From Bwindi Forest’s massive diversity and verdant Mountain Gorillas to Queen Elizabeth National Park’s vast landscapes to the vibrant nightlife of Kampala, Uganda is as exciting as it is beautiful. With roughly 9 national parks and several game reserves and natural reserves, as well as some of the best safari lodges in the world, your lodgings can be as luxurious or as wild as you like. You might even choose a mix of both!
Explore the lush countryside farmlands of the western region, the semi-arid Karamoja region and the snowy peaks of the Rwenzori mountains range. Enjoy the rich hillsides and broad country-side of Uganda.
Nilotic and Bantu people moved in to the region during the 1st millennium AD and Swahili, a Bantu language, is the main language today. Arab traders moved inland from the Indian Ocean coast in the 1830s and were followed by British explorers in the 1860s, searching for the source if the Nile. The United Kingdom first placed Uganda under the charter of the British East Africa Company in 1888, then ruled it as a protectorate from 1894. Independence came in 1962 but there were coups and counter-coups which lasted until the mid 1980s. Idi Amin took power in 1971, ruling the country with military force, decimating the economy and with his abuse of human rights and ethnic cleansing, killed an estimated 500,000 Ugandan people. His reign was ended in 1979 by Tanzanian forces aided by Ugandan exiles. The current President is Yowery Museveni.
Geography and weather
Uganda is a landlocked country of a comparable size to twice that of England. The country is located on the East African plateau, averaging about 900m above sea level and although generally tropical, the climate does vary in different parts of the country. Lakes are an important part of the country’s geography with access to Lake Victoria, Lake Albert, Lake Kyoga and Lake Edward. The source of the Nile, one of the longest rivers in the world, is also found at Jinja.
Most of Uganda has the typical double rainy season found in the Kenya Highlands – the long rains from April to June and the short rains from October to December – but towards the north these two rainy seasons tend to merge into a single long wet period with a single dry period.
EU, US, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand citizens all need a visa to enter Uganda. For many nationalities visas must be obtained before travel for US$50 however you should contact the embassy for further information.
It may be cheaper for you to obtain an East Africa Visa which covers Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda
Visa services like www.travcour.com can be very helpful.
To Uganda from Kenya: Malaba
From Rwanda to Uganda: Katuna
Please note: It can be very difficult to obtain US dollars in Africa, even in major cities like Kampala. Many places will not accept any notes that are marked, torn or older than the year 2002, and you may have difficulty exchanging these notes elsewhere in Africa, so please check your cash carefully at the point of purchase.
The monetary unit in Uganda is the Ugandan shilling. For up-to-date exchange rates with your own currency visit www.oanda.com or www.xe.com. In general, Visa is the only credit card that will work everywhere in Africa. Master Card, AMEX and Cirrus will work in some countries but not in others.
We recommend that you bring cash in US dollars only. When changing money, it is a good idea if at all possible, to get small denomination notes and coins in the local currency as often there is a lack of change when you are making purchases and no-one in Africa ever seems to have change.
On arrival at Entebbe International Airport we suggest that you withdraw some Ugandan Shillings at the ATM or change some money at the bank if you only have US dollars or travellers cheques. Change enough money to see you through the first few days of your trip – particularly if it is a weekend.
Please note that it is not possible to withdraw US dollars from ATMs in Africa, only local currency.
Haggling is expected in Uganda and hunting for bargains can be a real highlight.
Your best buys are wooden carvings (especially around the Western side of the country as they come from Congo), as well as batiks (wall hangings), cane baskets, and of course tee shirts. Uganda is also well known for drum making, although as these are covered with cow hide, most countries outside of Africa will not allow them in.
In most Ugandan restaurants all taxes (including VAT) and service charges are included in the menu prices and bill. However it is always prudent to ask and unless you get exceptional service, it is not necessary to give a further tip. You should take both of these charges into account when reading the menu and check that all taxes are included. You do not need to tip taxi drivers but if you have just taken a push bike taxi on an uphill route your bike rider will always appreciate one!
Tipping guides at the end of excursions and treks etc is always appreciated and your tour leader will advise you on the amount for this.
Shared Taxis (small mini vans) are by far the most common means of transportation in Uganda and work in the same way as the Matatus in Kenya. They leave from designated places called stages but only when the taxi is full. They can also be caught from the road if one is passing by sticking out your arm with your palm down. This is the sign you want to be picked up. If the vehicle is not full, the driver will pull over to let you in.
There are at least two people that run every shared Taxi, a driver and a tout. Touts can be very aggressive and rude. Don’t let a tout take your bag from you, and make your own decision about which vehicle to take. Never pay for a ticket before you get on – always board first and ask other customers what they are paying so you don’t get ripped off. It is not recommended to take a shared Taxi at night.
Also a good way to get around is by motorbike taxi (known as a Boda Boda) these are registred taxis and will provide you with a helmet, or if you are not in a hurry – pushbike taxi. These are ideal for short journeys around town and are inexpensive and great fun. There are always fixed prices for these within a town for both one way and return journeys so arrange the price first. They will generally wait for you at no extra cost if you are only going to be a short while and then take you back again.
Crime is not a great problem in Uganda, but you still need to take care and act sensibly. Don’t walk around lonely back streets, especially on your own, don’t wear expensive looking jewellery or a classy watch and don’t carry a wallet in your back pocket. Don’t carry your camera openly; always have it in a small day pack which is firmly attached to your body, preferably in the front in crowded places. Always wear a money belt or leave your valuables, including your passport, in the hotel security box.
Caution should be taken when taking photos in and around the city. Locals should always be asked prior to taking a photo and it is not uncommon for them to ask for a small donation. Never take photos of police, military personal or buildings. The same goes for any government buildings, banks, post offices or the railway station.
Local food and drink
Some meals are included when camping and lunch is usually included on traveling days in the truck. When staying in hotels or hostels, all meals are at your own expense.
In Uganda the basic diet is very much like Kenya and focuses around chicken, beef, pork and fresh water fish, mostly served with rice, boiled potatoes, Matoke (cooked plantain bananas), Posho (same as Ugali made from maize flour) and possibly chips. Around the shores of Lake Victoria and at the source of the Nile River in Jinja, fresh water fish such as Tilapia and Nile Perch are common, both in the markets and restaurants. In the west of the country at Lake Bunyoni, a local specialty is the fresh water crayfish. Once they are shelled they resemble a small prawn and are delicious either fried in garlic butter or on a bed of rice with a tomato and onion relish. On the road side a lunch time local special is the famous Ugandan BBQ Chicken on a stick. For a quick snack, meat or veggie samosas and chapattis are widely available
Maize, potatoes, local spinach, carrots, peas, yams, and cooked plantain bananas (technically a fruit but cooked and served with stews) are Uganda’s main vegetables.
If you are a strict vegetarian you may experience a distinct lack of variety in the food available, especially in small towns. You might find that you are eating a lot of omelettes and other egg dishes. Our tour leaders will do their best to provide interesting vegetarian alternatives when arranging group meals in the campsite, but your patience and understanding is requested.
All drinks such as water, soft or alcoholic drinks are at your own expense at all times.
(All glass bottles taken away from shops in Uganda will have a deposit added on which varies.)
You should be wary of drinking the local tap water. Bottled water, carbonated soft drinks and fruit juices are widely available and are generally safe to drink. Please note however that fruit juices are sometimes made with un-boiled tap water and could upset your stomach.
There are various brands of beers found only in Uganda including ESB (Extra Strong Brew), Club and Nile Export. Primus can also be bought in the far west of the country and is imported from Congo and Rwanda.
GMT/UTC +3. For other time differences please visit www.timeanddate.com
240 volts. Sockets are three-pin British style