Important and useful Tips when planning safari to Uganda
Planning to travel to any country in the world can be stressful and tiring experience especially when you luck updated information and you do not know what to expect and what is required. First off, any traveler to Africa must know that for most parts of Africa, things are a little bit different from your usual environment and Uganda is no exception. In terms of infrastructural development and service delivery and most times the weather and climatic conditions vary so you need to come ready for something different but also exciting experience.
Uganda situated in the heart of Africa also known as the Pearl of Africa is one of East Africa’s fast growing, exciting and most diversified safari destination owing to her Unique and remarkable attractions. It is one of the few places where you can see the endangered Mountain Gorillas. It is a destination where you can combine Primate viewing with classic savannah safari; it is also an excellent birding destination. Uganda offers a good opportunity for visitors to enjoy vehicle, boat, walking and flying activities including Ruwenzori Mountain climbing and its scenic beauty.
Here are important and useful tips you need to take in to consideration when planning your next trip to Uganda
Visa: For most foreign nationals apart from the East African Community members (Uganda Kenya and Rwanda) you will need valid visa to enter the country and the visa is easily acquired. at consular/high commission or Embassy of Uganda in your area. There is also an online option through the immigration department. On arrival at Entebbe International Airport you can also easily acquire a Visa for a fee from $50 for single entry.
However if you intend to visit other East African community member countries after your visit to Uganda, it will be more practical to apply for tourist visa for multiple entry for $100 for 90 days. You will need a valid passport and no prior paper work required. This only applies for visa acquisition at Entebbe International Airport.
Arrival in Uganda: Uganda has one International Airport for all international arrivals. Currently there a several international airlines that operate daily or weekly flights into Entebbe International Airport and they offer good connections from Europe, America, UK and other parts of the world. Common international airlines include Brussels, KLM, Qatar Airways, Ethiopian Airlines, South African Airways, Emirates and Turkish. Talk to your Travel Agent at home for the best possible connections and cheap flights.
When to come: Uganda is safe and suitable for travel any time of the year. Most tourist activities can be done all year round. Please note the rainy season is from March until May and from October through November until December. The dry seasons are from January to February and from June to August. I would highly recommend the dry months as some of the best times to visit our national parks for tourist activities as you can easily spot some wildlife on a game drive because the grass is short. It’s also easy to spot animals as they come to refresh and cool down at the water holes. There is also less incidences of blocked roads, broken bridges, and mudslides and many other unexpected delays due to heavy down pour. Some of these incidences can delay a safari for several hours or cause a detour and it is possible to miss certain planned activities. However some people prefer the green and the tall grass with surprises, animals leaping out of the bush as they travel.
Transportation within and around Uganda’s major city and town are varied. When you have booked your safari with a travel Agent, for a private or group safari, they will normally provide you with a customized safari vehicle inclusive of a driver/guide (English speaking) and services starts from arrival in Entebbe with transfers to your hotel and throughout the safari and will normally include airport drop on the last day of your safari unless under a different arrangement.
However if you would like to hire a vehicle for a private tour, it is also possible and the best people to hire from are the travel agents and will most likely offer you a driver/guide. I would not recommend self drive for a visitor in this country or if you have not driven on our roads before or anywhere in Africa. Now if you are familiar with driving on our roads, and would like to take a self guided tour it is possible. When travelling within the city and you need a smaller vehicle which will be cheaper compared to the safari vehicles and you can get one through a travel agent or just download Uber taxi application on your phone for the cheapest and most efficient way to get from one point to another within the city and the suburbs .You will do well to avoid the commuter taxis ( matatus) and Bodabodas (motor bike) as much as possible unless under a private arrangement with persons who offer boarder rides for tourist officially.
Uganda offers a variety of accommodations within the city and major points of attractions ie national parks and major towns. From my own experience, the accommodation type you choose can ruin or make your safari. Up market accommodation will offer you better service. Accommodations are usually classified as luxury, comfort and budget in the national parks. I would recommend comfort or luxury. Within the major cities of Kampala and Entebbe, there is variety of accommodation types offering good services. Budget accommodations are usually basic and a few are clean with hot running water and mosquito nets in the room. If you intend to book your safari to Uganda through a travel Agent, you do not have to worry about booking accommodation; their packages will include different style of accommodations within the luxury, comfort and budget for you to choose. It is also possible to book directly to the hotel/ lodge of your choice if your intention is to travel independently.
Safety and security: There are many websites that will have different information about safety in Uganda and many of them are out dated and do not reflect the actual state of security and safety. Uganda is currently one of the most stable and secures countries in Africa with some of the friendliest people in Africa to according to an economist survey. For the tourist there is the tourism police to make sure you are safe while on a tour or safari and, while on a game drive, you have a game ranger with you the whole time. Some of the safest places in Uganda are in the national parks. There are no incidences of rebel activities or insurgency or terror activities. Ask your travel agent about the current state of security at the time you intend to travel, they are well informed and will advise you accordingly.
Keeping in touch with home while in Uganda can be frustrating if you do not know how. Many safari lodges do not have wifi but a few up market lodges do have wifi. Most networks do not extend to the bushes easily. It is therefore advisable to buy a local sim card for your smart phone and you can receive calls for free or if you are using a laptop, you can buy usb data connection with data and you can do the same for a tablet of ipad. please note some networks will not reach the bushes and others have poor signals. I would recommend MTN and AIRTEL.
What to wear: Uganda weather changes drastically within the day whether it is the dry or rainy season. We can have a heavy down pour for one hour and the next hour it can be bright and hot like it did not rain. My advice is to keep it simple, plain, comfortable and neutral colors while on safari. Something easy to wash and feels good when you are wearing it. Do not forget your hat and comfortable sturdy hiking boots or and sandals. Come along with a light sweater, rain jacket and long sleeved and a pair or two of long pants for hiking in the bushes preferably jeans as they offer better protection from the vegetation and grass plus they dry up quickly if you need to wash and long sleeved shirt for the rainy season.
For gorilla tracking you need to be fairly fit and equipped for the humid, muddy conditions of rain forest hike and healthy. Even though the dry months are the best for tracking, you can still expect a tough day on foot, it is sometimes humid, wet and muddy with steep slopes and tangled vegetation. It is highly recommended that you come with-proper hiking boots, backpack for your personal equipments, insect repellents, rain jacket, sweater, camera and your agent will provide you with water and packed lunch for the day. The rangers will provide you with walking sticks if you need one and if you need a porter inform your driver/guide before entering the gorilla sanctuary.
Health: It is very uncommon for travellers to arrive to Uganda and then become sick. What is common though is the stomach upset which is something you can experience anywhere in the world. Uganda is Ebola free and marburg free. However Yellow fever & malaria prophylactics are required. Carry along your mosquito repellents and your personal medication.
Money while in Uganda: Uganda is cash based country and the USD is the most commonly accepted currency. Credit card is available but limited and there is a surcharge of 5%. If you have already booked and paid for all your safari expenses, it is best to carry cash a small amount as credit card is not safe, first there are added fees, potential theft, and possible credit card freeze by your bank and it can become an inconvenience with the delays. Credit card machines are found in all major towns with VISA ATM Cards. Master cards are limited to specific banks. I would not recommend the American express cards. Travelers cheque are not accepted everywhere plus its cumbersome to get them exchanged into cash. The ATM machine will allow you a maximum of $500 per day. Please $ notes series below 2006 will depreciate in exchange rates and small bills below $50
.Tipping is now become a culture in Uganda unlike before. You can tip the hotel or lodge waiters and waitresses, your tour guide, hotel staff or any one offering you a service that you appreciate while you are in Uganda. Most hotels and safari lodges do have a tip box so you can tip collectively. It does not have to be a large amount but it will be gladly accepted and will go a long way into helping meet the needs of these individuals who earn very low income compared to cost of living. It is also important that you be good ambassador of your country.
Donation: Whenever possible do come with scholastic materials, clothes or any stuff that you want to donate to the orphanages, hospital and schools around the community you will be visiting while you are in Uganda. You can talk to your travel agent about this before you arrive in Uganda. There are many orphanages, schools and hospitals that are always in need of a little helping hand and any donations can go along way into changing lives.