Uganda is often called “The Pearl of Africa.” It has rich African biodiversity. Sadly, it has not developed as one of the best tourist destinations in Africa, despite having the natural beauties. A variety of activities are available, from gorilla trekking to white-water-rafting.
The heart of Uganda has a shoreline with the vast Lake Victoria. South Sudan borders Uganda to the north. The northern region has a gorgeous countryside with rich wildlife. To the west is the Gorilla population, including Tanzania, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Kenya, known for its adventurous activities, lies to the east.
Kampala is the capital city. Other popular destinations include Jinja (next to Lake Victoria and the Nile), Arua (well-developed town), Mbarara (national parks), Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, and Fort Portal (tea plantations). Lake Bunyonyi is a crater lake with a stunning view, and you must visit while in Uganda.
Places to See in Uganda
The prettiest lake in the country, Bunyoni is surrounded by green hills and scattered with fascinating islands. It’s a perfect destination for beach rest, with also a great number of marvelous historic sites and fabulous activities.
The Ssese Islands are the archipelago, which consists of 84 islands scattered along Lake Victoria’s northwest shore. They boast some excellent white sandy beaches and fabulous sunsets. The most accessible island is Buggala. And Banda is more old-fashioned destination for backpackers. Anyway, the Ssese Islands are a great spot for relaxing with a good book and a cocktail drink in your hand.
Murchison National Park
This national park is the largest protected area in the country and has its name after the stunning waterfall, which is 45m high. In the park, you will see lions, Nile crocodiles and elephants. You can also visit rhinos at the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary.
The stretch of the White Nile between Jinja and Bujagali, the adventure capital of Uganda, is a paradise for rafting and kayaking lovers. The volume of water is ten times as high as in the Zambezi River. You can enjoy the rapids while watching hippos, crocodiles, and monkeys.
To explore the sky-soaring mountains, lush forestry hills and vast wetlands, go to Mount Elgon. It is a must-visit place for passionate trekkers, situated on the border with Kenya, which offers excellent treks, including the Karamoja, the Central Circuit, and the Sasa River Trail. Also, the Sipi and Sisyi waterfalls are fascinating places to see.
One of the country’s most popular attractions, Fort Portal is a hub for travelers, who want to explore Uganda’s wildlife to the fullest. The famous wildlife spots include Kibale, Bigodi, Semliki, Lake Nkuruba, and Rwenzori.
Queen Elizabeth National Park
Queen Elizabeth National Park is a popular picturesque place, which offers its visitors a unique opportunity to see the feted tree-climbing lions. The park also boasts 96 mammal species of different animals and over 600 different bird species.
Kisoro is a popular spot for travelers coming to Mgahinga National Park and going trekking in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park, which offers breathtaking views of volcano peaks of the Virungas. There are also numerous walks outside of the town, with lakes, craters, caves and other natural wonders to explore, as well as the bustling markets every Monday and Thursday.
Your visit to Uganda will not be complete without a trip to Jinja. The country’s second largest town, located in the Source of Nile, it is a departure point for those going on the adventure activities around the river. It is a very pretty place, definitely worth a visit!
Budongo Forest Reserve
The largest mahogany forest in the East Africa, Budongo Forest Reserve is situated near Masindi on the Lake Albert and is also one of the most diverse. It hosts around 465 different species of plants, the largest chimpanzee population in Uganda and around 366 species of birds, blue monkeys, black-and-white colobus monkeys, and the implausibly cute potto.
Kibale National Park
Kibale National Park is a home to 355 different bird species and 60 species of mammals, including 13 species of primates. The most famous inhabitants of the park are chimps, which you are sure to see on a guided tracking tour. And the night treks reveal some amazing animals of the nocturnal kind.
Rwenzori Mountains National Park
Rwenzori is known as the most spectacular of Uganda’s national parks. The highest mountain range in Africa, Rwenzori Mountains run 120km along the Congolese border. The area is known for its fascinating hiking and climbing opportunities. It is also a popular spot for wildlife watching, offering rich variety of animals, including Angola colobus monkey.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
The park is a sanctuary for half the world’s remaining mountain gorillas and was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994. It is also a home for colobus monkeys, numerous species of chimpanzee, hundreds of species of birds, snakes, lizards, chameleons, and butterflies.
When to Go
Uganda boasts a tropical climate, with average day temperatures ranging between 21oC and 25oC. The hottest season is December to February. However, nights are cooler, with temperatures ranging between 12oC and 16oC. Also, the mountain areas are much colder. The top of Mount Elgon is even covered with snow.
The best time to travel around Uganda is during the dry season. Heavy rains occur from March to May and during October and November. Road travel can be difficult during these months. On the other hand, trekking would be perfect during January – February and June – September. Wildlife watching would be great at the end of the dry season, when animals concentrate around the water sources.
What to Wear
You will do well with lightweight clothes in Uganda. However, don’t forget something warm for the evenings. For forest trekking, take a pair of good trekking boots, a pair of pants and some long-sleeved shirts, to protect you against mosquitoes. Also, if you are going to the mountainous areas, take some warm clothes. If you are up for a road trip, pick dark-colored clothes, because your whites won’t stay white for a long time on Uganda’s red dust roads.
English is the official language of the country and almost everyone speaks it. However, the Ugandans also speak many ethnic languages, such as Swahili, Bantu, and Luganda.
The official currency is the Ugandan Shilling. The approximate exchange rate is USh3588 for US$1. However, you can also pay with US dollars or Euros. You can exchange other currencies at the Central Bank, commercial banks, and foreign exchange bureaus. Credit cards are acceptable, but not widely. ATMs are available in the larger cities.
Local SIM Card & Free WiFi
Cell phone service is very popular in Uganda and is rather good. However, there are still vast rural areas, where there is little or no coverage at all. The main mobile companies are MTN and Orange. You can buy a SIM card for as little as USh2000 and then purchase airtime vouchers or data packages from street vendors.
Most hotels, except for the smallest ones, offer their guest free Wi-Fi connection. So do the good cafes and restaurants. However, don’t expect wireless connection in remote areas and national parks. Internet cafes are available in most large towns and cities. Or you can get a good data package from one of the mobile providers.
The predominant religion is Christianity, with 66% of followers. 16% of people practice Islam. And there are also small Hindu and Jewish minorities.
The Ugandans are generally warm, friendly and relaxed. However, they are socially conservative and don’t like to express emotions in public. Shaking hands is the common form of greeting. Also, it is considered rude not to greet a person, before asking a question or a favor. As for clothing, casual outfit is normal for both daytime and evening.
Both drug abuse and homosexuality are illegal. If you are a commercial photographer, you should ask the Ministry of Information for a permit. For individual travelers, photography is allowed, with the exception of airports and military installations. Some other areas can also be banned for taking pictures, and you should ask for permission beforehand.
The country’s cuisine is a mixture of English, Arab, and Asian influences. The basics include local plantains, sweet potatoes, corn, beans and cassava. Eating out is rather cheap throughout the country. Though, international restaurants in major cities can be pricier. They offer mostly Indian, Chinese and Italian cuisines. Tipping is appreciated, although not common. In tourist-oriented restaurants, a 10% tip will be suitable.
Traditional local food includes ugali, solidified maize meal porridge, which is served with a stew of peanuts, beans, chicken or meat, such as beef, goat or mutton. Local specialties are also chapatti, grasshoppers, luwombo, matoke, millet bread, posho, rolex, simsim, kikomando, mandazi, pombe, and waragi. Game is often found in both restaurants and safari lodges. Fish is also popular, particularly tiger fish, mukini, mputa, and tilapia.
It is rather hard to find vegetarian food outside of major towns in Uganda. However, Indian and Chinese restaurants usually have a selection of vegetarian dishes.
Airlines, which operate in Uganda, include Egyptair, Emirates, Ethiopian Airlines, Kenya Airways, and Turkish Airlines. Domestic flights are a fast way to get around the country compared to buses.It is also the easiest way to get around during the rainy season. However, the flights can be overpriced from June to September and from December to February.
Passenger ferries link Nakiwogo Dock, south of Entebbe with Lutoboka on Buggala in the Ssese Islands on Lake Victoria. There is also a free ferry, which runs from Bukakata, 40km east of Masaka, with Buggala.
Lake taxis also connect some other islands. And you can take one of the variety of boat trips from Paraa to the base of Murchison Falls, situated near Jinja.
Keep in mind, passenger boats in Uganda can be overloaded. There are also have been several accidents, particularly during the rainy seasons, which bring storms and high winds. Before getting on board, make sure the boat is equipped with life jackets.
There is no other connection that the one form Kampala to Namanve, which was open at the end of 2015.
Getting around by bicycle in Uganda will cost you some nerve. Many roads are inappropriate for cycling. If you dare to use a bike, you should always wear a helmet and use rear-view mirrors. In any case, avoid cycling during the nighttime.
Bus travel is cheap in Uganda, but it’s not the safest and the schedules are not always regular. There are two classes of buses: matatu (minibus) or kigati (van) and larger coaches or buses.
The roads quality varies in Uganda. Major roads are paved, while minor roads are often bumpy and pot-holed. They can even be inaccessible during the rainy weather. Keep in mind, there are still some army and police checkpoints on the ways. Drive with caution and keep your doors and windows locked.
Renting vs Bus, Train, Taxi
Taxis are a better option if you want to spend extra money on your safety. Hiring a car can be expensive and useless because the roads are in pathetic conditions. Thus, driving can be a true nightmare. It is better if you book a touring company that will help you with transportation.
It is not hard to find a taxi in Uganda. However, if you want to hire a car, you can do it near Entebbe International Airport and in the center of Kampala. Road quality varies. 4-wheel vehicles are advisable for rural areas.
Right or Left Driving
Cars drive on the left side of the road here.
Uganda Trip Cost
You can travel here without completely depleting your budget. The food and products are cheap. A street-food snack will only cost a couple of dollars. And for a meal in a good restaurant you will have to pay $10-$20.
Thus, you just have to pay attention to lodging. You can book a standard hotel room for roughly $70- $80/ night. However, a bed in a dormitory will cost as little as $10-$20 per night. And a room in a budget hotel will cost only $30-$50.
Entertaining activities, on the other hand, can be quite pricy. An entrance fee to the national park will cost around $40. Chimpanzee tracking will be $90. But tracking mountain gorillas will not be cheaper than $600.
Electricity & Plug Type
Uganda uses type G sockets. You need to bring a travel adapter to fit the proper socket type. Check out the above-linked page to see the photos and other useful information. The standard voltage is 240 V. Many of your devices may need a step-up transformer to match the electrical voltage.
How to Reach
Air companies, which operate flights to Uganda, are Egyptair, Emirates, Ethiopian Airlines, Kenya Airways, and Turkish Airlines. There are no direct flights from the USA or the UK. However, a flight from New York, including stopovers, takes around 19, 5 hours, and from London – 10 hours.
Flights to Uganda are the cheapest during the rainy season, which is from March to May and from October to November. On the other hand, the months best suitable for wildlife watching, which are from June to September and from December to February, are the most pricy.
Unfortunately, there are currently no international passenger trains coming to Uganda.
Uganda borders by land with Tanzania, Kenya, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and South Sudan. However, driving to and within Uganda is challenging, due to poor road conditions. You can also use bus service. Several reputable international bus companies connect Kampala to other major cities in the region.
Passenger boats no longer run between Uganda and Tanzania. However, cargo ferries take passengers sometimes, so you should ask around.
Where to Stay
There is a wide range of hotels for every taste and budget in Uganda. You can find both a budget variant, and a high-end luxury accommodation. Most international hotel chains and resorts can be found in Entebbe, Kampala and Jinja. There are also some upmarket facilities in the national parks. Cheaper hotels can be found in main centers, as well as in small towns and villages.
Bed and Breakfasts
There are good bed and breakfast and guesthouse options in Kampala, Entebbe, Jinja and other major cities. The facilities there are simpler than in hotels, but still comfortable, and the prices are cheaper.
There are official campsites in most national parks and tourist spots throughout the country. Generally, they have good security, but you should still stick to basic safety rules and take the necessary precautions. The average prices are $5 per person per night in a tourist campsite and $10 in one of the national parks.
Most national parks, including Bwindi, Queen Elizabeth, and Murchison Falls, offer accommodations in lodges. The facilities vary from basic budget lodges to luxury accommodations with pools and high-end restaurants.
There are international youth hostels available in Kampala and Namirembe, which can accommodate up to 100 people. There also backpacker hostels available in Kampala, Entebbe and Jinja. They all offer beds in dormitories, as well as common rooms with TVsets, supplied kitchens and other facilities. They can also offer tourist information, booking different tours around the country, and arranging adventure activities.
How Safe is Uganda
Crimes like burglaries, muggings, bag snatches and thefts from vehicles happen often in Kampala and other areas of Uganda. There have also been cases of drugging and robbing tourists in bars and on public transport.
Remember about some basic safety rules and you’ll be fine. Don’t carry large sums of cash on you, don’t show valuables in public, don’t walk alone at night, and always keep car doors and windows closed. If you are stopped by an armed criminal, don’t try to resist. In, case of an emergency, call 112 from your mobile or 999 from a landline phone.
Before coming to Uganda, you need to have vaccinations against the following disease: yellow fever, typhoid, tetanus, malaria, hepatitis A, diphtheria, and sometimes rabies, tuberculosis and hepatitis B. Also, HIV/AIDS is highly widespread, so be careful and use precautions. The Ugandan medical service is not in a very good condition. There are reasonable medical facilities only in major towns. You will need good travel insurance, when traveling to the country. And also, you should bring a supply of personal medicine.
Considering water, you should look at all water in Uganda as potentially dangerous. Water used for drinking, brushing your teeth or making ice should be boiled, filtered or sterilized some other way. Milk is generally not pasteurized, so should be boiled. Avoid dairy products made of unboiled milk too. You should only eat well-cooked meat and fish, as well as vegetables. Fruit should be peeled.
August 22, 2016 12:00 am Leave your thoughts