Exploring Uganda in a 1970’s VW Kombi Camper Van

By Martyn Tumwesigye

March 3, 2014

Beatrice the Orange Kombi Camper Van UgandaWide shot: A woman with a veil wrapped around her head seemingly in stuoid thought and a stern look on her face stares, through the window of a moving car, into a crowd of people on the roadside who run after the car as it passes through the neighborhood of Orlando, South Africa. As the car makes a left turn, the camera zooms in on to the cream 1970’s VW Kombi camper van. The camera view changes and this time shows the VW Kombi Camper Van from the back. The boot of the van is open and you can clearly see that the van has seen better days because it looks battered but none the less in good shape. As the car which the woman is in pulls up to a house, the press and a crowd punching fists into the air chanting “Winnie, Winnie , Winnie” gather around the car. In the bottom right corner is another VW Kombi Camper Van grey in color.

This is a scene from the movie “Mandela. Long walk to freedom” but what this scene enlightens us about is the fact that every decade has its trends and facades and VW Kombi Camper Vans will always be synonymous with the seventies.  The story of how the Kombi became a travel icon synonymous with the 1970s is for another day.

Step in Kombi Nation Tours. Carrying the slogan ‘Time to explore’, KNT as I will refer to them in this article is one of the many tour companies in Uganda but what sets it apart from all the others is the fact that it uses vintage 1970’S VW Kombi Camper Vans that are all fully refurbished and refitted to make them safe and reliable.

KNT is the brainchild of Steve Cresswell ,Will Boase and Anna Kucma principally who came up with the idea after they toured Uganda themselves on a motorbike. “We didn’t have any money basically and it’s actually quite cheap to do it by motorbike. So we got a boda boda in Kampala and we went all the way round the country from Kampala, Gulu, Masindi, Hoima, Fort Portal, Kasese, Mbarara, Masaka, Sese Islands, Jinja, Mbale up to Amudat where we had an accident plus we were running out of time anyway so we came back after that” Explains Will “ After that we discussed how you could start a tour company that was quite affordable but still offered a unique experience because a lot of stuff that’s really interesting and unique, is really mostly available for people who pay a lot of money for it. So in 2011 we started Kombi”.

At exactly 6:30AM on a Saturday morning as I was hurriedly dressing up, my phone rang, I picked it up and Steve was on the other end of the line “Good morning Martin” He said “I believe we are at your gate”. I went out to check if actually Steve was outside my gate and as I opened the small gate, I beheld Steve, Fred the driver and mechanic plus ‘The Dude’ (The blue Kombi). The four of us were headed for a day trip to track rhinos at Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary. On our way to the rhino sanctuary we picked Will, Anna, Joy and Miriam. The trip was full of promise and ‘The dude’ being abit slow made sure that we took everything in and enjoyed our journey much as we couldn’t wait to reach the destination.

The Fleet at Kombi Uganda
Image: The Fleet at Kombi, Piglet (Red), The Dude (Blue) and the Piglet (Red).

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KNT has three Kombis so far namely: Beatrice (the orange Kombi) and her production date is 1976, The Dude obviously whose production date is also 1976, plus Piglet (the red Kombi). All Kombis have six seats around a table. But please note that the Kombis are cars that over 40 years old and even though the team at KNT has done a tremendous job of refitting them and make them safe and reliable occasionally they might have some hiccups and in case of an unscheduled stop, your driver who doubles as an experienced Kombi mechanic will fix the car in minutes.

Day Trips
Besides that we were on a day trip headed to Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, KNT provides other day trip itineraries. For example searching for the Shoe Bill Stork in Mabamba, shooting clay pigeons with real rifles at East Africa’s only licensed shooting club Ssisa Shooting Club, taking on the grade five rapids of the Nile in Jinja while rafting, sport fishing on Lake Victoria, visiting the chimpanzees on Ngamba island, Quad biking on the Nile, picnicking while you visit and check out the Sezibwa Falls, kayaking on the River Nile to Forest walk in Mabira Forest, horse riding along the Nile plus classic day out trips to the beach in Entebbe.

“The summer memory that just never dies, we worked too long and hard to give it no time ….”. Music bellows from the sub-woofer where Steve and I are seated in the Kombi. Opposite our seat is Joy, Miriam and Anna. Will is seated in the front with Fred on the wheel. I turn and ask Will what song is playing? He checks his phone and replies “That’s Instant Crush by Daft Punk”. As I pull open the window of the Kombi to let the wind in, Joy and Miriam mix their soft drinks with gin they bought at a Supermarket in Luwero town where we made a stopover. Am told by Steve that ‘The Dude’ had his paint job done recently. It’s hard to tell that this car’s production year is 1976. It’s clear that the team at KNT has done a good refurbishing job on it. He has two seats in the front and two long comfortable seats in the back with a table in the middle that’s convenient for a game of cards on your travels.

We’ve been on the road for almost two hours now. The ride has been smooth, from old folks waving at us as we rode by to people in Matatus giving us interesting stares and youths in Trading Centres excitedly pointing at the ‘The Dude’ “Whoa! Look at that Volks Wagen”. Suddenly ‘The Dude’ slows down and finally coming to a halt, I turn and it’s a traffic police officer.

I quickly offer him a piece of my ‘chapatti’ to which he declines. After checking out ‘The Dude’ as if it belonged in a museum, he proceeds to check its Third Party Insurance sticker. With a look of content on his face, he proceeds to Wills side of the window and gives everyone in the car an interesting look and asks Fred for his driving permit. Fred gives it to him, he has a look at it and with a look of disappointment,  gives it back. “So where do you come from?” He asks of Will. “And where are you people going?” Will, informs him that we are on our way to Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary. With a last stare he waves us on our journey.

Game viewing on top of "The Dude"

Besides day trips, KNT offers affordable budget safaris which include: Gorillas and Lions Safari, Murchison Falls Safari, Queen Elizabeth Safari, Kidepo Valley Safari and the Lake Mburo Safari. They also offer midrange Tours namely: Gorilla Tracking Tour, Kibale Forest Tour, Lake Bunyonyi Tour, Sipi Falls Tours, Best of the West Tour, The Full UG Tour. Hiking activities include the Rwenzori Hiking, Mount Elgon hiking, Virunga Volcanoes Hiking, Kale Bunyonyi Hiking. Specialty mid-range safaris include: Predator Tracking Tour, Primates Tour, Birding Tours and the Cultural Uganda Tour.

Price Guide
All day trip quotations are based on the number of people travelling. For example a group of 6 people travelling on a day trip to Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary costs $110 per person. If its 5 people travelling, its $120 per person, 4 people’s cost is $135 per person, 3 people’s cost per person is 155$ and 2 people’s cost per person is $200. All price quotes for day trips are inclusive of transportation in a VW Kombi Camper Van, packed lunch from Brood Bakery and all activity fees. Kombi also offers great discounts for locals on all trips!

Check out the Kombi webpage for price guides on the Gorillas & Lions Safari, the Full Ug Tour and the Rwenzori Hiking tour.

Overall Kombi Nation Tours offers a great and priceless experience in their VW 1970s Kombi Camper Vans for the adrenaline junkie and have flexible affordable itineraries en route to your destination. I would strongly recommend any travel enthusiast to trust their exploration duties to the team at KNT.

For an extensive listing of all KNT’s itineraries, please visit their website:
For bookings and enquiries:
Email: info@kombitours.com
Mobile: +256 (0) 792 933 773
Keep up with the latest happenings and updates on their Facebook Page:
For those that want to Skype them and discuss or make prior arrangements for your travel plans its: kombi.tours

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