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80km east of Kampala, the sleepy town of Jinja is a fun getaway. I never tire of exploring the fabulously potholed streets of crumbling villas behind Nile Crescent and trying to imagine how beautiful it all must have been forty years ago.


The history of Jinja town dates back to 1900 when the British threw a telegraph line across the Nile at Speke’s Ripon Falls (see The Discovery of the Source of the Nile below), a feature known locally as Ejjinja (or ’stones).  A fledgling European community was expanded the following year when Special Commissioner Harry Johnston relocated the administrative offices of Busoga region from the swamps of Iganga to a more strategic and altogether pleasanter site at the source of the Nile.


Jinja became Uganda‘s industrial hub following the completion of the Owen’s Falls hydro-electric dam in 1954.  Converted to electricity, the Nile’s energy powered tobacco processing, textile production, brewing and copper smelting. These activities were controlled by the Asian community, many of whom left Speke Avenue behind to build fine houses along tree-lined crescents behind the Crested Crane Hotel.  But the good times were not to last. In 1972, Uganda’s Asian community was expelled by Idi Amin and Jinja’s commercial and industrial sectors soon collapsed.


Jinja’s industrial heyday is now a distant memory and the Nile corridor sustains tourism rather than factories. With a choice of good hotels, guesthouses and restaurants occupying many of Jinja’s fine old buildings, the town offers a pleasant retreat from Kampala. The headwaters of the Nile can be explored in various ways; visitors can stroll past the fine period mansions of Nile Crescent, run the rather half hearted gauntlet of craft stalls at the Jinja Municipal Council’s Source of the Nile gardens, visit the actual spot reached by Speke on the west bank of the river, play game of golf on the riverside course, and enjoy a sunset cruise on the river itself.  There are also ample opportunities for greater excitement. Since whitewater rafting arrived on the Nile in the 1990s, the river valley north of Jinja has emerged as East Africa’s premier adventure tourism destination.  An ever expanding menu of activities includes kayaking, rafting, jet-boating, quad biking, mountain biking, horse riding, and bungee jumping.