Looking for important travel information while backpacking in Uganda? Here you will find information on working in Uganda, entry visas, Uganda hostels, and much more.
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Facts About Uganda
Uganda is a small country in East Africa, also known as the Pearl of Africa or rather Gifted by Nature, and is best known for its hospitability, diverse cultures, nature reserves, the world’s most powerful waterfall, some of Africa’s best animal species, diverse landscapes, and snow at the Equator.
Some of the not-to-be-missed animal species in Uganda are the gorillas, chimpanzees. golden monkeys, tree-climbing lions, “Africa’s Big Five Animals” that include the African elephant, lions, leopard, African buffalo, and rhinoceros. And the not-be-missed sights are a taste of the True African Wilderness in the Kidepo, the world’s largest caldera, Ssese Islands on Lake Victoria, birds, and primates.
Uganda’s scenery is breathtakingly beautiful, from the high mountains down to the lowlands, grasslands, forests, and savannah plains. A taste of our traditional delicacies, fruits, (the country produces the best pineapples and sweet bananas) and coffee will make your visit to the country worth it.
The country also offers a wide range of extreme adventures done on the Nile River, the world’s longest river such as rafting, bungee, tubing, kayaking, horseback riding, and quad biking along the banks among others.
Ugandans could be considered the friendliest people in the world, they are very welcoming to tourists, visitors, and strangers. If the above cannot convince you, then a taste of home away from home could do.
- Currency: 1 Ugandan Shilling (UGShs) = 0.0003 USD cents
- Time Zone: GMT + 3
- Language: English and Luganda
- Telephone Services: Country Code +256
- Emergency Numbers: 999
Interesting Facts About Uganda
According to Sir Winston Churchill, “Uganda is a fairy tale,” “You climb up… and at the end, there is a wonderful, new world. The scenery is different, the vegetation is different, the climate is different and most of all, the people are different from anything elsewhere to be seen in the whole range of Africa. For magnificence, for variety of form and colour, for profusion of brilliant life… Uganda is truly the Pearl of Africa.”
- The Crested Crane is Uganda’s national bird. The country is home to about 11% of the world’s bird species.
- Uganda is home to over half of the world’s Mountain Gorillas.
- Uganda is home to the world’s longest river, the Nile which flows from Lake Victoria, the second-largest freshwater lake in the world.
- The Rwenzori Mountains aka Mountains of the Moon is one of the highest ranges in Africa and sits on the equator but has snow at the top
- Uganda is home to the Uganda Martyrs, 45 men who died for their faith.
- Most of the food eaten here is organic. Usually, fruits and vegetables are fresh from the farm and delivered daily to the markets.
- Uganda grows more bananas than any other country in Africa and is only second to Brazil in the world with over 30 banana species grown.
- Ugandans are some of the world’s most hospitable people.
Climate in Uganda
When deciding the best time to visit Uganda, the weather certainly plays a role. The country has a warm tropical climate, rainfall is unpredictable sometimes since there is no true dry season. The months from December to February are the hottest, with chilly evenings. The rainy seasons are from March to May and from September to November. During these months, heavy rains can make roads and terrains hard to traverse. The periods from January to February and again from June to August are usually dry and best for safaris.
Things to do in Uganda
When deciding the best things to do in Uganda, there is an abundance of options. Here are the top bucket-list items when backpacking Uganda.
Safari in Uganda
Uganda’s main attraction isn’t its cities, but its great outdoors. No one coming to this country should pass up the opportunity to go on safari in one of Uganda’s game parks.
- The most popular is the Queen Elizabeth National Park, which is famous for its tree-climbing lions, buffalo herds and explosive craters. The park also boasts such exotic animals as African elephants, chimpanzees antelopes, and even hippos. Recently companies have started offering aerial tours of the area in hot air balloons, but you can still find plenty of companies offering more traditional safaris here. Ssamba Safaris is one of those; they arrange safaris ranging from mid-range to luxury.
- Murchison falls National Park is famous for being home to the World’s most powerful falls and has a great concentration of giraffes, antelopes, hippos baboons and other animals like lions, leopards, Nile crocodiles among others. The major highlight of a safari here is a hike to the top of the falls. Hot air balloon safaris can be done in this park as well.
- Kidepo Valley National Park is another not to miss out on. It is one of East Africa’s most magnificent wildernesses; has a distinctive bird list including over 100 ‘dry country’ residents, tremendous landscape and is located in an area of rich cultural interest where the plains are surrounded by Manyatta (homesteads) of Karamojongs (traditional pastoralists).
- Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Mgahinga Gorilla National Parks are famous for one of the world’s most remarkable wildlife encounters, Gorilla tracking. These apes are rare and endangered but over half of the world’s population is protected in these two parks.
Other popular locations to see the wildlife are Lake Mburo National Park (the nearest park from Kampala), Mount Elgon National Park (World’s largest Caldera at the top of the instinct volcano), Semuliki National park for birding, Kibale National Park for Primates and Rwenzori Mountains National Park as well as a couple of reserves around the country.
Hiking Mountain Rwenzori
To have an ice/ snow experience at the Equator, one has to climb Uganda’s highest peak. Margherita peak is the highest point and the roof of the Rwenzori where you get to see snow in this tropical country. Summiting other peaks like Stanley, Speke and Baker is a physically demanding activity too, that’s why hiking the Rwenzori is called, “The Mystical Challenge.”
Hiking the Rwenzori is done with the help of local guides, requires some training and only people in top physical condition should attempt the climb. Low peaks can be climbed by anyone. Climbing Rwenzori can be combined with a safari trip to either Lake Mburo, Queen Elizabeth or Semuliki National Parks. If you’re interested in more outdoors adventures, check out our summary of the best places to go hiking in Uganda.
The West Nile is the region that is located west of the river Nile in Northern Uganda. The Nile acts as a major border of this region from the rest of the country. The region has its own gems and attractions that make it unique from the rest of Northern Uganda such as Bidi Bidi Refugee Settlement, Alikua Pyramid, Bethel Church/ Biku Prayer Mountain (smallest church in the world), Miria Adua Falls, Mount Wati, Angara Fish among others. Ssamba Safaris is one of the few tour companies that feature this region.
Jinja, East Africa’s Adventure Capital
From being the home to the source of the world’s longest river to being the former industrial city of Uganda, Jinja is also a place where most of the extreme water activities like bungee jumping, Kayaking, tubing, rafting, among others are done from. If you looking forward to trying out some of those adrenaline high activities while in Uganda, Jinja is the perfect place for you.
Uganda hosts a couple of tribes, each with different cultures, ways of life, language, food and dressing. There is no better way to learn about a certain tribe than by mimicking their ways of life.
Kampala gives you an experience of hustle and bustle with the African vibe, its unique with its attractions, such as the Bahai Temple of Africa, Kabaka’s Lake, Idi Amin’s Torture Chambers, the old Kampala Mosque, the Museum, among other key attractions.
Uganda is steeped deep in history, legends and myths. Some of these historical sites have existed for ages and others are a few decades old such as rock painting, rocks, caves, forts, monuments among others.
This is one of the things that define this small landlocked country. Most of the food here is fresh and organic. It’s the kind that keeps you wanting to have more and the fruits are something not to be missed out on too.
Unique Activities in Uganda
An excellent way to get an idea of things to do while backpacking Uganda is to scan the activities offered by the guides and recommendations from other travellers.
Since popular places in Uganda can get crowded during tourist season, it is wise to reserve tickets and activities ahead of time. GetYourGuide sells entrance tickets to museums and landmarks at face value so you can avoid the lines and save that precious time for more exploring.
Viator is another popular travel website that helps you book things to do in Uganda. They work directly with local tour operators in Uganda, so you won’t have to scour the internet or roam around town trying to find the best deal.
How to Get Cheap Flights to Uganda
In order to find the best flights to Uganda we recommend using a few well-known flight comparison search engines. These websites offer powerful search options, like entering flexible dates and airports in order to find the cheapest flight to Uganda.
Our go-to flight search engine is Skyscanner, which we love for its extremely flexible search options. Our favourite way to get travel inspiration is their “Everywhere” feature. Simply enter “Everywhere” as a destination, and it will then list all available flights from your departure city in order of price. This also works when entering the entire country of Uganda as your destination. Skyscanner will search all possible airports in the country in order to find the cheapest option.
Kiwi is another new favourite flight search engine among savvy travelers. Kiwi works by combining flights from different carriers in order to get the best deal. Also, if there is a better ground or ferry option for the route you’re searching, Kiwi will include that in the search results. On average, we have found the cheapest flights to Uganda with them compared to the other websites out there.
How to Travel Around Uganda on a Budget
The standard mode of transport for locals is bus, in particular minibuses. There are a few larger coaches running on all major routes, but these require booking in most cases before departure.
Uganda Airlines runs the primary domestic air service in the country, small private companies are operating domestic services such as Aerolink and Eagle Air. In general, the flights are pretty cheap so they can be an excellent way to cover vast distances quickly.
Bus travel in Uganda
Intercity buses generally come in two flavours, coaches or minibuses/ public taxis. The minibuses are more common and usually used for short travels of about 300kms though they have a poor reputation for safety so always be on the lookout.
All bus companies are privately run, and on popular routes, you will find majorly the public taxis since they are relatively spread across the country while coaches have major stopover points in towns for offloading and loading. Companies running coaches have added the bonus of making travelling across Uganda both economical and comfortable.
For Safaris and Tours, usually, transport is arranged and included in the price of the package. In most cases, private cars are used unless the traveller wants to experience public transport. Always check in advance what your package includes and what it does not specify.
Boda bodas/ Motocycle taxis
While travelling through Uganda, you will be fascinated by these amazing Boda Boda riders because they are essential lifelines of public transport in all major towns and villages, they can transport anything and can go to even the hard-to-reach areas, where the tracks are majorly footpaths. They can be used for short travels but are risky especially during rush hour in major cities.
Flights within Uganda
There are many small airline companies in operation in Uganda, and flying is often the best way to get around the country especially when you have limited time but are interested in a safari. It is very common for visitors to fly to all major national parks especially Kidepo which involves over 9 hours of driving from Kampala. Also, many people choose short flights to the airport or other national parks in either Tanzania, Rwanda or Kenya.
Prices for flights in Uganda will always be cheaper if you book them well in advance. Unfortunately, cancellations and changes are frequent occurrences with many of the airlines, so be sure to check in with the airline a couple of days before your scheduled flight.
Backpacking Tours in Uganda
Though part of the fun of backpacking Uganda is exploring the country on your own, there are situations, especially when venturing off the beaten track trails when it does make sense to go with a guide or small group. For these times, a popular option among backpackers is Ssamba Safaris. They hand-select local guides to ensure authenticity and quality. Going on a group tour with Ssamba Safaris is an especially good option for those travelling Uganda alone and who would like to meet up with like-minded travellers. Their most popular trips in Uganda are their 3 Days Queen Elizabeth, 5 days Lake Mburo and Queen, 3 Days Murchison Falls, Secrets of West Nile tour, among others.
G Adventures is another great option for organized travel, but with a smaller group. It’s also a practical option for exploring places where you need an experienced guide, like a long hiking adventure or visiting a place well off the beaten path. You can choose from different styles of small group tours like active, wellness, hiking trips, 18-30somethings, and more.
Health and Safety in Uganda
The standard of healthcare in Uganda is good, but health insurance is essential. Elsewhere in the country medical facilities are limited. If you intend to be on safari for any length of time you should consider paying for the East African Flying Doctors tourist membership which will allow you to call for free air evacuation should you fall ill while on safari.
As with travel to all other countries abroad, it is vital that you get travel insurance before you leave for Uganda. Even for short trips, our go-to travel insurance provider is World Nomads, which is also recommended by Lonely Planet, HostelWorld, and other major travel companies.
Immunisation against yellow fever, hepatitis, cholera, polio and typhoid is recommended when visiting Uganda, especially when planning to travel outside of urban areas. Malaria is present throughout Uganda, and the local strains have been reported as highly resistant to chloroquine, so mefloquine is the recommended treatment to use.
We recommend you to carry anti-malarial tablets, as well as insect, replant for use while outdoors. You should consult your local GP about all of these factors before travelling to Uganda.
Tap water in Uganda is generally safe, for use but not drinking. It is recommended that you boil or otherwise sterilize any water before use. Food, including dairy products, are also considered safe to drink; we recommend bottled drinking water. Reasonable precautions should be used when purchasing food from street vendors.
Crime is quite prevalent in Uganda, especially in Kampala especially muggings which can occur even in broad daylight. It is up to an individual traveller to ensure that they are safe and not at risk, having a guide can also be helpful sometimes.
Always conceal valuables, do not carry large sums of cash, have a backup card at either your hotel or hostel in case one is stolen and generally remain vigilant to ensure that you are at minimal risk.
Entry visa requirements for Uganda
EU and US nationals require a passport valid for at least 6 months from the date of arrival as well as a return ticket. In addition, EU and US nationals require a visa for the duration of their stay. You can apply for a visa online, before your trip to avoid unnecessary work at the airport. For those using Brussels Airline, a visa is a must before boarding.
Visa requirements for Uganda can vary widely depending on your country of origin and can change over time. To avoid any unpleasant surprises, be sure to check the latest visa requirements while you’re still planning your trip.
Uganda Hostels and Budget Accommodation
In Kampala and some other major cities, you will find hotels that meet international standards. Some of these are located in former colonial buildings and offer a broad range of amenities. You can book a hotel in advance though some do not require advance bookings.
We have had good experiences finding hostels in Uganda on HostelWorld. They have the largest inventory of hostels worldwide, and with over 10 million reviews and ratings from other travellers, you know exactly what to expect.
Another good way to find accommodation in Uganda is by checking booking.com. You’ll find hotels, homestays, hostels, and other unique accommodations. They have the most reviews and advanced filtering of any accommodation-booking site, so you’ll be sure to find a great place in your budget. Many of the places on booking.com also offer free cancellation, which takes the pressure off the planning phase of your trip to Uganda.
If you are backpacking with another travel companion, we highly recommend booking a rental via VRBO. With a vacation rental in Uganda, you’ll have more space, your own kitchen, and you’ll get a better feel for how the locals live. Plus, the cost of a vacation rental can be split among your group, oftentimes making it cheaper than doing individual hotel rooms.
If you’re looking to save even more money while backpacking in Uganda, there are plenty of creative ways to get free accommodation in exchange for work. For example, one of our favorite ways to stay in amazing locations for free is by signing up as a petsitter with Trusted Housesitters. The site connects responsible animal lovers with petsitting opportunities in Uganda and all over the world. It’s a win-win for both sides – travellers can stay in amazing locations for free, and homeowners can rest easy knowing that someone is watching over their place.
And lastly, CouchSurfing is a great community that connects travellers with local hosts in Uganda. You can stay for free with verified hosts, who will usually take some time to show you around the local spots.
Useful links for Backpacking in Uganda
- Kiwi and Skyscanner – Flight comparison search engines to find the cheapest flights to Uganda and within the country
- GetYourGuide and Viator – a collection of local tours and things to do in Uganda. Also offers Skip the Line tickets for crowded attractions
- Ssamba Safaris – guided tours in Uganda, great for solo or group travellers or for those interested in a more adventurous trip which would require a guide
- Booking.com – a commonly used accommodation booking site in Uganda. Hostels, hotels, and other unique accommodation with advanced filtering and millions of reviews
- Travel Insurance – read our comprehensive overview of Travel Insurance and some recommended providers for your backpacking trip to Uganda
There you have it, the ultimate Uganda backpacking guide. We hope you have found all the information you need for backpacking around Uganda. If not, you can always contact Ssamba Safaris for a more detailed guide.
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