About a year ago, just a few months before the entire pandemic situation started, I arrived in Masindi. I had been in Uganda for only a couple of days and I had already crashed a wedding party, ordered a hundred school uniform to donate and eaten fried grasshoppers from a street vendor. My volunteering adventure with Denis and his NGO Shines Children’s Foundation was about to start.
We entered town in a crowded rented car with Denis, his wife, two half sick small children, their grandmother and the aunt. In the already dark evening, we were welcomed by stadium-like lights. It was grasshoppers season. I was already in love with the place!
Masindi: a small African town
Masindi is a small town in western Uganda, not yet known by mass tourism. It lays about 200 km away from Kampala, the capital of the country. The main road that crosses Masindi from one end to the other, is one of the few properly paved. The rest of the city is a wide system of unpaved streets that tend to turn into muddy paths full of holes and bumps every time it rains.
Safety for mzungu
People here are generally friendly and they mostly ignore white skin visitors, something that is pretty rare in this country, therefore highly appreciated. Children are obviously not that polite and it often happens that they run after you screaming “Mzungu! Mzungu!”, which is their word to describe a white person.
I can say I’ve always felt save in Masindi. I walked and took boda-boda by myself (during the day) without any problem, besides risking accidents with crazy drivers. Thinking back to all the places I’ve seen in Uganda, this town is the one where cheating a mzungu at every possible move happened the least.
As in every other African (and not only!) country, I still suggest to not take any stupid risk. Hide your jewels and cameras, especially if you’re alone. Walk around with someone else and, in general, just use common sense!
Shops, hotels and restaurants
In the secondary roads there are a lot of small shops with clothes and homewares, a street market open every day and a few bars and restaurants that serve local food. The Karibuni Restaurant is my favourite: 100% Ugandan dishes at equally local prices. There are also two banks that change main currencies into Ugandan Shillings and a phone shop worthy of a western mall: one of the very few buildings with air conditioning. I swear there were people sitting inside for nothing more than enjoy the fresh temperature.
If you need a hotel I suggest the New Court View. During my time in Masindi I was hosted by a local family but I spent one night in this hotel- It’s clean and welcoming. Rooms are small but cute, with an amazing warm shower (great PRO to not underestimate), a proper mosquito net for the bad (meaning without holes and of the right size), internet connection and plenty of electric plugs. The restaurant in the patio is quite interesting too, serving both local and more international dishes with an interesting Indian choice.
If you’re looking for a good and free WiFi, the New Court Hotel has an outdoor bar you can stop at. Masindi Hotel has a very pretty bar too. Both of these places offer internet connection if you order a drink. Sometimes there are long blackouts in the area and these hotels surely don’t have emergency generators for the internet. You can still finish your drinks, though!
Tourism in Masindi
The most important tourist attraction in the area are the Murchison Falls, in the Murchison Falls National Park. It’s an amazing place for both car and boat safaris. The hike to reach the top of the falls is very popular too. Other activities include birdwatching, fishing and rafting. The park is not as big as other Ugandan parks, but it’s very rich in biodiversity and there are always plenty of animals to be seen.
For more details to what to do, the routs and the White Nile, I suggest you read the specific article on the Murchison Falls National Park.
In Masindi there’s a tourist agency, Yebo Tours, that I strongly suggest you to avoid. It’s handy because it’s the only one locally based, so you don’t have to deal with bigger Kampala’s ones. But the boss is rude and he lies like nobody’s business, the 4×4 was insanely dirty and fairly broken (and with two chickens in the trunk that, I supposed, were served for dinner) and the meals were the worst in my 6 weeks in Uganda. Considering I ate a canteen that served more than 100 children, I can guarantee that the level of Yebo’s kitchen was really low!
One of the last ideas the boss of Shine’s Children Foundation had, was to open a “coop tourist agency”. If you’re planning to visit the area, contact me and I’ll pass on his name. Even if he hasn’t opened it yet, due to the last year travel restrictions, he might still know drivers and guides to suggest you.
How to reach and move in Masindi
Masindi has a well served bus station. There are plenty of busses every day from/to Kampala. They are all crowded, but decently safe, trustworthy and very cheap. It’s fairly complicated to figure out the timetables; asking if always the best solution, even though you might still not get the correct information. Better be always a bit early, just in case of mistakes.
If you don’t have your own car, moving around Masindi is not an issue: there are plenty of boda-boda! They are the most used “taxi” for short trips and they can host, legally, two passengers. The prices are fairly standard: from town to town, from town to out of town, one passenger, two passengers… As it happens in other places when you’re a foreigner and you take a taxi, the driver might try to cheat, asking you higher prices than he would to a local. You should ask a local what are the usual fee, to have an idea of what to expect.
For longer trips, you can take a shared taxi, a van that seats 12-15 passengers plus luggage. They have fixed prices depending on the distance and you have to stop them on the way. I’ve found difficulties to figure out where each of them goes, but locals say they clearly do some kind of (secret?) hand sign when getting close to the stop.
The last options are private drivers, which of course cost more. Comfort has a price! Ask someone you trust or at the hotel. It happens that “the friend of the friend” didn’t show up to pick me up and I had to wait for “the cousin of another friend” half an hour later!