Kampala.
It is stunningly located on the shores of Lake Victoria – Africa’s largest lake – on the magical Entebbe peninsula. Whether you are here for a short stay while waiting for your safari in Uganda to start or a flight to leave, or you have a few days to explore, this guide will give you lots of ideas for things to do in Entebbe.
Did You Know?
Entebbe International Airport was the scene of the Operation Entebbe, a famous hostage rescue mission carried out by commandos of the Israel Defense Forces on 4 July 1976. On 27 June, an Air France Airbus with 248 passengers had been hijacked by members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
The hijackers had the stated objective to free 40 Palestinian imprisoned in Israel in exchange for the hostages. The flight, which had originated in Tel Aviv with the destination of Paris, was diverted after a stopover in Athens via Benghazi to Entebbe Airport.
The Ugandan government under Dictator Idi Amin supported the hijackers and welcomed them. After moving all hostages from the aircraft to the airport building, the hijackers separated all Israelis and several non-Israeli Jews from the larger group and forced them into a separate room. Over the following 2 days, non-Israeli hostages were released and flown out to Paris.
94 Israeli passengers and 12-member Air France crew remained as hostages and the hijackers threatened to kill them if their prisoner release demands were not met. This threat led to the planning of the rescue operation that took place at night. Israeli planes carried 100 commandos over 4,000 km to Uganda for the mission.
The operation, which took a week of planning, lasted 90 minutes. Of the 106 remaining hostages, 102 were rescued and 3 were killed. 5 Israeli commandos were wounded and one, unit commander Lt. Col. Yonatan Netanyahu, was killed. Netanyahu was the older brother of Benjamin Netanyahu, who would later become Prime Minister of Israel. All the hijackers and 45 Ugandan soldiers were killed.
Things to do in Entebbe
This list of things to do in Entebbe covers a wide variety of options. Whatever your interests, we think you will find something to enjoy in this corner of Uganda.
1. Tour Uganda Wildlife Education Centre
Often referred to as Entebbe Zoo, the Uganda Wildlife Conservation Education Centre is an awesome way to spend a day in Entebbe. You can stroll through the enter and check out some of its incredible animals like chimpanzees, giraffes, zebras, lions, leopard, cheetahs, crocodiles, tigers, rhinos, and rare Shoebill birds.
Many of these animals have been rescued from illegal trafficking, and the education centre focuses on care and rehabilitation of them.
The staff is incredibly knowledgeable about the animals and loves to share about their work and the conservation efforts they’re doing. If you want to get up close and personal with the animals, i highly recommend a Behind the Scenes tour, where you can get inside to feed a baby elephant, giraffe, or rhino.
The Uganda Wildlife Education Centre has been named the best zoo in east and central Africa. It is also recommended by Lonely Planet, which describes it as ‘a world-class animal refuge.
2. Explore The Famous Botanical Gardens
Found on the shores of Lake Victoria, Entebbe Botanical Garden were designed in 1898, and are laid out in different zones. They are a lovely spot for a relaxing stroll.
One of the gardens most amazing areas is the ancient rainforest zone, which is so perfectly wild and jungly that it was used in the 1940s as a location for the original Tarzan movies – and you can see why!
The gardens are full of some of Uganda’s amazing animals like monkeys, many Uganda birds and tree species. If you like gardens, bird-watching, photography, or just a leisurely walk, the gardens are definitely worth a visit.
Zika Forest: The Zika virus, which has been linked to thousands of babies being born with underdeveloped brains in Brazil, was discovered in Zika forest in Entebbe. The virus was discovered in the forest – then a hub of scientific research in East Africa – in 1947 by accident by Ugandan, American and European scientists working on another viral disease, Yellow Fever. While testing monkeys in the forest the scientists, whose research had been funded for a decade by the Rockefeller Foundation, came across a new microorganism, which they named Zika.
3. Visit Uganda Reptile Village
Another of the top things to do in Entebbe is visiting the Uganda Reptile Village.
The centre was set up as a way of promoting respect for reptiles within local communities, and as a place to house venomous snakes when they show up in populated areas.
The centre offers emergency response when someone reports finding a snake in their home/workplace. When the team gets a call, they immediately travel to the location to capture the snake alive and bring it to the reptile village.
The snakes are then housed at the centre in tanks and, where possible, many are released back into the wild, well away from people. The village also houses other Uganda reptiles such as Nile crocodiles, Nile monitor lizards, Tortoises, and an enclosure full of chameleons that you can pick up and stroke – that’s if you can find them amongst all the green.
Uganda has 142 species of reptiles. Reptiles are cold-blooded vertebrates with dry skin that derive their body heat directly from their environment.
4. Go to the beach
Entebbe sits on the shores of Lake Victoria, and there are a number of stretches of beach that can be found all along the lake.
You can enjoy a stroll along the shore side; sit on the beaches, and watching the birds. Maribou storks, little egrets, cattle egrets, and pied kingfisher are common birds you’ll see along the shore. You can also enjoy the beach views from a nice beachfront restaurant or bar, and enjoy the cool breeze coming over the lake as you sip a fresh glass of fruit juice or a fresh Nile Perch.
If you like aviation, you may want to head over to Aero Beach where you will find a small collection of old airplanes and aviation equipment next to the beach area as well as a restaurant and bar. There’s also usually music and it’s a popular place for locals to come and hang out and swim as well.
5. Take A Walking Tour
A great way to get an overview of Entebbe town is to take a locally led walking tour. It is one of the best ways to see the Entebbe highlights, learn about the culture and history, and get tips from locals on other activities.
On the tour, you will take leisurely stroll through Uganda’s first capital, hear about the colonial history, check out some top tourist spots, the craft market, and grab lunch at the best street food locations.
“Entebbe”, means a “seat” in the local Luganda language and was possibly named that because it was the place where the Buganda chief of Buganda Kingdom sat to adjudicate legal cases. Entebbe first became a British colonial administrative and commercial center in 1893 when Sir Gerald Portal, a colonial Commissioner, used it as a base.
6. Go Fishing on Lake Victoria
Lake Victoria provides the livelihood for many locals, primarily through fishing. Much of the fish you’re likely to eat in Uganda is either going to come from Lake Victoria, or the Nile River – the world’s longest river – which flows in and out of it.
Lake Victoria offers the opportunity for hooking one of the world’s largest fresh water fish the Nile Perch, anyone with some free time and an interest can enjoy this day out. You can have a half and full day fishing excursions for “catch and release” of Nile Perch. Its is among the best things to do in Entebbe.
The Nile Perch was introduced to Lake Victoria in the 1950s and has since been fished commercially. Its introduction was ecologically disruptive and is attributed with causing the extinction or near-extinction of several hundred native species. It has distinctive dark-black eyes, with a bright-yellow outer ring. It reaches a maximum length of nearly 6 feet, weighing up to 200 kilograms.
7. Enjoy A Sunset Boat Cruise
Why not treat yourself to a sunset cruise on Africa’s largest lake? There are late afternoon Lake Victoria cruises from Entebbe towards the Uganda equator line or local islands to view the sun over the horizon.
You can watch the local fishermen as they cast their nets and enjoy the snacks and drinks provided on board. Excursion times for sunset cruises are approximately one to two hours in the late afternoon from around 5.00 pm but can be flexible, depending upon requirements.
With a surface area of just under 70 000 km², Lake Victoria is the world’s largest tropical lake, and the largest lake in Africa by area. Yet despite its huge size, the shimmering lake is quite shallow – only 75 metres at its deepest. The lake is locally known as Naluubale, but the English name comes from the British explorer John Hanning Speke who named it after Queen Victoria.
8. Visit Religious Sites
Entebbe City also has several historic churches, some of which date back to colonial times. The Bugonga Catholic Church dates from 1902, making it the earliest permanent Catholic Church in Uganda.
St. John’s Church history dates back to 1908 with the current Anglican Church buildings dating back to the 1930s with a new building also being built here.
If you’re interested in religious history, you might also want to visit the Kigungu Missionary Landing site, where the first Catholic Missionaries, Brother Amans and Father Maple Lourdel, arrived in Uganda. Here there is a plaque, monument, and statues of the two missionaries. It’s a popular place of pilgrimage.
Religion is a very important part of daily life in Ugandans where less than 1% of the population claims to be atheist. 85% of the population is Christian, either Catholic or Protestant, about 12% are Muslim, 1% follow traditional religions and the remaining 2 per cent are shared by the Bahá’í faith and other non-christian religions.
9. Visit Orphaned Chimpanzees At Ngamba Island
Many people visit Uganda to see wild chimpanzees, normally as part of long Uganda safaris. But, if you’re only in Uganda for a short period of time, it is not always possible to do a trek for wild chimpanzees as there are no trekking locations within a short distance from Entebbe.
The good news, however, is that you don’t need to do a full chimpanzee trekking experience to see chimpanzees in Uganda. You can instead opt to visit the chimpanzees at the Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary. Ngamba is found in Lake Victoria, and is home to 52 orphaned chimpanzees.
The island can be reached by boat (by either motorized canoe or speedboat) from Entebbe, and there are various trips available. You can go for a half day or full day, as well as stay overnight on the island if you have more time.
Chimpanzees are forest-dwelling apes that share almost 99% of their DNA with humans. Despite their hairier coat and more stooped posture, they’re recognizably humanlike, both in appearance and behaviorally. Unlike other primates such as monkeys and baboons, chimps and other apes don’t have a tail
10. Go Shoebill Watching At Mabamba Swamp
Mabamba swamp is a large (16,500 hectares) wetland on the shores of Lake Victoria and is a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance, as well as one of Uganda’s 33 Important Bird Areas.
It is the most accessible place in the world to see the Shoebill, Uganda’s most famous and iconic avian resident. This prehistoric-looking bird is very high on most world birders’ wish list, and for good reason. It is just so different, with a huge, yellow, human-like eyes and that massive bill that looks like a shoe.
Shoebills are endangered with about 5000 left on the Earth. These huge grey birds are among the largest birds in Africa standing over 1.2 meters tall, has a wingspan of up to 2.4 meters, and weigh up to 7 kilograms.
11. Shop At A Local Market
Entebbe’s markets churn with activity and color, and exploring them is one of the best things to do in Entebbe. Predominantly a local market, Kitooro Market is all about experiencing a side to Uganda that tourists rarely see. It’s a fascinating place.
And if you’re looking for local handicrafts and other souvenirs in a market setting, head for Entebbe Craft Village, which is reportedly the largest arts and craft retailer in Uganda.
You’ll find items such as soapstone plates and ornaments, wood carvings, jewellery, clothing and bags made from colourful African fabrics, decorative tableware, place mats, sandals, oil and acrylic paintings, and original batiks. All prices are negotiable.
You can also visit the Victoria Mall, a popular tourist stop. It was opened in 2013 and it is a good place to stop if you need to buy anything for your Uganda trip.
There is also an ATM, a place to buy SIM cards (Airtel), and a Forex money exchange office. It’s a great place to pick up groceries or snacks, exchange currency, or buy any last-minute needed clothing, hiking, or camping stuff.
Where To Stay In Entebbe
- Lake Victoria Serena Resort & Spa (High-end)
- Hotel No. 5 (Luxury)
- Protea Hotel Entebbe (Luxury)
- Lake Victoria Hotel (Semi-luxury)
- The Boma (Semi-luxury)
- 2 Friends Beach Hotel Entebbe (Mid-range)
- Papyrus Guesthouse Entebbe (Mid-range)
- Karibu Guesthouse (Mid-range)
- Airport Guesthouse (Budget)
Uganda Safari Tours From Entebbe
There a lot of popular tours that you can take from Entebbe, including day tours of local attractions as well as longer multi-day Uganda safari tours that cover more of the country.
The most popular day trips are going to be to Kampala, Ssese Islands, and Jinja. The closest national park for wildlife viewing is going to be Lake Mburo. But you can also join a number of multi-day safari tours from Entebbe that include things like safari game drives, village visits, chimpanzee trekking, and gorilla trekking.
Here are some options to consider.
You can book or customize this 2 Days Lake Mburo Wildlife, Boat Cruise, & Walking Safari and explore one of most beautiful wildlife game parks in Uganda.
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