Uganda is a country in East Africa. It is bordered on the east by Kenya, the north by Sudan, on the west by the Democratic Republic of the Congo, on the southwest by Rwanda, and on the south by Tanzania. Famously called the Pearl of Africa by Winston Churchill, it is home to one of the most diverse and concentrated ranges of African fauna including the highly endangered mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei) and the endangered common chimpanzee (Pan... Read more...
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Uganda is a country in East Africa. It is bordered on the east by Kenya, the north by Sudan, on the west by the Democratic Republic of the Congo, on the southwest by Rwanda, and on the south by Tanzania. Famously called the Pearl of Africa by Winston Churchill, it is home to one of the most diverse and concentrated ranges of African fauna including the highly endangered mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei) and the endangered common chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes).
During Uganda's era of British colonialism, settlement by Europeans was not allowed, and today there are few Caucasians in Uganda. The term for whites is muzungu (plural bazungu), and Caucasian visitors should get used to hearing it shouted out by children in every corner of the country. It is not a derogatory term per se, so smile and wave in reply. (Do not give out sweets or — worse-money because begging by children is growing in the touristy parts of Uganda near the gorillas.)
Uganda is accessible and affordable, but not up to the high tourism standards of more mature destinations such as Kenya or Tanzania, much less South Africa. This gives it more edge, more authenticity and less predictability. This does not mean danger (but see Stay Safe section below), rather greater opportunities for delight--and frustration. This is real Africa, the dirty urban bustle of Kampala bursting at the seams then giving way to lush subsistence farming and small villages. Roads are rough, people are friendly, everything seems to have a smell all its own, and not everything moves according to schedule or to plan.
Most travellers come for the gorilla Safari, but other major draws are the chimpanzees, birding, trekking the Rwenzoris, and visiting the source of the Nile River.
War Dance is an excellent movie that showcases life in the north of the country.
Southwest Uganda-Most of the areas of interest to travelers are in the south-west part of the country, a side branch of the famous and volcanically active Great Rift Valley, with the exception of Jinja and Murchison Falls. Gorilla tracking draws most foreign tourists, and there are several troops of gorillas that can be visited in at least three different locations. Book gorillas tracking permits well in advance (6 months or more) to avoid disappointment. In Uganda there are so many tour companies that can arrange your Uganda safari
Rwenzori National Park-Interesting to the traveler is also the Rwenzori Mountains area near Kasese town. Here you can climb Mt. Margherita (5109 m/16, 761 ft), go safari in Queen Elizabeth NP and experience the culture of the Bakonzo mountain people at Mitandi.
Entebbe Airport is the hub for Ugandan air travel. Many flights to cities in Africa take place from here. Direct flights to and from Johannesburg run three days a week on South African Airways.
Direct flights to and from London run every other day on British Air.
Emirates offers flights from Entebbe to Dubai via Nairobi and Addis Ababa on Airbus A340S with onward connections to Europe, N. America, and Asia from Dubai.
Ethiopian Airlines offers service to Addis on Boeing 737s.
Kenya Airways and KLM fly daily from Entebbe to Amsterdam either via Nairobi or direct.
Brussels Airlines flies non-stop from Entebbe to Brussels, where you can take a connecting flight to the rest of Europe or to India, China or the USA
There is currently no passenger train service to or in Uganda.
Contact the staff at Mitandi in the Rwenzori Mountains. They arrange cheap transport with local minibuses. The crew is friendly and service-minded.
Several bus companies offer direct lines between Kampala to Nairobi, Kigali and Dar-es-salaam. A night bus from Kampala could start at 4PM to arrive at 6AM in Nairobi, costing 23000 USh.
Alternatively do the trip in stages. Take a matatu or bus up to the border and walk to the other side.
Going South from Sudan the border is not all that stable, but after the peace agreement between the South and North of Sudan, the border is open, and anyone can cross freely.
In Kampala and some other towns, the boda-boda is a good way to get from place to place. These are small mopeds, motorcycles, bicycles or scooters with cushions on the back and are cheap transport as used by locals. If using Boda-Bodas, be extremely careful as they are frequently involved in accidents; however, in spite of this they are a fun and fast way to get around.Note that if you advise the driver that you want him to drive slower and safer, he may actually listen to you.
Uganda has decent bus system. There are two classes of buses. The taxis are actually minibuses or commuter vans called which run fixed routes (see below).
There are also real buses which run less frequently, usually leaving Kampala early in the morning. There are many companies which almost all leave from the same general area. The buses fill up so if you get on mid trip you'll be spending some time standing or sitting in the aisle before somebody gets off and you can get a seat.
Both buses and taxis run along most roads between cities, paved (sealed) or dirt.
Domestic bus travel is reasonable and cheap between major centres, and is a good choice for backpackers with time, but may not run reliably on schedule. A trip from Kampala to Masindi takes about 4 hours and costs approximately 8000 Uganda shillings.
Note that both buses and taxis do not run on fixed schedules; rather, they leave their terminus stop when they are completely full. On heavily-travelled routes they fill up within minutes and this is not a problem, but on less-travelled routes (or if getting on a large bus), be prepared to wait a while before departure.
The best way to get around Kampala and the neighbouring towns is by using minibus-type taxis called matatus. This is the most efficient and cost-effective method of transportation in urban areas, but try not to get ripped off by the conductors as they sometimes try to overcharge tourists. They are crowded, cheap, frequent, and make lots of stops.
They run along fixed routes, picking up and dropping off people anywhere along the route. If you want to get on, stand at the side of the road and wave your arm. To get off, say stage and the driver will pull over and let you off. They're not marked with destinations, so you'll have to listen to the destinations that the drivers are yelling out the window. If you're not sure where to catch a taxi going to your destination (especially at Kampala taxi park, which is huge!), just ask a nearby driver or conductor, and they'll probably be able to point you in the right direction.
Taxis, called special hire taxis, are available in most every decent sized town. Fares are negotiable over long distances.
The roads in Uganda are comparable to many in Sub-Saharan Africa. Most of the main roads are metalled though the condition of them can deteriorate in patches. And some become extremely pot holed. Many of the minor roads and side roads are made of hard packed earth (murum) and when graded are quite quick and reasonable. However they will deteriorate in heavy rains and wash boarding frequently occurs. The best way to deal with the wash boarding is not to slow down, but to find a speed sympathetic to the road surface and effectively skip from ridge to ridge. Untarred roads, if wet, may be impassable in the mountainous regions of the south-west. Commercial drivers of buses and trucks compound the danger, as do pedestrians, livestock, cyclists, dogs, and the odd police roadblock. Plan on 60km/hr as a typical rate of travel (speed will vary, though!). The best advice is drive cautiously and stay totally alert.
When planning a journey it is best not to ask how far it is but to ask how long it will take. Local drivers normally have a good idea of how long journeys will take.
Expect to pay a lot to hire a vehicle. A sensible choice is to hire a 4x4 with a driver given that you will need local language assistance and expertise should something happen on the roads. Most places have accommodation and meals for drivers as this is common among travellers. This will cost upwards of USD100.00 per day (not including fuel) with the cheapest vehicles typically having no windows, a canvas roof, an assembly date in the 1970's and so on. You get what you pay for. A cheap option is likely to leave you stranded somewhere remote and that can mean days of your itinerary lost. (Caveat emptor for those hiring from Walter Egger in Jinja for just this reason!) Unless you are comfortable paying cash in advance without a signed contract and no network to help you get out of a breakdown, go to one of the major agencies.
When to go
Uganda has been home to some of the more gruesome atrocities in modern African history since its independence in 1962, particularly under the heinous dictator Idi Amin, but in the years since 1987 things have consistently improved. Today, in 2005, the single party state is relatively stable after 19 years of stereotypically 'strong man' rule by Yoweri Museveni who seems torn between embracing more enlightened government and clinging to power (by amending the constitution to allow himself to serve a third ten-year term). A major concern for travelers in the northern part of the country, however, is the Lord's Resistance Army, who have been making the Acholi, Lango and Teso districts lawless and dangerous since 2002, although they have been active insurgents since 1989.
Travel north to Murchison Falls National Park is safe, but the north and east of the country are particularly volatile, so one is well advised to get the latest news updates before travelling there. Note that overlanders from Tanzania and Kenya regularly make the trip routing through Jinja, so the danger is nothing like travel in southern Sudan or the Democratic Republic of the Congo DRC.
As in any urban area, Kampala can be dodgy. One is well advised to remain in tourist areas, but sensibly garbed visitors not dangling the latest cameras, flashy jewellery or bulging bags are not likely to draw unwanted attention to themselves. However, any Caucasians walking in the street stand out and are likely to be stared at openly, which may cause discomfort to those unaccustomed to travelling in Africa. What little begging exists is some of the most polite and inoffensive to be found in African cities. Small children are sadly becoming a nuisance in some rural spots frequented by tourists doling out sweets and coins, but nowhere near the swarming throng one can attract in many cities around the world.
In the gorilla tracking region of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park near the border with the DemocraticRepublicoftheCongo DRC there was one incident in the late 1990's in which bandits attacked a group of tourists and killed several people. Since then there have been no incidents and all groups now go out with armed guards (which was not the case before). There is a visible security presence in the region, but this is a preventative measure rather than a response to anything specific.
AIDS/HIV infection rate is very high.
Take precautions against malaria! It is worth seeking out a packet of Artenam while you are in Kampala if you are travelling up-country. Artenam is a reliable cure and works on chloroquine-resistant malaria strains too.
Remember, that many of the lakes have Tropical diseases bilharzia. Check with the locals and do not paddle on the lake shore if you're not sure.
Quick Facts about Uganda
24,699,073 (July 2002 est.)
English (official national language), Ganda or Luganda (most widely used of the Niger-Congo languages), other Niger-Congo languages, Nilo-Saharan languages, Swahili , Arabic
Country Dialing Code
Ugandan shilling (UGX)
+256 41 342196 email@example.com.