Southern western Uganda has always been known as the place to go if you are looking for a gorilla trekking expedition because of national parks such as Mgahinga and Bwindi Impenetrable. But there is something new to look forward to when you visit the region, and that is a tourism circuit that captures the culture and way of life of the locals.
The trail known as the Gorilla Highland offers tourists a 5 day adventure with activities such as canoeing, hill climbing and meals at the homes of the locals. So tourists get a taste of local Batwa cuisine, and culture.
There has been talk of the country’s need to diversify its tourism product and according to Sylvia kalembe the officer in charge of product development for Uganda tourism Board, this trail is one way of diversifying tourism in the region. It gives the tourist more to see and experience than the gorilla trekking they usually expect.
On the Culture trail for example, there is an energetic old man Tom Karemire, who hosts visitors at his home which is a typical Bakiga
homestead. Tourists get the chance to use ordinary facilities like pit latrines and sleep in tents, enjoy bonfire barbeque and chicken at night and feast on fresh crayfish from the Lake.
The Kabale Arts Centre sums up the Bakiga way of life in a small museum which has historical and traditional highlights of how the Bakiga resisted the colonialists, how virgins were punished and controversial cultural practices and beliefs of how a woman was clan property. Modern developments such as sliding doors and elevators are also included in the depictions in the small museum.
There are also craft shops, schools, and community walks that tourists can explore.
Mbarara town which is close by has a cultural centre called Igongo Cultural Center in addition to having fine hotel rooms, has a well researched museum with a clear depiction on Ankole history. The cultural tourism product that the people in South Western and Western Uganda are investing in is the kind of diversified product Uganda needs.
There are of course a few improvements that need to be made to perfect the product. There is need for better roads to make the trails and cultural centres more accessible.
Also as much as the product is very exciting the prices are a bit on the high side, they need to be lowered to attract market for the product.
The guides too need to be educated on the product, so they have accurate knowledge to pass on the tourists.
Uganda has been concentrating on just a few tourism products and yet it has so much potential and so much it can do to enrich the tourist experience in the pearl of Africa. Hopefully this new cultural tourism circuit will be an eye opener for other regions in Uganda and then safaris in Uganda will be much more interesting.