Information and facts about Uganda you must know before you visit
For a traveler visiting the country, there are important facts about Uganda you should know to help you plan your safari journey with confidence, and that’s what we shall cover in this post.
Uganda is a landlocked East African country, evergreen and lying across the equator. Tanzania borders it in the south, Sudan in the north, Kenya in the east, DRC in the west, and Rwanda in the southwest.
At an altitude of 1,000m in most parts of the country, Uganda is generally flat with remarkable geographical diversity. 25% of the area is covered with lakes, rivers, and swamps, having Lake Victoria, the Nile River source, Lake Kyoga, Lake Edward, Lake George, Lake Albert, and many crater lakes. The country houses the Rwenzori mountains, Mount Elgon, Virunga mountains, and volcanoes.
Why Should You Visit Uganda?
Most hospitable country: Deeply ingrained cultural values of Ubuntu, translating to “I am because we are,” foster genuine warmth towards visitors. From friendly greetings and offers of help to invitations into homes for meals, Ugandans make you feel like family. This, coupled with a peaceful environment and unique experiences like gorilla trekking, creates an unforgettable and welcoming atmosphere, earning Uganda its reputation as one of the most hospitable countries in the world.
Uganda’s Natural Beauty: Uganda boasts a remarkable collection of natural wonders, including the iconic Rwenzori Mountains, the breathtaking Murchison Falls, and the lush, rugged forest blanket of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. Its diverse landscapes make it a haven for nature enthusiasts, photographers, and adventure seekers.
Wildlife Encounters: Uganda is a haven for wildlife lovers. The country is home to the famous mountain gorillas, chimpanzees, tree-climbing lions, Africa’s Big Five (lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo, hippo), and a wide variety of bird species, making it a top destination for safari adventures and wildlife photography.
Rich Cultural Heritage: Uganda is a culture melting pot with over 56 distinct ethnic groups speaking different languages and practicing all kinds of traditions. Visitors can enthrall themselves in local rituals, music, dance, and art. Don’t miss the opportunity to interact with the warm and friendly Ugandan people when you visit.
Best primate adventures in Africa: Uganda is a primate paradise, boasting more than half the world’s mountain gorillas, thrilling chimpanzee treks, and a vibrant variety of 13 other primate species. With such incredible primate diversity, expert guides, and breathtaking landscapes, Uganda offers an unforgettable adventure for any primate enthusiast.
Adventure Activities: From white-water rafting on the Nile River to trekking with gorillas in dense jungles, and hiking snow-capped mountains, Uganda offers a host of adrenaline-pumping activities for adventure seekers.
Why is Uganda called the Pearl of Africa?
In 1907, British explorer Winston Churchill dubbed Uganda the “Pearl of Africa.” This affectionate name wasn’t just a casual choice but a heartfelt response to Uganda’s extraordinary combination of natural beauty and diverse wildlife. Let’s explore what sets Uganda apart to understand why this name endures.
Uganda’s landscapes are a masterpiece, with the Rwenzori Mountains’ snow-capped peaks and Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, a haven for mountain gorillas, as prime examples. Yet, Uganda’s allure extends beyond the scenery. It’s a place where vibrant culture and warm-hearted people define the experience. As John Mwesigwa, a resident, puts it, “Uganda’s charm lies not just in nature but in our welcoming spirit. Our rich culture, filled with music, dance, and traditions, reflects our unity.”
To appreciate Churchill’s proclamation, consider Uganda’s history within the British Empire. At the time of Churchill’s visit, Uganda was under British colonial rule. His admiration mirrored the empire’s fascination with Africa’s untouched beauty. His endorsement remains a symbol of Uganda’s timeless appeal, where landscapes, wildlife, and a warm embrace create a captivating destination known as the “Pearl of Africa.”
Weather, Climate, and The Best Time to Visit
The equator runs through Uganda, giving it a conducive temperate climate that is warm throughout the year. At a geographical altitude of 1,000m, Uganda’s landscape is characteristic of evergreen features. The average annual temperature is around 25 to 30 degrees. Nights can get chilly, with temperatures reaching approximately 15 to 20 degrees.
The dry seasons, which are from December to February and June to August, offer the perfect opportunity for wildlife safaris and gorilla trekking. On the other hand, if you prefer verdant landscapes, it is advisable to visit during the wetter months of March to May and September to November.
The rainy season in Uganda is from March to May and October to November. In November and December, there is light rain. The annual rainfall is between 1,000mm and 2,000mm throughout the country, apart from the northern region, which receives low rainfall. The hottest months in Uganda are January, February, and December.
Health, Vaccines, and Travel Insurance
Traveling to Uganda for a safari is safe though defensive measures against various infectious diseases might need immediate and advance planning for the various immunizations. The main vaccine you are required to have before you even get a visa is the Yellow Fever Vaccine.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends yellow fever vaccination for travelers to areas with a risk of transmission. Uganda follows these recommendations and incorporates them into its national travel requirements. So get a jab before you come. Besides, you only take it once in a lifetime.
It’s also good to consider vaccination against hepatitis A, typhoid fever, rabies, and meningitis. Typhoid, hepatitis A, and cholera are transmitted through contaminated food and water. Hepatitis B is transmitted through contaminated body fluids. Meningitis and influenza are usually transmitted through airborne droplets. Rabies is transmitted through infected animals. Get vaccinated before travel, and practice safe food and water hygiene.
Malaria: This potentially life-threatening illness is prevalent in Uganda, especially in rural areas.Prevention: Use mosquito repellent with DEET, wear long sleeves and pants at dusk and dawn, sleep under a treated bed net. Consider antimalarial medication prescribed by a doctor.
Visitors are encouraged to take all health safety measures when traveling:
- Do not drink or eat food items from stands or unhygienic places to avoid cholera.
- Use mosquito repellant and take antimalarial such as Malaria prophylaxis, Larium, Doxycycline, or Malarone.
- Dress in trousers and long-sleeved shirts to shield you from mosquito bites.
- Avoid black and blue clothes when in areas that are tsetse fly prone.
- These colors attract them to bite you.
- Use sunscreen in the hot sun.
- Always safeguard against the hot direct sun and get a lot of fluids.
- Carry prescription medication that you may need, among others.
When planning a trip to Uganda, it is highly recommended to purchase comprehensive travel insurance that includes coverage for medical expenses and trip cancellations. You can find travel insurance from various providers, including online options. Make sure to read the policy carefully to understand what it covers and how to use it in case of emergencies.
Passport & Visa Requirements
You will need an entry visa to travel to Uganda. The visa process is simple, and visitors can apply for this online at https://visas.immigration.go.ug. Travelers can also obtain Uganda Visas from all Uganda Embassies and missions abroad. You will be required to fill in a form with your passport dates and details.
- You must have a valid passport of nationality or origin issued by your Government.
- Your passport must also be valid for at least six months after your return date.
- A yellow fever vaccination vaccination certificate is mandatory and is required on the application for a visa.
- You may answer some questions about your return flight ticket.
Citizens of the following countries can apply and obtain visas online:
USA, UK, South Africa, Russia, Japan, Italy, India, Germany, France, Denmark, China, Canada, and Belgium. Download the application from the embassy website of your country of origin and attach two passport photos.
Citizens from the following countries do not need a visa;
African countries, namely Zambia, Tanzania, Swaziland, Seychelles, Rwanda, Madagascar, Mauritius, Malawi, Kenya, Eritrea, Comoros, Burundi, and Angola. Others include St. Vincent and the Grenadines Islands, Barbados, Bahamas, Antigua, Gambia, Jamaica, Lesotho, Malta, Singapore, Solomon Islands, and Cyprus.
- A single-entry Uganda visa valid for three months costs USD 50 and is usually recommended for traveling on safari holidays or business.
- An East Africa tourist visa valid for three months costs USD 100 for multi-border entries to Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda.
- A multiple entry visa valid for six months costs USD 100, usually for business purposes.
Safety and Security
Is it safe to travel to Uganda?
Absolutely! Uganda is a safe and secure destination. If you avoid sensational news, ignore disgruntled citizens’ outcry on social media, and steer clear of cheap politics, you will discover that Uganda is one of the most peaceful countries to visit. This is evident in the growing number of beautiful countryside lodges, camps, and hotels. Every year, thousands of tourists visit Uganda and leave without any incidents. They rate Uganda as one of the most hospitable countries. But don’t just take our word for it, read the reviews and find out for yourself.
International Flights To Uganda
If you want to explore this amazing country, getting here is the first step. Entebbe International Airport (EBB) is the main gateway to Uganda and offers numerous direct and connecting flights through major hubs.
Some of the popular airlines that offer flights to Uganda include:
Uganda Airlines, Rwandair, Kenya Airways, Emirates, Turkish Airlines, Qatar Airways, KLM, and Ethiopian Airlines.
Each airline offers different routes and schedules, so you can choose the one that best fits your travel itinerary. If you book your flights well in advance, you can also take advantage of great deals and discounts.
To secure the best deals, consider signing up for email alerts from airlines or using travel aggregator websites to compare prices. This will help you find the most affordable flights that meet your travel needs.
Local Travel: Road, Boat, Train, Domestic Flights, and Public Transport
Traveling around Uganda is an adventure in itself. While the road network has improved in recent years, be prepared for varying road conditions such as potholes, unpaved roads, or heavy traffic. It is also advisable to inquire about the safety record of the different modes of transportation mentioned in the text before embarking on any journey.
Domestic flights, especially to remote areas, can be a convenient option, but it is important to consider the safety record of the airline and the airport.
Boat trips on Uganda’s rivers and lakes offer a unique perspective of the country, with several routes and destinations to choose from. For example, consider a boat trip on the Nile River, which offers stunning views of the Murchison Falls National Park. The Kazinga Channel boat cruise is the most famous and offers some of the best encounters with wild game.
Money and Currency in Uganda
The official currency is the Ugandan Shilling (UGX). While credit cards are generally accepted in cities and larger towns, it’s essential to carry some cash for smaller purchases and when you’re exploring rural areas, where card payments might not be as common.
Using Credit Cards: You’ll find that major credit cards like Visa and Mastercard are widely accepted in urban areas. They are handy for hotel bookings, dining at restaurants, and shopping in malls or supermarkets. However, it’s a good idea to inform your bank about your travel plans to Uganda to avoid any potential issues with your cards.
Cash for Smaller Expenses: For everyday expenses like buying street food, souvenirs, or paying for local transportation, having some cash in Ugandan Shillings is convenient. Smaller businesses and markets often prefer cash transactions, so it’s helpful to keep some notes and coins on hand.
Currency Exchange: You can exchange your foreign currency for Ugandan Shillings at banks and exchange bureaus, which are commonly found at airports and in major cities. While exchanging money, be mindful of the rates and fees to ensure you’re getting a fair deal.
Avoiding Money Scams: To stay safe, be cautious when exchanging money on the street, as informal currency exchange can sometimes lead to scams. Stick to reputable banks and exchange services to avoid any problems.
Service Tipping in Uganda
Tipping is not customary in Uganda and is often not expected in restaurants and for tour guides. The practice of tipping is a foreign culture, but it is well appreciated when you show your appreciation for good service. A tip of 5% to 15% of the bill is generally appreciated.
If you’re planning a trip to Uganda, it’s important to know that tipping isn’t limited to restaurants and tour guides. You might also consider tipping hotel staff, taxi drivers, and even musicians who perform for you. By showing your appreciation in this way, you can help support the local economy and foster positive relationships with the people you meet along the way.
Finally, keep in mind that the amount you tip should reflect the level of service you receive. If you receive exceptional service, consider tipping more generously. Conversely, if the service falls short of your expectations, it’s perfectly acceptable to withhold a tip or to tip a smaller amount.
Common Languages in Uganda
Did you know that Uganda is a country with over 40 different languages spoken? English is the official language, but you’ll also hear Swahili and Luganda widely spoken. To make the most out of your travel experience in Uganda, consider learning some basic phrases in these languages – it’s a great way to connect with locals and immerse yourself in the culture.
Ugandan Cultural Etiquette a Traveler Should Know
When traveling to Uganda, it is important to familiarize yourself with the cultural etiquette of the country to show respect and make a positive impression on the local people. Here are some key points to keep in mind:
Greetings and Politeness
Ugandans value greetings and politeness, so it is customary to greet people with a warm smile and a handshake. Addressing people using their titles, such as “Mr.” or “Mrs.,” is also appreciated. When entering someone’s home or a public place, it is customary to greet everyone present. Additionally, showing respect to elders is highly regarded in Ugandan culture, so addressing them with honorifics and listening attentively to their wisdom is considered proper etiquette.
Ugandan society leans towards modesty, especially in rural areas and religious sites. It is important to dress respectfully, avoiding revealing clothing and opting for more conservative attire. When visiting religious sites, such as mosques or churches, it is advisable to cover your shoulders and knees. In general, dressing neatly and modestly demonstrates cultural sensitivity and is highly appreciated.
Uganda is a culturally diverse country with various ethnic groups and traditions. It is crucial to show respect for local customs and traditions. Avoid discussing sensitive topics such as politics, religion, or tribal conflicts unless you have established a comfortable rapport with the locals. Additionally, seek permission before taking photographs, especially of individuals or religious sites. Engaging in local customs, such as trying traditional foods or participating in cultural activities, can be a wonderful way to show interest and appreciation for the Ugandan culture.
By adhering to these cultural etiquettes, you will foster positive interactions and create meaningful connections with the people you encounter during your stay in Uganda. Remember, embracing and respecting the local customs will enrich your travel experience and leave a lasting impression on both you and the Ugandan community.
Ugandan cuisine is a wonderful reflection of the country’s diverse culture, as well as its abundant natural resources. It features a unique blend of traditional dishes and influences from neighboring countries, resulting in a truly unforgettable culinary experience.
At the heart of Ugandan cuisine are several staple foods, such as matooke – steamed and mashed green bananas or plantains – and posho, a thick maize flour porridge commonly served with soups or stews. Beans, including cowpeas and kidney beans, are widely consumed and often cooked in flavorful sauces. These staple foods provide sustenance and are an essential component of Ugandan meals.
In addition to staple foods, Uganda boasts a variety of traditional dishes that showcase the country’s culinary heritage. Luwombo, for instance, is a popular dish made from marinated meat, chicken, or fish wrapped in banana leaves and steamed to perfection. Another traditional dish is matoke, where green bananas are cooked with meat or fish, vegetables, and spices to create a hearty and aromatic stew. Other favorites include groundnut soup, rolex (a chapati filled with eggs and vegetables), and muchomo (grilled meat skewers).
Uganda’s fertile soil and favorable climate also contribute to the abundance of fresh produce and tropical fruits available in its cuisine. Fresh vegetables like cabbage, spinach, eggplant, and tomatoes are used in various dishes. Fruits such as mangoes, pineapples, passion fruits, and jackfruits are widely enjoyed either as a refreshing snack or incorporated into desserts and juices. These vibrant and flavorful ingredients add a burst of freshness to Ugandan cuisine and are a testament to the country’s agricultural richness.
Exploring Ugandan cuisine is a wonderful way to immerse yourself in the local culture and savor the flavors of the region. Whether you try the traditional dishes, indulge in the staple foods, or enjoy the abundance of fresh produce and tropical fruits, the culinary delights of Uganda are sure to leave a lasting impression on your taste buds.
Staying Connected While in Uganda: Internet and Mobile Connections
Having a reliable internet and mobile connection during your trip to Uganda is crucial to keep in touch with your loved ones and to navigate the country seamlessly. Here are some important things you need to know about internet and mobile connectivity in Uganda:
1. Mobile Networks: Uganda has a well-established mobile network infrastructure, and you can easily find several mobile service providers that offer affordable prepaid SIM cards. Popular providers include MTN, Airtel, and Uganda Telecom. You can purchase a SIM card from the airport, local shops, or official stores. Just make sure your phone is unlocked for other networks before you travel to use the local SIM card.
2. Mobile Internet: Mobile data is widely available and accessible in urban areas as well as many parts of rural Uganda. You can conveniently top up your prepaid SIM card with data bundles to stay connected. However, keep an eye on your usage when streaming videos or making video calls to avoid unexpected charges.
3. Wi-Fi: Many hotels, restaurants, cafes, and shopping malls in major cities like Kampala offer free Wi-Fi to their customers. Although the quality of the connection may vary, it’s a convenient way to check emails, use social media, or make internet-based calls without using your mobile data.
4. Internet Cafes: You can find internet cafes in most towns and cities of Uganda if you don’t have a mobile device or need access to a computer. They usually charge a nominal fee for using their computers and internet connection.
5. Remote Areas: When traveling to remote or wilderness areas, be prepared for limited or no mobile network coverage. It’s advisable to inform someone of your plans and expected return time before venturing into such places.
With Uganda’s expanding internet and mobile connectivity, staying connected while exploring this beautiful country is now more accessible than ever. Whether you’re sharing your adventures with your loved ones or using navigation apps to explore, you’ll find convenient options to keep you connected throughout your journey.
When traveling to Uganda, it is important to note that the country uses power sockets of Type G, which are similar to those used in Britain. The voltage is set at 240V, and the frequency is 50Hz. If you are coming from a country that uses a different plug type, it is advisable to bring along a universal adapter. Additionally, most hotels have backup generators to cater for any power outages that may occur.
Uganda’s Safari Destinations
1. Murchison Falls Safari
Murchison Falls National Park is the largest conservation area in Uganda, spanning over an area of 3,840 square kilometers. One of the main attractions of the park is the Murchison Falls, where the Victoria Nile forcefully passes through a narrow crevice and plunges over 40 meters with a thunderous roar. The Karuma Falls, also known as Murchison Falls, offers varying vegetation from riparian forests to Savannah. The park is home to a diverse range of wildlife, which you can observe during your visit.
2. Queen Elizabeth National Park
Queen Elizabeth National Park in western Uganda is a popular wildlife destination spanning over 1,978 sq km. The park is home to diverse habitats, abundant wildlife, primates, birdlife, and butterflies. Lake George and Lake Edward, connected by the Kazinga Channel, are the park’s most notable features. Mweya and Kasenyi are the best places for game watching, while bird watching is perfect in the Kazinga channel and Maramagambo forest. Chimpanzee tracking is excellent in the Kyambura Gorge, and tree-climbing lions can be seen in Ishasha. It’s a paradise for nature enthusiasts.
3. Bwindi Impenetrable Forest
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is located in the southwestern region of Uganda, nestled in the hilly countryside and lowland forest. This park is home to the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, which has been recognized by UNESCO as a world heritage site due to its significant biological importance. The forest is a treasure trove, housing half of the world’s only surviving population of endangered mountain gorillas. It is the most popular place to watch Africa’s gorillas in their natural setting.
4. Lake Mburo National Park
Lake Mburo National Park is in western Uganda, covering 370km² and boasting five lakes. It’s near the western highway between Masaka and Mbarara towns, just 4 hours from Kampala. It has diverse habitats and landscapes and rich wildlife. Activities include cycling, horse riding, nature walks, and fishing. It’s the only park in Uganda with zebras.
5. Kidepo Valley National Park
Kidepo Valley National Park is located in the Karamoja region of northwest Uganda and covers an area of approximately 1436 square kilometers. The park boasts stunning savanna landscapes and towering mountains in the background. It is divided by the Kidepo and Narus rivers. The park is home to over 86 mammal species, including leopards, lions, cheetahs, giraffes, bat-eared foxes, and more than 500 bird species.
6. Kibale Forest National Park
Kibale Forest National Park in Uganda is a tropical rainforest that covers an area of 795 square kilometers. It is home to over 13 primate species, including chimpanzees, and over 300 bird species. It is a popular tourist destination offering visitors an opportunity to see primates in their natural habitat, hike, and engage in activities such as bird watching and guided nature walks. The park is best known for trekking with a troop of wild chimpanzees, making it the perfect place to see these animals in the wild.
7. Semuliki National Park
Semuliki National Park is located in western Uganda and covers an area of 220 sq km. It has over 400 bird species and 60 mammal species, including hot springs with healing properties. Visitors can enjoy activities like nature walks, bird watching, game drives, and chimpanzee trekking. It’s a great destination for nature lovers and adventure seekers.
8. Mt Elgon National Park
Mt Elgon National Park is a natural wonder in Uganda near Kenya. It features an extinct volcano, lush forests, and the 40-meter Sipi Falls. It’s perfect for birdwatching, hiking, and exploring diverse flora and fauna.
9. Rwenzori Mountains National Park
Rwenzori Mountains National Park in Uganda is a paradise for hikers and nature enthusiasts. It’s home to the majestic Rwenzori Mountains or the “Mountains of the Moon”. The park offers breathtaking views of glaciers, waterfalls, and alpine vegetation. Visitors can climb to the summit of Margherita Peak, the third-highest peak in Africa. The park is also home to wildlife species like chimpanzees, colobus monkeys, and over 170 bird species. If you prefer an easier pace, try the Mahoma Trail, which offers stunning views of the surrounding landscape.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in southwestern Uganda is home to the endangered mountain gorillas. Visitors can enjoy gorilla trekking, golden monkey trekking, bird watching, hiking, and trek to the summit of Mount Sabinyo. The park also boasts diverse flora and fauna.
How much does a safari cost in Uganda?
The average cost of a safari in Uganda is USD 200 per person per day. If you want to see the gorillas, which is Uganda’s most popular attraction, you will need to pay USD 700 per person per day for a permit. For budget or cheap safari accommodation, you can expect to pay around $100 per night, while upmarket luxury options can cost up to $1200 per person. If you need a safari vehicle to drive you around the national parks, the cost can range from $80 to $300 per day. Safari guides in Uganda typically charge around $50 per day, and meals can cost anywhere from $5 to $20 per person.
What Should I Pack for My Trip to Uganda?
When packing for your trip to Uganda, it’s important to consider the country’s climate, activities you’ll be participating in, and cultural norms. Here’s a list of essential items you should consider packing:
Pack lightweight and breathable clothing suitable for the tropical climate in Uganda. Include t-shirts, shorts, lightweight pants, and skirts/dresses. Also, pack a few long-sleeved shirts and pants to protect against mosquitoes in the evenings. Don’t forget to pack a light jacket or sweater for cooler evenings and higher-altitude areas.
Comfortable walking shoes or hiking boots are essential, especially if you plan on exploring national parks or engaging in outdoor activities. Sandals or flip-flops are useful for casual wear or visiting beaches and lakesides. Consider packing waterproof footwear or water shoes if you plan on engaging in water activities or visiting rainy regions.
Uganda is known for its horrendous mosquito population, so pack a quality insect repellent containing DEET. It’s also advisable to bring mosquito nets or consider staying in accommodations that provide them, especially if you plan on staying in rural or remote areas.
Carry a valid passport with at least six months’ validity from the date of entry into Uganda. Don’t forget to bring copies of your passport, travel insurance, and other important documents. If you plan on obtaining a local SIM card, bring a photocopy of your passport for registration.
Medications and First Aid
Pack any necessary prescription medications in their original containers, along with a basic first aid kit containing band-aids, antiseptic cream, pain relievers, and any necessary personal medications (e.g., anti-malarial medication if recommended for the region you’re visiting).
Sun Protection: Uganda experiences a tropical climate with strong sunlight. Pack sunscreen with a high SPF, sunglasses, and a hat to protect yourself from the sun’s rays. Lip balm with SPF is also recommended.
Travel Adapters and Electronics
Uganda uses Type G electrical outlets, so bring a universal travel adapter to charge your electronic devices. Don’t forget to pack your camera, phone, and any other electronics you’ll need, along with their chargers.
A sturdy backpack or daypack, reusable water bottle, flashlight or headlamp, travel towel, toiletries, and personal hygiene products are essential items to include.
Remember to pack according to your specific itinerary, including any outdoor gear, swimwear, or specialized equipment you may need for activities such as gorilla trekking, hiking, or safaris. It’s also advisable to check with your tour operator or accommodation for any additional packing recommendations based on the specific regions and activities you’ll be undertaking during your trip to Uganda.
In conclusion, Uganda is a remarkable destination that offers a wealth of experiences for travelers. By following these practical tips and travel advice, you can explore this “Pearl of Africa” with confidence, ensuring a safe, enjoyable, and culturally enriching journey. Whether you’re seeking wildlife encounters, adventure activities, or cultural immersion, Uganda has something for every traveler.