Exploring the home of mountain gorillas and one of the greenest countries in the world
Although is considered the pearl of Africa for a good reason, we noticed that Uganda is not a very popular travel destination among the majority of people. And the ones that do want to come here are either passionate travelers or they want to do do the mountain gorilla track.
However, in this article, we want to show you that Uganda is so much more than that!
Apart from the fact that is the greenest country in Africa, Uganda has the most friendly and welcoming people! Like genuine friendly! And this is something that you don`t get so often nowadays!!
Also, it is the starting point of the longest river in the world - Nile - and has a bit of everything: jungle, savannah, outdoor activities, fancy accommodation and the potential of many adventures.
What to expect
Official language: English and Swahili
Currency: Ugandan shillings
Payments: cash is the key; however, most national parks accept credit card at the gates, so do the big hotels and car rentals
Plug type: plug type G, like in UK, Ireland, Singapore, Malaysia, Malta, Bahrain, and Sri Lanka
Safety: one of the Africa`s safest countries, however, be aware of drive-by theft in big cities such as Kampala
This is the part where it gets a bit more tricky.
Currently, there are 2 requirements: Covid vaccination or PCR test and entry visa ( depending on your nationality ). For the entry visa you will need Yellow Fever vaccination.
For those who do need the visa, like ourselves, it needs to be obtained in advance as the visa-on-arrival has been suspended for few years.
There are 2 types of tourist visas: Uganda single entry tourist visa or East African multiple-entry visa. The East African Tourist visa is valid for 3 countries: Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda. If you are planning to visit more than one of them, is better and cheaper to obtain this type of visa.
The visa ( or letter of approval as it is called ) must be done online, before the trip, as it is a mandatory requirement for boarding.
Although there are many third party websites that advertise helping out with the visa process, the only official website is: https://visas.immigration.go.ug/
Both visas can be obtained via this channel.
The way it works: you start a new application for the desired type of visa, you upload the required documents ( passport, yellow fever vaccination certificate , return ticket, covid vaccination certificate, itinerary ), you pay the fee and you wait. The status of the application can be checked on the same website. Normally, after few days, you will receive a letter of approval which you will use in order to obtain the actual visa upon arrival.
In some cases, the letter of approval is not sent via e-mail, but can be downloaded from the immigration website when you check the status of the application.
Technically, it should be a straight forward process and shouldn`t take more than few days ( like it was in our case ) but there were cases when people had issues, so, we advise to start the application at least 2 weeks before the date of travel. The more time, the better.
The main issues people have are either related to the payment:
there were people who couldn`t make the payment on the website ( apparently American cards are restricted, so is Revolut ) or the payment was made but it was not recorded on the application
( usually it takes few minutes to be processed but if it is longer than one hour then something is wrong ).
Or, other issues could be related to: the processing of the application itself, the verification of documents and the issue time of the letter of approval. All documents need to be extremely small in order to be uploaded.
However, for us the process was straight forward and it took less than 5 days in total.
The cost of the visa is approximately 50$ for a single entry visa and 100$ for East African Visa. The duration of the visa is approximately 3 months from the date of entry.
Here are some Tripadvisor forums with more info regarding peoples` experiences with the visa process:
Renting a 4x4 car is definitely the best way to get around Uganda. And if you want to combine Uganda and Rwanda in the same trip, as we did, is definitely the most time efficient way.
Now depending on the level of driving experience and the will for adventures, you can either do a self drive or you can rent a car with a driver.
We are always pro doing the self drive but we understand some people might get a bit uncomfortable to drive around Africa.
Alternatively, you can book a tour thorugh an agency or even take the local buses but we have no experience on that, unfortunately.
We used 4x4UGANDA for car rental and we were super happy with their service. The cars usually cost around 80$ per day and there is an extra 5$ per day for rooftop tent and about 50$ charge for Rwanda entry approval. They don`t ask for any deposit.
Joseph, the main point of contact is very helpful and replies very quick. We had a 1995 Toyota which was in very good condition and we had no issues with it during our 10 days trip.
Driving in Uganda and Rwanda
Firstly, you should know that the roads are in way better condition in Rwanda.
Uganda has decent roads but has A LOT of speed bumps. Be careful with that as most of them can go unoticed.
The main roads are paved, whereas the secondary ones are mostly gravel.
In Uganda you drive on the left while in Rwanda you drive on the right. This can be slightly confusing.
Usually, in the car rental contract it is written that you are not allowed to drive after 7 pm, that is after sunset. This is for a good reason because the roads are extremely dangerous at night, there are many people, animals and vehicles which are completely unlit!!
Other than that, we had no issues doing the drive ourselves.
When to go
Technically, the best period to visit Uganda is during the dry seasons: December to February and June to August. However, if you go just outside these might be good as there are less tourists, more spaces available for gorillas and chimpanzee tracking etc. We went there at the end of September and the weather was not even that rainy and we found gorilla trekking permits much easier and with a shorter notice.
Accommodation and/or camping
There are various options of both hotels and camp sites from basic to luxurious. However, except for the most touristic places such as the national parks, Entebbe, Bwindi Impenetrable forest, Jinja and maybe Bunyoni Lake, the accommodation standard is pretty basic.
The cheapest and easiest option is camping with a roof tent as most of the places in national parks doen`t even require a prior booking.
We opted for a combination of roof tent and regular accommodation but some of the places were very basic.
Our favorite accommodation were:
Mwamba Kelele Lodge, on the shore of lake Mwamba - which is both an accommodation and education centre for children and all the money from accommodation will go to support chiltren education
Kasenyi Safari camp, inside Queen Elizabeth National Park, a very nice camp, with a huge terrace and restaurant from where you can see the park and nice spots for camping - usually you don`t need a booking for camping
Bwindi Forest Lodge, our accommodation just next to Buhoma gate for gorilla tracking
Leopard rest camp, just next to the gate of Lake Mburo National Park, a very nice camp with good food and from where you can spot animals even without entering the park
What to do and visit
Mountain gorilla tracking - it is an unbelievable experience and it is a must!! Full details about it in our Ultimate guide to gorilla tracking in Uganda.
This track can only be done in 3 countries: Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo. The cheapest option is DRC but considering the unsafe conditions over there most of the people choose to do it in Uganda as it`s the second cheapest option.
Cimpanzee tracking - we didn`t do that unfortunately but it`s a much cheaper activity than gorilla tracking. Hint: you can do it for half price in Rwanda.
Safari - altough Uganda is not so well known for safaris, they do have some wildlife and it`s worth the experience if you are in the area. There are a lot of national parks over there but the most popular ones are: Queen Elizabeth National Park, Murchinson Falls National Park, Lake Mburo National Park, Kibale National Park.
We only stopped in Queen Elizabeth National Park on our way to Bwindi Impenetrable forest. This park is mainly known as being the home of climbing lions, however, they only do that when it`s very hot outside. So we weren`t really lucky on that one!
Kazinga Channel - inside Queen Elizabeth National Park
Lake Bunyoni - popular for its green and lush terraced hills that are punctuated with a plethora of over 200 bird species
Lake Victoria - Africa`s biggest lake, shared by Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, just next to Entebbe. Also a good place to spot shoebill ancient looking birds.
Also, some places that we didn`t see but which are worth seeing:
Jinja - see where the Nile starts
Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary
Lake Katwe Explosion Crater Drive
Next, our photo gallery, shot on Sony A7III and Sony 35 mm lens, Sony 85 mm lens, Sony 135 mm lens and Zeiss 55 mm. Hopefully, it will inspire you to visit this beautiful country.