Traveling in Africa is one big off the beaten path adventure. It won’t be anything like your standard Europe trip and although it simply requires a little more planning traveling to Uganda is a lifetime experience. While many travelers visit Uganda for a mountain gorilla trekking a bunch of us are still in the understanding that traveling to Uganda is unsafe. In this Uganda travel blog you can read all about it and many more travel tips for your next big adventure in Africa.
No country is perfect and surely not here in Eastern Africa, but its imperfections will make your Uganda trip one to remember. It doesn’t need to be difficult, especially now that Uganda tourism is growing each year and they are investing in infrastructure. It is now becoming easier than ever to travel to Uganda.
November 2018 professional travel photographer Kim Paffen traveled to Uganda. For Traveltomtom she already wrote a complete Uganda travel guide including itinerary, tips for mountain gorilla trekking and now she listed all these 20 Uganda travel tips you should know before you go.
20 Uganda travel tips
1. Do you need a visa to travel to Uganda
Almost all countries will need a visa when traveling to Uganda. It can be purchased online through the Directorate of Citizenship and Immigration. This is the only authentic Visa Application Portal for Uganda visas and it costs $50.
Avoid other (fraudulent) portals where you’ll pay much more for your visa!
Visa on arrival
There is still the opportunity to get a visa on arrival for Uganda, 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.
2. Do I need vaccinations to travel to Uganda
First of all yes you do need shots to go to Uganda as without a Yellow Fever vaccination certification you can not obtain 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.
3. Is there Malaria in Uganda
There is a risk of Malaria throughout the country and therefore it is highly recommended to take Malaria medications, but also take proper bite avoidance measures. Such as wearing long sleeves and pants during the sunset hours when mosquitos are most active.
4. Is it safe to travel to Uganda
Uganda is generally considered to be a safe country with low crime rates. I felt 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. 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.
5. What is the best time to travel to Uganda?
You can travel to Uganda all year! 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.
6. What is the currency in Uganda
The name of the currency in Uganda is the Shilling. Uganda is a cash country. 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 makes sure you always have Shilling on you during your Uganda trip.
7. Exchange money
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. You can also change money at the airport, but the rates are significantly worse.
Be aware of the US Dollar-UGX exchange rate. Some Ugandans are very ‘creative’ with converting their currency in for example US Dollars or Euros. USD $1 = 3.669 UGX
8. Do Ugandans expect a tip?
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.
9. What are the fees for the National Parks in Uganda
The Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) has set fees for visiting 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. For the car we always had to pay 30,000 shilling ($8).
Example: you visit Uganda with your partner and visit 4 of the most popular National Parks all for 2 days then expect to pay the following national park fees: 4 * 2 * 2 * $40 = $640 national park fees. On top of that you would have to pay for the vehicle: 4 * $8 = $32. In total you then pay $672 national park fees. It may sound a lot but traveling in Uganda is so worth it.
10. How much do excursions cost in Uganda
Excursion price vary enormously, but to give you an idea here are some prices for activities that I found through the Uganda Wildlife Authority.
11. When and where can I buy a chimpanzee or gorilla trekking permit?
Secure 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. For more info read my complete gorilla trekking blog.
I 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.
12. What about the electricity when traveling in Uganda
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.
13. How is the WiFi in Uganda
The Wifi isn’t really good in Uganda. Although most lodges offer Wi-Fi in their main area it’s not always working or very slow. It is best to buy a Uganda prepaid sim card. They are widely available throughout the country. Estimate cost: $30 = 5GB. There is a 4G signal in major cities and tourist destinations in Uganda, but network coverage is weak.
14. What are the road conditions in Uganda
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 UWA Headquarters 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.
15. Are there enough gas stations in Uganda
There are several gas stations along the road, 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.
16. How do I greet the people in Uganda?
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.
17. What is a Ugandan Rolex?
A Rolex is not a watch, but it comes from a dish called rolled eggs. You can buy it almost everywhere along the street. I ate is several times as breakfast or lunch and found it to be very tasty.
18. What to bring to Uganda
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. I did wear shorts during day activities like hikes, safaris or boat tours, no problem.
Pack good hiking shoes for your chimpanzee or gorilla trekkings. 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).
19. Which equipment/camera gear should I pack?
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.
20. Packinglist for Uganda
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
Travel to Uganda
With the above travel tips I think I answered the most common questions about traveling to Uganda. Much more about my 3-week trip to the Pearl of Africa you will find in my Ultimate Uganda travel blog, including my itinerary, things to do and the best places to see in Uganda. For a more detailed blog about mountain gorilla trekking in Uganda, click here.
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