Home to some of Africa’s most stunning natural wonders, Uganda was once called the “Pearl of Africa”. While political turmoil in the 1970s diminished confidence within the country, stabilization has been a key to re-building tourism within Uganda.
Today, Uganda is once again a safe tourist destination and its brilliant scenery and vast landscape makes it hard to miss.
Karibu – Welcome to Uganda
From the Rwenzoris mountain range to the Nile River and Lake Victoria, Uganda’s landscape is a tapestry of colors and climates. While Ugandan safaris may not be as famous as those that are hosted by Kenya and Tanzania, the smaller parks and game reserves in Uganda provide an intimate view into the life of Africa’s amazing animals. With the chance to see Africa’s Big Five, hippos and gorillas, Uganda is a popular destination amongst nature loving tourists.
Hugging Lake Victoria, Kampala is the capital of Uganda, which has been nestled in a series of hills. The city has been divided into sections with each part focusing on a certain industry or business. The commercial and residential areas are the most popular amongst tourists, while the industrial area is left to its business.
Once the capital of the Buganda Kingdom, the city is full of contrasts between the rich and poor, old and new. Traces of the country’s colonial past can be found throughout Kampala, while modern hotels and gardens are paving the way for a new tourist industry.
- Culture and Language
- Visa Requirements
- Spending Budget
- How to Get Around
- Top Cities to Visit
- Points of Interest
Culture and Language
Uganda’s history is long, much like most of Africa. Historians have found proof of human activity dating back 50,000 years, but some estimates state that it could extend as far back as 100,000 years. The first people who cultivated the area were most likely Bantu speaking tribes who spread throughout the region.
The history books become rather vague as Uganda expanded and the country eventually became a protectorate of the British Empire, which lasted from 1894-1962. As a protectorate of Britain, Uganda constructed a railway and began to industrialize cotton and other textiles.
By 1962, Uganda became an independent nation, but it maintained its Commonwealth membership with the British Empire. While Obote, who was the prime minister at the time, sought to keep the power within the kingdom, the country turned against the monarchy and chose to give all the power to the president. This ultimately led to the abolishment of traditional kingdoms as the country turned into a republic.
However, Uganda is one of Africa’s poorest nations and in 1971, a military coup overthrew Obote and put Idi Amin in power. Idi Amin was a military leader and dictator, who would rule Uganda for 8 years. Under the 8-year rule of Amin, Uganda suffered as he carried out mass killings and drove the country into economic decline. Other issues included human rights violations and social disintegration.
While Uganda’s history may not be as famous as other African nations, it was turned into a famous book and Hollywood movie, both of which are titled The Last King of Scotland. While the story is part fictional, the story covers part of Amin’s dictatorship in Uganda and the film even won an Academy Award.
In the late 1970s, Uganda entered into the Uganda-Tanzania War. Tanzania’s President Nyerere was supportive of Uganda’s previous president, Obote and he helped him attempt to regain power in the early 1970s. However, the rebellion did not go as planned and for the next 8 years, the relationship between Tanzania and Uganda deteriorated.
Starting in late 1978, the Uganda-Tanzania War began with Tanzania invading Uganda. The war ended in 1979 after it was able to successfully overthrow Amin.
Since 1979, Uganda has stabilized as the government ended atrocities like human rights violations. The country has also seen an expansion of freedom as the press has been reformed and is allowed to freely report on current issues. While the country still has a long way to go, it has emerged victorious from its darkest days.
Amongst the dozens of ethnic groups, Ugandan culture has always been warm, welcoming, and full of celebration. The people have always welcomed outsiders, whether they are refugees from neighboring countries or international visitors. Dances are an important part of the culture and are commonly performed in ceremonies or for special occasions. Friendship is important to the Ugandan people and taking the time to connect with the locals can help you forge new relationships.
Much in tune with their cultural diversity, Uganda is a multilingual nation. Most languages within Uganda are a part of the Bantu, Central Sudanic, or Nilotic families. However, the official language in Uganda is English. English was introduced by colonizers and it has remained an important part of Uganda as it is used for education and mission work. However, even though English is used throughout the government, media and education, not all people in Uganda speak English.
Most English speakers will live in tourist areas, work within the tourist industry, or live in the big city. In more rural areas, people will likely speak the language that is native to their people or tribe. Another popular language that is spoken throughout Uganda and all of Africa is Swahili, which is used as a common language amongst tribes who speak different languages.
Similar to most African countries, US tourists are required to obtain a tourist visa. However, for entry into Uganda, there is to tourist visa upon arrival and you must complete an application for a tourist visa with the Government of Uganda prior to arriving at the international airport.
An electronic visa/permit can be granted by the Government of Uganda and tourists must submit an application online. You must submit your application two weeks before your intended date of arrival in Uganda. A single-entry visa costs $86.50 US dollars with standard processing. There are also options for rush or super rush processing and those cost $116.50 and $151.50 US dollars.
When you apply for the electronic visa, you will need to provide a copy of your US passport. Your passport must have a remaining validity of at least 6 months from your date of arrival to Uganda and one blank page. A recent passport sized photo must also be included with your application. All travelers will need to provide proof of a Yellow Fever vaccine. If you are traveling with children under the age of 5, they will need to have proof of a current Yellow Fever and Polio vaccine.
There are no currency restrictions for entering or exiting Uganda and only the Yellow Fever and Polio (if under the age of 5) vaccines are required. However, diseases that are known to be in Uganda that you should be vaccinated against prior to your arrival in the country include Hepatitis B, Meningitis, Typhoid, and Tuberculosis. You should also consult your doctor about Malaria prevention.
Any time you research the cost of a trip to Africa, you will likely come across a wide range of prices and trip cost estimates. One reason why it can be difficult to plan a trip to Uganda and estimate the cost is because the price of some activities is much more than others. The same can be said about accommodation and transportation. With options for backpackers and luxury vacationers, Uganda can cater to every traveler’s budget.
However, backpackers might have a harder time outlining their spending budget, as they have to pick and choose which activities to do or skip. Even if you have more funds for a vacation, a spending budget can help you estimate the costs of visiting Uganda. Your spending budget for Uganda should include the cost of airfare, accommodation, food, drink, transportation, and safaris.
While some costs on your trip might be friendly towards limited budgets, the cost of a flight is one part of your vacation that is expensive and unavoidable. The average cost of a flight from the United States to Uganda is $1,400 US dollars. Some airlines have deals on tickets and if you can book a seat for $900 US dollars that is considered a great price.
The price of an airline ticket will also fluctuate with the season and number of tourists visiting the country. High tourist season in Uganda means higher prices.
There are two different peak tourist times in Uganda, which align with the dry seasons. December to mid-March is the first dry season, while the second dry spell runs from July to August. It is during these months that tourists are most likely going to visit Uganda with the holidays of Christmas and New Year’s being the ultimate peak.
Once you’ve established the dates of your trip, you will need to start booking your accommodation. If you’re traveling during the peak tourist seasons, it’s important that you make your reservations in advance or else you risk not being able to find an open room.
Hostels are the most affordable accommodation option and most charge about $35 US dollars per night. A double room in a standard hotel will cost about $75 US dollars. While the best hotels or lodges will cost $150-$400 US dollars per night. If you are looking for a luxury experience, you should expect to spend thousands of US dollars per night.
Unless you have booked a safari or lodge that includes a complete package or experience, most accommodation options do not include the price of food in their nightly rates. However, food is one part of your trip that is affordable. While Ugandan cuisine is not very well known, it is a great way for visitors to deepen their connection to the country and explore the local culture.
Ugandan cuisine is based on starchy foods like potatoes, cornmeal, and beans. Other favorite ingredients include cassava, peanuts, and plantains.
One of Uganda’s favorite dishes, which dates back to the Buganda Kingdom is luwombo. Luwombo is a stew, which is made of beef, chicken, and vegetables. Served alongside many dishes like luwombo and other soups is posho, which is a mix of white corn flour.
Ugandans also love to roast meat, which they call muchomo. The meat can come from any animal, but the most popular choices are beef, chicken, pork, and goat. Most of the time, you can find muchomo in street stalls as the meat is simply grilled on sticks and served with gonja (plantains).
For breakfast, you might want to try katogo, which is a traditional and hearty meal that is eaten in the morning. A mix of beef, beans and vegetables, this dish may also feature cassava or sweet potatoes.
With fresh ingredients and unique flavors, you can’t go wrong with a good Ugandan meal. Food in Uganda is also inexpensive, and most travelers can get by with a budget of about $6-$9 US dollars per day for their meals.
Local restaurants are very affordable and will charge about $3 US dollars per meal. In touristy areas or luxury lodges, the price of food can skyrocket, and you should expect to pay up to $15 US dollars for a meal.
While there are not many options for alcoholic beverages in Uganda, there are a few local and imported beers. In resort areas, you may also be able to find wine. Most drinks in Uganda will cost less than $3 US dollars per beverage or about $9 US dollars for a bottle of wine.
With some parts of your trip costing more than others, travelers should plan to spend $50-$100 US dollars per day in Uganda. This would include the price of your accommodation, food, and drink. Other expenses that can drastically affect your budget are the cost of safaris and transportation.
The unique wildlife in Uganda has made it the perfect place to take a safari. Whether you want to explore the grasslands, banks of the Nile or the gorillas, you will need to pay for a safari. The parks and game reserves in Uganda cost money to enter and their fees are often covered in the price of a safari. In addition, you are much safer going through the parks with a guide who knows the area and can take you to the best wildlife spots.
Ugandan safaris have a wide range of prices with the least expensive being about $150 US dollars for one night. However, they can cost as much as $900 US dollars. The average price for a safari is about $400 US dollars. One of the most expensive safari experiences that does not have an adjustable price is the Uganda gorilla excursions, which cost $700 US dollars per person for a permit.
If you want to experience the beauty of Uganda on a budget, your best option would be to visit a park or game reserve on your own. Unless you are visiting the gorillas, most parks will charge $10-$40 US dollars per person as an entrance fee. While you can visit Bwindi National Park and pay the $40 US dollar entrance fee, you cannot access the gorillas without purchasing the $700 US dollar permit.
How to Get Around
Another big cost on your trip to Uganda is the cost of transportation as you’re traveling around the country. Safety can be an issue in Uganda, and it is important that you pick safe methods of transportation to get around. With poor road conditions, four-wheel drive is also required to get around Uganda.
By far the safest and most popular way for tourists to get around is with a hired driver. While you can drive yourself, it can be a big challenge if you are not familiar with bush driving and there are steep fines for hitting animals or going off track. Hired drivers are a great way to get around safely and you don’t have to worry about getting lost. However, hiring a private driver is expensive and you should expect to pay $60-$100 US dollars per day.
The fastest way to travel is by using airplanes, which could transport you from park to park. However, flights in Uganda are very expensive and you should expect to pay $300-$500 US dollars for a one-way trip.
If you are on a tight budget and are willing to attempt navigating the local bus system, you can save a lot of money by traveling like the locals. Minibuses are popular throughout Uganda and they are used to transport people shorter distances. Travelers who choose local transportation methods should expect to spend about $2 US dollars per day of travel.
No matter how you travel, for your safety, you should always avoid traveling at night. It is dangerous to be out in the nighttime, whether you are in a game reserve or in a city. The only time it is safe to be out at night is if you have booked a guided safari that takes place after dark.
Top Cities to Visit
Uganda is not well known for its cities because most go unvisited by tourists. However, the top three cities to explore in Uganda are the capital, Kampala, as well as Entebbe and Jinja.
Once home to the seat of the Buganda Kingdom, Kampala has become the nation’s modern-day capital. A busy urban center is host to museums, restaurants, and shops. Just outside of the touristy area sits the Lubiri Palace, which sits on Mengo Hill.
The Uganda Museum can tell you more about the area and the country’s history or you can go explore the shores of Lake Victoria. The Owino Market is another highlight, which has everything from local produce to homemade crafts. While most visitors do not fly into Kampala, you shouldn’t skip this busy capital if you are in the area.
Entebbe is where most tourists will fly into and it is their first taste of Uganda. Resting on Lake Victoria, Entebbe is a beautiful town, which is home to wildlife education centers, botanic gardens, and the Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary. Other highlights in Entebbe include the golf club and State House.
Jinja is your gateway to the Nile River. It’s here that this famous river begins after leaving from Lake Victoria. Like most of the tourist cities in Uganda, Jinja is located on the shores of the lake and nearby to the Owen Falls and Bujagali Dams. Known as the “Adventure Capital of Uganda”, Jinja is the place to go if you want to white water raft or go four-wheeling in the wild landscape of the Nile.
Points of Interest
Outside of the three main cities there is plenty to explore. With the lake, river, and numerous parks, there is a lot to see and do in Uganda. Here are some of the top points of interest in Uganda.
Mighty and inspiring, a boat trip to the Murchison Falls has become a highlight of many visitors in Uganda. The falls emerge from a narrow gorge before falling into the river. While the falls are the highlight, located nearby, the Conservative Area is home to lions, leopard, elephants, and giraffes.
Lake Victoria is the African continent’s largest body of water from which the Nile River flows. While not all of Lake Victoria is located in Uganda, there is plenty of shoreline to explore. With the popular cities of Kampala, Entebbe, and Jinja all located on the river, these are the best places where visitors can explore this famous body of water.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
Nestled in a lush mountain landscape, the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is home to plenty of Africa’s wildlife. However, the park has become famous for being the home of some of the last mountain gorillas. Gorillas tours are pricey and cost $700 US dollars, but for a chance to glimpse some of our last remaining ancestors, it is an experience well worth the price.
Queen Elizabeth National Park
With a diverse landscape, the Queen Elizabeth National Park is home to wetlands, savanna, and grasslands where you can station yourself to catch a glimpse of lions, hippos, chimpanzees, and much more. The park is open to the public and there are plenty of companies that operate tours or safaris of the area.
Lake Katwe Explosion Crater Drive
Close by to the Queen Elizabeth National Park is the Lake Katwe Explosion Crater Drive. This unique experience takes about two and a half hours to complete, but it gives you the chance to view some of Uganda’s most stunning natural landmarks. With views of Crater Lake, the Blue Mountains of Congo, and the Mountains of the Moon, this area is guaranteed to take your breath away.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Only one gorilla family lives in this park, but it is still unique because there are not many mountain gorillas left in the world. Visitors can book a tour to get close to the gorillas and observe them in their natural habitat. Other highlights at the Mgahinga Gorilla National Park include the bamboo forests, Virunga Mountains, and golden monkeys.
Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary
The Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary is the only place in Uganda where there are wild rhinos. This sanctuary also offers unique experiences like guided nature walks, canoe cruises, and trekking tours. With hippos, crocodiles and hundreds of bird species, visitors are guaranteed to have a great day exploring the African wildlife.
Get Out and Go
Uganda may be small in size, but it is full of adventure. With dozens of parks and game reserves, this country is the best place to get an intimate view into Africa’s stunning landscape and wildlife. No matter where you go, Uganda will be an unforgettable adventure. All you have to decide is whether to drift down the Nile with the hippos or explore the mountains with the gorillas.