Yes, the first mention of Gulu conjures up images of horror, terror, and bloodshed but that is even far from it. The district located in Northern Uganda is just 6 hours from the capital city of Kampala, and is just what you will need on a weekend or maybe a whole week.
Gulu is the commercial and administrative headquarters of Northern Uganda and for a district that was in turmoil over a decade ago, it is amazing how fast the residents picked up and turned Gulu into a lively-bustling town.
The biggest population of the residents of Gulu are the Acholi tribe and the common languages spoken in the area are Acholi, Kiswahili, Luganda, English, and Luo.
Gulu is a district rich in history, culture and vibrant enough to keep you busy throughout your visit. So what do you do when in Gulu?
Ajai Game Reserve
Originally set aside to protect the white rhinos in Northern Uganda, the game reserve was under the management of Chief Ajai (of whom it derives its name) is located on the banks of the Albert Nile an hour or two away from the Gulu town center.
The Rhinos are extinct in the region but you will find animals such as; leopards, zebras, Uganda kob, warthogs and if you visit at the right time you might spot you a python or crocodile. There are several bird species that can be found in the reserve of which most are indigenous to Uganda; weaver birds, Karamoja apalis, and breasted barbet among others.
Also known as Baker’s Fort, was established in 1872 by Sir Samuel Baker and commissioned by the Queen as a military base during the colonial administrative days. Prior to that, the fort was used as a slave resting and sorting area by the Arabs and Indians due to the strategic location of the fort on the trade route connecting to Egypt via Nimule in now South Sudan.
Take a day and learn more about the deep history of slave trade and the early years of colonialism in Uganda through the caretakers.
Nothing beats going through thrift markets and seeing beautiful and amazing pieces made in Uganda by very talented artisans. Going through the market places in Gulu you will find so many cute antiquities from wood carvings, paintings to clothes made from colorful beautiful fabrics that will make you fall in love with Ugandan prints. Most of the artisans are under charity organisations that have been helping people get through the trauma of war.
You cannot visit a new place and not try their delicacies when you visit the restaurants, where is the fun in all that? When in Gulu, walk away from the hotels and go deep in the market places where you will find makeshift restaurants serving foods such as; malakwang, millet bread, odii, and maybe snack on some ngwen later. Discover the taste of Acholi land very well by visiting a home to one of the residents and learn how to prepare their favorite delicacies.
St Joseph’s Cathedral
Maybe one of the oldest well maintained landmarks in Gulu would make the best last stop on your tour, but it is a worthwhile “need to see.” Built in 1941 by the Comboni Brothers, the Roman Catholic church was consecrated in 1947 and has been standing since. The most interesting bit about the church is the architecture as is for most Roman Catholic churches, and how towering it is even from a distance.
When done visiting Gulu, you can fly or drive back to Kampala since there are flights that operate twice a week and several buses/ taxis coming in daily from Kampala.