Uganda: The Pearl of Africa
From the second you step off the plane, the overwhelming impression of Uganda is one of rich natural diversity, friendly locals, a burgeoning cultural scene, a tapestry of landscapes, and excellent wildlife watching that Winston Churchill decided to name this small country “The Pearl of Africa” in his 1908 book “My African Journey”.
Uganda is home to the source of the Nile, the world’s longest river and the continent’s largest lake, Lake Victoria, and Africa’s tallest mountain range (the Rwenzoris). Rafting the Nile offers a world-class adrenaline adventure, but the country’s most iconic experience is tracking mountain gorillas in their misty tropical habitat. And if you are a classic African Safari enthusiast, view the Big Five, you’ll see that nature – diverse and resplendent – looms large in the Pearl of Africa.
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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ANSWERED
Almost all non-residents need a visa when traveling to Uganda. It can be purchased online through the Directorate of Citizenship and Immigration—the only authentic Visa Application Portal for Uganda visas, and it costs $50.
There is still the opportunity to get a Uganda visa on arrival at the entry points, but the e-visas are expected to replace the visa on arrival. So I would advise to purchase it online. It’s quick and very easy. You’ll need to add a passport-copy, recent passport-size photograph and your yellow fever vaccination certificate.
Eastern African Community single tourists visa
If you are planning to travel to Kenya and Rwanda on the same trip then the Eastern African Community single tourists visa is worth applying. This visa is a single tourist visa for these three countries, but within its borders it is multiple entry. It cost $100 and is valid for 90 days.
A Yellow Fever vaccination certification is mandatory to acquire a Visa. On top of that it is also advised you get vaccinations for DTP, Hepatitis A and malaria. Some organizations may advice you to take Typhoid, Cholera, Hepatitis B and Rabies as well.
There is a high risk of Malaria throughout the country. You will need to take prescription medicine before, during, and after your trip to prevent malaria. Your doctor can help you decide which medicine is right for you, and also talk to you about other steps you can take to prevent malaria.
Also take proper bite avoidance measures. Such as wearing long sleeves and pants during the sunset hours when mosquitoes are most active.
For more information, follow the link Malaria in Uganda.
Uganda is generally considered to be a safe country with low crime rates. You’ll definitely feel safe all the time! Just avoid travel by road outside major towns at night (except between Kampala and the airport at Entebbe).
It’s also better to avoid the South Sudan border region and Karamoja in the very north, but it’s definitely safe to travel to Kidepo Valley National Park, which lies close to the border with South Sudan.
Fortunately, most of Uganda’s tourism highlights are located in safe areas, and the risk-zones are easily avoided without compromising your safari. When taking normal safety precautions, Uganda can be considered safe as a safari destination and for most general tourism.
Simply use common sense at all times, take of your belongings and be aware of your surroundings and one should be totally fine traveling in Uganda.
Uganda is bisected by the Equator, giving it a fabulous climate that allows you to visit the country all year round. But, the best time for Uganda safaris is during the dry season from June to August and from December to February. In dryer conditions wildlife is easier to spot.
The high season is from June to September, but it will never really get crowded. There is no peak season for traveling to Uganda The most challenging months to visit Uganda are March, April and May as because of the wet season traveling around gets a lot more complicated. Roads and nature trails can be in poor conditions.
The Uganda Shilling (UGX) is the national currency. Uganda is a cash economy though you can use your credit/debit card in some hotels and ATMs around major towns. Cash Dollars (printed post 2003), Euros and Pounds are accepted by the Uganda Wildlife Authority for most activities and national park entry fees, but in smaller towns or at for example gas stations they will only accept Ugandan Shilling. So make sure you always have Shilling on you during your Uganda trip.
You will get the best value for money when you exchange your cash currency into Ugandan Shilling at a Forex office in one of the towns or at the airport.
Exchange rates can go upto US$ 1 — UGX 3700. Check the latest exchange rates form the Bank of Uganda.
Tipping is normal in Uganda. Most guides expect a small tip after for example a bout tour, game drive or a nature walk. Because locals have limited access to exchange tips in a foreign currency, the best thing to do is tipping them in Ugandan Shilling.
The average monthly income vary throughout the country and ranges between 500.000 and 1.000.000 Uganda Shilling. That is somewhere between $135 and $270 per month. Tipping someone a couple dollars will give you a lot of smiles on your Uganda trip.
The Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) sets entry fees for national parks in Uganda. Park entrance fees differ a little per National Park but most of the famous tourists spots in Uganda are $40. Some lesser known places charge $35 and some small reserves only $10 for foreign non-residents (FNR). Be aware that National Park fees in Uganda are per 24 hours. That means you can be creative with the park fees when you schedule it right.
For vehicles you pay an additional national park fee. The national park fees for cars are a single payment so you don’t pay per day which is about 30,000 shilling ($8).
For a more detailed account of fees, download a tariff guide from Uganda Wildlife Authority.
Gorilla Permits are very scarce due o overwhelming number of visitors. Some travel companies buy and horde them for the same reason. So we recommend securing your gorilla or chimp trekking permits prior to arrival to avoid disappointment.
The permits are issued by UWA that markets them through Uganda Tour Operators to the public. Therefor it’s best to book your trekking permit (or a complete trekking tour) with a tour operator that is a member of the Association of Uganda Tour Operators. The mountain gorilla trekking permits cost $600 for foreign non-residents.
Hitch a Hike Adventure usually purchases the gorilla permit for our visitors so that they don’t have to worry about going through the whole process of acquiring one.
We advise you to apply for a permit 6 months prior to the date you want to trek. Permits from June-August and December and February tend to sell out quickly. Last minute bookings may be possible during low season.
Few areas outside the cities actually have electricity. Most of the lodges use solar energy or generators, which means there is only power at certain times of the day and electricity plugs are limited. Because of that, it isn’t always possible to charge all your devices in your room. In most places you will be able to charge your phone, but laptops or camera batteries have to be charged in the main area. Hairdryers use too many power so you’re not able to use them in your room in most places. Some lodges had one in their main toilet for the women (or men) who really need it.
A helpful Uganda travel tip is to bring powerful powerbanks to charge your devices when needed and bring extra batteries.
Oh yes, WiFi isn’t really good in Uganda. Most lodges offer Wi-Fi in their main area at no cost. It is best to buy a Uganda prepaid sim card (you’ll need a passport copy to get one). They are widely available throughout the country. Estimate cost: $15 = 5GB. There is a 4G signal in major cities and tourist destinations in Uganda, but network coverage is weak in some distant areas.
There are a lot of road works in Uganda and although many roads improved a lot over the last years, some roads are still in a very bad condition. Depending on the weather it sometimes can be challenging. If you choose to drive yourself (which is an option) I would suggest driving a 4WD. Keep in mind that you have to drive on the left side of the road.
Contact us to obtain up-to-date advice about the road conditions and identify the preferred route when visiting Uganda. Especially if you consider an approach through Karamoja (like me). Some roads can be very bad after heavy rains. In that case it’s better to take an alternative route. There are a lot of investments in Ugnada tourism and (new) roads, so the up-to-date UWA information can come in very handy.
There are several gas stations along the highways, but sometimes you need to make sure you have enough fuel for a long journey. Plan your Uganda trip Carefully.
For example if you decide to visit Kidepo National Park. It’s a long journey up north and you need enough fuel (including your game drive activities in the national park) since there is no gas station in or around Kidepo Valley National Park. The nearest gas stations are in Kaabong and Kitgum.
If you’re driving out of town, you may not find a gas station for more than 100 miles. So stock up on gas before you head out.
English is widely spoken in Uganda although an individual can most probably speak more than 3 local languages like English, Luganda and Swahili. Almost everyone you’ll interact with on your trip to Uganda can speak or understand basic English.
In general all the Ugandans are friendly people. It’s impolite to only say ‘Hi!’ So instead use ‘How are you?’. Even children will greet you with ‘How are you?’ They also love to touch your soft ‘Mzungu’ skin.
Remember to dress respectfully. Uganda is conservative, so in general it’s better to avoid short skirts or shorts when traveling to Uganda. For women it’s best to bring an over the knee skirt because it’s impolite to wear trousers or shorts while visiting local community. You can also wear shorts during day activities like hikes, safaris or boat tours, no problem.
Pack good hiking shoes for your chimpanzee or gorilla trekking. Some parts can be very muddy and slippery. It’s also good to pack gaiters, gloves, a rain jacket/poncho and a hat. Although it’s hot wear long trousers and thin long-sleeved shirts to protect your arms and legs from scratches.
Long clothing will also help protect you from diseases carried by mosquitoes and other insects such as tsetse flies. In general you could bring a flashlight, daypack, insect repellent, malaria pills, waterproof bags and an international driving license if you’re thinking of driving yourself.
Since you will probably meet a lot of children on your way, consider bringing some pencils to give to them (in stead of candies or money).
It depends on your interest, but for photography reasons and wildlife enthusiasts I recommend the following:
- Descent camera: for example a DSLR with several lenses or a camera with enough optical zoom. What I packed in my photography bag was a Canon 5D Mark IV with a Canon 100-400mm lens, Sigma 70-200mm 2.8 lens and a Canon 16-35mm 2.8 lens.
- A solid tripod.
- Enough batteries and memory cards.
- Binoculars, but many driver guides also have binoculars in their car.
Here are all the above mentioned items in one Uganda packing list:
- Over the knee skirt (women)
- Sarong to wrap around you
- Rain jacket
- Long sleeve t-shirt
- Long trousers
- Insect repellent
- Malaria pills
- International drivers license
- Gifts for children
- Camera gear
- Extra batteries
- Memory cards
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