Planning a trip to the pearl of Africa? These Uganda travel tips will show you all the things to know before traveling to Uganda.
Commonly known for Gorilla trekking, this (not so) little gem of Uganda has captured the hearts of nature and safari lovers who want to get up close with not only the primates but also the incredible wildlife it offers.
From going on safaris, exploring its charming but chaotic cities to learning about its cultures and customs, there are a number of incredible things to do in Uganda that makes it one of the best countries to visit in Africa.
But like all first-time travelers, there are a number of questions you might be asking yourself as you plan your trip to the Pearl of Africa. So, in this Uganda travel guide, I will be sharing with you all the things to know before traveling to Uganda.
So if you had questions like: “What do I need to know before I go to Uganda”, “How many days should I visit Uganda for the first time”, “How do I apply for a Ugandan tourist visa”, “what is the best time to visit Uganda”, or “what should I do on my first trip to Uganda”? Then you’re in the right place – continue reading and all your questions will be answered by the time you finish reading these Uganda travel tips.
Uganda travel tips: Things to know before traveling to Uganda
1. How to get a Ugandan tourist visa
Just like traveling to any other country, you will need a visa before you enter Uganda. The good news is that it’s quite easy to get one especially if you hold one of those ”strong” passports.
It can be processed online using the e-visa application system on the Uganda immigration website or you can acquire one on arrival at any port of entry. The single-entry tourist visa costs $ 50 for a period of not more than 3 months.
2. When is the best time to visit Uganda
Uganda has 2 seasons, the wet and dry seasons or what you would call the rainy and sunny seasons. But since the country straddles the Equator, you can expect an all year round good weather that is ok for safaris.
However, the best time to visit Uganda is in the drier months of June to September and December to February if you want to enjoy wildlife without worrying about being disrupted by heavy rains and mud. But you also have to note that this is Uganda’s peak season which means that prices can go a little higher and you’ll run into a number of tourists compared to other months. But do not let this shun you away from visiting, Uganda hasn’t suffered from mass tourism which means that you won’t be competing for space with other tourists even during the peak season.
However, during the wetter months of March to May and October to November, which is the low season, the prices of accommodation and some activities like Gorilla trekking get subsidized making it a good time for those who want to travel for cheaps.
So in my opinion, taking into account the weather, activities, and prices, the best time to go to Uganda is in the drier months of June to September or December to February. This is simply because you won’t lose any time because of rain and wildlife viewing is at its best.
To give you a better understanding of Uganda’s weather all year round, here is a chart showcasing both the average temperatures and rains throughout the year.
Uganda weather chart
3. What are the required vaccinations for Uganda
To enter Uganda, you’re required to have a yellow fever card to show that you’ve ever been vaccinated against yellow fever.
If you reach the airport and you don’t have one, there is a chance of taking the vaccine and getting the card right from there but its incredibly expensive and since you’d have no choice, you will have to take it regardless of the price. So I advise you to get the vaccine before you leave your home country. Make research around your country to find a hospital that offers the yellow fever vaccine.
4. How to get around in Uganda
As you plan your trip to Uganda, it’s important to know that transportation in the country especially public transport can be chaotic and confusing since there is no proper way of knowing where to go to find which buses or taxis due to the fact that there are no signs or anything.
This means that your best bet at finding a bus or taxi as a tourist is by asking locals for directions or you might just end up moving in circles and get more confused. On top of that, big cities like Kampala are bombarded with heavy traffic jams, especially during rush hours.
To give you a clear picture, here is how to get around in Uganda in detail.
By Bus: Buses in Uganda normally operate long routes (think 3 hours and above kind of journeys) and can be found in Bus parks. Depending on the Ugandan city you’re in at that particular time, you can just head to a bus park and get on one that is headed in your direction. But like I said earlier, there is no proper way of knowing which bus goes where – so the only way to know is to ask the locals. Don’t worry, Ugandans are super helpful and friendly, so they will be willing to direct you.
By Public Taxi (Think Minivans): Though there are some taxis that operate long routes, most taxis operate around a specific city. Just like Buses, you can find taxis in Taxi Parks. However, sometimes you’ll see a number of taxis calling for passengers at different bus/taxi stops (or stages as commonly known). But before you board those ones, make sure that they’re going to the same destination as you by asking the taxi conductor (the person that calls passengers and collects money within the taxi). And needless to say, taxis carry 14 passengers.
Pro tip* For long journeys, I advise you to take the bus instead of the taxi as they are more comfortable and don’t make a lot of unnecessary stops like taxis.
By Boda Boda: Motorbikes or Boda Bodas as locally known are the easiest way to get around in Uganda especially in big cities. With Bodas, you don’t have to waste time in traffic jams as they know how to navigate through it. And also, Boda Bodas can reach in areas where taxis or buses can’t. Due to those facts, Boda Bodas are slightly more expensive compared to public taxis. On this very note, if you’re in Kampala or the nearby areas, you can use the Safeboda app to request for one.
By Private Taxi: If you want to travel more comfortably, you can hire a private taxi. Unlike public taxis, private taxis are more expensive – for obvious reasons. You can get one almost anywhere in the country but if you’re in Kampala, Uganda’s capital, you can just use Uber to request one.
5. How much time should you spend in Uganda
On average, I’d say 3 weeks is a good amount of time to spend in Uganda. With that time, you get to see all the major tourist attractions in Uganda without getting to rush through them.
However, you can get to see a big percentage of the country in 2 weeks. But remember that some of the National parks are scattered around different regions of the country, so you’ll have to miss out on some unless you’re ok traveling back to back without taking any rest.
Unless you’re traveling for a specific activity – (as some people travel to Uganda for only Gorilla Tracking which in my opinion is a mistake as the country has a lot to offer beyond seeing the primates), then a week in Uganda should be enough for you.
So, how much time should you spend in Uganda? In all honesty, this depends on you because there are a lot of factors that influence this. To decide on this, you have to consider the amount of time you have on your hands. Are you visiting only Uganda for your trip or even other countries? Which places do you want to visit in Uganda and most importantly what is your budget? When you put all that into consideration, you’ll be able to come up with a timeline.
But like I mentioned earlier, 2-3 weeks is a good time to explore the biggest percentage of the pearl of Africa.
6. What are the best places to visit in Uganda
Uganda might be small in size, but this little gem has a lot to offer. From breathtaking landscapes, amazing wildlife to interesting and various cultural sites, there are a number of places to visit in Uganda.
On top of enjoying incredible game drives and the various National parks, a visit to Uganda will help you see the source of one of the 7 natural wonders of Africa – The River Nile.
I will not be going in details of the places to visit in Uganda but rather the summary. But if you what to check out the details, you can read my post about the best places to visit in Uganda. Below are some of the places tou shouldn’t miss on your trip to Uganda.
- Bwindi Impenetrable National park for Gorilla tracking
- Queen Elizabeth National park for an amazing safari
- Murchison falls National park to see the glorious Murchison falls
- Jinja to see the Source of the Nile
- Lake Victoria
- Kibaale National Park for Chimpanzee Tracking
- Lake Bunyonyi
- Mt.Elgon – check out the guide to climbing Mt. Elgon
- Kampala – check out the best things to do in Kampala
- Mt. Rwenzori and so many others
Related post: Best Apps to download before traveling to Uganda
7. Should you rent a car in Uganda
Depending on which places you plan to visit and how much time you have in the country, you can either rent a car or not.
If you plan to travel to Uganda for 2-3 weeks, it’s worth renting your own car. This will be easy to get to almost all places in the country and I’d say that it is a cheaper way to visit National parks compared to paying for private tours.
However, if you decide to rent a car, I advise you to strictly rent a 4WD as some murram roads can be hard to drive on especially when it rains heavily.
Most car rentals in Uganda charge per day ranging from $50 to $100 depending on the type of car you rent and whether it comes with camping gear or not.
However, there are some tips to note when you choose to rent a car in Uganda and below are some;
- You’ll need an international driving permit to be allowed to drive in the country. Check the official website of the International driving permit to find out how you can apply for one.
- Traffic flow is on the left hand, so be prepared to adjust if you come from a country with right hand traffic flow.
- Most roads in the country, especially on high ways, are in good condition but be ready to dodge some potholes every now and then.
- The speed limit on highways is 100 km/h (62 mph), outside built-up areas – 80 km/h (50 mph) and 50 km/h (31 mph) in urban built-up areas.
- You must be 23 years and above to rent a car in Uganda
8. Is it safe to travel to Uganda
Unlike some misconceptions you might have heard about Uganda and Africa in general, Uganda is safe to travel to – in fact, it is one the safest countries to visit in Africa.
But just because Uganda is safe to travel to doesn’t mean that you don’t need to be mindful of yourself in terms of walking at night and not flashing your expensive valuables around.
Here are some of the tips to help you stay safe while traveling in Uganda
- Do not walk around late in the night by yourself especially in villages and city suburbs.
- Carry your backpack from the front instead of the back to avoid being pickpocketed. Like in any country, this is likely to happen in crowded places. So whatever you do, be mindful of your belongings.
- Don’t walk around the streets flashing your phone or your expensive items. There is a bad habit of some goons snatching them away especially Phones. Not to scare you but be mindful of those – it normally happens when you’re busy walking and one ”robber Boda Boda guy” passes by and snatches it immediately. The worst part is that you can’t run after him since you’re on foot and he’s on a motorcycle.
Those are the few tips to staying safe in Uganda but you can also read these general travel safety tips to know how you can stay safe at all times.
In regards to staying safe in Uganda, I advise you to purchase Travel Insurance before your trip. The Travel Insurance mostly recommended by travelers is World Nomads. It covers a number of things and works in more than 160 countries which makes it ideal for a number of destinations.
9. When to make your reservations in Uganda
Whilst it’s not necessary to make reservations for every safari in the country, some require making a reservation way in advance.
This is majorly for Gorilla Trekking in Bwindi impenetrable National park where you need to make a reservation at least 1 month in advance to be on a safe side.
Please note that some times you can book 1 week in advance and get a permit especially in the low season but other times you can fail to get a slot even when you book one month before your intended trek. So to avoid disappointments, book as soon as you know when you want to do the trek.
Although you necessarily don’t need to book your accommodation way in advance, it’s always better to do so as the prices tend to be a bit lower.
10. How much does it cost to travel in Uganda
How much you spend on a trip to Uganda entirely depends on the type of traveler you are. Are you a backpacker that will be sleeping in hostels and using public transport or you prefer sleeping in 4-star Hotels and using private cars. All this affects how much you’ll spend.
Also, the part of Uganda you’re traveling in influences the cost – village areas are normally cheap in terms of food and accommodation compared to cities.
Generally, Uganda is fairly priced when it comes to daily expenditure so most of your money will be spent on entry tickets to National parks as they tend to be a bit expensive.
Though I cannot give you a round figure of what you should expect to spend in Uganda, you can use this Uganda Wildlife Authority tariff list to know the price for visiting each National park.
A few other costs to consider include;
- Accommodation: You can budget for $8-$15 per night for hostels, $28- $50 for mid-range hotels & Airbnb and $55 – $80 for 3-star hotels and beyond.
- Transportation: A long-distance journey in a bus (3 hours +) can go for $6 -$10, while short distances in a public taxi can be as cheap as $1. Boda Boda can charge between $1- $3. Opting for a private taxi for a short distance can cost you around $5 and Renting a car can be around $50 – $100 a day. If you choose to rent a car, a liter of fuel is around $1.
- Food and Drinks: This depends on where you buy the food but local food can be around $4 if bought from a ”good restaurant” but can be as low as $2 from a typical local restaurant. And you can expect to spend between $8 – $13 in International restaurants for a meal. You can also expect to spend $1.3 on a beer and approximately $5 on a cocktail.
Please note that all these are just estimates to help you make a rough budget for Uganda but not conclusive figures.
11. Should you hire a tour company or not
This is a hard one to answer but I’ll do my best. Uganda is one of those countries where you can travel independently without any problems. But since national parks are scattered in far places of the country with no direct means of public transport, you might hit a roadblock somehow but this does not mean that it’s totally undoable and not mentioning that its cheaper.
On the flip side, hiring a tour company or a travel agent will relieve you all the stress of making research, booking stuff but rather just sit back and let the tour company handle everything for you. But this also doesn’t come cheap.
So my advice is that if you’re a backpacker that travels on a budget, do not hire a tour company but rather plan your trip independently and rent a car if needed. It’s totally doable and I hope that these travel tips to Uganda help you during your planning process. But if you can afford it, then hiring a tour company is worth it.
12. Money and Transactions in Uganda
The official currency in Uganda is the Ugandan shillings (UGX) and as of March 2020, $1 is worth an average of 3,780 UGX.
In Uganda, most of the transactions are done in Ugandan shillings except for some hotels and tour companies that accept dollars. However, even when something is valued at USD, shillings are definitely acceptable.
While Uganda is continuously growing its use of credit/debit cards, cash still rules especially in the day to day transactions. However, this doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to use your card to pay, places like upscale restaurants, hotels, big supermarkets, and national parks offices do accept cards.
But even if you can’t use your card, there are a number of ATM machines spread throughout the country where you can withdraw money from every time you run out of cash.
13. Which Sim card should you buy
Uganda has a number of mobile network providers by the most prominent are MTN and Airtel. You can easily get any of the sim cards by just taking your Passport to any service centers of those particular companies.
Just buying a sim card is pretty cheap costing even less than $1. After buying the Simcard, you can look at the different tariffs (voice and data)to choose one that suits your needs.
MTN or Aitel – which one is better?
This is one a tough one to answer because they’re both good but they also have a number of pros and cons. But I am gonna tell you a bit about what each offers and you’ll decide on your own.
They both have somewhat similar voice call tariff plans but when it comes to Celular data, Airtel’s data is slightly cheaper than that of MTN. However, MTN’s internet is a bit faster compared to the counterpart.
When it comes to coverage, both providers support the 4G network but MTN surpasses Airtel in the general network coverage deep in the rural areas.
With that brief, I hope you’re able to make a decision on what to opt for. But in my opinion, If you’re looking for faster internet and don’t mind the price, go for MTN. But if you don’t mind using internet that is SLIGHTLY slower but better pricing, then go for Airtel.
Please note. In 2018, Uganda introduced Social media tax commonly known as OTT. So on top of buying data, you’ll need to pay that mandatory tax to access any social media platforms like Whatsapp, Facebook Twitter, and Istagram. The tax is 200 UGX per day, 1,400 UGX per week or 6,000 UGX per month which is approximately $1.6 a month. To make things easier for you, request the person who sold you the Simcard to load for you OTT for the period you’ll be in the country.
14. Languages and communication in Uganda
Uganda is one of the most diversified countries in the world if not the most. With tribes that approximate to 56 and languages about 40, Uganda is considered to be a multilingual country.
Although there are many languages in Uganda, the widely spoken one is Luganda from the Buganda tribe in Central Uganda. But Uganda being a former colony of England, the official language in English.
And since many people in Uganda speak English (the fluency depends on the level of Education), you won’t face any major challenges communicating with the locals. Even when deep in the villages, it’s unlikely that you won’t find anyone who speaks English.
15. How to dress in Uganda
Uganda is not strict when it comes to what you wear. Literally, anything can be worn as long as you stay decent but if you are visiting tourist places of worship, you will need to cover up.
From tank tops, jeans, dresses, shorts, to leggings – anything can be worn in Uganda honestly (though no boom boom shorts on the streets but ok for beaches and swimming pools). So don’t stress out on which clothes you should pack for Uganda – just pack whatever you’ll be comfortable in and you’ll be good to go.
16. The hospitality nature of Ugandans
One of the things to know before traveling to Uganda is that people are very friendly. If you are a tourist, you can expect to see people smiling at you every now and then. However, expect some glances as you move around and if you are from the western countries the locals will call you “mzungu” which means a ”white person”.
Some might even want to engage you in a conversation if you are up for it. Ugandans will most definitely be willing to offer some kind of help if you need it. Like they say, sometimes people are more friendly to tourists than their fellow locals – I guess this happens in most of the countries and it’s no different in Uganda.
Related post: Fun and interesting facts about Uganda you need to know
17. Is it safe to drink tap water in Uganda
Unlike in Europe and some parts of America, it is absolutely not safe to drink the tap water in Uganda – even locals actually first boil it and let it cool to make it drinkable.
The only thing to do is to keep buying bottled mineral water which is safe to drink. Alternatively, you can buy a water filter to purify the tap water before you drink it.
18. What to eat in Uganda
When it comes to what to eat in Uganda, you should not worry. There are a number of restaurants that serve different cuisines giving you a variety to choose from. From Mexican, Indian, Chinese, Intercontinental, Pizzas, French to local, there are a number of foods to eat while in the pearl of Africa.
One of the things I like to do when I travel to a new country is to try out their local food. So as you explore Uganda, I urge you to try out our local foods. It might taste a bit different than other foods you might have tried before but I guarantee you will like it.
Some of the local foods you should try out while in Uganda include Matooke which is like the “official” food for Uganda, sweet potatoes, Cassava, Posho, etc and all these are served with a number of different stews from Chicken, Beef, Beans, Peas and many others.
If you happen to be in Kampala, these are some of the Kampala restaurants you should definitely eat at.
More travel tips to Uganda that might be helpful
19. Use your bargaining skills
Tourists are normally charged highly when making any purchase so be sure to use your bargaining skills, you might just get the product at an unbelievable price.
Whether it is with a Boda Boda guy or in a local market, try to bargain as much as you can because chances are that they’ve added some extra money because you are a tourist.
20. Sidewalks are rare in Uganda
If you thought sidewalks are an obvious thing, you might want to think again. While it might not be an issue in the countryside roads, it can be a nightmare on busy town roads.
This means that you have to be careful as you walk on busy roads. Watch out for Boda Boda riders as they can sometimes become crazy on the road – some times they take over the sidewalks (for those few roads that might have them). So as you walk, be mindful of the Boda Bodas not to be hit.
21. Tipping in Uganda
There is no rule when it comes to tipping in Uganda. Like in most parts of the world, a tip is not a must but it is highly appreciated.
The amount of tip you give basically depends on the value of service received and how satisfied you were with the person that served you.
Though it is not a must to tip, most people that serve you will be expecting a tip (however small it is) but they won’t show any kind disappointment if you don’t like in Egypt.
22. What to pack for your Ugandan Safari
Just like packing for any African country, there are a number of travel essentials you should not leave behind when traveling to Uganda. So below are the travel essentials that should be on your packing list for Uganda.
- Mosquito repellant: Though Uganda has done a great job to kick Malaria out of the country, I advise you not to take chances by taking this mosquito repellant especially if you plan to involve camping in your Ugandan adventure.
- Sunscreen: As you travel to Uganda, you need to pack sunscreen. Since its right at the Equator, the sun gets really hot sometimes and the fact that they’re really expensive in Uganda, you’re better off buying it before your trip.
- Universal Travel Adapter: Uganda uses different kinds of electric sockets compared to other parts of the world like Europe. To make sure that you don’t keep buying a different adaptor for each country, I advise you to take this universal travel adapter.
- Flashlight: For those dark times in Uganda – (yes electricity goes off some times), it’s better to have a flashlight like this one to help you keep the “lights on”.
- Power Bank: With safaris that take you to the deepest of places in Uganda, I recommend taking a power bank to keep your phone on all the time.
- First Aid Kit: This is a must-have for your trip to Uganda. This first aid kit has all the items to give the very first medical attention.
- Binoculars: Since Uganda is all about game drives and wildlife viewing, its prudent to carry these Binoculars for an even better experience.
- Camera: With all the amazing wildlife in Uganda, you’ll need a good camera to capture all of it. If you don’t know which camera to buy, this post about the best cameras for travelers will help you decide on which one to buy.
- A proper daypack: Planning to go for a day’s hike while in Uganda, make sure you pack a good quality day pack like this one to help you carry the essentials.
- Travel pouch: As you roam around the streets of Uganda, it’s important to keep your valuable in a place you can see all the time. Whether it is your passport, money, phone or credit cards, this travel pouch will keep them safe.
Those are some of the travel items to add to your packing list for Uganda. For more travel items to pack for Uganda, check out this ultimate Africa packing list.
Whoah, that was a lot and I am glad you’re still here. As you plan your trip, I hope that these Uganda travel tips are helpful. Have more questions about traveling to Uganda? Leave them in the comment section and I’ll answer them ASAP.
Was your trip planning made easier because of this ultimate guide to Uganda? Still do let me know in the comment section and don’t forget to share it.
You can also read all my articles about Uganda in this Uganda Destination guide
More posts to inspire your wanderlust in Africa
- Best National parks to visit in Africa
- Best African countries to visit
- Safe countries in Africa
- Essential things to know before traveling to Africa
- Once in a lifetime Adventures you must have in Africa
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