Cultural Tourism in Uganda - Voices in Ethical Tourism

Can Cultural Tourism help bring peace and stability to our diverse civilizations?

Can Cultural Tourism help bring peace & stability to our diverse civilizations?

Cultural Tourism, a well-established tourism niche, is typically an interesting and fun opportunity where one can take exotic photos, have moments of “oohs and aahs”, and experience something different to one’s own culture. The host’s role is to dress up into something that looks traditional and authentic and perform a performance for cash, and then leave.

This might have been enough interaction at one time, but times have changed, and awareness and expectations have also changed. Today one of those changes has taught us that there are some negative aspects to this type of tourism.

A couple of examples are:

  • Using culture as a commercial means to make money.
  • Providing un-authentic entertainment for tourist expectations.
  • The breakdown of traditional cultures.
  • Discord within the hosting community regarding the above issues.

Another aspect that I see missing in traditional cultural tourism is a lack of social interaction between visitor and host. An awareness that has come to light in recent times is a desire to become more cognizant of the authenticity of cultures through volunteering, home stays, and new tourism niches related to cultural issues.


“Cultural Sharing Tours-Weaving Cultural Trails” looks at offering an opportunity to meet and socially interact with hosting communities as you would at any social event. The idea here is to learn from each other, break down mistrusts and misunderstandings, build new friendships, try to find solutions to our worldly challenges, and hopefully help bring peace and stability to Mother Earth.

Having been born and raised in Uganda and influenced by a mixed culture; one parent born and partially raised in Canada and England, another parent raised in Kenya by parents of Italian/Austrian descent, and I spent my life living and breathing life in Uganda developing into my mix of cultural colours. Since that time I’ve also been lucky to have lived in a few other diverse cultures. All this exposure has influenced and molded me into who I am today, someone who loves variety, and who honours our rich diverse civilizations. It’s also taught me that through awareness it’s possible to live in peace within our diversities based on acceptance, respect, trust and equality.

I would like to share a little story of where the idea of Weaving Cultural Trails began to take root. In 2014 I had the opportunity to introduce a little of my cultural upbringing to my youngest son Anthony when we visited Uganda. Not only was it really exciting watching him as he was exposed to, and experienced firsthand a culture that was a polar opposite to his home environment, I too gained a deeper appreciation for the people of Uganda and their culture.

Uganda has a rich culture. Its home to several Kingdoms found throughout the country; each kingdom fiercely proud of its own nation.

This particular adventure took place in the Buganda Kingdom, known as Uganda’s royal kingdom, which covers the central region of the country and is the largest ethnic group. (

When my friend Robert heard that we were coming through, he invited us to come and stay with him. Robert lives just on the outskirts of a town called Mukono, which, when I was growing up, was just a village, but has since blossomed into a busy, bustling town situated in the heart of Buganda country. Mukono provides a great stop over to experience some authentic Buganda culture while travelling between Kampala (capital) and Jinja, (source of the Nile and the famous rapids adventures).

Robert is the executive director of a local Non-Government Organization (Kikandwa Rural Communities Development Organization, and is dedicated to helping rural communities find solutions to overcome poverty and in-justices. One of his projects is promoting homestays in the area, so Anthony and I had the privilege of being a testing tourist.

There were a number of high points on our adventure; one was the walk down through Roberts’s community to the local market where we bought our food for dinner that night. We bartered and laughed alongside everyone else as we went from stall to stall aware of the curious stares and wonderings about these mzungus (foreigners) hanging out with Robert. We bought fresh matoke (local plantain), fresh tilapia fish, tomatoes, onions, green peppers, and a juicy pineapple before hiking back up the hill to cook our dinner.

Squatting on the veranda as the sun went down, cooking over hot charcoal, Anthony and I had our first local cuisine cooking lesson by Robert and his four adopted nieces, who taught us how it’s done.

The end result was a delicious and delightful meal of fish stew cooked in a fresh tomato sauce. It’s eaten by scooping up steamed matoke with your fingers and dipping it into the sauce. The combination of a slightly sweet and mashed plantain, and a slightly spicy tomato based stew makes an all-round wholesome meal eaten on a daily basis throughout the country. The stews vary and can be made from different meats, vegetables, fish, peanuts, or beans. The meal ended with our fresh juicy pineapple, and sweet milky chia (tea).          

We spent the evening sharing stories and laughing over our life differences. The girls were full of questions and curiosity about life in Canada, and how I now found life out there compared to my life in Uganda. We also had fun playing with my camera and posing for pictures. Thanks to Robert and his commitment to the girls, all four of them have graduated from high school, and are now studying a higher education.

On day two Robert and his buddy Zed took us to visit Kibibiri Primary School which is another of Robert’s projects. It’s a little over an hour’s drive out into the bush where daily life hasn’t changed much. Uganda is rich with diverse vegetation, and an abundance of birds and butterflies. When you get out of the hustle and bustle of the city, it’s magical to be serenaded by rich bird songs, and charmed by the different colours and scents of the dense vegetation, and where you get just a peak of daily life out in the bush.

The welcome we received on arrival at the school was filled with shouts, laughter and boisterous greetings of “mzungu, mzungu”. They surrounded us with their curiosity and laughter as they accompanied us around while proudly showing us their school.

It was such an uplifting and delightful welcome, and such a contrast from a reception one would receive back home. Anthony at one point was literally buried in this excitement and enthusiasm that overtook the kids, an experience I’m sure he will not forget. 

There are many stark differences, one being the condition of the classrooms with a lack or broken furniture and supplies, buildings that are not finished and blackboards that are way beyond what we would call acceptable. There is no running water, only a large tank that collects rain water which Robert installed. Washing hands is performed through an ingenious method of jugs, sticks and rope.

Despite these conditions, there is no lack of commitment and dedication from the teachers, and the children’s enthusiasm to learn.

The overall highlight was the warm and friendly welcome received throughout our testing tourist venture. We were surrounded by genuine interest, laughter and eagerness to learn more about Anthony and myself, and what our lives were like.

Since returning to Canada, I have been wondering how to help Robert and Zed with their desire to create business opportunities within rural communities through tourism. An idea has been bubbling and percolating, and I believe I have hit on something that could benefit us all. It’s a vision I believe that could open doors wider in relation to business opportunities, working together in finding solutions to worldly challenges, overcoming poverty, creating new friendships; and all done by supporting one another.

It’s based on the idea of sharing our cultures through social interactions. Rather than the experience being a one-sided adventure where the tourist is entertained, Weaving Cultural Trails is all about discovering each other.

  • It’s about having social time together in an atmosphere of laughter, curiosity and fun.
  • It’s about telling stories, singing songs, playing music, wearing traditional dress, cooking foods, and playing sports.
  • It’s about learning each other’s traditions and cultural ways and breaking down misunderstandings and mistrust.
  • It’s about understanding each other better and trying to find new and fresh ideas of how to grow and move forward together holding hands in friendship.

It’s about creating cultural bridges built on foundations of acceptance, respect, trust and equality.

Sharing Cultural Tours is offering an escorted pilot project tour out to Uganda at the end of this year, 2017.  It’s where we will discover ways to weave cultural trails together with our hosts. It’s a two-week venture where we will travel to parts of Uganda visiting rural communities and visiting game parks.

October and November are considered shoulder/low season, but one difference to take into consideration is the cost of the Gorilla and chimp permits. October the cost is still USD 600.00 p/p, chimpanzee permits are USD 150.00 p/p; whereas November the costs drop to USD 450.00 & USD 100.00 respectively, hence the reason why I am leaning towards November in the event there is an interest in doing these optional excursions. Nothing is set in stone yet, so the dates are a little flexible depending on the interest.

  • The approximate cost of the tour is low to moderate based on the accommodation. CAD 1210.00 p/p, USD 880.oo p/p,  GBP730.00 p/p. (Depending on availability).
  • The price of the tour includes – vehicle rental/fuel, and driver/guide’s costs, game park entrance fees, boat fees, accommodations/most breakfasts included, homestays and locally prepared foods.
  • Where there are no home-stays, hotel accommodations will be comfortable with basic necessities; continental breakfast is included in most of the hotels.
  • Gorilla and chimp permits are not included in the tour costs. This is an optional excursion and prior arrangements need to be made.

October/November is classed as the low season as it’s a rainy season. There are advantages and disadvantages for visiting at this time. There are fewer visitors and prices are discounted, but it can be rainy and muddy. The weather is slightly cooler, but not much; you will need rain gear and comfy hiking boots, but this is suggested regardless of what time of year you visit as you are hiking in the rainforests where the rain falls all year round.

If you would like to learn more about this expedition, email me at

Written by Frannie Thorburn-Polo

About the author

Helen Jennings

Helen has studied at the Universities of Goldsmiths, Kent, Jyvaskyla (Finland) and The Arctic University of Norway (Tromsø) where she obtained a MA in Indigenous Studies. She has travelled extensively and has lived and worked in Canada, Scandinavia, and South America. Helen is particularly interested in cultural, indigenous, and spiritual tourism, ideas behind sensible ‘regulation’ and is convinced of the value of ethical and sustainable tourism.

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