Uganda Overland Trip: Intro and Kampala

Uganda, known as the Pearl of Africa, lives up to its name. With mountains, great lakes, jungle, and the greenest landscape I’ve ever seen, this country is truly a hidden gem that will not be hidden much longer. The country has had a tumultuous and sad history with multiple civil wars but it has stabilized and is quickly becoming one of Africa’s hottest tourist destinations. Gorilla trekking is only one of many things that can be done in a country teeming with wildlife.

7 Day Uganda Overland Facts


Uganda overland tour
Countries Visited Uganda
Tour Operator Nomad Africa
My Trip Dates May 11 – May 18, 2014
Trip Highlights Lake Bunyonyi, Gorilla Trekking at the Bwindi, Queen Elizabeth National park, Chimpanzee Trekking
Trip Style Overland
Trip Cost ~6,200 Rand, Local Payment: 350$ Gorilla Permit, Activity Package: 950R
Trip Start and End Kampala –> Kampala
Detailed Summary Download

 

Country Facts – Uganda(in $USD)

Capital   Kampala
Population   36 million
Official Language(s)   English, Swahili
Currency   Ugandan Shilling
Visa   50$ upon arrival
GDP Per Capita   $589
Power Plug Type   UK
Cars Drive On   Left
Time Zone   GMT + 3

Uganda travel tips


Dollars or Schillings?
All the East African countries (Kenya/Tanzania/Uganda/Rwanda) all love American Dollars. I had instances in Tanzania where I received better rates if I used dollars instead of Tanzanian Shillings. I thought the same would apply for Uganda but while they do like their dollars, they are strict on its usage. Street vendors, restaurants, and smaller shops prefer shillings unless they are selling tourist goods. Dollars are widely accepted at hotels and any larger establishment but the dollars MUST be in good condition. No tears, no creases, and no folds.

Exchanging money is also a pain. FX bureaus will give favorable rates close to the spot rate but only for $50 and $100 bills. Any smaller bill will usually illicit a less favorable rate. For example, spot was around 2500 Uganda shillings to the dollar when I visited and The FX Bureau sold shillings at around spot  for 50s and 100s but only 2300 for anything smaller. I’d recommend bringing a few 100s and exchanging them one at a time as you go. There’s no need to carry large amounts of shillings at a time as things are relatively cheap in Uganda.

Credit cards are only accepted in big western establishments. Don’t expect to use a credit card in any small towns. ATMs are widely available throughout the country but whether they work or not is a crapshoot.

Chapatis, a very popular street food in Uganda. These are essentially Indian Rotis with eggs, tomatoes, onions. They cost around $0.60 and two of these will knock you out for the count.

Chapatis, a very popular street food in Uganda. These are essentially Indian Rotis with eggs, tomatoes, onions. They cost around $0.60 and two of these will knock you out for the count.

Cost of Goods?
I found Uganda to be a very affordable country. Obviously doing things like Gorilla trekking and game drives are not cheap but they are not cheap in any Africa country. The price of regular goods like water, food, and beer, however, are fantastically cheap.

  • 1.5L bottle of water is about 2000 UGX (80 cents),
  • 500mL Beer is about 4-5000UGX (~2$)
  • Whole pizza at a restaurant is about 12000UGX (5$)
  • Street food – 1500UGX for a Chapati with eggs and veggies (60cents)
    Bell, one of Uganda's many beers.

    Bell, one of Uganda’s many beers.

Of course there are some finer dining options in Kampala with much more expensive prices but the food is great here with various Indian and Arab influences that if you’re looking to conserve money, just go sample the local cuisines.

Uganda Infrastructure
Having traversed Kenya and Tanzania, I found Uganda to be similar in infrastructure and perhaps a little inferior to Kenya with Tanzania to be the worst. Roads are littered with potholes so a 4×4 is recommended.

Raining heavily at our campsite at Lake Bunyonyi

Raining heavily at our campsite at Lake Bunyonyi

Uganda during the Wet Season
Uganda’s wet season runs from March-May and the rain can come down very strongly during this time. But these are equatorial rains meaning it rains sporadically during the day for short periods of time. There can be periods where it will rain for a few days straight and others where it will be sunny for a few days. The only certainty is uncertainty during this time of year. During my visit in May, it only rained the first two days of my trip.

A day in Uganda’s Capital of Kampala


Passport stamps of Uganda

Passport stamps of Uganda

Kampala, Uganda’s capital city was once a large forest with hills. These hills were filled with Impalas and when the British settled here, they named it Camp Impala which later just became Kampala. At the conclusion of my tour, I had one day to spare so I decided instead of hanging by the pool at my backpackers lodge, I’d take a day trip and explore the capital.

Kampala is safe for foreign visitors, even at night. Security in Uganda is tight and crime is generally low. I only walked around during the day and felt completely at ease.

The traffic on the Kampala-Entebbe Airport road. Where a Boda Boda comes in nicely.

The traffic on the Kampala-Entebbe Airport road. Where a Boda Boda comes in nicely.

Getting to Kampala
The closest airport to Kampala is Uganda’s International hub of Entebbe. This airport is nothing to write home about with maybe four or five gates but it does have free wifi which is unheard of in Africa. From the airport, you really have one choice and that is to get a cab. There are public transportation options but these involve local taxis and while safe,  could take you many hours before getting to your destination in Kampala. A cab will run you somewhere between 80,000-100,000 Shillings (35-40$) and you can find hordes of taxi drivers waiting outside the airport. Make sure to negotiate a price before getting in.

Arriving at Entebbe Airport

Arriving at Entebbe Airport

There is only one road from Entebbe to Kampala and this road is shit. It’s one lane for most of the way and the traffic is atrocious. On a Sunday afternoon, it took me 1.5 hours to travel 40km.

Where I stayed
Our tour left from the Silver Springs Hotel in the Eastern part of Kampala. This was a proper hotel with rooms going for 100$ a night (very expensive for Uganda). The hotel is nice but the food was the most expensive I saw anywhere in Uganda (although still not that expensive compared to the USA).

For backpackers like myself, head to the Red Chili Hideaway down the street. If all you’re after is just a bed, then get one of the single rooms here for 20$. This place had a really cool vibe and food/alcohol were much more reasonably priced.

 

Kampala Boda Boda City Tour


Riding on the boda boda with my guide, Michael.

Riding on the boda boda with my guide, Michael.

Boda Bodas are the motorcycles commonly used by everyone in Uganda. You’ll see plenty of these guys on the drive from the airport to Kampala squeezing by cars and people. While Boda Boda’s can be used as a form of transportation (cheap taxi), most of the drivers are a little crazy (you kind of have to be to drive this around Kampala).

At the Nakasero Market

At the Nakasero Market

Nevertheless, there are day tours of the city that are done on the back of one of these. I booked one with Walters Tours, who came highly recommended by the lodge and TripAdvisor. I rode on one of these for a whole day, and I am alive to tell the tale. I actually found the experience to be quite thrilling and Kampala, much more interesting of a city than I thought. I still don’t think there’s any city WORTH visiting in Africa besides Cape Ton The tour lasts for 5-6 hours costing 35$ and some of the highlights included

    • Idi Amin Torture Chambers
    • Touring the markets
    • Muamar Gaddafi Mosque with panoramic views of the city
    • Hill of all the embassies
    • Tour of Old Kampala
    • Local Food (make sure to try a rolex and some fresh fried fish)
One of the many embassies in Kampala.

One of the many embassies in Kampala.

I could have told my driver, who was very friendly and informative, whatever I wanted to see and it would have been done. I could have said all I want to do is walk around the markets and eat local foods and he would have taken me to all the good spots and taught me whatever I needed to know. I did learn a few things about Uganda like the fact that the country received its name from uniting the indigenous Baganda tribe with the numerous other tribes in the country, and removing the Ba so a U could be the first letter, standing for unity.

Muammar Gaddafi Mosque

The Muammar Gaddafi Mosque

DSC09554 DSC09556 DSC09561

The Gaddafi Mosque is a spectacular sight. Completed only six years ago, this mosque was gifted to the country by the former Libyan president. The mosque is huge inside, with a seating capacity eclipsing that of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. Uganda is majority Christian, but Arabs and Islam were in fact the first religion to influence Uganda. All in all, a great way to spend a free day in Kampala.

Idi Amin's (Last King of Scotland) torture chambers during the 70s.

Idi Amin’s (Last King of Scotland) torture chambers during the 70s.

 

uganda food

Some local meat grilling for lunch.

Now, on to the good stuff. Gorillas!

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