Travel Guide and Facts.
Take a health insurance if you require specialized health care. However, there are several health facilities that offer quality healthcare in Uganda especially in the capital. Also take a travel insurance policy for your valuables. It is best to keep track of your possessions. Make sure you photocopy the main page of your passport so that in the event of theft or loss, you can promptly be issued with a new one. Also, note down your valuables plus the serial numbers. In addition, take down the details of your bank, credit card, travellers’ cheques and a record of those you have already cashed and keep this information on you.
It is advisable to carry most of your money in form of Travellers’ Cheques from the security point of view as these are less likely to be stolen compared to hard cash, and in the event that they are, it’s easy to get refunded. You can also carry a part of it in hard cash. However, should you choose to come with the bulk of your money in US dollars, or carry dollars, it must be in denominations of 50 US$ and above and printed after the year 2000. Larger denomination bills US$ 50/100 attract a better exchange rate than travelers cheques while smaller denominations US$ 20 and below attract lousy rates. This doesn’t mean that you should shun small denominations, limit the amount for they come in handy at Duty Free Shops at the airports. The Euro and Pound is easily exchangeable and you do not need to change these into dollars then Uganda Shillings but straight into the local currency. At private forex bureaus this is done at a snap of one’s finger but at banks it is a bit lengthy and may involve providing some paperwork. Forex Bureaus are open from 9.00am to 5.00 pm although some are an exception especially the ones in hotels and are open 24 hours. Banks on the other hand are open from 9.00am till 5.00pm for week days and from 9.00am to 12.00 noon on Saturdays. All banks are closed on Sundays and so are Forex Bureaus. Credit cards are accepted in most upmarket hotels in the city, and in some shops and supermarkets. Visa is more acceptable than MasterCard and other options. Local banks allow you to withdraw a limited amount of local currency against an internationally recognized credit or debit card at their ATMS.
Carrying Money and Valuables
Carry all your hard currency, passport and important documentation in a money belt hidden by your clothes. The best money belt is one made of cotton or another natural fabric but Uganda being a humid country, take precaution and wrap everything in plastic. Desist from an external money belt for it will most certainly attract thieves.
Independent travel in Uganda is inexpensive by most standards and you can greatly keep your expenses at a minimum without having to stick to the cheapest room or eat the cheapest item on the menu.
What to bring
Bring as little as possible except for those items that are not locally available. Of clothing you can virtually get everything you need in down town Owino market that sells stylish second hand European clothes in very good condition and reknown labels at fair prices although you’ve got to bargain and can get clothing items.
Visas and Documents:
It is best to have a valid passport that will not expire within six months of the date you intend to leave Uganda. Should your passport get stolen or lost while in Uganda, it is generally easier to get a replacement if you have a photocopy of the important pages.
Nationals of most countries need a visa to enter Uganda and although previously it was better to buy these well in advance at any Ugandan embassy or High Commission abroad, it’s simpler to buy the visa upon arrival and much as some queuing is inevitable, it’s a straightforward procedure and cheaper since one gets there visa there and then of course after they have queued.
A standard single entry visa valid for three months costs US$ 50, student visa’s cost US$ 100 and multiple entry visa’s (6-12 months) cost US$ 100, (24 months) US$150 and (36 months) US$200. Once in East Africa, a single entry visa for Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania allows you to visit either of the other two countries (when you’ve met their visa requirements) without and return without having to apply for another visa. However, this is different for Rwanda and Congo. If you leave Uganda for these countries (say to track gorillas), you must purchase another visa on re-entry but if you intend to spend seven days in Uganda before leaving again, then you purchase a transit visa. Otherwise you will incur more for another visa and on top of that most foreign nationals require a visa to enter Rwanda which can also be bought on arrival at any border.
Visa rulings are subject to change, so make sure you check the current quotations with your travel agent or Ugandan diplomatic mission before you travel. Immigration authorities will now generally stamp your passport for a maximum of one month upon arrival but you can have this extended to three months at any immigration office although in Kampala you will be asked to provide a letter from a sponsor or hotel at which you are staying which is all standard procedure but in Jinja it can be extended without any of this. Multiple entry visas are only issued at Immigration Head Quarters in Kampala.
Illegal stay is fined US$ 30 per day.
Getting to Uganda
Uganda’s international airport is Entebbe which is 40 km from Kampala. Several international airlines fly to Uganda and include British Airways (Centre Crt,4 Ternan Av), Ethiopian Airways (United Assurance Bldg), Emirates (FNC Bldg Kimathi Av), Kenya Airways (Jubilee Centre 11 Parliament Av), KLM Royal Dutch Airlines (14 parliament Av, Jubilee Insurance Bldg, 3rd floor), Rwanda Express (1st floor Garden City), South African Airways ( Workers House, Pilkington Rd), SN Brussels (Rwenzori House, Lumumba Dr), Egypt Air( Grand Imperial Arcade, Speke Rd) and Air Tanzania ( Workers House, Ground Floor, Pilkington Rd).
Visitors who arrive by air are often asked to produce a yellow fever vaccination card but if you arrive without it, you will probably be asked to bring it next time although as a traveler it’s not advisable to take things for granted. However, if you have a valid passport and a return ticket, you will have no hassle with the formalities at Entebbe airport.
The only reason visitors arrive without a return ticket is because they intend to travel more widely in Africa but you will encounter some difficulties from immigration officials who may be concerned that you may not have enough funds to buy your return ticket. Proof of more than sufficient funds and a credit card will convince them. If you intend to travel to a neighbouring country, you can arrange for a visa or visitors pass for the next country you intend to travel too before Uganda. Although, immigration officials may sometimes be annoying, bridle your annoyance and assume diplomacy for the officials are simply doing their job.
When you arrive at Entebbe, there are 24- hour foreign exchange facilities at the airport and you can get some local currency because most transactions are conducted in local currency. However, make sure that you compare rates for they are not standard and other places offer better rates. Entebbe particularly used to offer lousy rates but although it has improved, Kampala still offers better rates so wait to exchange the bulk of your money there.
Special hire taxis cost about US$ 10-15 to Entebbe or US$ 25-30 to Kampala. They are negotiable so don’t be embarrassed about haggling for it’s the norm and you will be surprised at how much you save. Airport taxis cost a little more.
Airport collection can be arranged in advance through most tour companies and upmarket hotels. The cheapest option though is to take a shared taxi to Entebbe from the airport for the cost is split with the others. However, if stuck you can talk one of the drivers of the tour companies who have come to pick their pre-booked clients and eager to make an extra buck they may give you a lift to Kampala but this is only advisable during the day but at night, it’s only sensible to get a bed and then proceed the following day where you can use public transport for about 1 US$ to the taxi park either old and new. You could hop off from the city centre though.
Unfortunately, most taxi operators don’t speak English though some may surprise one. The magic phrase is “ mumaso awo” in the local Luganda language which is the predominant language meaning “ infront there”. This usually gets the conductor to instruct the driver to park and if there’s no designated parking space, they will look for one. However, you have to say this out aloud and sometimes repeat it for the conductors are often hard of hearing from the shouting the do when calling out to passengers in the park and streets.
While at the parks, it’s often disorientating what with the disarray of taxis. Don’t hesitate to ask for help from the UTODA- Uganda Taxi Operators Association guides on taxi where to find taxis to different destinations and the actual fares as the conductors may sometimes be unscrupulous and take more than the usual. The guides are dressed in blue uniforms written on UTODA in white and are actually very helpful.
The possibilities of combining East African travels with overland travels in other parts of the continent are immense and very realistic. You can come to east Africa through many border crossings but the most common are coming into Tanzania from Zambia (at Tunduma) or from Malawi (at Songwe Rriver Bridge). For the more adventurous, there’s a crossing from Mozambique at Namiranga, north of Palma.
Less frequently used crossings include at Kasesha between Mbala(Zambia) and Sumbawanga (Mozambique) and Tanzania along the River Ruvuma west of Namiranga ( Mozambique); and between Mozambique and Tanzania by lake Nyasa. Other countries that border East Africa are Congo (formerly Zaire), Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia but overland travel through these is not very safe. The Uganda Sudan border is open to traffic and for Ethiopia, the main crossing is at Moyale with another seldom used one at Fort Banya at the northeastern tip of Lake Turkana. The Kenya Somali border is another crossing.
Uganda borders five countries namely; Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, DRC and Sudan. Most visitors enter and leave Uganda at the overland borders with Kenya and Tanzania. Few visitors enter or leave Uganda through DRC or Rwanda though crossings to these countries to track mountain gorillas are fair. Uganda’s land borders at Malaba and Busia are generally hassle – free if you have your papers in order and you most likely won’t be asked about your finances, vaccination certificates or onward tickets.
It may be necessary to exchange your money at any overland border in or out of Uganda. Be very careful about this for the money changers are usually unscrupulous. So always bargain over the rate they may quote and it’s better to inquire beforehand with even the immigration officials so that you have an idea of what rate and amount to expect. Don’t pull out a wad of bills unless you intend to change it all. However it’s better to exchange what is just sufficient, and exchange the rest at a more reputable place. Make sure that your money isn’t all kept in a porch within reach as you can easily be relieved of it. Money changers tend to crowd around visitors all at once and apart from this being unnerving, you are likely to get cheated for they are smooth talkers. Instead seek out only one to transact with.
Crossing from/ to Kenya
This is very straightforward and there are several ways to go about it. There are two main border crossings that most overland travelers use and these are Malaba and Busia, with Malaba being the busiest and the most commonly used. You would most certainly use Busia when you happen to be coming from Jinja or Kampala and intend to go to Kisumu.
Bus, Minibuses and Taxi
There are several companies running between Kampala and Nairobi and vice- versa, offering services that range from basic to luxurious. You can either travel express or do it in bits. These include the Scandinavian Express, Akamba Bus Company(Kenyan), Gateway Bus Company(Ugandan) and Gaaga Coaches (Ugandan) and they offer good services although the Scandinavian Express is decidedly the best. The journey takes between 12- 15 hours. All these companies operate daily and have booking offices in Kampala. It’s better to book in advance and arrive atleast 30 minutes to departure time. Connecting services to Tanzania can be got in Nairobi and Uganda too.
Crossing from/to Tanzania
The most commonly used direct route between Uganda and Tanzania is on the west side of Lake Victoria between Bukoba and Masaka, at Mutukula. The road conditions have considerably improved over the years and the journey can be undertaken within a day. The border crossings are easy and on either side of the borders are money changers though those on the Tanzanian side give a lousy rate. The best way to travel to Uganda from Tanzania depending on which part you happen to be is by bus. You can either go via Nairobi or use the buses that go from Bukoba to Kampala and vice- versa.
Crossing from/ to Rwanda
There are two main crossing points between Rwanda and Uganda. From Kigali, you will pass through Katuna and Kabale. There’s also Cyanika via Ruhengeri and Kisoro. There are bus services direct from Kigali to Kampala. Jaguar Executive Coaches plies the route. Between Kabale and Kigali are several minibuses but involves a change of vehicles at the border. The Rwandan border is called Katuna or Gatuna.
Crossing from/ to Sudan
There are many buses plying the juba route and these can be boarded in Sudan and will bring you safely to Uganda and vice- versa.
Unfortunately, there is no rail service in Uganda currently. There used to be two internal rail services; one connecting Kampala to Kasese in the west via Jinja and the other Kampala to Pakwach via Tororo Soroti, Lira and Gulu but all these were suspended in 1997. However, even before this they were very rarely used by visitors for they were excruciatingly slow. The weekly overnight train that started from Kampala to Nairobi was popular among visitors for not only was it fast but was clean and comfortable but this too was suspended and the rail service in Uganda has little likelihood of resuming soon or in the foreseeable future for the Uganda Railways has been privatized a term that aptly means sold off and is now transports mostly cargo.
The suspension of the ferry service between Mwanza in Tanzania and Port Bell in Uganda at Luzira leaves very limited possibilities of travel by ferry to Uganda. The only opportunities are localized and involve the short ferry to the Ssese Islands on Lake Victoria and small boats among others.
Once in Uganda, the cheapest way to get about is through public transport and there are standard Bus companies in operation and these connect to the major towns on a daily basis and are usually cheaper than minibuses which in Uganda are reknown for reckless driving. However, traffic policemen stationed along the way and installation of speed governors have helped in the reduction of speed levels but in spite of this, buses remain the better option for they stop less often and take you to your destination unlike Omnibuses that lure passengers then offload them when the route turns out to be unprofitable which is the case if not full. However, although buses have schedules, these are often not strictly followed and they tend to always leave later than their stipulated departure times because they want to leave full. The only buses that are an exception to this are Link which plies the western route and Gaaga which plies the Northern route (Arua only and Nairobi). All the buses leave early and some even as early as 5.00 am and as late as 10.00 pm for Gaaga.
In addition to the normal buses is the EMS post bus which has a reputation for careful driving and safety. These travel from Kampala to all the major towns in Uganda and the fares are cheaper by a dollar or a little more than the normal buses. They stop less often usually at post offices but there’s only one route and although you may not have to book, in the event that you do, it guarantees you a seat as often they are full to capacity and it’s easy to miss a seat. However they leave quite early at 8.00 am every day.
All of these buses have exclusive or shared terminals. Akamba’s is on Dewinton street near the National Theatre, Gaaga’s is at Arua park, Scandinavian Express’ is at Lumumba Avenue, Kampala Coach is along Jinja road section of the main Kampala City Street and for the rest including Teso Coaches, Kakise, Elgon Flyer and a host of others including omnibuses which ply the eastern route – Mbale, Soroti, north – Gulu, Lira can be found at Quali Cell Bus Terminal near downtown Kampala. It’s usually difficult getting buses to the north eastern route – Moroto, Abim and generally Karamoja region from Kampala. Instead, you can connect from Mbale and Soroti very easily.
For mini taxis, there are two parks; the Old Taxi Park and the New Taxi Park. These are not far from each other and are both near the Qualicell Bus terminal which is in between the two. From both parks you can get taxis to most destinations.
Motor cycles for hire known as Boda Boda are a most convenient way of getting about in the city and the surbubs and with them too, you will have to haggle over the price quoted and they will always back down and you will be surprised at how much you save. However, don’t fall in love with gaggling to a point that you expect a fair deal at the expense of the person offering the service and always expect bargain prices for it’s worth remembering that they are in business.
However, you can also hire a vehicle if you so desired and the opportunities for this are limitless. Unlike buses and omnibuses whose fares are fixed, you may have to haggle with the drivers of these vehicles to get a fare price because there is no uniformity in their fares. However, even after considerable haggling they are quite expensive given the high fuel costs which are higher compared to other countries in Africa.
There are also several smaller airlines that offer both scheduled and charter flights from Kampala. One of them is eagle air which offers flights throughout the country. Destinations include Arua, Gulu, Moyo, Nebbi although few tourists go these places. It also flies daily to Pakuba airstrip in Murchison Falls National park daily and once a week to Kasese.