Uganda Travel Tips

UGANDA TRAVEL TIPS

When you book your safari with us, you’ll receive all the details for your trip before you travel–including must-have advice and expert travel tips for Uganda.  As you plan, here are a few essentials to keep in mind.

Uganda is a landlocked country situated on the equator in East Africa. It is bordered by Kenya to the east, South Sudan to the north, Democratic Republic of Congo to the west, Rwanda to the southwest, and Tanzania to the south. A substantial part of southern Uganda lies along Lake Victoria, which it shares with Rwanda and Kenya.

Uganda gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1962. Despite its small size, Uganda is famed for its varied landscape–from the dry grasslands of the north to the lush rainforests of the southwest and the verdant coffee and tea plantations that mark the countryside.

The country consists of over 54 different tribes and ethnic groups, with each tribe speaking its own language. Throughout the country, however, English is widely spoken, and Luganda is common in the southern parts of the country near Kampala. Though featured as an official language, Swahili is primarily used in the government sector.

 

Capital: Kampala

Size/Landmass: 241,038 km2

Population: 44.2 million

Language: English (official), Kiswahili (Government), Luganda (most spoken)

Currency: Ugandan Shilling (UGX)

Time Zone: GMT + 3 hour

Entebbe International Airport (EBB) is the international airport of Uganda. The airport is near the town of Entebbe and the shores of Lake Victoria. It is located about 40 km (25 miles) from Kampala— approximately 1-1.5 hours away.

All tourist visas to Uganda must be applied for electronically prior to travel at the following link: https://visas.immigration.go.ug  Official processing time for approved forms is one week; however, we highly recommend that all visitors apply at least 3 weeks (but no more than 3 months) prior to the travel departure date.

  • A single-entry tourist visa to Uganda costs USD $50 and is valid for a maximum of 90 days.

  • A multiple-entry tourist visa to Uganda costs USD $100 and is valid for 6-12 months.

  • An East Africa tourist visa, which includes multiple entry to Uganda, Rwanda, and Kenya, costs USD $100 and is valid for a maximum of 90 days.

  • In addition, the passport must be valid for a minimum of six months beyond visa issuing and/or date of entry, and it must at least have two blank pages for entry/exit stamps per country.

    You may be required to fill out an entry form upon arrival which includes questions on the duration and destination of your trip as well as your contact person in the country.

     

    Proof of yellow fever vaccination is required and must be provided in order to obtain a visa & enter Uganda.

    Please note that entry requirements can change at any time. It is advised to check with your consular for complete details before travelling to Uganda.

It is highly recommended to consult a personal physician or travel clinic prior to your journey to Uganda.

Immunization:
A yellow fever vaccination certificate is required for entry to Uganda for all travelers over one year in age. Proof of vaccination must be provided when applying for a visa.  The vaccine must be administered at least 10 days prior to entry.  By WHO standards, the Yellow Fever vaccine is considered to provide protection for life.

Regardless of your destination, the World Health Organization recommends the following vaccinations for travelers:

  • Hepatitis A

  • Hepatitis B

  • Polio

  • MMR (measles, mumps, rubella)

  • TDAP (tetanus, diptheria, pertussis) • COVID-19

In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the following vaccinations to travelers to Uganda:

• rabies
• typhoid
• meningitis

Malaria

Malaria, a disease transmitted by mosquitoes, is present throughout the country. It is important that you talk to your doctor on how to prevent malaria while traveling and which anti-malarial drug suits you best.

It is advisable to try to avoid mosquito bites, especially after sunset. Cover exposed skin by wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants, and use an appropriate insect repellent. Most hotels will provide a mosquito net; if a mosquito net is not available, the room will be sprayed in the evening.

Food, Water & Hygiene

To avoid stomach upset and other illnesses, it is recommended to always choose food that has been freshly cooked and is served hot. If you buy vegetables and fruits from the local market, make sure they are thoroughly washed in clean water, or are easy to peel without contaminating the inside.

Only drink water that you know is safe. All hotels, lodges and supermarkets provide drinking water – usually sealed with plastic. It is also advised to use drinking water to brush your teeth. Tap water can be used for showering.

Uganda has a rich cultural heritage with diverse tribes and ethnic groups, each with their own unique customs and language. The people of Uganda are well-known for their welcoming nature and sense of hospitality. In addition to the standard politeness, there are a few helpful etiquette tips for your time in Uganda:

  • Greetings are essential—a friendly hello, wave, smile, or handshake. Elders in particular are treated with respect in Uganda, and it’s recommended to offer everyone in the room a simple greeting. (Quick tip: Folding your fingers over your palm, facing out, isn’t considered a wave in Uganda—it signals for someone to “come here.”)

  • Especially when dealing with government authorities, it’s advisable to be respectful and avoid impatience. Many issues can be handled with some patience and a good sense of humor.

  • When in doubt, a simple “hello” in English works just fine! Any efforts to speak the local languages, too, are often met with heartfelt appreciation.

If you would like to try your hand at a local language, Luganda is widely spoken, primarily in Central Uganda.

Hello. = Hello.

How are you? = Oli otya? (oh-lee oh-tya)

I’m fine. = Gyendi. (jen-dee)

Thank you. = Webale. (weh-bah-lay)

You’re welcome. = Kale. (kah-lay)

Goodbye. = Weeraba. (where-ah-bah)

It is best to ask for permission before you take any pictures. Members of certain ethnic groups believe that a piece of their soul is taken away when they are photographed, so it is important to be respectful and ask beforehand. Others may expect a tip or fee for having their photograph taken, especially in parts of the country where they encounter frequent requests.

There are some places where photography is prohibited, and these areas are clearly marked. It is important to respect this prohibition.

When tracking gorillas and chimpanzees, flash photography is prohibited. Many travellers see this as a “trip of a lifetime” for animal photography, and opt to bring more than one camera in case of a malfunction, or extra batteries and memory cards. It is highly recommended to bring a dustproof camera bag and air brush to help protect your camera from heavy dust while traveling

The official currency of Uganda is the Ugandan shilling (UGX). It is issued in denominations of

  • 1000, 5000, 10000, 20000 and 50000 shillings for notes

  • 100, 200, 500 & 1000 shillings for coins

    Both US dollars (USD) and Ugandan shillings are commonly accepted at larger hotels and lodges. Tips in the tourism circuit are accepted in US dollars and Ugandan shillings, though shillings are preferred when possible.

    Please note that USD notes older than 2009 will not be accepted, and notes will not be accepted if they are torn, stamped, or marred.

    Currency can be exchanged at the Entebbe airport or at foreign exchange centers (Forex) throughout Kampala and Entebbe. Large notes (like EUR, USD 50 and 100) get better exchange rates than the smaller denominations.

    ATMs are available in and around Kampala and dispense Ugandan shillings. While the occasional ATM is available upcountry, they are not reliably present and it is not advisable to depend on ATMs while on safari—especially while traveling in the bush. It is also advisable to alert your bank and credit card companies beforehand that you will be travelling to Africa to avoid denial of a transaction.

    It is possible to pay by credit or debit card (Visa or MasterCard) in most hotels and lodges (usually with a 3% to 10% additional surcharge). However, it is recommended to carry extra cash in case a card is not accepted or the network is down.

Electricity in Uganda is available at 220/240 volts AC, 50 Hz.

The primary socket type in Uganda is British Standard. Adaptors are available in some lodges but we advise that you bring at least one with you.

Please be aware that, even in major cities, the power supply is subject to cuts and voltage fluctuation.

On safari, most of the lodges are powered by generators or solar panels. These are often turned off during parts of the day and night to reduce noise and fuel consumption. In such cases, power sockets for charging are sometimes only available in the main area.

Internet is typically available throughout large hotels in the larger cities. In safari lodges, internet is most often available in the lodge’s main lounge, and speeds may vary–we advise guests to set their expectations accordingly.

It is generally advisable to pack light while traveling on safari, as visitors are often traveling between multiple parks on a single trip.

For international air travel, please check your airlines’ luggage guidelines prior to travel.

For domestic flights while on safari, kindly note that domestic airlines within Uganda typically limit travelers to 15 kg (33 lbs) per person total for all luggage, handbags, and camera equipment; excess luggage may not be permitted and, if permitted, may be subject to additional fees. Hard-sided suitcases are typically not accepted; soft-sided luggage is advised. Please ask prior to travel if you have any questions regarding domestic flights while on safari.

As part of your overall packing list, the following are typically useful for a safari in Uganda. Exact number of items may vary depending on the length of your trip:

  • Long trousers for comfort while hiking/walking in the bush/sun protection, shorts if desired (culturally, longer shorts or capris are best)

  • Long-sleeved shirts & short-sleeved t-shirts
    Dressing in layers is recommended, as early mornings and overnights in the wilderness can bring cooler temperatures. Light/neutral colored clothing is best when possible.

  • Light rain jacket or similar

  • Warmer layer such as a fleece/sweatshirt or similar

  • Swimsuit/bathing suit

  • Comfortable, sturdy closed-toe walking shoes/sneakers and socks

  • Sandals (sturdy closed-toe styles, and “flip flops” for beach itineraries)

  • Sunglasses & hat

  • Binoculars

  • Camera with plenty of memory cards/extra battery

  • Converter/outlet adaptors if needed

  • Flashlight or headlamp

  • Sunscreen, bug repellent, lip balm with SPF

Warm layers & warm sleepwear if gorilla trekking (Temperatures in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest

National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park can get quite cool at night)

For itineraries that include gorilla/chimpanzee/Golden monkey trekking, we also recommend bringing the following:

  • hiking boots (it’s best to break these in ahead of time)
  • socks
  • a light backpack/daypack
  • comfortable trousers for hiking
  • rain jacket for layering and in case of rain
  • outdoor gardening/hiking gloves if desired (optional)
  • walking stick if desired (optional; hand-carved wooden sticks are also typically available free of charge at the trailhead)
  • face mask (face masks are currently required while near the primates on primate treks)

Gorilla and chimpanzee trekking in Uganda are one-of-a-kind adventures. If your itinerary includes gorilla or chimpanzee trekking, you may wish to keep the following in mind:

  • Just prior to your chimpanzee or gorilla trek, you will have a briefing with the park rangers about guidelines during the trek. We ask that all guests follow the guidelines set by the rangers to ensure a positive experience for all and the continued well-being of the animals being tracked.

  • While trekking, we typically recommend wearing light to mid-weight long pants/trousers, a t- shirt, hat if desired, and a lightweight long-sleeved shirt or rain jacket for layering. Comfortable hiking boots and socks are also strongly recommended. A walking stick is optional; locally made wooden walking sticks are often available to borrow at the trailhead as well—just be sure to ask before leaving the pre-trek briefing. It’s recommended to apply insect repellant prior to your trek.

  • It’s recommended to bring a light backpack or daypack to hold your camera, water bottle, and your picnic lunch from the lodge. (Depending on the length of your gorilla trek, you might enjoy lunch mid-trek in the forest, or have the opportunity to have lunch upon your return.)

  • When gorilla trekking, porters are available for hire before you begin your trek. The cost is typically USD $15-20, paid directly to the porter after the trek. If you would like to hire a porter, you can let your guide know and they can assist with this. Porters can carry your daypack for you and also lend a hand on the steeper parts of the hike; hiring a porter also supports the local economy and encourages local involvement in conservation of the gorillas.

  • Enjoy your trek! While an actual encounter is never guaranteed, gorilla and chimpanzee treks in Uganda have an excellent success rate and once they are found, you’ll have the opportunity to spend an unforgettable hour with these primates in their natural habitat.

While never mandatory, tipping is a normal part of the service & tourism industry in Uganda, especially to those who helped make your safari an unforgettable adventure. It is your individual choice whether you would like to tip or not.

A few basic tips on tipping:

  • When tipping, it is best to tip only once and recommended at the end of your safari, trek, or

    stay at a particular camp or lodge.

  • Your guide plays an essential role in the success of your Uganda safari. It is therefore advised

    to tip your guide separately.

  • At the camps and lodges, it is recommended to use the “tipping box” which is usually found in

    the main area; the tips are then divided equally between the entire staff.

    As a rough guideline the following is recommended:

  • Driver/Guide: USD$ 15 to 20 per couple per day

  • Hotel/Camp/Lodge: USD$ 5 to 7 per couple per stay

  • Gorilla/Chimp Trekking Tips:
    • A successful trek relies on the park rangers, trackers that help locate the primates, and security personnel. If you wish, you might opt to tip USD$5-15 per traveler, given to the Chief Guide in plain sight of the rest of the group, and ask the Chief Guide to distribute it to the other rangers & trackers in the group. Or, you can tip each person individually.If tipping a porter, it is best to simply add the tip with their payment.
    • Tips in USD or Euros are accepted while trekking; however, the rural location makes it more challenging for recipients to exchange to a local currency so they can put it to use. Whenever possible, tips in Ugandan shillings are especially appreciated.

Tipping is never mandatory, but is always appreciated for excellent service. Travelers are always welcome to adjust the amount to their individual preference.

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