Uganda: What to know before you go

I love Uganda! It has so much beautiful nature to offer as well as very lovely welcoming locals. I am writing this as I am in Uganda. The first time I visited Uganda, I visited for 10 days the next time I visited for 2 months! For the 2 month stay I am working for a rural NGO living with a Ugandan Family. Here is all I have learnt from my experiences travelling as well as Ugandan culture!

Getting To Uganda

The main airport is located at Entebbe. This can be a bit confusing as the capital city is Kampala but there is no airport there. It is approximately 1 hour between the 2 cities however traffic jams are really common at peak times so expect delays. There are daily long-haul flights from Entebbe to destinations including Dubai, Istanbul and Brussels. There are also short haul flights to the neighbouring countries. Uganda has road border crossings with Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and the DRC.

The flight on the way to Entebbe. I took Turkish airlines

Entry Requirements of Uganda

Most passports are entitled to a 3 month tourist visa on arrival. You can pay cash for this at the airport or pre-pay online. The link to pre apply online wasn’t working for some reason when I tried so I ended up getting a visa on arrival which was a simple process. I was able to pay in GBP, you can also pay in USD or EUR.

At the time of writing (May 2021), a negative covid test within the last 120 hours was required for entry. As the covid situation changes, this requirement may change.

A yellow fever vaccination certificate is a must on arrival. You will be refused entry if you do not carry a valid yellow fever vaccination certificate.

Equator stop on the road!

When to Visit Uganda

Uganda is situated on the equator so it is never going to be particularly cold, the weather is generally quite humid all year round.

There are only 2 seasons in Uganda: wet season and dry season. The wet season is September-November and March-May and tends to be less busy for tourists. I have visited in the wet season and it is not all day long rain, there are still many hot dry days.

You will find goats everywhere and anywhere in Uganda

Health concerns in Uganda

I have been involved with some healthcare projects in Uganda so have learnt more than I would usually about the healthcare system and health concerns.

Vaccinations

As with a lot of travel to tropical countries, an appointment with a travel doctor or nurse is advised to make sure you are up to date on your injections. You must have the yellow fever vaccine with a valid certificate or you will not be allowed to enter the country.

Malaria in Uganda

Malaria is very common in Uganda so the best way to avoid this is to avoid being bitten by a mosquito. Wear long trousers in the evenings and wear mosquito repellent on all exposed skin. All tourist lodges will have mosquito nets to sleep under, make sure you check them for mosquitos inside before you sleep. You never know if one has snuck in! Anti-malaria tablets are required so speak to a medical professional about sourcing this before you leave your home country. If you show symptoms of malaria (anti-malarial tablets are not 100% effective), visit a local clinic and they will give you the best medication for it.

Lake Bunyoyi

Can you drink the tap water in Uganda?

The tap water is normally not drinkable unless specified by the place you are staying. The most likely health concern that might happen is stomach upsets especially if you have not travelled to the region before. Avoid this by always washing your hands before a meal. I would also carry immodium and rehydration salts just in case.

Uganda is a high-risk HIV country. Obviously, this is not easily transmissible but if you fall for a lovely Ugandan make sure correct precautions are taken.

What language do they speak in Uganda?

There are over 40 languages currently spoken in Uganda so good luck trying to learn them all! English and Swahili are both national languages. English is very widely spoken especially in tourist areas and cities. One of the most common languages in Luganda (and is spoken where I am staying for 2 months). One of the most confusing things I had ever heard about languages is that in Luganda the way you tell the time on the clock is opposite. If it is 3 o’clock in English it is 9 o’clock in Luganda. How bilingual English/Luganda people ever figure out the time is still mind blowing to me!

It’s a custom to give a chicken to show appreciation in Uganda. This was my chicken gift!!

What money do they use in Uganda?

Ugandan Currency

The local currency is the Ugandan shilling. Prepare to feel like a millionaire! The exchange rate to GBP and EUR is here. If you are visiting tourist places such as national parks and hotels USD is also widely accepted. Be aware if you are to pay in USD the notes must not be damaged in any way. If you are going to local shops or restaurants shillings are only accepted.

Credit cards are widely accepted in tourist establishments although in remote places network can be a bit sketchy. It would be a good idea to check that your bank card will work in Uganda. I often use Revolut and I find out to my horror that it was blocked in Uganda. Luckily I had a back up card!!

Mobile Money

Locals will often use something called ‘mobile money’. This allows you to have money saved onto your sim card. If you are able to register a local sim, this is a very simple way to carry your money. I set this up as I was going to be in Uganda for a long time and didn’t want to be carrying lots of cash. You can transfer the money from your home bank account through the app Remitly. Mobile money withdrawal points are significantly more common than ATMs although ATMs can be found in all large towns or cities they are not many in the national park areas. You can buy a sim at Entebbe airport when you arrive. I would recommend either Airtel or MTN. These are the networks the majority of the population use and you wont be charged foreigner price.

Mobile money stand

LGBTQ+ Travellers

Sadly homosexuality is currently illegal in Uganda with prison sentences of up to life. Although westerners are rarely subjected to investigation, discretion is strongly recommended. Some lodges may even refuse 2 people of the same sex a double room. I do not share those views and it really saddens me that homophobia is the norm in Uganda.

Food Market in Uganda

Is Uganda Safe?

Short answer – yes! Uganda in general is a really safe country. Tourists are respected as they are seen as a source of income. As will all countries, be careful with your valuables in a crowded place as tourists stand out a lot.

View looking over Queen Elizabeth National Park

Driving in Uganda

Self-drive in Uganda is a great way to get around especially if you are on a budget. Uganda, like the UK, drives on the left hand side of the road. If you are renting a vehicle, a 4WD is definitely the best decision. Roads even in some smaller cities might not be paved so a 4X4 is a great shout. As well as this, if you are planning to do game drives in the national parks, having your own 4×4 will save you money as you need just a guide.

I was not in a 4×4 at this point and regretted it…

Public Transport in Uganda

If you are moving around a city or short distances a ‘Boda Boda’ is definitely the cheapest option. Boda Bodas are motorbikes that you can jump on the back of. Boda Boda’s are basically treated as vans here, I have seen so many things transported on them, from roofing sheets to a full sized double bed. If you have a boda boda guy that you meet and trust, be sure to get their number. If they know and trust you they can also fetch things for you – I had handkerchiefs delivered by a boda boda last week it was fab!

Boda boda traffic in Kampala

If you are going between cities, public taxi vans are the way to go. There are no fixed prices, so be prepared to negociate. They are white vans with blue markings on the side, if you wave at them you can hail them down. You ask where they are going and if they are going in the right direction, you are golden!

Muzungu effect

A foreigner is often referred to as a ‘Muzungu’. This directly translates as white person but could apply to anyone that doesn’t look like they could be from Uganda. If you are a ‘muzungu’, be prepared to hear that word a lot, especially from children. This largely comes from a place of curiosity especially if you are in remote areas. ‘Muzungus’ are treated with high respect as they are seen as investors in the country. There have been some horror stories of foreigners abusing this respect that range from the highly illegal to just rude to locals – don’t be this person. Respect the local population as you would expect to be treated by a foreigner at home.

Chimpanzee tracking in Kibale

Religion

Religion is a very large part of Ugandan culture and identity of Ugandan citizens. Depending on your home country, the number of references to religion can be a bit surprising. The majority of the population is Christian (approx. 84%), 14% of the population is Muslim and the rest are made up from indigenous religions.

What plugs do they use in Uganda

Uganda uses the same plug as the UK. A 3 pronged plug adapter is needed. Often lodges will work on solar if there are not in cities so sometimes power can be sketchy if it has rained all day. Most large lodges have backup generators but it is worth bringing a power bank just in case.

If its not on Instagram – did it happen??

As I am writing this (2021), social media sights on mobile network is a paid service. Social media is not restricted on wifi but is if you are hotspotting a phone or on data. If you are using a local sim you need to pay the social media tax to be able to use data for Instagram or other social media sites. At the time of writing, Facebook is blocked even on wifi. If you are using an international sim on a hotspot you will need a VPN to be able to access social media. The wifi in some of the hotels can be very questionable, if you are someone that needs to be connected buying a sim is the best way to go. You can buy a sim at entebbe airport – Airtel or MTN are the best networks to go with.

My view from a hammock chilling out in Uganda!

What to Wear in Uganda

What to wear depends on where you are visiting and activities. If you are doing activities such as gorilla tracking and are in the bush then particular clothes are needed but for general day to day life this is what you need to know. In general, conservative-ish clothing is recommended. Tops covering the shoulders and bottoms covering the knees are a good idea for men and women. More skin showing is seen as inappropriate. If, like me, you love wearing flip flops when in hot countries, you might receive some funny looks. In Uganda, flip flops are used to shower in so it would be like leaving the house in your big fluffy slippers.

Even the chickens are judging my flip flops…..

Time to get going!

So thats the end of Uganda: what to know before you go! Now for the best bit – get out there and explore! Enjoy this beautiful country and meet the great people and have a great time.

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