While visiting Uganda, you’ve not seen it all until you get an opportunity to tour attractions in Fort Portal town. It’s located in the western region of Uganda, the nation popularly referred to as the ‘Pearl of Africa’. The East African country is a well-known destination for gorilla trekking.
I first visited Fort Portal town in 2012 when some colleagues and I were driving back to the Kampala from Kasese District where we had gone to do some fieldwork.
The word ‘beautiful’ does not describe Fort Portal enough. It’s honestly one of the most blissful places I’ve ever visited in my travels around Africa. Suffice to say, I visited the town again some years later with two of my friends.
Not far from the Uganda-DR Congo border, Fort Portal town lies in the northern foothills of the Rwenzori Mountains. It’s the main town of Kabarole District, which is part of the Tooro Kingdom.
The national census conducted in August 2014 established that the town has a population of 54,275. Five years on, this figure has most likely increased. The town harbors people from different ethnic communities, as well as foreigners from countries such as DR Congo.
If you decide to approach the town from the Ugandan capital, Kampala, you’ll travel a distance of about 300km (186.4 miles).
Many travelers visit tourist attractions in Fort Portal town and get to enjoy the unique weather as a bonus. The town is also quite close to some of the country’s main national parks.
There are many tourist attractions in Fort Portal town which include:
1. Amabere ga Nyina Mwiru caves
These ancient caves have become a popular tourist destination that receives a countless number of visitors annually.
Located eight kilometers away from the Fort Portal central business district, the Amabere ga Nyina Mwiru caves are a cultural site with interesting legendary stories.
Tooro folklore alleges that the place got its name after King Bukuku of Tooro chopped off his daughter’s breasts and threw them in the cave (crazy, right?).
Apparently, the king feared the prophecy saying that Ndahura (a prophecy character and the king’s supposed successor) would kill him and later sire a son with the king’s daughter.
King Bukuku’s daughter was called Nyina Mwiru and the breast in Tooro dialect is referred to as ‘Amabere’ hence the name of the cave that loosely translates as ‘The breasts of Nyina Mwiru.’
According to the locals, the prophecy was fulfilled when Ndahura killed the king before dethroning him. Nevertheless, Nyina Mwiru was nowhere to give the new king a son.
The locals call the whitish water that drips from the cave ‘breast milk’.
Scientists have proved that whatever the locals refer as breasts are stalactites composed of calcium carbonate. When the chemical compound combines with the water that drips, a milk-like solution is formed. It’s not real milk as the tales allege.
To get to these caves, you’ll take the now tarmacked Fort Portal-Bundibudgyo Road, and go to Nyakasura Village within the same Kabarole District. The village hosts Amabere ga Nyina Mwiru caves where both local and international tourists throng throughout the year.
The tarmac roads and availability of social amenities have opened the area for exploration by travelers from all over the world.
If you’re tired of the pollution, noise, and stress in large cities, then Nyakasura Village promises tranquility and beautiful scenes that are every vacationer’s expectations.
Amabere ga Nyina Mwiru caves beat people’s expectations since they don’t look like other caves you’ve seen or heard of. The only common denominator here would be the caves’ darkness. The tour guides will insist that you carry a flashlight while walking in the ancient cave.
The caves have a cottage for recreational purposes. Besides, the caves’ proximity to a village that has a market enables travelers to purchase necessary items that they may need.
2. Hiking the Rwenzori Mountains
Amabere ga Nyina Mwiru caves’ proximity to the Rwenzori Mountains makes it easy for tourists to have multiple activities to undertake. The mountains are ideal for hiking.
The guides will probably advise you to have good boots that will not let you slide in the slippery spots. Other attire that you need for a successful safari include a long-sleeved top, a pair of long trousers and a hat. Do not forget to carry a bottle of water and some snacks.
This type of clothing is recommended to prevent things such as insect bites.
3. Tooro Botanical Gardens
Another tourist attraction in Fort Portal town is the Tooro Botanical Gardens. This is a scientific center with an objective to preserve indigenous trees while at the same time allowing learning to go on.
Moreover, aquatic life is equally taken care of with a large water pool hosting several living organisms.
The garden, founded in 2001, is located just 3 km away from Fort Portal town. This is an eight-minute drive. The serene scenery is one of the most asked about locations in Uganda since it has something for everyone.
The outstanding thing that many people find exciting is the bird watching adventure, with the trees attracting birds from the Rwenzori Mountains.
It’s not just about trees; the museum regularly holds workshops that are geared towards ensuring food security in the area. The workshops always bring together different categories of people such as farmers, food vendors, learners, and the locals.
Also known as ‘Uganda’s living museum’, the Tooro Botanical Gardens located north of Fort Portal town also has some reptiles that have found a home there.
3. Crater lakes
A total of 86 crater lakes can be found in the western part of Uganda! Nearly 10,000 years ago, most of these lakes emerged from volcanic eruptions, and most have gone into extinction leaving only a few that offers breathtaking views.
In Nyakasura Village, there are three crater lakes which include Lake Saka. The crater lakes are concentrated in Albertine Rift Valley and offer a clear view of Africa’s largest volcanic ranges.
Many tourists choose to move about 30 km to the south of Fort Portal town in Kasenda-Ndali zone which hosts many crater lakes. Other regions with such lakes within western Uganda area are Bunyaruguru and Katwe-Kikorongo.
In your quest to visit crater lakes in the region, you’ll pass through large tea plantations where you’ll get the opportunity to interact with the locals.
4. Amazing tea plantations
The presence of tea plantations in Fort Portal town can give you a good idea about the climatic patterns in the area, thus helping you to know the type of attire to carry along with you.
Unlike other countries where tourist sites are located in unproductive lands, western Uganda balances both agriculture and heritage really well.
The tea estates are quite expansive and can take about five hours if you decide to walk but a motorcycle ride can add to your adventure. The area possesses fertile soil that equally supports the growth of coffee. Bananas also perform well.
During your hiking, you’ll have to walk through tea estate and learn the art of cultivation before get to some two crater lakes that are nearby. On your way to the popular Kibale National Park, you’ll walk through tea estates before reaching the luxurious Primate Lodge Kibale.
5. Tooro Kingdom Palace tour
The Tooro Kingdom Palace was founded in 1830 when the defiant Prince of Bunyoro dissociated with the powerful kingdom to form the one of his own.
However, he later relinked with the parent kingdom in 1876, but the union broke up again when Tooro finally became independent in the same year.
The kingdom alongside other three dynasties in the current resent-day Uganda was abolished during the reign of the tyrant ruler, Idi Amin Dada. The kingdom was later revived in 1993.
It was during Amin’s regime that the circular building built in 1963 was destroyed. However, the former Libya leader Muammar Gadhafi gave funds for its renovation in 2001. King Oyo who took over power at the mere age of three lives in the palace. He is now 2y years old.
The Tooro palace – which the locals refer to as ‘Omukama’ – is situated on Karuzika hill giving a clear and full-rotation view of Fort Portal town. Tourists are allowed to get close to the structure but cannot enter the historic building.
6. Physical features within the Rift Valley
The Ugandan part of the Rift Valley is known as the western branch. It is home to many tourist destinations.
Indeed, all the Ugandan lakes that bare English names are found in this section e.g. Lake Albert, Lake Edward, and Lake Beatrice. Beatrice lost the name to George.
The expansive Rift Valley area is also home to Queen Elizabeth National Park which connects to the border of DR Congo and Murchison Falls National Park towards the north.
The expansive Semliki plains that feature grassland climate (the habitat of lions) is also found with the Rift Valley. The highest ground in the area remains the Mountains of the Moon that are the broadest range in the entire continent.
7. Good weather
The tea plantations in the region would deceive you to think that the climate of Fort Portal town region is humid, but that’s not the case. Just like most parts of Uganda, Fort Portal town has a warm tropical climate and is also overcast at times.
The coldest months in the region are April and November while the driest months are June and July. However, when you move too close to the Rwenzori Mountains, you’ll experience a humid climate. This means you must carry along some warm clothing.
Ou cannot talk about food in Uganda without mentioning a starchy variety of banana popularly known as matoke. Most parts of Uganda including Fort Portal town have bananas. The fruit is harvested green, carefully peeled and then cooked and often mashed or pounded into a meal.
Since the area has perfect climate, you’ll expect steady a food supply for both the locals and hotels hosting guests. Besides, the Tooro Botanical Gardens has been organizing seminars involving all the stakeholders on how they to improve food security.
Other dominant meals that the locals eat include; potatoes, ugali (a type of ‘hard’ cornmeal porridge), rice, and beans. Hotels offer local meals and exotic cuisines. The bars also offer great wines and beers at affordable prices.
Fruits like avocados, ripe bananas, mangos and several others complete the diet. The guide will warn you never to drink any water from natural sources because of the salty nature of the this type of water.
Some notable hotels and bars that serve amazing dishes include Amaani Rwenzori, EcoBurito, Garden Restaurant and Duchess. The hotels are situated within touring routes hence grant a spectacular view of breathtaking sceneries.
9. Hospitable people
People in the East African region are generally friendly and have a welcoming nature.
However, every society has its few ‘bad eggs’. One of the worst incidents to Ugandan tourism occurred about a decade ago when gunmen believed to be Rwandan militia killed eight foreign tourists at the nearby Queen Elizabeth National Park.
The militiamen are suspected to have taken part in the 1994 genocide in neighboring Rwanda and later crossed the border to hide in the dense Congo Forest.
And in April 2019, a group of unknown gunmen ambushed a convoy of tourist vehicles in a dawn attack where an American citizen – Kimberly Endicott – and her tour guide were kidnapped. They were released five days later after a ransom was paid.
Despite her ordeal, Endicott believes Uganda is a safe place to visit, that she was the exception to the rule. She has since described Uganda as friendly and accommodating people.
Early this year, the Ugandan Ministry of Tourism announced the addition of “curvy and sexy women” to the list of tourism products. This was a controversial decision, resulting in outrage from the public and the political class as well.
The jury is still out on whether human beings should be viewed as tourist attractions.