How to plan a trip to Uganda
When our friends ask us why we have been to Uganda twice, the answer is easy. Uganda is truly the pearl of Africa, so nicknamed by Sir Winston Churchill, a set of environmental diversities that range from vast savannas teeming with wildlife, to high snow-capped mountains and volcanos, from green plateaus with extensive tea plantations to powerful waterfalls, large lakes and rivers where you can spot a myriad of birds. Uganda also boasts impenetrable forests where it is possible to meet two of the most amazing animals on the African continent: mountain gorillas and chimpanzees. One of the peculiarities of Uganda is that it is cut in two by the equator line. At the height of the city of Masaka, you can move with a single step from the northern hemisphere to the southern hemisphere. There is an art installation where you can pose for a photo.
When to go
January, February, June and July are the best months to visit Uganda. April, May and August to October are the wettest months and not recommended because the rain could interfere with your activities. We visited Uganda twice always in January, and in the northwest area of the parks, we found warm weather during the day (30°–35°C) and temperatures around 20°C at night. Lake Bunyonyi, Fort Portal and Kisoro was hot during the day and chilly at night and early morning (even cold).
Before booking the flight, you must check if you are entitled to a Visa exemption, a Visa on arrival or if you need to apply in person at the Uganda Embassy/Consulate in your country. For further information, check out the official website of the Uganda Government.
How to get to Uganda
The main hub of the country is the international Airport of Entebbe (EBB). It is served by different African flight Companies and from the major companies of the Middle East, including Qatar Airways, Emirates, and Turkish airline. Inside the airport, there are currency exchange shops, a bank, and a couple of local providers to buy a local Simcard. Uganda Tourist Board office is on the ground floor. Entebbe is 40 Kilometers South West of Kampala City, Uganda’s Capital. If you need to reach Kampala, you have to catch a taxi.
Note: a Yellow Fever certificate is required for all arriving passengers. The charge is 40 USD for the vaccination at the Airport Medical Centre.
Moving around Uganda
The local buses are slow, extremely crowded and with no schedule. They usually don’t reach the country’s main attractions and, to be honest, are not that safe. If you want to enjoy Uganda, you must rent a 4×4 vehicle (especially to drive in the Parks) or book a tour with a local operator. If you drive yourself, be careful as the roads are often in bad conditions and don’t drive at night because it could be hazardous. We rented a 4wd vehicle with a hatch rooftop and driver/guide through a local agency;
You can find some good local tour operators suggested by the Bwindi National Forest website by clicking here. Alternatively, have a look through reliable web platforms such as Viator.com or GetYourGuide.com, which offer great deals for tours and activities always managed by the local operators. Last but not least, the local operators advertise their tours even on the website safaribookings.com.
Choosing the itinerary
In general, 10 days are enough to enjoy the most interesting attractions in the country, whereas 2 weeks are perfect. The classic tour includes the Murchison Fall National Park, Queen Elizabeth National Park, the Crater Lakes area (Fort Portal), Bwindi Impenetrable Forest – a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an unmissable spot on any trip to Uganda -, one of the forests where to meet chimps, Lake Bunyonyi and Lake Mburo National Park. Other attractions are Kidepo National Park, Rwenzori Mountain (if you are a trekking lover), and the town of Jinjia to experience one of the most challenging rafting routes in the world.
Note: when you plan a trip to Uganda without the help of a local operator, the most important thing to do is to book well in advance the permit to track the mountain gorillas. It can be obtained through the website of UWA – Uganda Wild Life, the government agency responsible for most of the Ugandan National Parks. Even the daily permit to track the chimps are limited, and it’s advisable to book in advance through the UWA.
Alternatively, you can book the only gorillas and chimps tracking tours through the local operators as well.
- Click here to see our itinerary.
- Click here to know information about the gorilla tracking.
- Click here to know the information about Chimps tracking.
- Click here to read our articles about Uganda.
The places near the major attractions offer a good range of basic accommodations. In some cases, it is possible to find comfortable lodges too. We slept in medium-range accommodations; the average expense for a double room 50 USD. You can save money sleeping in your own tent. We booked part of our accommodations through the local agency and others with Booking.com.
Except in Kampala, Fort Portal, and Kisoro, you have to dine in your accommodations in the other places along your itinerary as there are no restaurants. Uganda food consists of starchy staples like beans, potatoes, cornmeal mixtures, bananas, cassava and sweet potatoes.
Our favourite traditional dishes are Matoke – a staple food made of mashed bananas usually served with a peanut sauce, pork or grilled meat -, Kikalayi (fried pork), Posho (or Ugali) – maize flour mingled in boiling water until it stiffens into a doughy consistency -, Luwombo – a stew consisting of chicken, beef or fish that is steamed with vegetables -, Muchomo (roasted meat), Katogo – fried plantains served with soup, beans, beef and vegetables -, Chaloko – a dish made with pinto beans, green peppers, tomatoes, and red onions -, Rolex – a boiled egg that is hidden inside a fried ball of mashed potatoes.
The local currency is the Ugandan Shilling (UGX). 1 USD is approximately 3700 UGX (December 2020). At the airport, only change the essentials. You will find excellent currency exchange at the Grand Imperial Hotel in Kampala; we didn’t see any currency exchanger in the other places we visited.
Note: Local tour operators prefer to be paid in dollars because the prices for admission to the parks and the gorillas/chimps treks are set in USD. Remember that US dollars must be issued from 2009 (better 2013) onwards and absolutely must not have tears, pen stains, scotch tape. The same goes for the euro.
Telephone and Wifi
The mobile phones have good coverage, and wifi is in most of the accommodations. However, buying a local sim card will make your stay easier. Once landed at Entebbe International Airport, you will find a couple of telephone providers.
Traveller’s safety and health
We didn’t have any problem, but, like all African countries, the safety situation in Uganda is unstable. Be really careful when you visit the area near the border to RDC and Rwanda because it is the most unsafe country with dangerous rebel groups operating in Uganda, Rwanda, and Congo. Remember that safety conditions change worldwide daily; therefore, always do your own research through official websites or contact your local Embassy in Uganda.
Malaria is endemic so take precautions to avoid bites and sleep inside a mosquito net. Furthermore, to enter Uganda, it is mandatory to be vaccinated against yellow fever. Drink only bottled water, and don’t eat raw foods to avoid intestinal sickness. In the main cities, you will find a public hospital, but obviously, health standards are far from Western ones, and it is always better to go to private clinics. For serious injuries or illnesses, you will need to go back to Kampala. It is highly recommended to consult a travel medicine specialist to assess travel-related risks and have information to ensure your health and safety.
Remember to purchase travel insurance that protects you against injuries (the US’s medical expenses are very high), illness and theft. We never go on a trip without it. We suggest Worldnomad.com, an insurance company with qualified customer service, competitive prices and in-depth coverage.