Uganda is an East African country sandwiched by its neighbours; South Sudan in the North, the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the west, Tanzania and Rwanda in the south and Kenya in the East. The lush mountainous country – covering 236,000 sq. km – is named after Buganda, its largest ethnic population.
The capital city, Kampala, is built around seven hills not far from the shores of Lake Victoria, which forms part of the frontier with Kenya and Tanzania.
Landlocked as it may be, Uganda is hardly boring. It is endowed with a myriad of national parks, notable lakes, rivers and mountains that would put Vincent van Gogh's masterpieces to shame. With an excellent variety of wildlife, the tallest mountain ranges of Ruwenzori and to add to this, Lake Victoria – the largest lake in Africa and the source of the longest river in the world, River Nile, it is no wonder that Winston Churchill named it the ‘the Pearl of Africa'.
The official languages are English and Kiswahili; although Kiswahili and Luganda are widely spoken.
Uganda generally enjoys an equatorial climate tempered with breezes and showers. But its mountainous regions are crackling cold.
While the country has adequate rainfall throughout the year, the north region is quite dry with just one rainy season that falls between April and October.
The southside, around the Lake Victoria region, receives the bulk of the rainfall enjoying two rainy seasons between April to May and again from October to November.
As you travel in East Africa, exercise the same caution and awareness that you would in a large city back home.
o Don't walk alone in apparently deserted areas, especially in and around the cities.
o It is preferable and usually more enjoyable to walk with a company or in groups.
o Pickpockets may create a sudden distraction. In any sort of puzzling street situation, keep one hand on your money belt.
If an encounter with a local turns out to be long, complicated and involving money or your valuables, be very careful. Con artists sometimes target travellers.
Carry a one-day supply of cash in your pocket. Carry most of your money, and your passport, in a travel pouch or money belt under your shirt. Replenish your pocket supply when you are in a safe and quiet place, or in our vehicle.
Make photocopies of the first few pages of your passport, air ticket and other important travel documents. Keep these separate from the originals.
Most hotels provide a safety box in the rooms. Lock all your valuables and money there. If a room is missing a safety box, enquire at the reception.
Ensure that you have adequate insurance coverage before leaving home.
Your passport must be valid 6 months after your anticipated travel. You must have a blank page for each country you will visit. Most visitors require visas (with very few exceptions for citizens of certain Commonwealth Countries). It is advisable to obtain visas in advance, from Embassies and High Commissions as several airlines insist on them prior to departure. There is an option for procuring these online via the portal: https://visas.immigration.go.ug/ in advance and from the comfort of your home!
VISAS can also be obtained on arrival at all entry points.
The regulations vary depending on nationality and country of origin, and requirements may change. You are advised to contact the appropriate Ugandan diplomatic/consular authority or the government portal: https://visas.immigration.go.ug/#/help.
The currency unit is the Ugandan shilling (Ush.)
For current exchange rates, please refer to the Internet or a newspaper.
The importation of both local and foreign currency is unrestricted, but the amounts must be declared upon arrival. The exportation of both local and foreign currency is also unrestricted, but amounts must be declared upon arrival. The most popular global foreign currencies can be traded at any of the Forex Bureaus (Bureau De Change) establishments in the main towns. Their rates are usually higher than bank rates.
How to carry your money
Cash is more readily exchanged and accepted and commands a better exchange rate in East Africa.
Try for a diversity of denominations.
Major credit cards (and debit cards with Visa or Master Card logos) are a superb emergency back-up. Every traveller is encouraged to carry one, even when there are no intentions of using it – it comes in handy during an emergency, for instance, if you are called upon to fly home or alter your general travel arrangements.
Credit cards are accepted in most establishments in Uganda. So, if you develop an unplanned infatuation with a high net-value art object, it is easy to buy it without the need for excessive cash. Keep all receipts in case you need to query the exchange rate, and as proof of purchase.
How much money to take
You should NOT count on being able to withdraw cash with a credit card, a debit card or an ATM card. Whilst this service is becoming increasingly available, it might not be functional/available in some areas. Plan to carry enough money to cover the expected expenses, plus a small reserve. Credit cards should be a financial emergency kit.
By far, the biggest variable in the travel budget is souvenirs. Further expenses would be bits on laundry and drinks.
As Uganda enjoys a healthy, invigorating climate, visitors need not feel a concern for their general health during their stay. However, malaria is endemic in certain areas and anti-malarial medication should be taken according to prescription recommendations. Bilharzia and AIDS are known to be common in the country. Recurring Ebola outbreaks have necessitated screening at the border. Visitors requiring special medication should pack sufficient supplies in their hand luggage. Chemist shops are well stocked, but the medication may not be always readily available.
During the safari, all your meals will be taken in the hotels, lodges & Camps.
Generally, in Kampala, only breakfast is included with lunch and dinner billed separately.
The food is of an excellent quality and you may eat all the types of fruits and vegetables without worry.
The meal timings are usually as follows:
o Tea and coffee is served from 16:00 hrs to 17:00 Hrs
o Buffet lunch is served from about 12:30 Hrs
o Full breakfast is served from 07:00 hrs to 09:30 Hrs
o Dinner is served from 19:30hrs to 21:30 Hrs
Most of the hotels have both local and imported alcoholic and non-alcoholic refreshments available (beers, wines, liquors, liqueurs, and fruit juices).
Drinks are not included (unless otherwise stated).
If you require a special diet or are vegetarian, please make sure you communicate this at the hotel’s reception upon arrival.
Mobile Infrastructure: The mobile network coverage in Uganda is extensive, almost all the ‘usual’ safari circuit areas including National Parks and remote towns are covered.
Find out if your Mobile Service Provider has a roaming service in Uganda.
Wi-Fi Infrastructure: Most, if not all, major hotels have wireless internet connectivity.
Throughout the year, the Standard Time in Uganda is three hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT+3), two hours ahead of Central European Winter Time, and eight hours ahead of Eastern Standard Winter Time in the U.S.
All tipping on your trip is optional, and the amount given is at your discretion.
If you would like some suggestions, follow these guidelines:
o Many travellers budget between 2% and 3% of their trip cost for all tips
o If travelling in a group, every group member does not have to give the same amount.
o At the end of the safari, a volunteer group member can 'pass the hat' and present a collective tip to your drivers/guides. Many travellers give between $5 to $ 10 per safari day. You can also tip the drivers individually.
o US$/Euro/Pound Sterling currency is preferred for tipping safari staff.
o A tip of 1 to 2 units is appropriate for airport and hotel porters as well as housekeeping staff.
o If a restaurant menu shows there is a 10% service charge included in the bill, you do not need to tip.
o Otherwise, a tip of between 5 and 10 % of the total bill is considered usual and customary.
The supply of electricity in Uganda is at 220/240 volts AC, 50Hz, using a three-pin plug and socket. You are advised to bring several plug adapters. In some places, electricity may be supplied by a generator, therefore, the lighting may not be as bright as you are used to. Also, electricity supply cannot be guaranteed during overnight stays. Travellers dependent on an electrical supply (as in the case of those with sleep apnea) should let us know in advance.
In general, avoid drinking tap water. Bottled mineral water is available for purchase throughout. While on safari, you will get purified mineral water in the rooms. We also provide a litre of bottled water (two 500 ml bottles) on a complimentary basis per safari day.
We strongly recommend that you take up a travel insurance cover to insure you in case of a medical emergency, loss of items or flight delays or even trip cancellations. There are limitations and exclusions, make sure you understand the cover, especially the small print.
While contributions may seem charitable, but it can be disruptive and intrusive especially when a portion of people get while the others are left empty-handed, and other times might put you in mob danger. Therefore, we strongly discourage any distribution of money, pens, candy, and left-over food to children or adults you encounter along the way.
If beggars approach you, make eye contact, smile politely and keep moving. If you give anything to one beggar, you will open the harassment floodgates to the whole group.
During your community visits, it is advisable to contribute towards community development as opposed to benefitting a few individuals. For example, instead of giving stationery to a few students, bring a large package of pens or pencils which will be distributed by our ground staff equally.
Be mindful of the effects of your actions. The intention may be good, but the effect may be negative. For example, candy may cause tooth decay yet remote villages have few, and expensive, dentists. Also, giving out sweets and other gifts encourages children to run to every foreigner in the hood, leaving their school or house chores undone. It may also leave a bad impression of their parents who may not afford the same gifts.
o Note that international airlines allow a luggage allowance of 20 – 30 Kgs while domestic carriers allow 15 Kgs.
o On your departure day, it is advisable to place your luggage at the door as you go for breakfast to cue the porters to take them to the reception.
There are a few Dos that you need to keep in mind while travelling. Once you arrive at the hotel, you are required to register at the reception to get the room key. Check-in is generally from 11.00 am while check out is at 10.00 am latest. If you book a room for day-use only, you will be required to check out at 6.00 pm. Upon checkout, you are required to return the key to the reception. Settle the bill at the reception on your checkout, or preferably the night before to avoid the long queues in the morning. Once you check out, request for a luggage ticket, which is required to leave the hotel.
o Most businesses operate from 8:30 am to 12:30 pm then from 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. every Monday through Friday.
o On Saturdays, they operate from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
o Most businesses do not operate on Sundays and on Ugandan public/national holidays.
o The large supermarkets open all day, including over lunch hour, until 8:00 p.m on weekdays., and until 6:00 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.
Memories fade, but relics will always stand the sands of time. So, leave some space for memories (if you have a photographic memory), photographs and SOUVENIRS.
In many hotels, lodges and camps throughout the country, you will find well-stocked gift shops offering a wide array of traditional artefacts, jewellery, all-purpose fabric wraps to beautiful stone and wood carvings all inspired by the diverse range of cultures within Uganda’s borders. If your hotel’s gift shop is not sufficient, try some of the following:
Kampala Fair: Selling gorgeous women's kitenge dresses in traditional patterns, separates, children's clothing and some batik pillows, this fair-trade boutique is a solid choice for keepsake clothing,
Kilombera Workshop: Many of the colourful cotton textiles (placemats, table runners, bedspreads) for sale around Jinja are made on hand-operated looms at this Nile-side workshop.
A Bernadette: Young NYC fashionistas have partnered with local women to create well-made recycled bags and accessories in fun, bold designs. Items are fair-trade certified and available for online purchase.
Banana Boat: A sophisticated craft shop selling smart local items such as excellent batiks, and handmade stuff from all over Africa, including Congolese carvings.
Owino Market: Sprawling around Nakivubo Stadium, Owino has everything from traditional medicines to televisions. It’s most famous for its secondhand clothing, but you can also buy cloth to be tailored on-site.
Exposure Africa: The largest of the city’s craft ‘villages’, stocking woodcarvings, drums, sandals, batiks, basketry, beaded jewellery and 'muzungu' T-shirts.
Shopping Malls: Kampala is dotted with shopping malls of all sizes. The major ones are Victoria, Garden City, Acacia and Oasis where you will not miss a shop or two selling beautiful African memorabilia.
Uganda is a masterpiece at the click of a button. From the panoramic scenery, varied wildlife and birds to the culture-centric people and the vibrant ceremonies; rich colour and good lighting conditions abound.
Note that it is considered rude to take pictures of people without asking for their permission.
Please note that it is prohibited to take photos of:
o The President and/ or his entourage
o The police or uniformed personnel
o Military installations, ministers, official and military buildings, airports, and border posts
o Official or diplomatic sites, including Owen Falls Dam at the source of the Nile near Jinja.
o It is recommended that you bring a power bank with sufficient storage and memory cards as they may not always be readily available on the ground.
o Keep your cameras in a dust-resistant padded case, away from direct sun.
o An ultra-violet filter and a lens cap are strongly recommended.
o A 200mm (or longer) telephoto lens will prove very useful on safari.
African Hospitality Perfected