Although many countries claim to have the ‘source’ of the Nile, it is only in Uganda that you’ll experience the beginning of this magnificent river, in al the grandeur it deserves. Ptolemy, the great Roman geographer, mathematician and astronomer that lived in ancient Egypt believed that the source of the river was on the “mountains of the moon”.
Known locally as Omugga Kiyara, many from Europe tried to find the source and, of course, plenty died in their quest. And although Africans knew of its existence for as long as they’ve inhabited the area, it wasn’t until John Hanning Speke showed up in 1858 that the Western world had any idea where it began. A plaque was created to commemorate his exploration and discovery, and it welcomes you in as you come for a visit.
As you descend the stairs to the river, shops and craft stores dot the walkway. Paper beads, masks, and local artisans will give you plenty to bargain for. Ironically, Bell Lager sponsors the Source of the Nile and so most of the buildings are painted after their trademark yellow and red brand.
A popular destination for weddings, the bottom of the area is flanked by a bar, which serves cold beers, and an area where you can sit and enjoy the scenery. Although the Source of the Nile was once home to Ripon Falls, described by Speke at detail, the Owen Falls Dam has submerged the area into a flat, tranquil environment. This may be a blessing to some, and a disappointment to others, as the imagery of the Nile’s roaring beginning out of Lake Victoria does hold it’s own appeal.
Monkeys, Fish Eagles and Monitor Lizards can all be seen in the area. In fact, this is a great destination for those who enjoy bird watching. Sitting in the shade near the bottom it’s relaxing and fun to look around and enjoy the diverse ecology that thrives here.
A boat trip, that costs approx. 70,000UGX (or less if you can haggle it) will take you across the river and over to an island that sits at the crux of Lake Victoria and the Nile. Here the guide will actually point out the exact moment when the Lake turns into the river. If you look carefully, you can actually see the currents as they push against each other. This is the only remnant of Ripon Falls left today.
On the island, there is, of course, a sign that demarcates this area as the proper source. You can watch tourists line up to get their picture taken in front of it. Meanwhile locals casually fish off of the rocks that line the island. This is a popular place to be during sun set, as the colors of the sky, lake, river and trees create a rich tapestry for the visitor. Also, it’s at this point that most mass tourists will be on a bus headed back to Kampala, so you’ll have the place more to yourself.
For families looking for an educational outing, which shows the rich history of Uganda, or those just looking for a place to relax outside of the city, the Source of the Nile is a great point of pride. Or course, one could always dovetail a trip to the source into a longer stay in Jinja, or even a rafting trip down the Nile. For those looking for a budget option in Jinja, camping is a wonderful way to take in the scenery. Otherwise there are a number of local hotels, and rafting companies that are settled along the Nile, including Adrift, Nile River Explorers, or the Source of the Nile Hotel.
To get to the source, take a matatus leaving from the old taxi park or Nakawa Taxi Park to Jinja. From there, a boda ride will easily take you to the source of the Nile. Admission is 10,000UGX. Or if you’re driving, Cliff Road will take you to the area, although it’s worth noting that car admission can set you back 20,000UGX. It is suggested that if you are on foot, you leave the source before sundown, or arrange a boda to take you away, because public transport in this area after dark is scarce. And while the walk isn’t particular dangerous, it’s a dark walk back to town.