Ok we are bias but we say that Fort Portal is the most attractive town in Uganda! It is ideally situated amid lush rolling hillsides swathed in tea plantations and it offers breathtaking views of the glacial peaks of the Rwenzori mountains. The town centre has seen a great deal of renovation since the early 90s, including many new hotels and restaurants and a new Stanbic Bank. With the ongoing resurfacing of the internal roads it is barely recognisable from the run down ‘Fort-Pot-Hole’ of the 90s.
Despite boasting many ‘relatively’ modern facilities (hospital, bank, restaurants), Fort Portal still retains some of its more archaic features including the native market at the bottom of the hill opposite Gardens restaurant. If you haven’t experienced a native, African market then this is as good as any. Expect to see avocados as big as your head, fried insects and cow hoofs. Don’t expect to see price tags! If you don’t see at least 2 geriatric tramps, 20 different counterfeited Man United shirts and 3 pairs of African breasts complete with suckling infants then you aren’t looking hard enough. For the feint of heart, there is always the Andrews ‘supermarket’ on the main street. U can buy most things there from washing powder, pasta, chocolate, sliced bread, tuna and cheese!
Patience is not so much a virtue in African eateries but a survival tool! Fort Portal is no exception. Punctuality is not high on the list of African virtues as local bumper stickers declaring ‘No hurry, in Africa’ will testify! In a way though this relaxed attitude is part of the beauty of Africa; that is unless you are in a hurryJ In all seriousness, your patience may run thin a few times before you re-set your western timer. We recommend taking a book with you everywhere or just striking up a conversation with the locals. They all have something interesting to say.
In order of taste: must-try local dishes include rollex (cooked eggs, tomato, cabbage and onion, sandwiched in between 2 chapatisJ - more about these bad boys later!), goat stew, Felix’s ‘world-famous’ nutella and banana pancake for breakfast and guacamole and chapatti lunch at the orphanage, telapia (small, boney fish usually caught in Lake Victoria), dodoomo (spinach), ground nut (g-nut) sauce, Matooki (a banana mash) and pocho (a local maize slop). Try washing it all down with a Stoney; a ginger beer Coca Cola product. We are sure you have heard it millions of times but try not to buy drinks with ice in them and be wary of fruit juices that are ice cold. The local water can and probably will make you ill. Stick with soft drinks and bottled water.
The best food in town is a toss-up between Garden’s restaurant situated at the bottom of the hill and the Rwenzori Travel Lodge at the top. They both sell pork escalope, lamb, pizzas, pies, fish (telapia), curries and chips of course. At Garden’s don’t miss the all-you-can-eat buffet at lunchtime (starting at around 1230) where you can treat yourself to kilos of chapattis, goat and beef stew, g-nut sauce, potatoes, matooki and dodoomo. Be sure to find your way to the veranda and chill in the sun before you slip into a food comaJ There is also a cool DJ who spins crazy African remixes of Western songs and local infectious choons from his booth by the stream. There is always music in the street in Fort Portal and you will definitely get hooked on a few popular songs. For a mix-tape of your Ugandan experience, ask the DJ to burn you a CD.
At night, we recommend watching Fort Portal go by in the rooftop restaurant-bar of the Rwenzori Travel Lodge. It offers great panoramic views of the town centre. Don’t forget your mosquito spray though and look out for the most outrageous (the good kind) toilet throne known to man!
Nightlife and Local events
As far as we know, Heartbeat Disco on Rumandika Road is the only nightclub in Fort Portal. The last time we were there in 2009 a new club was opening but we are yet to ask Pastor what he thinks of it!! The club is cool; really cheap drinks no dress-code (not sure about sleeveless t-shirts though) and hip-hop music with those really funky, infectious African baselines. It is such a refreshing experience going to a club without the token macho geezer, pint in hand, doing the two step and taking the piss out of anyone with a bit of confidence or personality. When we were there, several individual locals came in on their own, dressed up like Usher, and just danced all night in front of the mirror. Two words: A-mazing. You will really have a good time in there, the atmosphere is very relaxed and friendly.
If you plan on staying late and are worried about waiting around Fort Portal at night then pre-arrange for a taxi car to pick you up. We advise against taking a boda-boda at night as some of the drivers are pissed. For the more adventurous of you, before 1am we recommend you make your way down to the market opposite gardens restaurant. Just by the road there is a stand that makes rollexs. It is the closest you will get to that obligatory post-club kebab experience. Be warned, they are addictive. Some people have been known to wolf down 4 of those bad boys in one sitting … no names mentioned. We could never get a straight answer regarding the rollex/ roll-eggs nomenclature debate, mainly because as they are an evening treat, most of the time we were steaming drunk when it was being explained to us … maybe you will have more luck.
One of the funniest moments whilst travelling has to be when 10 of us were crammed into a taxi hunting down a rollex stand into the early hours. Eventually we pressured a local into ploughing through 50 eggs and 10kg of chapattis to feed us. I have also stumbled around FP after 2am with a few friends looking for some rollexs. We begged an unsuspecting local to start up his giant griddle for us, during which time we just sat and idly drunk-chatted until dawn. Obviously we are not encouraging irresponsible drinking! Even though it is a very safe place – don’t be an idiot. Make sure you don’t wander off alone at night. One more thing - try the local banana booze spirit at your own risk! Call me old fashioned but my mum always told me to steer clear of any drink u have to chew but maybe that’s just me.
Miss Uganda 2008 – everyone is soooo nice n they just wanna chat to u. On reflection it may seem weird that their overwhelming reason for approaching u is because you are Mzungu (local slang for a white person) but it’s the closest u will come to fame so why not milk it! Easter service – uplifting gospel, carnival atmosphere definitely overcomes any reservations you ‘MAYJ’ have about ceremonial, religious manipulation!!
We are sure you will all head to Uganda armed and ready with your Bradt or Lonely Planet guides. These guides are great, but be sure to check out the nearby Chimp tracking and Semliki bird trail. Cheaper activities include taking a guided tour around Mahoma Falls or just trekking around the crater lakes and tea plantations yourself (obviously try to go in pairs and don't go at night). The Amabere caves were quite entertaining too. If you are in the mood for a relaxed drinking atmosphere then the Rwenzori Travel Inn at the top of the town near Kabarole Hospital has a serene open-air bar and some nice local food. Don't forget your mosquito spray though!
Things you won't find in the guides are the regional Miss Uganda finals, which Fort Portal hosts in May. Although it is far from a 'traditional' ceremony, it is definitely worth a look. At Easter you can also enjoy a Christian service. In the larger churches in Fort Portal, you will experience an uplifting gospel, carnival atmosphere which will definitely overcome any reservations you may have about ceremonial, religious manipulation!!
Ask the Pastor if he can arrange a visit to one of the local schools which is a very fun and worthwhile experience. The Ugandan people are just soooo nice and friendly; they just want to talk to you and find out about your culture. On reflection it may seem weird that their overwhelming reason for approaching you is because you are a Mzungu (local slang for a white person) but it's the closest you will come to fame, so why not milk it!