General Overview About Uganda
Uganda is bordered in the north by the Sudan, in the west by Zaire, in the southwest by Rwanda, in the south by Tanzania, and in the east by Kenya. The country is located in the heart of the great African high plateau that rolls from the Ethiopian highlands towards southern Africa. It has a total area of 243,000 sq. km, of which only 197,000 sq. km is dry land the rest being marshland, lakes and rivers. The country is bestowed with outstanding topographical features, among them the Kigezi highlands (commonly referred to as the “Switzerland of Africa” in most tourist brochures), high mountains (Elgon, Moroto and the legendary Rwenzori Mountains), lush forests, beautiful natural lakes and rivers, and game parks that host one of the greatest diversity of mammalian and bird species in the world.
The country also protects half of the world’s remaining total population of mountain gorillas and gorilla trekking is the most popular activity attracting thousands of travelers all year round.
Uganda has the largest share of Lake Victoria, and the source of the River Nile, the world’s longest river, is at Jinja. On its long journey through to the Sudan and Egypt to the Mediterranean Sea, it blesses the country with spectacular and breathtaking waterfalls – Murchison Falls and Bujagali Falls. The Rippon Falls were damned and are no longer visible.
The vegetation varries from dry thorn bush savannah in the west and northeast to the tropical rain forest and mid forest in the southwest. In the stretched valleys of the highlands and the Lake Kyoga area, papyrus swamps predominate. The high mountains feature cloud covered forests, moss and bamboo thickets.
Once described at the turn of the century by a former British Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill, as the “Pearl of the Nile” (later changed to the “Pearl of Africa”), Uganda is still a land of great beauty with breathtaking scenery, historical sites and monuments, and a rich cultural heritage. There is also the mysterious archeological site in the Tanda pits near Mityana town. The “death” pits are so deep and narrow it is difficultt to tell how they were dug into the rock.
The ten National Parks hold an array of plant life and wild animals (including about three-quarters of the world’s surviving population of the extremely rare and endangered mountain gorillas), and many species of birds. Uganda is ranked second in Africa and ninth in the world for mammal species, and is home to half of Africa’s bird species.
The 84 isles that make up the Ssese Islands on Lake Victoria are another masterpiece of beauty. Schools of hippopotami can be seen around the islands. There is also a quarry with special sand that is used to produce unique glassware.
In the 50s and 60s, Uganda was the leading tourism destination in East Africa. Today, after about twenty years of civil strife (in the 70s and 80s) destroyed the national infrastructure and drastically reduced wildlife, Uganda has recovered and is quickly recapturing and restoring its former glory. The country has been under reconstruction since 1986, when the National Resistance Movement took over the government and retored stability. Most tourism facilities have been rebuilt, and Uganda is once again a safe and fascinating tourist destination, with an incredible variety of attractions to offer the visitor.
Per Capita GNP:
Uganda Shilling (USh)
USh1050 = US$1
Head of State:
President Yoweri Museveni
What you need to know
International flights land at Entebbe International Airport, 40 km from Kampala. Taxis are available at the airport. There are also shuttle bus services to major hotels. A bank, duty free shops, a Tourist Board Information Office, and other services are available.
Light aircraft charters flying into national parks’ airstrips directly from neighbouring countries can arrange for local immigration clearance through:
Civil Aviation Authority Entebbe,
A valid passport is required of every visitor. Exempted from visa requirements are citizens of the PTA countries, the European Union, the Commonwealth, Japan, Switzerland, Scandinavian countries, Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Oman, Israel, Libya, and the United States. Visas may be obtained from any of Uganda’s diplomatic missions, or on arrival at any of the country’s entry points. The visas are issued at a fee: multiple visas US$20, single visas $10 and transit visas $5. For the latest requirements please contact any Ugandan diplomatic mission, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Kampala or the Immigration Department, Kampala.
All visitors should have valid vaccination certificates against yellow fever.
Personal effects are allowed in free. A duty free allowance is effected on a one litre bottle of alcoholic beverages, half a litre of perfume, cameras and accessories, and a limited number of cigarettes. Additional items are subject to Customs duty.
Safaris in Uganda call for practical clothes: a hat, sunglasses, comfortable shoes, a bathing suit and lightweight clothes (preferably cotton) that are easy to wash. A light sweater may be useful in the evenings. Campers are advised to carry warm sleeping bags. Track suits are very useful for sleeping in. Jeans too are very useful on safari. In the towns and for business meetings, a lightweight suit is the mode of dress.
The scenic beauty of Uganda makes it a photographer’s paradise. However, photographs should not be taken of people or religious ceremonies without their consent.While taking photos for commercial purpose during Uganda tours, it is advisable to secure a permit from the Uganda Wildlife Authority. Don’t take snapshots of strategic buildings, including military and power installations. Commercial photographers should seek a permit from the Ministry of Information, Kampala. While most film is readily available in the main towns, we recommend that visitors requiring specific types bring plenty with them.
What to bring
Equipment is available for hire in some places. But for your own convenience, it is advisable to bring such items as golf clubs, fishing gear, or mountain climbing equipment.
Airport Departure Tax
A US$ 20 departure tax is payable by all passengers departing on international flights.
The shilling, divided into 100 cents, is the national currency issued in denominations of 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500, 1,000, 5,000, and 10,000. It is a stable currency that floats against the US dollar and is fully convertible. Visitors may bring in as much foreign currency as they wish. Foreign currency may be changed at authorised banks, forex bureaux and hotels. Credit cards are accepted by top hotels, but not in the outlying areas. PTA travellers’ cheques, or those in Sterling pounds, US dollars or rand are recommended.
Banks and forex bureaux are available at the airport and in all main towns.
Monday – Friday 0830 – 1400
Monday – Friday 0830 – 1230 & 1400 – 1700
Learn the art of bargaining, particularly in markets and curio shops. This is very much Ugandan culture, as developing a good rapport between shopkeeper and customer takes precedence over the actual sale.
Time & Electricity
Local time is GMT + 3.
Electrical supply for domestic use is generally 220 volts, 50 cycles AC. All installations are British standard and all appliances should be fitted with pin plugs of British specification.
Though English is the official language and Kiswahili is widely spoken, there are 30 indigenous languages, of which the most widespread is Luganda.
While doctors and dentists are available in many parts of the country, the major hospitals are located in the main towns. It is recommended that visitors bring sufficient supplies of any drugs that they need regularly, and carry medical insurance.
Malaria is endemic in many parts and precautions should be taken both when visitors are in Uganda, and for several weeks after departure. It is therefore necessary to take prophilactics, and advisable to be vaccinated against typhoid fever, tetanus, tuberclosis, and similar communicable diseases.
HIV/AIDS occurs worldwide but is not transmitted through casual contact, the ingestion of food or water, by insects or by animals. Infection is through sexual intercourse with infected individuals, use of infected blood or blood products, or use of unsterilized contaminated instruments (e.g. syringes and needles) to inject materials or pierce the skin. HIV infection is prevented by avoiding such activities.
Tap water is mostly safe. As a precaution boil or sterilize drinking water. Swimming in rivers, ponds, or dams should be done with local advice as they may be infected with bilharzia.
Uganda has a pleasant sunny climate with temperatures rarely rising above 29oC (80oF), or dropping below 15oC (60oF). The ideal weather ranges from warmth in the lowland areas and lakeshores to the cool highlands. The average annual rainfall is 50 inches, with varrying patterns in different regions. Areas surrounding Lake Victoria receive rainfall throughout the year. The rains occur mainly between March and May, and also between October and November. The dry months are December to February, and June to August. A hat and a high protection sunscreen are essential to shield against the sun.
Posts & Telecommunications
Modern telephone, telex and fax services are available in all the main towns. The General Post Office in Kampala offers poste restante services. The International IDD code for Uganda is +256.
Vehicles keep to the left. International driving licences are required of all foreign drivers. Vehicles must have adequate third-party insurance.
There are several television and radio stations in Kampala. The local daily newspapers include the New Vision, Monitor, and Financial Times. Weeklies are Uganda Confidential and Crusader. Foreign ones include the Daily Nation, The EastAfrican, Newsweek, Time, Economist, The International Herald Tribune and USA Today. They are sold at newsstands and bookshops in Kampala.
Bookings for Chimpanzee and Gorilla tracking can be made through any Ugandan tour operator. They will advise on the best sites and the current charges. However, it is advisable to make reservations for mountain gorilla tracking well in advance as places are limited and strictly controlled.
New Year’s Day
National Resistance Movement Victory Day
Id el Fitr*
Id el Haj*
* dates depend on the lunar calendar and vary annually.
A recognition of traditional courtesies is important when visiting another country. While Ugandans are well aware of the form in other countries, they tend to be conservative at home. A handshake greeting is normal. Unsuitable clothing such as brief shorts or swimwear is not acceptable in towns and villages away from resorts. Some upclass hotels and restaurants may insist on smart casual evening wear, with ties for men. Hence, jeans (though very useful on safari), and sports wear, shorts and sandals may not be acceptable. Shoes are taken off before entering sacred places.
Uganda Tourist Board’s Special Note
In the National Parks and Game Reserves we are only custodians of our fragile environment. Please remember our motto: Take nothing but a photograph, leave nothing but a footprint. Thank You. Have a great holiday.
How To Get There From Around the World
Travelling to Uganda has never been so easy. Links with the rest of the world are increasing every year. The development of good air and road connections to all parts of the country has made its exploration both easy and more comfortable.
Access by air
Sabena flies three times a week from Brussels direct to Entebbe.
British Airways flies three times a week from London, Gatwick.
Alliance Air flies twice a week direct from London, Heathrow.
Air France flies twice a week direct from Paris.
From other parts of Africa Uganda Airlines flies in daily from Nairobi.
Kenya Airways flies in daily from Nairobi.
Uganda Airlines provides connections from Dar es Salaam, Kigali, Bujumbura, Harare and Gaborone.
Alliance Air provides connections with Dar es Salaam and Johannesburg.
Royal Air Swazi provides connections with Manzini, and South Africa.
Inter Air links Uganda with Ndola, Zambia, and Johannesburg.
Egyptair flies in weekly from Cairo.
Ethiopian Airways provides connections from Addis Ababa.
Air Tanzania provides connections from Dar es Salaam.
Air Rwanda flies in from Kigali.
From the Middle East Alliance Airlines provides connections from Dubai.
Gulf Air flies in twice a week from Dubai.
From Asia Air India flies in weekly from Bombay.
From the Far East Connections are via Europe, or through Johannesburg or Nairobi.
From America The best connections are via Europe, or Johannesburg.
Note: payments for airline tickets bought in Uganda have to be made in hard currency, and there are no discount fares.
Access by rail
Uganda Railways Corporation (URC), in conjunction with Kenya Railways, has weekly services between Kampala and Nairobi (to Mombasa). The journey takes about 24 hours and costs US$ 74 in the First-Class, including meals and bedding.
Access by ferry
Weekly services on Lake Victoria to Port Bell from Mwanza in Tanzania are normally provided by URC. (Service temporarily suspended.)
Access by road
Direct daily bus services link Kampala and Nairobi. There is adequate public transport to all main border crossings to neighbouring countries. Seek local advice on security before going to the Sudan border. The main road border crossings are open at Malaba, Busia, Lwakhakha, Mutukula, Kisoro, and Arua.
Drivers should have a valid international driving licence, and must carry their vehicle log books. Drivers will be expected to show adequate third-party insurance, and pay for a temporary road licence.
Getting Around and About
Today, even the remotest regions of Uganda can easily be reached. There is a network of 2,000 kms of tarred roads supplemented by more than 6,000 kms of good murram roads. If driving yourself, it is recommended that you seek local advice on the duration of a journey and if you may require four-wheeled drive vehicles. Fuel stations are available in all main towns, and on many major routes. However, if driving long distances, or on safari, it is advisable to take spare fuel, and to confirm the location of fuel stations. A good road map is essential.
Almost all cars are right hand drive, and drivers keep to the left on the road. Both local and international car hire companies are available in Kampala and Entebbe. Drivers require a recognised international drivers licence. Some companies offer chauffer driven cars only. Those offering self-drive cars may require the driver to be aged between 23 to 70 years, and have held a valid driving license for a minimum of anywhere between 12 months and 2 years. Other requirements may include insurance, identification documents and health certificates. Rates may be worked out based on monthly, weekly or unlimited mileage terms.
Taxis are available at the airport, and in all main towns. Confirm the fare before setting off.
There are many minibuses and share-taxis. Fares are fixed and vehicles leave once full. Both short and long distance bus services are available. Buses are cheaper than minibuses but much slower as they stop often to pick up and drop off passengers. In Kampala most buses set off from the main bus station near Nakivubo Stadium. Other towns have bus stations/parks. Just get there and ask those around for vehicles to your destination.
Uganda Railways Corporation operates passenger services between Kampala, Jinja, Tororo, Mbale, Soroti, Lira, Gulu and Parawach. URC also has services to Kasese in Western Uganda, and a weekly service to Nairobi.
Ferries to the Ssese Islands start the journey from Bukakata.
Many towns and some of the national parks, have airstrips suitable for light planes. Air taxi and charter services are available from the following:
Eagle Aviation Services,
P. O. Box 7392, Entebbe.
Tel: 296 (42)-20601, 20516
Fax: (041) 244501 Mission Aviation Fellowship,
P. O. Box 1 Kampala
Tel: (41) 2674662
Fax: (41) 267433
Light aircraft flying into national parks’ airstrips from neighbouring countries should arrange local immigration clearance in advance.