Eastern Uganda is filled with so many amazing and hidden treasures that very few people know about. One of these that should definitely be added to your where-to-go-next list is Soroti district.
Soroti is located 100km to the north-west of Mbale town and if you are using private means of transport it will take you over six hours from Kampala to get there — passing through Lugazi, Jinja, Iganga and Mbale, among other districts.
Soroti town is a little gem right across the majestic Mount Elgon. The town has been in existence for centuries and is the headquarters of Soroti district, which is bordered by other districts such as Serere in the south, Kaberamaido in the west, Kumi in the east and Amuria in the west.
The most recent population census carried out in the district estimated Soriti to be inhabited by approximately 344,000 people, with the biggest number being women. In Soroti, speaking Ateso, Kumam, English and Kiswahili can help you get around, even a little Luganda is useful if the other languages are hard for you to speak.
Even though the biggest part of the town is rocky, you will find that there is a lot of farming going on here, with most of the farmland used to grow millet, maize, sweet potatoes, oranges, lemon and cotton, among other common crops in the region.
The little town is a bustle of energy despite the slow pace on the outskirts. Even on Sundays, you will find that most businesses are open, including especially the wholesale dealers and supermarkets. As it is in most of the busy districts in eastern Uganda, most of the supermarkets and petrol stations open are owned by people of Asian and Somali origin. They have been thriving here for years although the numbers decreased during Amin’s regime when the former Ugandan president told them to get lost.
The first things that you will notice are the beautiful rock structures on your way into Soroti town and then a lone one in the town that seems to act as a shield for the artistic town. There are over three big rocks that could be over 20 feet high on the way from Mbale to Soroti, and each one is composed of other small rocks that look like someone picked them and piled one on top of the other to make a hill which makes for a beautiful sight!
The Moru Opiyai rock in the town must be the highest of the rocks. Although not as wide, it starkly stands out surrounded by modern buildings with people going around minding their own business in its midst. As a safety measure, you will need permission to climb the Moru Opiyai rock, which is steep and quite rocky; a trained guide with good equipment can make the process easy for you.
The structures in Soroti are reminiscent of the 1950s, giving the town a vintage feel to it even though there are new buildings being set up with modern designs. There are enough good accommodations for you to enjoy a comfortable stay in the town at prices that do not break the bank. You can get a hotel within the city centre or one out of town but no matter where you choose there will be something good.
The best part about Soroti that will surprise you is that there are no expectations for a good nightlife until the night approaches and you start noticing different bars and nightclubs coming to life. It is quite surprising because you do not expect to find anything that can suit you for a night about town in Soroti.
Whether it is under a huge maple tree or in a state-of-the-art designed discotheque, everyone has a place to go and unwind. People in Soroti like having a good time, as is the case in most parts of Uganda. So, you will find the bars open till morning and nightclubs such as Trends and Strikers open with a DJ mixing music for the revellers till the last person finds their way home at dawn.
When in Soroti, make some time to pass by the muchomo joints especially in Pamba, the tree shed restaurants make a delicious tray packed with soft well-marinated meats, avocado, cabbages and Irish potatoes. In Uganda, this is called a “Lusaniya” since all meats, vegetables and other items are mixed together and served on a huge round tray. There is something heartwarming and simplistic when you share food with your friends as you listen to local music blaring in the neighbourhood on a warm Sunday afternoon.
And if you do not want to drive all the way back to Kampala, you can take a flight from the Soroti Airfield that is also home to the Soroti Flying School, established in 1971 as the East African Civil Aviation Flying School of Excellence under the Directorate of Civil Aviation of the East African Community. They, do not have a regular flight schedule so it is advisable to ask beforehand if there will be any flights to Kampala.
Either way, on your way back to Kampala with Mount Elgon right ahead of you standing majestic as it has for millions of years, your heart might sink a little. Soroti has a way of burrowing its way into your heart with its warm people and the beautiful landscapes. Make sure to go back and get a second or many more fills of the little beautiful rocky town.