Uganda Travel Guide for First-Time Visitors

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Uganda is one country, made up of 5 ancient kingdoms, 56 tribes, 136 districts and a population of around 44 million people. A lot of people refer to Uganda safari as the ‘real’ Africa safari and it is easy to see why.

Stunning scenery, friendly people, primates (gorillas, chimps, and monkeys) and fantastic wildlife plus amazing activities combine to make Uganda safaris an exciting prospect for visitors. And there is a good infrastructure too, which makes travelling easy despite the distances being long.

If you’re thinking about a safari to Uganda for the first time, you have come to the right place. Based on our first-hand knowledge of travelling in Uganda and tailor-making trips for many years, we’ve compiled this handy Uganda travel guide.

Let’s Take A Quick Look At The Summary Of What We Cover:

  • Where is Uganda?
  • Why Go?
  • Where to Go
  • When To Go
  • What It Will Cost
  • Where to Stay
  • What to Pack
  • Flights & Getting Around
  • Visa and Passport Requirements
  • Medical Requirements
  • Money & Spending
  • Tipping
  • Food and Drink
  • Language
  • Telephone
  • Internet & Email
  • Health
  • Crime & Safety
  • How to Plan
  • Uganda Safari Ideas

Where Is Uganda Located?

Location of Uganda

The Republic of Uganda is a landlocked country in East Africa. The country is bordered by Rwanda, Tanzania, Kenya, South Sudan, and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). It is one of only 13 countries worldwide run through by the equator.

Most of Uganda is over 1000 meters in altitude and relatively flat apart from the forested mountain ranges that often define its borders.

One of Africa’s most well-watered countries (25% of Uganda is covered by lakes, rivers and wetlands) the landscape is lush and green for most of the year, though northern Uganda grades into semi-desert.

Why Go To Uganda?

1. Gorilla Trekking

Uganda’s greatest tourist attraction and arguably the most compelling wildlife encounter on Earth – is mountain gorilla trekking in the ancient montane rain-forests of Bwindi and Mgahinga National Parks. About 1063 mountain gorillas are left on Earth and Uganda is home to more than have of them.

2. Track Chimpanzees & Other Primates

Although a gorilla trek is the biggest Uganda tourist attraction, there are plenty of other primate trekking experiences to enjoy when visiting Uganda.

The country has over 5000 chimpanzees and many monkey species in the jungle. Among these are endangered and incredibly beautiful golden monkeys which like the mountain gorillas are only found in mountains in the Albertine rift valley.

3. Big Game Safaris – See The Big 5

Uganda may not always be an obvious choice for a ‘classic’ big game safari but if you are visiting Uganda for gorilla trekking, then augmenting your Uganda tour with a Savannah safari is well worth considering.

Uganda has 4 beautiful Savannah game parks that host a wide variety of animals, including the Big Five (Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Buffalo, and Rhino).

Therefore a safari in Uganda gives you the chance to see the Big 5 and the famous Mountain Gorillas – two of the biggest highlights of an African safari.

4. Mountain Climbing & Hiking

Uganda is simply a hiking haven, with many mountains and hiking trails. Even none experienced hiker can find trails to enjoy.

The snow-capped Rwenzori Mountains have been declared by the international mountain climbing community among the best in the world, offering a good hiking challenge and incredible beauty.

The Virunga Volcanoes, notably Mount Sabyinyo offer some of the best hiking experiences. And the beautiful Sipi Falls in the foothills of the Mount Elgon are perhaps the most popular destination for easier hikes.

5. Bird Watching In Uganda

With 1,090 of the 2,250 bird species recorded on the African continent, Uganda is the richest birding destination in Africa and considering the number of bird species per square kilometer, the 10th worldwide.

The best part about Uganda birding is that watching birds is very easy, and can sometimes start right from the airport in Entebbe. Birding can be done on nature walks and hikes, game drives, boat and canoe ride.

6. Culture & Local Community Experiences

Uganda is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world.

There are around 56 different tribes of people with unique cultures that can be witnessed through different traditions, arts, dances, economic activities, leadership organization through kingdoms and chiefdoms.

Ugandans are also some of the friendliest people in the world. You can visit a rural community and experience their day to day lives, visit museums and historical monuments, and cultural institutions such as palaces.

7. Forest Nature Walks

Taking a walk in Uganda’s forests brings you up close with nature and exposes you to a lot of native wildlife including birds, butterflies, monkeys, reptiles, important plants such as medicinal ones, trees, etc.

Other than enjoying the sights and sounds of the African jungle, immersing yourself in the forest termed as forest bathing has massive health benefits as it is said to enhance immunity.

8. White Water Rafting & Other Nile River Adventures

Uganda offers one of the best white water rafting adventures in the world done at the source of River Nile (the world’s longest river) in Jinja – the adventure capital of East Africa.

You can experience raging rapids of up to grade 5.

Other than rafting the Nile offers many other activities for the adventure lovers and adrenaline junkies such as kayaking, bungee jumping, tubing, and mountain biking, quad biking, and horseback along the banks.

Where To Go In Uganda

1. Kampala: Capital City Of Uganda

Kampala city

Kampala is Uganda’s commercial, political and logistical hub and also one of East Africa’s most laid-back and friendly cities.

This busy city is a typical African capital with a compact, high-rise center surrounded by sprawling suburbs.

Uganda’s only international airport is set next to Lake Victoria in Entebbe 42 km away. This small town serves as the country’s main entry and exit point and many visitors will spend a night here or in Kampala before and after their Uganda safaris.

Read more about things to see and do in Kampala.

2. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

Do not be put off by its intimidating name – Bwindi is, in fact, penetrable.

This World Heritage Site is the best place to visit in Africa if you want to see mountain gorillas – the world’s largest primate, weighing in at up to 200 kg – in their natural habitat. It is home to almost half of the world’s remaining mountain gorilla, about 459 individuals at last count.

The forest is also a bird-watcher’s paradise with over 350 species recorded, including 23 Albertine Rift endemics. Read more about Bwindi

3. Murchison Falls National Park

Murchison Falls National Park – Uganda’s largest park – is where to go in Uganda for classic big game viewing. It is home to 76 mammal species, including four of the Big 5, hippos, and giraffes.

In an attempt to complete the big five experience in Uganda, the park is strategically located to connect to Ziwa Rhino sanctuary.

In addition to there is nearly 500 bird species, include the rare shoebill.

It is the best highlight, however, is the boat cruise to the Murchison Falls (the world’s strongest waterfalls) where the thundering Nile is squeezed through an 8-metre cleft in the Great Rift Valley Escarpment.

Read more about Murchison Falls.

4. Queen Elizabeth National Park

Combining easily with Bwindi National Park, Queen Elizabeth National Park is the most popular destination for wildlife safaris in Uganda.

The park is home to about 95 mammal species including over 5000 hippos, 3900 elephants, 10,000 buffaloes, many antelopes, crocodiles, and the famous tree-climbing lions.

You take a boat cruise on the Kazinga Channel, which has some of Africa’s densest concentration of hippos and don’t forget your binoculars: with a staggering 600 recorded bird species, Queen Elizabeth is a premier bird watching destination in Africa.

Read more about Queen Elizabeth Park.

5. Kibale Forest National Park

An evergreen rain-forest, Kibale has the highest concentration of primates in Africa, comprising of 13 species, including over 1500 Chimpanzees – man’s closest relatives. It is the prime destination for Chimpanzee trekking in Uganda. Birds and butterflies are also abundant.

Read more about Kibale.

6. Lake Mburo National Park

Mburo located halfway between Kampala and the gorilla trekking forests of the south-west. This scenic little park is a perfect overnight stop-over for travellers making their way between the 2 destinations.

Although the heavyweights such as elephant are missing, the great mix of wetland and woodland habitats makes for a wide range of mammals and birds.

Read more about Lake Mburo.

7. Kidepo Valley National Park

Kidepo National Park has been ranked by CNN travel in the recent past as one of the 8 best Africa safari destinations.

The park has spectacular landscape – made of rugged mountains and flat valleys! It is remotely situated in the far northeastern corner of Uganda in the rugged plains of the Karamoja province.

Kidepo is where you will enjoy game drives and guided walks, taking you to incredible big cat sightings (cheetah, lion and leopard) and massive buffalo herds. For birders, bird life is abundant within this park, a kaleidoscope of winged beauties.

Read more about Kidepo.

8. Mgahinga Gorilla National Park

Mgahinga is the only park in Uganda that has both Mountain Gorillas and Golden Monkeys, two world endangered animals and endemics of the Albertine Rift Valley.

It is the smallest park in Uganda with a size of 33 km2. Activities includes: Gorilla trekking, Golden Monkey tracking, Birding, Volcano hiking, Batwa cultural walk.

Read more about Mgahinga National Park

9. Rwenzori Mountains National Park

Did you know that Uganda is also a place of snow and ice?

The Rwenzori Mountains form the jagged western border of the country with the Democratic Republic of Congo. The highest point shared is Mount Stanley, at 5,109 metres, and it is the third highest peak in Africa. The Rwenzoris are trekking heaven.

Read more about Rwenzori.

10. Mount Elgon National Park

Towering to a lofty 4,321m, this massive extinct shield volcano is also a hiker’s paradise, whether you ascend slowly to the world’s largest mountain caldera or just potter about in the vicinity of beautiful Sipi Falls on its slopes footslopes.

Read more about Mount Elgon.

11. Semuliki National Park

Semuliki is an extension of the West African jungle that stretches all the way from Equatorial Guinea through Congo.

It is offers amazing forest nature walks and birding safaris in Uganda. It is home to around 441 bird and 53 mammal species. The park’s most unique feature is the Sempaya Hot Springs which are so hot – they can hard boil an egg in 10 minutes.

Read more about Semuliki.

12. Jinja & Source of the Nile

Jinja town, situated in eastern Uganda, is the source of the Nile, the point at which the world’s longest river exit Africa’s largest lake to commence an epic 6700km journey north to Mediterranean Sea in Egypt. Read more.

When to Go to Uganda

Uganda has a lovely warm tropical climate.

Straddling the equator, the country has little year-round fluctuation in temperature. Temperatures in Uganda range from around 24°C to 30°C all year round.

The best time to visit Uganda is between its 2 dry seasons: December to February and between June and September. These times are the best for trekking gorillas in Uganda and chimpanzees. Read more about the best time to visit Uganda.

Budget: What It Will Cost to Visit Uganda

It’s not always easy to give a single figure when it comes to a Uganda safari cost.

There are so many variables to consider, such as time of year you’re travelling, how long you’re staying, and whether you prefer budget, mid-range or luxurious accommodation/Uganda safari lodges.

Therefore, most reputable travel companies like Tulambule Uganda safaris do not believe in a one-package-deal-fits-all approach and prefer to consult with each client individually to tailor-make an itinerary from scratch.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Uganda?

There is a variety of a budget, mid-range and luxury lodges and hotels where you can stay during your Uganda tours. Depending on your budget and wishes, Uganda has the sort of accommodation that best suits you.

“Budget” – Accommodation such as simple guesthouses or dormitory rooms are available throughout Uganda. Service and amenity standards won’t be high and you are likely to share facilities with other guests, but choosing this standard can make a big difference in the price of the tour. Alternatively, you can choose to camp. Some campsites have wonderful locations.

“Mid-range” – This is your best option for comfortable, self-contained (‘en suite’) accommodation set in stunning locations that don’t cost a fortune.

“Luxury” – The luxurious accommodation is fully equipped, comfortable and usually more spacious than the mid-range options. They often have facilities like swimming pools, masseurs and sometimes even private butlers.

What to Pack for a Safari to Uganda?

During the day, temperatures in Uganda are generally warm so pack some lightweight clothing.

If you’re going gorilla trekking in Uganda, come with long trousers and long-sleeved shirts/tops, long socks to wear over your trousers as protection against ants, a pair of light gloves to protect against nettles, a hat and a raincoat.

A pair of strong, comfortable hiking boots/shoes is most important; try to break these in before your trip to Uganda rather than wearing them brand new as you’re likely to get blisters.

The mountains tend to be cold and damp so pack according to the altitude – a change of clothes and a warm fleece in your day pack, along with sunscreen and insect repellent are advised. Read more.

Flights & Getting Around

Did you know you can book your flights through Tulambule Uganda safari? For more information and frequently asked questions, please contact us.

Entebbe International Airport: located 42km from Kampala, Entebbe is Uganda’s international gateway. Flying by private charter aircraft is expensive in Uganda. Most travellers use road transfers with 4X4 safari vehicles.

Visa & Passport Requirements

You need a visa to visit Uganda unless you are a national of a visa-exempt country. And your passport must be valid for at least 6 months from your departure date.

Application for a Ugandan visa is made through the Ugandan E-visa System via the following link: www.visas.immigration.go.ug/

An East African Tourism Visa (Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda) can also be applied for online. But the application must be made to the country where you are first due to visit.

You’ll pay the visa fee of USD 50 for a single Uganda Entry visa (or USD 100 for an East Africa Visa) online by creditcard. Read more

Medical Requirements

You need a Yellow Fever Certificate to enter Uganda. But, if you have had the injection before then and still have the certificate then that will be ok.

You don’t need to have the booster injection. From 11 July 2016 the certificate of vaccination against yellow fever is valid for the life of the person vaccinated.

Money & Spending

Uganda’s unit of currency is the Uganda Shilling and you would be advised to get some on arrival as it is far easier to buy drinks, curios and meals in the local currency when travelling between destinations.

US Dollars are widely accepted throughout the country though note that cash is best: traveller’s cheques and credit cards can be used at most lodges and in Kampala but attract hefty transaction fees.

Please ensure that you don’t have US dollars notes prior to 2006 and the notes are not damaged or cut in any way as they are not accepted.

Food & Drink

Local food in Uganda is based around a meat or chicken stew eaten with one of four staples: rice, chapati, ugali or matoke. Ugali is a stiff maize porridge eaten throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

Matoke is a cooked plantain dish, served boiled or in a mushy heap, and the staple diet in many parts of Uganda. Another Ugandan special is groundnut sauce. Lodges and hotels that cater to overseas visitors will serve a very international fare.

Language

Uganda’s official language is English, which is spoken as a second language by most educated Ugandans. There are more than 33 local languages spoken across the country. Almost everybody involved in the tourism industry, either directly or indirectly, will be able to speak some English.

Tipping

Provided the service is good, you tip around 10 – 15% on your Uganda safari. Tips are usually given in Uganda Shillings or US Dollars.

If you are doing a gorilla trek, tipping is at your discretion – your porter (if you choose to take one) should usually receive the highest tip, with a second tip distributed between your guides, trackers and security personnel.

For in-depth tipping guidelines, enquire with one of our Safari Experts – they’d be happy to share their knowledge with you.

Telephone

Uganda’s land telephone system is reasonably efficient, but mobile phones rule. If you bring your mobile from home, you’ll enjoy international roaming – although at a significant cost – through a local network.

Far cheaper, however, especially if you also want to make use of data services, is to bring a compatible phone with you and insert a local SIM card, which costs around 3 US dollars. There are several mobile providers in Uganda.

MTN has the best network. Make sure that your phone is SIM-Lock-Free. You have to bring your passport and a passport photo to sign up.

The country code for Uganda is +256.

Internet & Email

Inexpensive internet cafés are dotted around all large towns in Uganda, while many hotels and restaurants offer free Wi-Fi to their guests.

Better still, buy a local MTN SIM card for your smart phone, load it up with a data bundle, and you’ll have more-or-less permanent access to the internet, email and various apps for next to no cost.

Please note that access may be slow or erratic in Uganda national parks and other remote areas of the country, so best to warn anxious loved ones at home or business associates that contact may be intermittent.

Health

Contact your GP around 8 weeks before your Uganda safari to check whether you need any vaccinations or other preventive measures. Country specific information and advice is published by the National Travel Health Network and Centre.

And useful information about healthcare abroad, including a country-by-country guide of reciprocal health care agreements with the UK, is available from NHS Choices. Medical facilities in Uganda are limited, particularly outside Kampala.

You are advised to have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad and repatriation.

Crime & Safety

Uganda is widely and rightly regarded as one of the most crime-free countries in Africa, certainly as far as visitors need be concerned.

Muggings are comparatively rare, even in Kampala, and it is largely free of the sort of con tricks that abound in places like Nairobi.

Even petty theft such as pickpocketing and hag snatching is relatively unusual, though it does happen from time to time.

Walking around large towns at night is reputedly safe, though it would be tempting fate to wander alone along unlit streets. Read more.

How to Plan Your First-Time Trip To Uganda

Thinking about visiting Uganda for the first time? How exciting! Here are some expert tips on making it a seamless process:

1. Know When You Want to Go

When visiting Uganda, timing is everything. Most of the best Uganda safari attractions and experiences such as gorilla trekking depend entirely on naturally occurring factors like seasonal rainfall. Therefore, having preferred travel dates will make a big difference to your Uganda safari tour itinerary.

2. Know Where You Want to Go

Have a specific goal for your first-time visit to Uganda. Maybe you’ve dreamt of seeing gorillas since you were a child or seeing all the Big 5 in the wild. Which animals or experiences are at the heart of your dream Uganda trip? The answer will more than likely help determine your ideal destinations in Uganda.

3. Have a Budget Estimate

A trip to Africa is not an inexpensive holiday. You are advised to have a budget band that you feel comfortable working within and disclosing this to your Uganda tour operator at the earliest opportunity.

This will ease the consultation process and you’ll arrive at your ideal itinerary sooner. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed or cautious when thinking or talking about what you’re willing to invest in your travels, but knowing your budget has a massive impact on the planning of your first-time visit to Uganda.

4. Choose an Established Tour Operator

If you are thinking about planning a first-time visit to Uganda, look for the following criteria when choosing a Uganda tour company:

  • Personal travel experience in Uganda
  • Independent, unbiased advice.
  • Full travel booking service – you are advised to use an operator that take care of every safari detail from flights, activities, lodges, hotels, transfers, etc.
  • 24/7 on-safari support – an important advantage of booking with a credible agent who is based in Uganda.

Popular Uganda Safari Itinerary Ideas for A First-Time Visit To Uganda

  • 3 Day Gorilla Trekking Uganda, Bwindi
  • 3 Day Queen Elizabeth National Park Safari in Uganda
  • 3 Days Murchison Falls Safari in Uganda
  • 4 Days Uganda Safari – Lake Mburo Wildlife & Bwindi Gorilla Tours
  • 5 Days Uganda Safari, Gorilla Trekking, Game Viewing, & Cultural Tours
  • 7 Days Uganda Safari, Gorillas, Chimp, Wildlife, Community, & Lake Bunyonyi
  • 8 Days Uganda Safari, Gorillas, Chimpanzees, Wildlife, & Community
  • 10 Days Uganda Safari, Gorillas, Chimpanzees, Game Viewing & Community
  • 12 Days Uganda Safari, Gorillas, Chimpanzees, Wildlife, Culture, & Relaxation
  • 14 Days Uganda Safari, Gorillas, Chimps, Wildlife, & Culture Experiences
  • 16 Days Uganda Safari – Gorilla, Chimps, Wildlife, & Source of the Nile
  • 18 Days Uganda Safari & Gorilla Trekking
  • 21 Days Uganda Safari & Adventure Vacation

Are You Ready to Start Planning Your First-Time Visit to Uganda?

Get in touch with our team of Uganda Safari Experts to help tailor-make an itinerary based on your personal travel wishes.

 

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