Uganda is the true ‘Pearl of Africa’ and has so much to offer with both animals and beautiful scenery. I have been to Uganda 3 times so far, the longest I stayed was 3 months and I love it there! This is the perfect place to learn How to Travel Uganda on a Budget whilst appreciating everything this country has to offer.
Although the cost of living in Uganda is very low compared to Europe, this is not necessarily reflected in the cost of Tourist activities. The Tourism industry at the moment caters for high end travel although the budget industry is starting to develop.
In this post, I walk you through how to travel Uganda on a Budget. To experience Uganda for the lowest prices, you need to live like a local. As well as saving costs, this way you get to experience the hospitality and friendliness of the local population.
My general rule of thumb of if it is for locals or tourists is whether it is in Uganadan Shillings (USX) or US Dollars (USD). If the cost is in USD, it is marketed at tourists only and not for the local population.
How to Travel Uganda on a Budget: Transport
Transport is where you can expect to save lots of dollahhh.
Local buses go across the country between all major towns and cities, this is the cheapest way to travel long distances. Do not expect any form of timetable or bus route! But they are very frequent and readily available. Buses look like vans and sometimes have a taxi light on top as well as blue stripes down the side of the van. There is a conductor that will sit in the front and negotiate prices as well as stops. Expect to pay approximately 5000USX per hour, this fluctuates depending on fuel prices as well as demand.
To stop the bus, stand at the side of the road and wave at them, there are no official stops. Tell them where you are going and clarify the price. If you are going for a long distance (ie multiple towns), expect to get a bus to the next town and then change bus. Because of the frequent stops to pick up and drop off people, buses can be quite slow. Foreigners don’t often get on the buses so expect to make friends!
When you are in a big city or town, get around by Boda Boda. Boda Boda’s are taxi motorbikes. In Kampala, use the app SafeBoda to organise your rides. This works like Uber and calculates the price automatically and the drivers are trained to be able to drive for them.
Fun story: I met someone in a hostel in Kampala that had travelled around Uganda for 3 months on a bicycle! This was the real budget option and he lived like a true local throughout his travels. He had some great stories as he ended up in loads of places that tourists would usually never go to.
Rent car and drive yourself
If time is not on your side, the next cheapest option is to hire a car and drive around yourself. Uganda drives on the left hand side and the roads can be busy so be prepared for that. Imports of cars are really expensive in Uganda (tax can be up to 3x the cost of the car). Therefore rental cars can be more expensive than you would expect. The cost of this starts at $40 USD per day for the lowest cost vehicle (compact, 2 wheel drive). Check in advance if your driver’s license if valid for car hire.
If you are planning to do game drives, renting a 4×4 car for the trip is a good idea to prevent having to rent a van for the national parks. I visited Lake Mburo national park in a 2 wheel drive, I regretted it. You can hire a ranger guide by the day through the Ugandan Wildlife Authority for game drives which is a great idea to see more animals as they are experienced as spotting animals.
Rent car and have a driver
Travelling with a driver really takes all pressure off but also comes at a price, expect to pay at least $50 per day for the driver (not including car hire). This is done through a tour company. Before hiring a driver check with the company if the driver can act as a guide throughout the national parks. There can be ranges on how much drivers cost based on their experience as well as languages spoken. A more experienced guide really adds a lot of value to the trip and is worth the extra in my experience. If you are passionate about knowing certain things, such as birding, this can be requested through the company.
Internal flights are for maximum budget, minimum time. The small charter planes go between Entebbe and the main tourist national parks. If you are really restricted on time this is the best option but expect to pay a premium for it.
How to Travel Uganda on a Budget: Accommodation
Local guest houses
Local guest houses are the cheapest option. They will not appear on google or booking websites but are truly for the local population. You will find them by signs on the side of the road or ask a local boda boda driver. The cost is the cheapest you can find but expect the comfort to be a minimum too.
(Top Tip: if you are looking for anything, the boda boda drivers will know where to go)
The cheapest possible option is to camp and bring your own tent and camping equipment. Some campsites and tour companies offer tents for hire too. There are a wide variety of campsites in Uganda, from UWA (Ugandan wildlife authority) run to community run campsites. Some luxury lodges even allow camping on their grounds which gives options to use their pools! Camping can cost between $5 and $15 per night.
Hostels and dorms
There is a growing amount of hostels and accommodation that offers dorm rooms accommodations in Uganda. There are options in most touristy areas. I stayed in a hostel the Five Horsemen hostel in Kamapla that was really nice and had a roof top bar which was a great way to spend an evening.
Lodges and hotels
There are many options for high end lodges in all tourist areas of Uganda. There are a growing number of lodges catering to lower budgets. When looking for lodges, I tried to find lodges owned by Ugandan people. This means that the money you are spending goes back into the local economy rather than to foreign investors.
How to Travel Uganda on a Budget: Food
Local road side cheapest
The cheapest option you will find for food is roadside market stalls. You can expect to eat here for less than 5000USX. If you are travelling in a local bus, local vendors will often pop up at the window offering a variety of things. If you are travelling in the right season, you can be brave enough to eat crickets!
There are many restaurants that cater to the local population only. This is where you will find very high quality Ugandan food but on a local budget. The choices can sometimes be limited and will often be posho or matoke based. Expect to spend 5000-10000USX per meal in local restaurants.
Any restaurants catering to the international market will be more expensive than local restaurants. With this, you have the option of more variety of food from all over the world rather than just Uganda. Expect to pay between 20000-50000USX per meal.
Hotels is where you will find the most expensive food in food in Uganda. This is usually comes with very high quality and tasty food. Some hotels include the food with the price of the room so this can vary significantly.
How to Travel Uganda on a Budget: National park Entry Fees
Visiting the National Parks is the reason to visit Uganda and sadly a high and unavoidable cost. Permits to track the Gorillas and Chimpanzees are very expensive with no option. The only way to have reduced costs for park entry and permits is to either live in and East African Country or be a Ugandan National (evidence must be provided of course).
Many tour companies offer to purchase the permits for Gorilla and Chimpanzee tracking in advance for you. As the tour companies can do this in advance, this guarantees permits on your preferred day but the tour companies charge a commission for this service. To purchase the permits yourself, you must go to the Ugandan Wildlife Authority (UWA) offices in Kampala. They are not available online and expect to wait a while to do this. The risk of doing this is that the permits might not be available, pre-covid times the gorilla tracking booked up 6 months in advance.
How to Travel Uganda on a Budget: Tips
I have travelled to Uganda both before Covid and since it began. The tourism industry was really hit by Covid and it was obvious while I was there the effect that it had. Tips is something that I always advice not to budget on, especially if the person has done a great job. Even though you may be paying a lot for a service there is no sure way that the money is trickling down to the workers. $5 for us might not seem a lot, but for the local population it really is. As someone who has worked in the tourism industry, believe me when I say a tip can make the persons day!
How to Travel Uganda on a Budget: Money and Sim Card
If you are travelling on a true budget, the best way to deal with money is like the locals do, cash and mobile money. This includes using your phone for all money transactions rather than credit cards. I have written a post on how to do this here. With a local sim this means you can get data without having to rely on going to accommodations that have wifi. Data coverage in Uganda is very good and having data makes planning journeys etc so much easier.
Now you Know How to Travel Uganda on a Budget!
Now you know how to travel Uganda on a budget and to get the best out of your trip no matter the budget you have! Have the best time and let me know how it goes.