All Terrain Adventures
An approximately 10-minute drive from Jinja town and close to Kimaka airstrip, All Terrain Adventures is arguably one of Uganda's biggest treasures in the tourism domain...
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First published: March 2, 2009
For many, the mention of Bujagali sparks imaginations of the roaring falls of the mighty River Nile, the multi-million hydro power dam being built and the scary tales of the elderly magician after whom the place is named. But behind the rapid falls, the imposing construction site and the conspicuous scenery lies the only place with all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) in East and Central Africa.
An approximately 10-minute drive from Jinja town and close to Kimaka airstrip, All Terrain Adventures is arguably one of Uganda's biggest treasures in the tourism domain, a classic example of how good and strategic planning can lead to instant success.
Located just at the gate to the main falls is the building that houses the offices of All Terrain Adventures. Owned by an Australian national, the buildings here give a sense of traditional African architecture, though they are far more decent than the neighboring houses in the little trading centre that houses the general merchandise shops.
The front part of the compound is surrounded by a neatly cut hedge and is graced by a cool shade provided by jackfruit trees, which are grown widely in the areas of Busoga as they are a massively cherished delicacy.
Asked why he chose his location, the proprietor, Peter Knight says he cherished the idea of not intimidating the natives. "It does not scare away the locals," he claims pointing out that this helped him win favours from locals who view him as any normal tenant and not as an imposing alien.
A single glance at the parking shade sparks the usual anxiety of wanting to jump on to the quad bikes even before being welcomed. The down-to-earth Peter takes time to welcome his visitors as well as ushering them in to the lobby which I understood is meant to help them relax. There is a craft shop stocked with many Ugandan artifacts that virtually goes unnoticed as many visitors are excited by the quad bikes.
Safety before the ride.
Riders get briefing before the ride.
The visitors are strongly advised to wear protective riding gear even though it is optional. Availed by the company, these include overall garments, gum boots, helmets, bandanas to cover the nose so as not to inhale dust, and goggles to protect the eyes as well as shading off the sunlight. A mandatory 15-minute training session is then conducted to enlighten the visitors on safe riding techniques and instructions on how to behave in the neighboring communities.
During the briefing, visitors intending to ride the quad bikes are strongly cautioned against high speed as reflected in the inscription on the training manual – "this is not a race, take your time". This does not limit anyone's choice on speed but it makes them liable to paying any damages that may arise from high speeding.
The five or so instructors who are all Ugandan ensure that riders grasp all the basics as they ride through the specially set training ground. The trails marked by car tires are arguably the most challenging part of the training drill. Andrew Waibale, an instructor says many visitors hate this part but have no choice as it is essential.
The good news according to Waibale is that nobody ever fails to learn how to ride. By the start of the main circuit, those that come as amateurs will have learnt enough to at least move them at the slowest speed possible.
The Riding Trip
The narrow murram roads not only give riders a sensory challenge but also test your ability to make rational decisions as you ride. Going through the remote villages on the island hitherto referred to as the Napoleon Gulf, the guides allow riders to experience the hospitality of the Basoga with village dwellers lining up to wish the visitors a safe journey. Peter Knight, or PK as he prefers to be called, says it is generally considered rude to ignore their cheers.
Training before the ride.
Training get briefing before the ride.
The roar of the mighty Bujagali falls as the river flows down stream sounds occasionally tempts one to think that you are very close to the falls even if they are far down. The picturesque view of the green hilly banks of the river cannot go unnoticed, rising and falling as the waters snake their way northwards.
Along the route, a field the size of a football pitch is reserved for free style rides where riders can try out any kinds of techniques as well as ridding at the highest speeds they can afford so long as no damage is done.
The author Burite Joseph Bumbaire on one of the quad bikes.
A ten-minute break is taken on the routes to allow riders get refreshments but many visitors chastise the interruption. "They just want to continue riding," says Andrew.
Riders need not pack meals as a fully ledged restaurant is available and serves virtually all dishes on a la carte basis.
- 1 hour at 70,000 shillings
- 2 hours at 100,000 shillings
- 3 hours at 130,000 shillings
- 4 hours at 160,000 shillings
- 9 hours at 250,000 shillings
- 2 day overnight at 450,000 shillings
All the charges include practice and training plus refreshments.
"They are arguably the cheapest such trips in the world," says Peter.
He says apart from the Bujagali rides, All Terrain Adventures also organizes wild trips in Lake Mburo national park with long haul 2-day trips offered. He says these mainly target those who prefer longer and adventures of riding in the wild.
What's more, the biking experience is well linked to the other tourist experiences in the area. Under the Jinja Adventure Safety Association, an association that unites a number of tourism players in Jinja, the greater Bujagali area has been gradually transformed into a one-stop centre for adventure activities.
Under the arrangement, activities like camping, bungy jumping and water rafting which are offered by other companies also situated in Bujagali, are marketed and coordinated as bigger packages for tourists. "It is not easy to find a number of such activities in one area," Peter notes.
Founded in 2002, Peter says setting up All Terrain Adventures has been a long but gainful struggle. "We have gone against all odds," he says pointing out that the taxes levied by the government on the ATVs are too high, hampering the growth of the sector. He says though that he is happy to be part of the people working to transform Uganda's Tourism sector.
Peter manages the facility with his wife and plans to diversify the services offered. "We are soon introducing a mud cross circuit for those who are more daring," he says with a winner's smile.
To date, over 200,000 visitors have taken adventure trips at the site. Peter says the peak is mainly reached during the festive season at the end of the year.
With Jinja's ambitious plan to become Africa's adventure capital, this is but a testimony that anything is achievable. Alone, Bujagali which covers a radius of about three kilometers, boasts of more than six other leisure facilities all offering world class services.
"Both the domestic and international tourism base is increasing and Uganda's tourism industry is destined for greatness," he observes, adding that he is positioning All Terrain Adventures to reap big from the boom.
All Terrain Adventures.
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First published: March 2, 2009
Burite is an upcoming writer, currently pursuing his degree in Mass Communication at Islamic University in Uganda (IUIU), Mbale.