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Getaways are near giveaways as Ugandans discover joys of budget domestic travel

KAMPALA, UGANDA- A 14-seat van, filled with strangers and friends looking for adventure, sets off from this capital city at 7am. Their five-hour journey to Sipi Falls in eastern Uganda has begun.

“When a friend of mine told me about the ‘100k Weekend’ to the Sipi Falls, I had to search for the advertisement myself on Facebook just to confirm what I had heard,” says Caroline Kukundakwe, one of the passengers, referring to the 100,000-shilling ($27.75) getaway option. “There is no way that was a tourism package, not here in Uganda. Perhaps they had forgotten to add the dollar sign?”

But it was true, she discovered, and soon she had convinced more friends to join in the trip.

Affordable, domestic vacation packages are being offered, many say for the first time, to Uganda’s growing middle class. Travel within the country has for years been something done by foreigners, but Ugandans are now increasingly taking advantage of weekend trips and other recreational options.

Ugandans were responsible for about 22 percent of the travel spending within their own country in 2014, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council.By 2015, that spending climbed to just over 24 percent.

That’s a small increase, and Ugandans still lag far behind their neighbor, Kenya, where residents were responsible for 58 percent of the travel spending within their own country in 2014 and 59 percent in 2015. But local people say the shift is remarkable for a country where many people struggle to make ends meet, and where travel has long been reserved for necessity, not recreation.

The weekend getaway is a novel concept for many Ugandans, says Laurean Ntaate, the operations manager of Mulembe Krazy Trekkers, which began offering the 100k Weekend in July.

“Most Ugandans shy away from it, because they believe travel is for the rich and the white man’s culture,” he says.

The 100k Weekend encompasses transport, accommodation, tour guides and activities, he says. Options include popular destinations such as the Ssese Islands in Lake Victoria and Sipi Falls, he says.

Experience Africa and other travel agencies are offering similar deals.

“The power of budget tourism is that it prevails regardless of the season, whether high or low,” says Eric Ntalo, communications director for Icebear Media Agency and media coordinator at Miss Tourism Uganda. “Many Ugandans do not follow seasons, but [travel] depends on their disposable income to travel. As long as a trip is affordable, they will joyfully tag along.”

Dennis Katerega, who recently took a Mulembe Krazy Trekkers trip to Kidepo Valley National Park in Karamoja, says there were some challenges along the way, including impassable roads.

“But getting to your destination always makes it a worthwhile experience,” he says.

Katerega says the low price convinced him to take the trip.

Ntaate says Mulembe Krazy Trekkers is aiming for more than just profits.

“We want to show Ugandans how easy it is to travel, so that next time they can experience this on their own,” he says.

Faith KebirungiKarashani took a trip with Experience Africa to Sipi Falls, which she remembers as “breathtaking.” She also went to Ssese Islands.

“This was my second time at the Ssese Islands, but it never gets old,” she says. “The rewards from visiting a place that gives you such peace of mind, it is priceless.”

This article first appeared on www.malaysiasun.com

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