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What you must know before you travel to Uganda – Travel Information
Uganda is surrounded by Kenya, Rwanda, Congo, Sudan and Tanzania in the East of the African continent. It is roughly the size of Great Britain or the State of Oregon in the USA. Uganda’s most alluring features are its forests, lakes and mountains. Most of the country is 1,000 m above sea level and there are three mountainous areas – the Rwenzoris, Mount Elgon and the Virunga volcanoes.
Wildlife has steadily increased and many species of game can be seen. Game viewing is free of the mass tourism in some countries. Primates, especially the mountain gorilla and chimpanzees are a special attraction together with over a thousand birds making a Wildlife Safari to Uganda something not to miss.
Most of Uganda is well-watered and fertile. Although it lies on the Equator the climate is tempered by its altitude. The Nile starts its long journey to the Mediterranean from Lake Victoria, the largest lake in Africa, and traverses Murchison Falls National Park. The population is about nineteen million, largely Christian, but with sizable Muslim and Animist communities.
Official Name: Republic of Uganda
Area: 236,000 sq. km
Capital City: Kampala
Main Regions with their population (2013)
Largest Cities, with Population
The central area is largely Bantu-speaking with the Baganda as the largest group. The Northern tribes are Nilotic in origin; the north is also the home of the nomadic Karamajong and the remote mountain tribe – the Ik. There are pygmy communities (the Batwa) in some forest areas. More than 30 languages are spoken – with English, Luganda and Swahili being the most widely used.
Uganda is located around the equator therefore has a tropical climate. Because of this, the climate is pleasant the whole year through! Traveling in Uganda is, for this reason, not limited by climate! The temperatures are a bit warmer during the day and cooler at night, averaging between 22 and 32ºC. In the higher altitude areas the temperature drops quite a lot (mainly at night) to as low as 6°C. This is in areas like Bwindi, Kisoro, Lake Bunyonyi, Mount Elgon, Sipi Falls and Rwenzori Mountain.
The heavy rainy season is normally in March – May, light rainy season is November – December, though there will always be plenty hours of sunshine and the hottest months of the yaer are January and February. The second dry season- from June and July- is considerably drier.
You can purchase you Visa from any entry point, Entebbe Airport or any border station. This is possible for tourists and travellers. The single entry visa fee is USD 50, usually runs for three months (90 days) and multiple entry visas at USD200 that is valid for 6 months.
The following are the requirements needed by all:
1. One duly filled application form by each applicant.
2. One passport size photograph attached to each application form.
3. Passport valid for at least six months from the proposed date of entry.
4. Correct visa fee ($50 for single entry visa & $200 for six-month multiple entry visa).
5. Letter of invitation/introduction, if travelling on business.
6. Applicants may be requested to submit additional supporting documentation.
Tourist Visa to Uganda
All tourists to Uganda are kindly requested to comply with the requirements below before they can get a visa to Uganda.
1. Every traveler must have a valid passport of nationality or origin issued by their Government.
2. It’s safer to have the International Inoculation Certificate against yellow fever.
3. You may also be asked to show your return ticket. This is usually not asked.
4. Tourist visa fee ($50)
Please note that individuals who are American or British citizens as well as almost all commonwealth nations and Europe do need a visa to get to Uganda. And still note that failure to complete the application form fully may result in the issuance of a visa being delayed or refused.
Nationals of the countries below do not need a visa.
African countries namely, Zambia, Tanzania, Swaziland, Seychelles, Rwanda, Madagascar, Mauritius, Malawi, Kenya, Eritrea, Comoros, Burundi and Angola.
Others include: St. Vincent and the Grenadines Islands, Barbados, Bahamas, Antigua, Gambia, Jamaica, Lesotho, Malta, Singapore, Solomon Islands and Cyprus
The Ugandan currency is the Ugandan Shilling. Statistics show that the most popular Uganda Shilling exchange is the UGX to USD rate. The currency code for Shillings is UGX, and the currency symbol is USh. Forex Bureaus in Uganda do not accept US dollars dated 2006and below.
It is advisable to use big notes (50 or 100 US dollar) to exchange money because exchange rates for smaller notes are much lower. Cut, dirty, damaged and notes with writings may not be accepted by most people
You can change dollars, pounds and Euros everywhere in Uganda, but the best exchange rates are found in Kampala. It’s good to have some US dollars with you at all times.
ATM & Credit Cards
ATM: In all big cities I would advise you to find ATM machines from Barclays, Standard Chartered, Stanbic Bank and Orient Bank because they accept most international bank cards –Credit cards, Master and Visa cards. There’s a limit to the amount withdrawn at the ATMs. In case of any inconvenience, use the bank counter to withdraw as much money as you want.
Credit Card: Credit cards are not yet used much in Uganda. Only at major hotels and upmarket lodges this can be used.
Traveler Cheques: Travel cheques are only accepted in a few banks in Kampala and they will give you a terrible rate for it. It may be hard for you to bank it.
Uganda Safrai Attractions
Uganda Gorilla Treks
In Uganda, mountain gorillas are seen in two parks, Bwindi forest Park and Mgahinga National Park. Bwindi in Uganda has four habituated families with 32 permits available daily. The gorillas there live in thick tropical forest and tracking in Uganda safaris is more challenging as the hillsides are steeper and it can take 3-10 hours. Three of the families (Mubare, Habinyanja, and Rushegura) are accessed from Buhoma in the north. The fourth family, in Nkuringo in Southern Bwindi, is accessed from Kisoro. Access to this group is on a very steep trail and tracking can take much of the day. The habituated gorilla family that used to reside at Mgahinga is no longer resident there full time and viewing is currently not being offered. This group is likely to remain unstable unless more females join the group. Mgahinga is also a great place to appreciate the unique Virunga volcanoes, where you can track the golden monkeys or go birding.
Chimpanzee trekking is done in a number of forests in Uganda – especially Kyambura and Kibale in the west, Budongo and Kanyiyo Pabidi in Murchison Falls and Ngamba Island. Bwindi is one of the few forests where these primates, gorillas and chimps, co-exist but are rarely seen as they live lower down when both species are present. The Ugandan and Rwandan variety (Pan Troglodytes Schweinfurthi) is long-haired and lives in those forests where there is a rich, all year round food supply.
Entebbe and Ngamba
Entebbe became a colonial centre in the 19th century, and was the capital until 1962. With its botanical gardens and colonial buildings, it is a charming sleepy place. Activities here include golf, tennis, sailing and swimming as well visiting the Entebbe Wildlife Centre. Entebbe Airport, probably the friendliest in Africa, is some 40 km south of Kampala on the shores of Lake Victoria. From Entebbe there are regular trips to Ngamba Chimpanzee Sanctuary. The sanctuary, on a beautiful forested island, is home to chimpanzees illegally removed from the wild and confiscated by the authorities; a raised platform enables close viewing and makes feeding time an exciting activity to watch. The tour lasts about half a day, travelling either by a modified traditional Ssese canoe or a faster motorboat. An overnight stay, at a simple mobile camp, can be arranged. The entrance fees paid goes towards looking after the chimpanzees.
Kibale Forest has thirteen species of primates – among the highest number recorded in an African forest – including the chimpanzee, the vervet monkey and the red colobus. Tracking the noisy chimpanzee families racing through this verdant forest is a thrilling experience. Together with Bigodi Wetland nearby, many forest and swamp birds can be seen.
Queen Elizabeth wildlife adventure
Queen Elizabeth National Park (QE), in the western arm of the Great East African Rift Valley, is centered around Lake Edward and Lake George. The launch trip along the Kazinga Channel is especially good for viewing hippo, buffalo, elephant and a vast array of birds. Around Ishasha, go on the hunt for the famous tree-climbing lions which lounge nonchalantly on old fig trees. The beautiful steeply forested Kyambura Gorge nearby is home not only to chimpanzees but also the red-tailed monkey, black and white colobus and many bird species.
Sources of the Nile
Much of the nineteenth century was dominated by the search for the Source of the River Nile. Many of the great explorers of the age – Baker, Burton, Grant, Livingstone, Stanley, Speke, von Götten, Kandt and Stuhlmann – traversed the continent to understand the connection between the different rivers and lakes in Africa’s central highlands. In 1862, Speke deduced that the river on the north shore of Lake Victoria was the White Nile on its way to Egypt. In reality the Source includes a number of lakes and rivers in Uganda and Rwanda as well as the Virungas and Rwenzoris.
The five volcanic lakes; Kivu, Bulera, Ruhondo, Bunyonyi and Mutanda, on the borders of Rwanda and Uganda have their own special attractions. Lake Kivu, on the Rwanda/Congo border, the largest, is like a giant inland sea with some interesting lakeside towns. Kibuye, two hours from Kigali, is a relaxing retreat for swimming, canoeing and water-skiing. Gisenyi, a famous resort in the past, now has a sleepy forgotten air with some fine but neglected buildings from the Belgian era. The twin lakes of Bulera and Ruhondo are attractive places to visit after gorilla tracking in PNV in Rwanda. The emerald green Mutanda, in Uganda, with its distinctive hump-back islands, seen in the distance from Mgahinga, has a pristine beauty. Toyo Island, Volcanoes’ private island in the lake, wild and unspoiled, is reached by dug-out canoe. The finger-like Bunyonyi literally “a place of little birds”, lies among steeply terraced hillsides near the hill town of Kabale; it is an ideal stopping point on the way to Bwindi and Mgahinga.
Budongo and Kanyiyo Pabidi, near Murchison Falls, contain one of the most extensive mahogany forests in East Africa, and the region’s largest chimpanzee population – about 900 animals. Chimp tracking is available either at Busingiro, in the south of Budongo, or at Kanyiyo Pabidi on the road to Murchison. The birdlife in the forest is prolific – about 330 species. The strange Bunyoro rabbit can also sometimes be seen at night. There is a church nearby which was built by Polish refugees in the war. Kabalega, the powerful king of Bunyoro at the turn of the 19th century, is buried at the Mparo Tombs near Hoima.
Kampala, the capital of Uganda, is spread over a number of green hills and takes its name from Kasozi k’impala, “the hill of antelopes”. The city grew around the court of the Kabaka of Buganda with British officials and Indian merchants settling on adjoining hills. It is a charming green city, with its many gardens and attractive views of the surrounding countryside and Lake Victoria. There is a wide range of hotels and restaurants. The Kasubi Tombs – the traditional royal tombs of the Kabakas of Buganda – are a fine example of Ganda architecture. Do not miss the colourful Nakasero fruit and vegetable market, the general goods market and the crafts market. There are a number of interesting buildings in the city, including the buildings that housed the colonial administration and the houses of the Indian merchants, the Parliament, the museum and buildings of different religious faiths and the Namugongo Martyrs’ Shrine. Barkcloth, basketware, pottery, gourds, kikoi cloth, carving, traditional weapons and musical instruments are some of the souvenirs available for purchase.
The meandering River Nile and the dramatic Murchison Falls make this National Park, the biggest in Uganda, a stunning habitat for wildlife. Crocodiles, hippos, elephants and birds including the rare shoebill stork, bask on the banks of the Nile. Chimpanzees can be tracked in Budongo and Kanyiyo Pabidi nearby.
There are two sets of rock paintings in Eastern Uganda. The Nyero rock paintings, near Kumi, among the most important in East Africa, are thought to be about 400 years old and are found in three shelters situated close together. The Kakoro rock paintings, near Mbale, are located on a koppie and, although less spectacular, are easier to reach. There is also an unusual rock gong near the paintings. Near Tororo there is an imprint of a man’s foot thought to be several hundred years old.
The Mountains of the Moon – as named by the Hellenic astronomer Ptolemy have a legendary beauty. The range has six peaks, capped with ice and snow and has three glaciers. The highest peak, Margherita, rises to 5109m, the third highest in Africa after Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya. The luxuriant flora and bird life are unique. A hike through the central Rwenzoris takes about five days; the peaks are accessible only to experienced climbers. The best time to climb is from June to August, and December to February.
Mount Elgon and Sipi Falls
Mount Elgon, known as ‘Masaba’ by the local people, is the shell of a volcano that is thought to have had its last major eruption about 10 million years ago. The highest peak, Wagagai, is 4,321m above sea level, making it the forth-highest mountain in East Africa. With the spectacular Sipi falls, hot springs and the extraordinary caldera, about 8 kms across, Elgon is one of East Africa’s great mountains. The beautifully wooded slopes of Mount Elgon are an enchanting place to hike and climb and its smaller scale and milder altitude make it a less strenuous alternative to the Rwenzoris.
Kori’s’ tailor-made Uganda safaris are created specifically for your interests and are run privately. This includes all the activities, which safari lodge you would like to stay at and for how long. Please find suggested itineraries below to provide you with inspiration for your tour.