Kampala’s friendly residents always seem to have time for a smile and a cheerful greeting, and its ethnic traditions have not been lost in the rush to modernise. Rather, they are celebrated as seasonal festivals, Kampala events or ceremonies which keep the past alive. Don’t be surprised if you see spontaneous dances and music on the streets – that’s the spirit of Kampala.
Kampala’s architecture is an eclectic blend of colonial, Indian and contemporary buildings and are ideally explored on a Kampala tour . Although it suffered severe damage during recent political unrest, the city has bounced back and is once again buzzing with its customary energy and there is enough to see and do in Kampala to keep you busy during your stay.
Modern Kampala has a thriving nightlife with casinos, chic Kampala restaurants and nightclubs. Markets selling African bric-a-brac for souvenir collectors are aplenty. Kampala is also safe, unlike many other African cities. It has developed into the region’s travel hub, though many tourists travelling independently take the overland route from Kenya.
Like many cities in the world with a rich, cultural past, Kampala’s history is a mix of factual records and folklore. Local myth has it that the city area was once a hilly region with swamps all over, making it the perfect habitat for the Impala and other species of antelope. The slopes provided them with grass and when thirsty, they could come down to drink water at the swamps. The Kabaka – or ruler of Buganda – built his palace right here, amidst this wealth of wildlife and used it as his hunting ground.
The British landed here towards the end of the 19th century; from here onwards, recorded history is available. It was they who gave the name ‘Impala’ to a particular species of antelope, as a result of which the region came to be referred to as the Hill of the Impala. In Luganda, the indigenous language, this translated as ‘Kasozi k’empala’ (Kasozi means hill), which eventually became Kampala. The particular hill which was associated with the Impala was where Captain Frederick Lugard of the Imperial British East African Company established a base in 1890. Today, this spot is named Old K’la. It served as administrative headquarters of the Company (as well as Uganda) until 1894, when the British Protectorate shifted its seat of administration to Entebbe.
In 1962, Uganda became independent and Kampala was once again declared the capital. In the years preceding independence, the tiny 19 sq km hamlet had expanded to cover seven hills. Hence its name, ‘City of Seven Hills’. Modern Kampala has grown even further to cover as many as 21 hills. However, the seven original hills are Rubaga, Mengo, Makerere, Nakasero, Namirembe, Kololo and Old K’la.