the capital of Bugisu. A giant in its own right. Mbale, a city located about 230 Kilometers east of Kampala is the picture of pride and calm. Yes, a beautiful show-off! But the shy kind, almost never out there but remains fulfilling. Like a gateway to ‘heaven’, the eastern town has views to behold. As soon as you step out of the Tirinyi road and step foot into the town realms, a view unfolds before you.
A hill that could pass for a mountain with a strip of waters sauntering down shows face. It seems to define the city, appearing on nearly every angle, like a guardian of sorts. No, that is not Mount Elgon, it is Wanale hill. Calm and watchful, again, a beautiful show-off. Mount Elgon, one of the highest peaks in East Africa, is about 60km north-east of Mbale, but still the pride of the east.
Until it was split into many little districts, Mbale was home to plenty of beautiful spots. Today, it sits shy surrounded by all this beauty, not too far away. For example, Mount Elgon National Park which provides a gateway for those looking to access Kapchorwa’s Siipi Falls from the east was in Mbale. Together with the luscious green Mount Elgon, a mountain that borders Kenya to the East was in Mbale, the National park is a must-see for every tourist seeking put the eastern district.
Bulegeni and Butandinga Cliffs, though 50 Km away, were still in Mbale and boy are they nature’s own little whispers of beauty. Nice that the Bufumbo and Wanala Forest Reserves stay within the district realms. And that the tomb of the colonial darling Semei Kakungulu Tombs is just 5 Km away. One of the favorites of the locals, you should try a picnic up there.
What makes Mbale work
The thing is, Mbale provides travelers with all the amenities they need to be comfortable, while still allowing for a touristic experience just minutes and no more than a few hours away. Take Simu and Sisi falls for example, just minutes away from this buzzy eastern town.
And in case you are wondering if you can camp whilst out in the east, then worry no more, Bulukyeke-Bukigai Hills sit complete with a campsite and decent enough shelter should the outdoors turn gloomy. The place is bursting with history, a favorite of the colonialists that sought out Mbale back then. Don’t forget the Kakoro Rock Paintings, history comes to life there.
Should it be during the cultural season of circumcision, please try to seek out the Mutoto Circumcision site which luckily is within the town. Here, dance and culture and celebration, a peek into the Bugisu culture really is what happens. Young boys turn men, the drum beckons, the locals wiggle and all but culture is what defines the moment. The alcohol is in plenty, it’s a festival, one permitted by the gods of Bugisu out here.
The accommodation in Mbale is tailored to fit every budget. Yes, you will find rooms from a little lower than $10 all the way to $100. Most of these places will have food and allow for quick access to the city’s nightlife spots. Street food is mostly sold alongside loud music. The restaurants serving local food should mostly be done by 9 pm, so try to catch all the locals’ meals then, unless on special orders. Don’t forget to try out malewa, a delicacy by the Bagisu, a tribe that calls Mbale home. But also, Mbale is home to the ripe bananas, arguably the best in the country, support the vendors if you can.
When it comes to transport, private cabs for hire can be sought in nearly every public transport stage and could range from $40-100 a day. If you are looking to have the real Mbale city experience, then remember that Mbale could be one of the biggest bicycle cities in Uganda. No, for a self-ride, out there, they are called the boda-boda. They are also motorcycles, these still bear the name boda-boda. In fact, most of the riders have been licensed by the municipality, and stages are gazetted for them.
When seeking out Mbale from Kampala city, there are buses and commuter taxis headed there every single hour. These can be found in the bus park and old taxi park and a fee of no more than $6 should suffice. Enjoy the district with one of the best temperatures in the country.