36 Hours in K’la City

Almost two years ago Josh at In an African Minute posted a guide for tourists on how to spend a weekend in Kampala. He included such highlights as bribing a fisherman to borrow his canoe for an afternoon and relaxing afterward in Kabalagala with the mixed plate, Mama’s vegetarian Ethiopian special.

Things have changed since then, largely due to November 2007’s Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting. Cafe Pap, Josh’s Saturday afternoon pick, has lost the widescreens and upped the charge for wi-fi, allowing itself to be usurped by the delicious coffee at continential fusion restaurant La Fontaine, where an hour of wireless costs just $1.50.

Lotus Mexicanas, operated by the same couple that owns New York Pizza Kitchen in Garden City, serves up fresh strawberry margaritas and queso that rivals most Tex-Mex restaurants, if not in America, at least on the East Coast, pushing Fat Boyz to the curb.

So, at Josh’s urging and because last month I thoroughly enjoyed rediscovering the city, here’s the updated version of 36 Hours in K’la City:

Friday
2PM Kololo
Start your trip by exploring Kololo, one of Kampala’s highest neighborhoods, on foot. Check out the Sudanese, Ethiopian, Cuban, Saudi and Congolese embassies, as well as the US Ambassador’s house, and admire the many roadside garden shops and the private airstrip, where President Museveni holds many of his public speeches. If you’re lucky, one of Kampala’s many marathon trainees will pass you and encourage you to pick up your pace. Join them only if you’re feeling particularly spry.

5PM Bubbles O’Leary’s
End your walk at this Irish pub, where an afternoon beer will run you less than $2 and the wireless is unlimited and free. Two years ago Bubbles was packed with expats and had a hard-to-find entrance on a tiny side road in Kololo, but the new gigantic sign off Acacia Avenue is hard to miss, and the afternoon crowd skews Ugandan these days. Offer your neighbor a Nile Special and ask if he has a blog.

8PM La Fontaine
If you haven’t satisfied your Internet fix, this charming indoor/outdoor restaurant in Kisementi, just up the road from Kololo, is one of Kampala’s newest wireless hot spots. Shake hands with Jacob, the host, and order the blue cheese salad, the pumpkin soup or the fish symphony. If Manchester or Chelsea are playing, catch the game on the satellite TV at the bar.

10PM Iguana
After dinner, head next door to Iguana’s second floor open air bar, where the plump couches, adventurous DJ and Kampala breezes will ease you into Kampala nightlife. Make sure to peer over the balcony at Kisementi, where late-night snack sellers and various providers of transport hawk their wares to passersby.

Saturday
10AM Good African Coffee
Brunch in Uganda is somewhat hard to come by, but this bustling coffee shop in Lugogo serves up eggs, potatoes, toast, pastries and more. Order spiced African tea and nurse the hangover you will invariably have after sampling too many of Uganda’s half-liter beers.

11:30 AM Lugogo
After brunch, take a leisurely stroll through Lugogo to pick up souvenirs for friends and family back home. Banana Boat, in the Lugogo shopping center, has postcards, jewelry, woven baskets and more. It’s popular with tourists, but for a more unique experience head to the wine bar in Lugogo Showgrounds and ask the owner if he has any of his own art for sale. In a few months you should be able to pick up crafts made by women throughout Uganda, courtesy of fair trade organization Awava.

1PM Taxi Tour
Hop on a public taxi taking the Nakawa-Kampala Road-Wandegeya-Kamwokya-Bukoto-Ntinda route, and ride the whole thing. It will take several hours and you’ll get many stares — be prepared for the conductor to use you as a selling point, enticing passengers by promising them a seat near the muzungu. Smile and shake many hands while you get a whirlwind tour of some of Kampala’s most bustling neighborhoods and busiest streets, as well as a hands-on introduction to the public transportation system.

4PM Kampala Road
Get off the taxi just a little after finishing the round trip. Stretch your legs and breathe, then make your way to 1000 Cups on Buganda Road for a much-needed cup of coffee and a chance to browse Kampala’s newspapers.

7PM Lotus Mexicanas
Start your evening off right in Lotus Mexicanas’ garden, where the friendly waiters will keep you well-supplied with margaritas (on the rocks or frozen) and tortilla chips. Order the enchiladas or the quesadillas and revel in all the cheese.

10PM Steak Out
Head to this open-air bar in Wandegeya to hang out with Makerere University students and, increasingly, a hearty sampling of Uganda’s bloggers. Stay away from the pepper vodka.

Sunday
10AM Central Kampala
Sunday morning is Kampala’s finest hour. The streets are cool and empty, making it the perfect time to explore central Kampala. Take pictures of the gigantic maribou storks lurking around Parliament, wander through the maze of streets that make up the northern part of downtown, then make your way down Kampala Road to the Old Taxi Park.

11AM Old Taxi Park
Marvel at the organized chaos and at the smorgasbord of seemingly random products being sold in the melee — everything from electric tea kettles to stilettos to sliced pineapple. Sadly, Owino Market (which Josh recommended) was burned to the ground early yesterday morning, so you won’t be able to explore its vast wealth of used clothing, herbal medicines and old books.

12PM Masala Chaat House
End your weekend in Kampala at the Masala Chat House on Dewinton Road near the National Theatre, where the gentle fans and a cold lassi will revive you after the crush of Old Kampala. Enjoy an immense metal tray of masala dosas, a house speciality, as you make plans to visit again soon.