Sites in the north to quench your thirst for adventure

Guests on a guided tour around Karuma Hydropower Station. 
PHOTO/ ERIC NTALUMBWA

What you need to know:

With two hot springs, a number of waterfalls, unique and rich cultural experience in form of dance, food and history, Nwoya is one place you should consider visiting soon. It is rapidly growing as a top hospitality hotspot in Acholi

As you enter the West Nile region, a masterpiece of engineering on River Nile welcomes you to a town in a stunning natural setting, offering an unmatched combination of culture and wildlife.

Pakwach must be the busiest gateway into any sub-region, with one entry and one exit. It is a little more than one street, but has everything a traveller needs. It nestles on the western edge of the Murchison Falls National Park, with a lush environment and it is a relaxing place.

It is midnight and the town buzzes with life. A sense of adventure leads us into an electrifying atmosphere of the popular Matonge nightclub, where Packwach’s crowd gathers.

But our thirst for adventure does not start on the banks of the Nile. It begins in the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) bus, transporting travel journalists hosted by the Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) for a stakeholder engagement.

The UWA bus offers an enjoyable ride and a wide range of amenities. Fitted with personal outlets, you do not have to worry about seeing that blinking battery on a trip.

The journey stretches northwest of Kampala, on the Kampala-Gulu highway, through Luwero District, with a stopover at Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary in Nakasongola after travelling 176 Km. 

Breeding for generations

Rhino trekking is a great way to experience the Sanctuary’s efforts in breeding the endangered southern white rhinos, whose existence is largely threatened by poaching and the illegal trade of their horns.

The rhino population in Uganda stands at 35, with 33 of the rhinos at Ziwa and two at the popular Entebbe Zoo. They were initially wiped out by civil unrest in the 1970s and the early 1980s. 

Ashley Brian Baboineki, an ornithologist (a person who studies or is an expert on birds and bird guide), recommended birding the next time we visit the sanctuary. “Ziwa is home to about 300 species of birds and a major site to spot the endangered shoebill stork in the Lugogo wetlands at the edge of the sanctuary,” Baboineki adds. On a lucky day, he says one can see more than eight of the elusive shoebills. 

Baboineki charms the birders when he mentions white-crested turaco, the sociable white-crested helmet shrike, a tiny-bodied pygmy sunbird, the bright and noisy Red-billed Wood Hoopoe and the brown twinspot. These are some of his favourite sightings in the area.

Hydropower in Tourism

The name Karuma evokes memories of hydropower, waterfalls and soldiers monitoring the bridge. UTB in partnership with Uganda Electricity Generating Company Limited (Uegcl), market the 600MW as an infrastructure tourism product. Karuma Hydropower station, now welcomes guests, who want to marvel at the architecture in Kiryandongo District.

New product for learners

Organising a school trip can be daunting for teachers who have to choose the sites to visit. With Karuma hydropower station, parents will buy into having it on the itinerary for educational purposes.

Before exploring the tunnels and the facilities on site, the guide took us through the safety protocols. We marveled at the level of technology.

Tilenga

Nwoya is rapidly growing a reputation as a top hospitality hotspot in the Acholi Sub-region. Nwoya in native Luo means come again. En route to our destination, Tilenga Safari Lodge in Te-okot village in Nwoya District, the world’s largest land mammal, the elephant, was a sight to behold.

It took us an hour’s drive from Karuma Hydropower station. Tilenga Safari Lodge, the latest addition to Nwoya, is where one experiences the magic of the wild. It is derived from two local names for the Uganda Kob (Antelope), called Til in Luo and Engabi in Runyoro.

The bright reddish-brown to dark brown animal is found in Murchison Falls National Park, a depiction of the rich biodiversity of the area. The 13 classic guest cottages and two luxury tents combine luxury and homeliness. Imagine waking up in the middle of the night to see an elephant trunk and tusks.

Revenue sharing

The 17 lodges are situated in the northern part of the district separated by a highway. Hilda Akech, Nwoya District’s tourism officer, says a few months ago, Shs2.93 billion of revenue was shared among communities neighbouring Murchison Falls Conservation Area. These included Masindi, Buliisa, Nwoya, Oyam and Pakwach districts. UWA gives back 20 percent of its annual park gate revenue collections to the communty to strengthen partnerships for sustainable management of wildlife resources.

Akech says over the years, Nwoya has used its share to construct medical facilities such as Purongo Health Centre III and maternity wards, schools and boreholes.

“While the park embarked on the construction of a 50km electric fence, the progress is slow,” says Akech. She calls for investment in a hospitality management institute to build capacity in Nwoya. 

Tourism potential

With two hot springs, a number of waterfalls, faith-based attractions, unique and rich cultural experience in form of dance, food and history, Nwoya is one place you should consider visiting soon.

 “Besides numerous unique local dishes in Acholi, our traditional dance of Lakaraka and bwola have been embraced across the country. People need to experience the cradle of the Luo art,” she adds.

Aketch says the neighbouring park is of cultural significance to the people of Acholi. “In a spot called Tebitu, it is where Rwot Awich, who defied the British colonialists, began to conduct his administrative roles. It is the birthplace of the Rwots administration. In Acholi, Rwot Kweri is the first conflict resolution centre before we rush to local council (LC),” she says.

  A visit to the community in the neighbouring Pakwach District, brought us closer to the heritage of the Luo-speaking people in form of arts, crafts, music and cuisine.

The sale of handicraft items such as walking sticks, mortars, music, knives is largely informal. There is need for government to create market access opportunities for people to realise their potential.

National Park

Ornithologists are attracted to Murchison Falls National Park, which is home to more than 400 bird species. Avid birders explore the fragile ecosystem in search of Ovambo Sparrowhawk, a bird-of-prey, the large Pel’s Fishing Owl, the short-legged pranticole, Egyptian plover, red-throated bee-eater and the chunky Puvel’s IIladopisis.

This 70-year-old protected area is yet to reveal all its treasures, if the ongoing oil exploration does not damage the biodiversity hotspot. Early mornings are the best time to see and photograph animals. Lions, leopards, hyenas, buffalos and most of the smaller animals such as civet cats, are most active between dusk and dawn.

The best route for viewing animals is the Buligi Circuit, which includes the Buligi, Victoria Nile, Queens and Albert Nile tracks. After a nutritious lunch, we drove to the top of the spectacular falls.

Through a narrow gap in the rocks and a series of foaming, roaring cascades, we created memories on our way home from the four-day encounter with northern Uganda’s best-kept secret.

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