The mighty River Nile is the best-known river around the world, and it’s easy to see why. Located in North-East Africa, its incredible 6650 kilometers of rushing water make it the longest river in the world. This seemingly endless body of water flows Northward, spanning an impressive 11 countries. Such an astonishing natural wonder has enticed intrepid travelers for decades but, with such a vast expanse of river to choose from, knowing where to head for your trip can be a tricky decision.
Here, we’ve brought you everything you need to know about one of our favorite stretches of the River Nile – the Ugandan Victoria Nile – to make planning that trip of a lifetime that little bit easier.
The Victoria Nile may be just a fraction of the size of Nile in its entirety but, at 480 km in length, it is by no means small.
The river issues from Lake Victoria, half of which lies in Tanzanian territory, and then winds its way North West, passing the historical Ripon falls (but more on that later), some hydroelectric power stations, and the Busowoko and Itanda falls (just to name a few). Eventually, this stretch of the Victoria Nile meets the surprisingly shallow Lake Kyoga before setting off again from the Western side of the lake.
From here, the river climbs North West again and forms a series of rapids. Just before dropping into the famous Lake Albert, half of which falls within the borders of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the river forms a narrow stretch of just 7m at the Murchison falls.
With calm stretches, fast-flowing rapids, and an abundance of wildlife, there’s so much to do on the Victoria Nile that you’ll be spoilt for choice!
With all those stretches of rapids, the Victoria Nile is a hotspot for thrill-seekers who just can’t get enough of that white water. In particular, the small town of Jinja by the mouth of the Victoria Nile is world-renowned for its rafting. Be warned though, this area has been referred to as the ‘East-African Adventure Capital’, and Grade 5 white water rafting is not for the faint-hearted!
If you’d rather a calmer cruise along the river, there are some spots suitable for a more relaxed raft, and kayaking options are available too – just make sure that your tour operator knows what kind of ride you’re after!
Whether you’re an adrenaline junkie or not, you’re certainly doing to appreciated some time to relax on one of the most breathtakingly beautiful rivers on our plant. Cruises are a great way to spec out the Nile – you cover plenty of ground and you don’t have to worry about paddling back in the dark.
We definitely recommend the sunset cruises – you’ll never forget the sun setting as you drift along the river, sipping a G&T, taking in the sights and sounds of the fauna and flora. Jinja is again a hub for these kinds of trips, but the stretch of river that passes through the Murchison Falls National Park is great too.
While you’re visiting Africa’s largest river, why not see its largest lake too? Lake Victoria is a great spot for catching perch and tilapia (both introduced), and tour operators offer a range of packages, ranging from an afternoon on the water to a full week.
Although it’s not technically on the Victoria Nile, and it isn’t even in Uganda, we can’t help but point out the Rubonda Island National Park. Situated on the Tanzanian side of Lake Victoria, it’s only a stone’s throw from the start of the Victoria Nile. Here, as well as fantastic fishing, there is an ongoing chimpanzee rehabilitation project, plus various other animals for you to admire. The experience of staying on an island on the largest lake in Africa surrounded by both fish and safari animals is one you’ll never forget!
You can also fish Lake Abert (home to tonnes of fish species), Lake Kyoga (sometimes, depending on current regulations), and, if you know what you’re doing, stretches of the river itself, such as the area around the Murchison Falls National Park.
No trip to Africa is complete without a classic safari adventure. The Murchison Falls National Park is Uganda’s largest National Park and is your best bet if you want a fantastic combination of game drives, boat rides, and spectacular views. Make sure you take your camera with you and expect to see hippo, crocodiles, Fish Eagles, and more as you drift along the river. Plus, most guided trips will take you to the top of the falls themselves so you can really soak in the sights. While on the game drives, you can expect to see all of Africa’s big game – lion, giraffes, zebra, elephants… the list goes on!
We’ve covered the main activities now, but there are plenty of other obscure activities along the Victoria Nile. If you’re after an adrenaline fix, then why not try out bungee jumping? Something a little more chilled? Then paddle boarding might be right up your street. There really is something for everyone – you can even ride horseback along the riverbank to take in the sights!
The quest to find the source of the River Nile was ongoing for several centuries, with Europeans among the most eager to locate it. The stretch of the Nile we’ve focused on here, the Victoria Nile, forms part of what is known as the White Nile, which is one of the two key tributaries of the Nile, while the other is known as the Blue Nile.
The Blue Nile originates in Lake Tana in Ethiopia and is named after the (faint) grey/blue color of the water that results from soil run-off. The White Nile is indeed slightly lighter, so that’s most likely where its name came from (sadly, not white water rafting). For a long time, the source of the White Nile was believed to be Lake Victoria, which is why you’ll see lots of advertisements for ‘source of the Nile’ experiences around Jinga. As many rivers feed into Lake Vicotria, the true and most distant source of the Nile remained undetermined for many years. Now, it is widely accepted that the Kagera River of Burindi is the true source of the White Nile.
The construction of several hydroelectric power stations along the White Nile has had a considerable impact on the river. A perfect example of this is the Nalubaale Hydroelectric Power Station, constructed in 1954. Before it was built, heavy rainfall would lead to elevated water levels in Lake Victoria which would spill across a natural rock dam (Ripon falls) into the White Nile. The opposite was also true, with water flow stopping during times of drought. With the dam present, the Ripon falls were submerged, and the early section of the White Nile became part of Lake Victoria.
The dam generates a huge amount of clean energy, which is used to power not only Uganda but also neighboring countries, generating a vast amount of revenue. Many more dams have since been built along the White Nile, and it seems that this will continue – the building of the Chinese-funded Ayago hydroelectric power plant is all set to be completed later this year.
Despite the economic gains involved in dam construction, the submersion of the falls they tend to be built around is altering the landscape of this natural water. Indeed, many of the hotspots for white water rafting are already things of the past. This will have a huge impact on the local communities that have built their lives around the tourism generated by the falls. It also impacts the local wildlife – for instance, the Bujagali dam, which turned rapids into a reservoir, is likely to devastate a downstream area that’s protected for its ecological importance, the Kalagala falls.
It’s not clear whether the government will step in to protect these important ecological areas or not, but one thing is for sure – if you’re planning on visiting the Victoria Nile, the sooner the better.
There’s a huge range of options when it comes to accommodation along the Nile. You can opt to keep the comforts of the larger towns and simply make your way to the river each day, you can decide to stay in the riverbank itself, and you can even choose to stay ON the river – yes, that’s right, there are several accommodations options situated on islands on the river itself – how’s that for scenic?! Whichever one you choose, there’s a range of options suited to different lifestyles and budgets, so let’s take a look at a few of them.
If you like the buzz of the city and having a choice of bars and restaurants to visit in the evenings, then you’ll probably enjoy staying in a town close to the river.
Although Jinja borders the river, it also features a thriving city center with plenty of accommodation to offer. You’ll find hotel rooms in skyscrapers like the Igar Plaza, cut apartments like the Ci’Sand suites, and very affordable guesthouses like the Ebenezer guesthouse.
Jinja makes the perfect base for ‘source of the Nile’ excursions and white water rafting. Plus, most tour operators around the river mouth offer free shuttles to and from your hotel, so you don’t have to deal with the hassle of flagging down a rickshaw first thing in the morning.
If you’d prefer to escape those city lights and opt for a more immersive experience, then staying on the riverside is a great way to get some peace and quiet. Sit on your front porch with a refreshing beer in the evening and watch the sunset over the river, wake up to the sounds of the birds chirping, and go for lunchtime strolls to see if you can spot and hippos lurking in the water – it’s all right on your doorstep.
Explorers River Camp is situated about 10km from the mouth of the Victoria Nile, and it makes a great, affordable base if white water rafting is your thing (but it offers heaps of other activities too). It offers a range of accommodation to suit every budget, including twin safari tents with magnificent views of the Nile (these are highly sought-after, so make sure you have a reservation), en-suite double rooms, dormitories, and even areas where you can pitch up your own tents. Not only is the latter a great way to save money, but you’ll really feel connected to your surroundings – it’s not every night you can hear the distant sound of hippos frolicking in a river.
Alternatively, at the other end of the river, you have a fantastic selection of riverside lodges. The Murchison Treehouse is definitely number one on our hit list and makes the perfect base for trips to the Murchison Falls National Park. With safari tents, bandas, cottages, and treehouses to choose from (we’d definitely recommend the treehouses!), you’ll be able to find something that’s right for you.
And now for our favorite… why sleep by the Nile when you could sleep on the Nile?! Away from all the bustle and surrounding by the soothing flow of water, you’ll be hard-pushed to find a more tranquil spot.
Wildwaters Lodge might not be the one for you if you’re traveling on a shoestring budget but, if you can afford it, it makes for one truly unforgettable experience. Located on Kalaga Island, roughly 25km from Jinja, and accessed only via boat, this pristine lodge features authentic wooden buildings with makuti rooves, luxury interiors, open-air bathtubs, and plenty of viewing platforms to take in the scenery – keep an eye out for birds too, this is a great spot for sightings of some of Uganda’s most famous species.
So now for the tricky part… what’s the best way to get to this magical destination?
Uganda’s international airport (Entebbe) is situated southwest of the river mouth. It’s easy enough to get a ride from a taxi at an airport but, depending on the nature of your trip, it might end up cheaper to get a hire car sorted before you arrive. Another way of saving some dollars is to get the bus – there are regular shuttle buses running between Entebbe and Jinja. If you’re happy to sacrifice personal space to cut down on costs, then there are local minibusses (known as matatus) that you can catch to Jinja – but be warned, the vehicles (and sometimes the skill of the drivers) leave much to be desired. The drive takes 3-4 hours, depending on traffic, so if you’re arriving late in the day we’d recommend staying in Entebbe for a night to refresh before the journey.
To reach the Murichon Falls National Park you can get a taxi, rent a car (no shuttles or matatus), or even catch a flight to Pakuba Airfield. If you’re booked on to a package holiday, airport pick-ups and transfers are usually all included.
As a side note, for any keen kayakers, Emirates and Brussels, two of the key international airlines you can travel to Uganda with, won’t charge you extra to take a kayak with you – as long as it doesn’t send you over your total weight allowance.
If you’re already somewhere in Uganda when you decide you want to visit the Nile, your best bet is to get to your nearest, largest town and take things from there.
Kayunga is easily reached from the capital and has roads that lead on to all major tourist attractions. How you want to travel (taxi, shuttle bus, matatu, rickshaw) will depend on where you are, your budget, and how much time you have.
Internal flights are becoming an increasingly common way for tourists to travel and they can save you a bunch of time and stress (although you do have to be near an airport to begin with). Lira, Jinja, and many other tourist hotspots are now accessible via internal flights and, as they’re used more and more, the prices are beginning to drop.
If you’re just the other side of Lake Victoria on a trip to Tanzania, it seems a shame to miss the spectacle that is the Victoria Nile. You could catch an international flight over, but there are water-based options too. For instance, you can catch a ferry from Mwanza, Tanzania, over to Kampala, Uganda. From there, it’s pretty easy to reach the Nile via the routes described above – just make sure you don’t forget to get your visa sorted in advance!
So, there you have it. In a nutshell, the Victoria Nile is a wondrous sight to behold. With flowing rapids, vast wetlands, surrounded by National Parks and big game, and supporting a huge range of fish and birdlife – the diversity of this river will never get old. It is, however, under threat, as the continued construction of dams submerges natural falls and floods areas of ecological value – so don’t wait too long, get those tickets booked!
Anna is the co-owner of expert world travel and can't wait to share her travel experience with the world. With over 54 countries under her belt she has a lot to write about! Including those insane encounters with black bears in Canada.