Monday, February 4, 2013

Tips on Travel in Uganda

Having spent time in 4 of the 5 countries belonging to the East African Community, I can confidently say that Uganda is my favorite. Granted, I spent less time in Uganda than Rwanda, Kenya, and Tanzania -- and it’s likely that my euphoria was as much influenced by having just finished Peace Corps as it was by Uganda itself—still, I found most Ugandans I met to be very friendly and welcoming; the views and activities to be some of the most interesting; and the experience in general to be one of the most raw and exhilarating.

Alma’s Adventure Highlights—

If you have more time/money –
  • GORILLA TREKKING is possible to do in Uganda’s Bwindi National Park, and the park permit is cheaper here than in Rwanda.
  • QUEEN ELIZABETH NATIONAL PARK lies north of Bwindi and straddles the equator. Friends we made on the Murchison Falls safari told us they were able to see big cats here. Red HotChili also offers a budget safari, if you’re interested.
  • The shores of LAKE VICTORIA and islands in it are apparently beautiful and easily accessible if you fly into Uganda-- the main airport is Entebbe, right on the lake and a short drive from Kampala. Careful with schistosomiasis!
  • MOUNT ELGON, near Uganda’s border with Kenya, has made it onto my to do list after discovering how much I enjoy climbing and how many others enjoy this mountain.

If you have less time/money – Do not leave Uganda without rafting on the Nile, walking down Kampala’s busy streets, and doing a bit of bird watching —which can be done almost anywhere.

From Rwanda to Uganda- we picked up the Kampala Coach bus in Kigali, which dropped us off in Kabale. In retrospect, we probably could have done it more cheaply (we paid around 16 USD) by taking a small matatu bus to the border (Cyanika/Kisoro), crossing over by foot, and then taking another matatu bus to Kabale. Still, Kampala Coach was comfortable, although a friend who met up with us in Kampala later had less pleasant things to say about it after some 14 hours, the problem here being…

The road from Kabale to Kampala­ – it’s awful! Lonely Planet claims 6 hours; people in Kabale claimed 7… it took us 15, including a really long stop in Mbarara to fill the bus up again. If you are trekking gorillas in Bwindi and want to go all the way to Kampala, also be warned. Start as early in the morning as you can. I heard the official Postal Services bus is the safest.

Within Kampala— transportation is plenty. Minibuses were easy to take. Taxis were also easy, although expect the drivers to always need to stop for fuel. The motorcycles are really fun and easy, if you don’t mind near death experiences. Careful trying to get around in the evening (between 5 and 7 PM), the whole city is in standstill traffic.

From Kampala to Murchison Falls – Here we were in private transport thanks to Red Hot Chili, but I can tell you the road isn’t too bad, just long (six hours on private transport).

From Kampala to Jinja—Again, we were lucky to have private transportation thanks to Adrift, but this is a very easy and quick trip (an hour and a half or so on tarmac). If you’re passing through Kampala anyway, I highly recommend this option as opposed to finding your own public transportation. It’s easy, and included in the price of rafting.

From Jinja to Kisumu – The EasyCoach bus (16 USD, around 8 hours) was absolutely luxurious compared to most of the other buses I’ve taken in East Africa. The border crossing was very fast and simple as well.

All you need to know about Uganda is that their street food is delicious. Don’t leave without ordering a Rolex—a greasy omelet made with tomato, onion, and green pepper, all wrapped into a chapatti. It’s easy to find fried chicken and delicious fish (Nile Perch and Talapia) also on the street. Ugandans seem to really love their plantains, so if you want another local staple make sure to order some matoke.

My previous posts about Uganda all include raves about almost everywhere I stayed. Guest houses seem pretty prevalent across the country. If you are coming from Rwanda, notice that most places charge by the room instead of the number of people.

Helpful Hints
  • If traveling the Kabale-Kampala road, leave as early in the morning as possible, or break it up into two days.
  • Try not to move around Kampala around rush hour-- it's crazy! 
  • Make sure you bring snacks, cash, and entertainment if spending a couple days on Lake Bunyoni. 
  • If you do a Red Hot Chili safari, bring snacks/food for the trip, the food at their camps is good but can get pricey. 


Giles Foden's novel The Last King of Scotland, has won several awards and was also made into a movie of the same name, which is very good. The book (and movie) cover Ugandan president/dictator Idi Amin's rise and fall during the 1970's.

I’m dying to get my hands on a copy of The Worst Date Ever. Written by Jane Bussman, a British celebrity reporter turned foreign correspondent, where apparently corruption, child soldiers, and humor mix together.

For those more inclined to academic reading, Aili Tripp has done extensive research on women and politics in Africa, Uganda in particular. 

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