Set on a ground which once accommodated the palace of a legendary 17th Century King, Igongo cultural center is located in Biharwe, 12 Km from Mbarara town on the Mbarara-Masaka highway. Since Igongo stands right along the highway, it took us under 5 minutes to be allocated a guide and the tour started.
The tour fees are: UGX 3,000 for children, UGX 5,000 for East African Adults, and UGX 20,000 for non-East African adults. Our guide explained all artifacts, cultural specifics and their significance. The centre boasts of a cultural village, which showcases traditional building styles of the region. Traditional huts stand proud to usher you in, displaying the different utensils (milk gourds, calabashes, hides and skin) used back in the day, weapons among other items. The Mburo gardens feature well-crafted sculptures of animals and people. There is information about ancient tribes and clans in Uganda like the Batwa who live in Bwindi, one of the planet’s finest jungles.
Nkwanzi, the center’s souvenir shop has lots of hand-made crafts depicting a key economy activity of women in the region, which also serves as a supplementary source of income. It also showcases Southwestern Uganda’s skills in craftsmanship with respect to household items, musical instruments, ornaments, decorative and fashion objects.
The bookshop has history of the region, cultures, names and their meanings, and maps showing regional boundaries. There is also a chart with birds and snakes of the region and Uganda as a whole. This may be referred to as the heartbeat of rich Ankole history and culture, as the books here date back to over two centuries.
Kahwa Kanuzire is the restaurant at the cultural center. The modern restaurant serves both traditional and international dishes in a clean environment. This provides a state-of-the-art service and is a must-stop for all travelers. Need we mention Igongo has elaborate African-inspired buffet? Delicacies include eshabwe (a traditionally made ghee-like soup) and strawberry flavored Bushera (millet porridge). I enjoyed my meal of smoked goat meat, matooke (plantain), rice accompanied with eshabwe.
The cultural center also offers accommodation (Igongo Country Hotel). Rooms range from executive to suites to cottages with full in-room amenities. The cottages are themed according to the various cultures in Uganda i.e. Buganda, Tooro, Ankole to mention but a few.
Editor’s Note: Purple M. Kisakye contributed to this article.