Uganda Travel Information

Travel Information

Accommodation

Uganda and Rwanda have a wide range of standards when it comes to places to stay – from five star hotels and first class luxury lodges, to rustic bush camps, guesthouses and campsites. In some cases the lodges and hotels are not as luxurious as in some European countries. In towns, accommodation ranges from 3-5 star hotels and guesthouses. Upcountry it is of varying standard, often with no running water and electricity. Travellers must pay in US Dollars except for the smaller guesthouses where the local Ugandan Shilling and Rwandan Franc dominate. Not all of the small town hotels are equipped to take travellers cheques or credit cards so it is best you travel with some cash.

Some extra’s will be added onto your bill, especially in Kampala, Kigali, Entebbe and in parks – 2-10% service charge and 18% VAT (2005). For those who buy a full safari from us, most of these are covered in the safari cost. 

Climate

The majority of the two countries have a tropical climate, which varies according to altitude. During the year the hottest months are from December to February when the temperature reaches 29 degrees Celsius. The rainy seasons are from April to May and October to November, with the wettest month being April, but it can rain at any time of the day, especially in forest ecosystems.

Despite their location to the equator temperatures in some parts of Uganda and Rwanda can be quite cool owing to the countries high altitude. The mountain areas become much cooler and the top of Mount Elgon and the Rwenzoris are often covered with snow. Other parts of Uganda are much warmer, but Rwanda experiences more cold because of its higher altitude. There is heavy rain between March and May and between October and November. The best times are December-March and June-September. It can be somewhat rainy then, but not as rainy as in the rainy season of March-June. December-February and June-July are the driest times.

Clothing

Lightweights and rainwear, with warm wraps, especially in mountainous/hilly environments, for the evenings are advised. Uganda has mild winters and the summer days can get quite hot. Lightweight casual clothes can be worn all year round, with a jacket or jersey for early winter mornings and evenings. On safari keep clothes to a minimum and mostly of neutral colouring – khakis, browns and greens. A sunhat, sunglasses, sunscreen and insect repellant are essential. Local persons appreciate those who maintain a sense of decorum, avoid short-shorts and exposing much of your body in public. It is considered irreverence in some cultures. 

Packing List

The following is only meant as a guideline as you may have your own preferences. This also depends on the length of your safari.

  1. Long sleeved shirts
  2. Short sleeved t-shirts
  3. Pairs of light weight slacks/trousers that can dry quickly (if wearing on treks)
  4. Pair of shorts
  5. Sweater or sweatshirt
  6. A waterproof and windproof jacket
  7. Skirt (for women)
  8. Gloves gardening or similar (for gorilla trekking)
  9. Strong waterproof walking boots pants should be tucked into socks and boots while Trekking (heavy soled rain boots also work well)
  10. Pair of sports sandals like Tevas
  11. Hat-wide brim or with a visor for sun protection
  12. Sleepwear
  13. Underwear
  14. Lightweight wool socks
  15. Swimsuit (and a plastic bag)

Miscellaneous

  • Sunscreen
  • Sunglasses with neck strap
  • Insect repellent with DEET
  • Small day pack
  • Flashlight
  • Binoculars
  • Extra batteries
  • Camera and extra lenses
  • Film particularly fast film for the gorillas.
  • Personal toiletries
  • Prescription medicines and possibly prescription itself
  • Kleenex tissues
  • Sewing kit (needle, thread, safety pins)
  • Small notebook
  • First Aid Kit including anti-diarrhoea medicine, rehydration sachets, aspirin, cold medication, antiseptic cream, band-aids, motion sickness pills, lip balm, eye drops and personal medication. 

Communications

Postal services are fairly well organised in Uganda and Rwanda and you should have no problem sending or receiving letters. International call facilities as well as fax facilities exist at the main Post Office and in many Secretarial bureaus. Otherwise phone cards can be bought and used in public pay phones. Direct dialling to neighbouring countries requires 2 sets of numbers: first the city’s code then the number. International calls require 4 sets of numbers: first the international prefix, then the country code, the city code, and the number. The IDD code for Uganda is +256; that for Rwanda is +250. Within East Africa, the Uganda code is 006, Rwanda is 0037. International telephone communication is very good from Kampala and Kigali. From some upcountry areas it is more difficult. The mobile telephone network is good and rapidly expanding. A European or American mobile phone with a roaming agreement works in Uganda. In Rwanda, local SIM cards can be purchased in many outlets.

There are Email and Internet access services in Kampala, Kigali, Entebbe and in some towns upcountry. 

Courtesies

Recognition of traditional courtesies is important when visiting another country. While Ugandans are all well aware of the form in other countries, they tend to be conservative at home. A handshake greeting is normal and unsuitable clothing such as brief shorts or swimwear is not acceptable in towns and villages. Shoes are taken off before entering sacred places. 

Driving

Visiting drivers must hold an International Drivers License. Drivers licenses from other countries are not valid. New residents are required to pass a driving test. A person driving into the country on business can have their car admitted without having to pay duty, provided they will not use it for hire or commercial purposes. They will also have to show that the car is owned by themselves or by their company. Uganda drives on the left hand side of the road. Rwanda drives on the right-hand side of the road. 

Energy / Electricity

Local voltage in Uganda is 240volts, 50 cycle AC. 3-pin (square) sockets. Electric switches generally switch on downwards. Local voltage in Rwanda is 220/230/240volts, 50 cycle AC. 2-pin (round) sockets. Electric switches generally switch on upwards. Some camps and lodges upcountry do not have power but management can arrange to recharge your batteries from a nearby town at a cost, or use a safari vehicle for charging. 

Entertainment

There are a number of sporting, dancing and social clubs, theatres and other entertainment in the major towns. Visitors are usually welcomed. Some charge a temporary membership fee. Avoid staying up till late when you are travelling the next day. Interactions and friendly relations are at the discretion of the client, but seek your guide’s advice. Many of the main hotels have swimming pools, and there are excellent opportunities for golf, tennis and squash in Kampala/Kigali, and in several other parts of the country. Football, rugby, tennis and cricket clubs are found in the main towns. Sailing and water-skiing are available on Lake Victoria. Fishermen should head for the lakes and the River Nile. 

Filming

Temporary importation of equipment, this generally takes long to process and its best you contact us or the Uganda Communications Commission or Office Rwandais de Tourisme in Rwanda well in advance for assistance. 

    • In Uganda, the following are the general guidelines for filming crews.
    • In order to bring in equipment, you will require a TEMPORARY IMPORT valid for 3 months.
    • This can be extended/renewed for another 3 months should you wish.
    • The 3 months period has to be secured by a SECURITY BOND.
    • The clearing Agents based at the Entebbe International Airport have BOND facilities and will only be happy to help you at a fee.
    • In order to avoid delays on arrival, you are advised to fax or e-mail your details, equipment and value to your CONTACT in Uganda, 7 days to your actual arrival date.
    • The CONTACT will get a Clearing Agent who will prepare a Customs Bill of Entry which will facilitate your temporary import of equipment.
    • And on exit, the appointed Clearing and Forwarding Agents will need to be notified on your date and flight connection to enable him process re-export documents.
    • Remember there is no duty charged by Uganda Revenue Authority. There is merely a fee due to the Clearing Agent and which is negotiable depending on the equipment value.

For general television or commercial tourism-related filming, filmers will need to be cleared by the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), the Communications Commission and they will be required to pay applicable fees. For specific questions, please contact us.

Getting around

The Business hours for Government offices range from 08h00 to 16h30, Monday to Friday. Closed from 13h00 to 14h00.

Bank hours vary from bank to bank but most are open from 08h30 – 14h30 Monday to Friday. Only some are open on Saturdays. Forex bureaus are normally open till 17:00 and are able to do electronic transfers to and from Overseas. Most banks also have a branch at the Entebbe and Kanombe International Airport to serve incoming and outgoing passengers.

Shops are generally open from 08h00 to 17h00, Monday to Friday and 08h00 to 13h00 on Saturdays; some in Kampala open from 06h00 for up to 16 hours.

Main roads are generally good but travel is much slower than on European roads. Secondary roads are of variable standard, often slow and bumpy; some require high four-wheel drive vehicles. Light aircraft can also be chartered to the main destinations. Traffic drives on the left side in Uganda; in Rwanda traffic drives on the right. The major highways are two lane class 6 roads.

Driving in Uganda and Rwanda is quite an experience, yet probably the best way to see the country. One however has to be cautious of Pedestrians, Cyclists, wildlife and Livestock on all roads. 

Getting there

Uganda’s main international gateway is the Entebbe International Airport. It is located some 40km south of Kampala, the Capital, in the lakeside town of Entebbe. Its setting makes a spectacular entry to the country with an approach over Lake Victoria. A number of International and regional carriers operate regular flights to and from Entebbe: Air Tanzania, British Airways, Egypt Air, Emirates, Ethiopian Airways, Qatar Airline, Kenya Airways, South African Airways and SN Brussels. Kanombe, Rwanda’s international airport is about 5km away from Kigali. Several international and regional carriers, including SN Brussels, Kenya Airways, South African Airways and Ethiopian airlines operate regular flights to Kanombe.

International Carriers SN Brussels flies four times a week from Brussels direct to Entebbe. British Airways flies three times a week from London, Gatwick. International carriers to Kigali (Kanombe, the main airport) include SN Brussels which flies three times a week. From USA, there are flights to Entebbe and Kigali via London or Brussels, or alternatively clients can fly from New York or Atlanta to Johannesburg with South African Airways and then take a connecting flight.

From other parts of Africa Clients can fly into any of the listed African cities and then connect to Entebbe and Kigali. Ethiopian Airways provides connections from Addis Ababa. Kenya Airways flies daily from Nairobi. South African Airways provides connections with Dar-es- Salaam and Johannesburg. Egypt flies weekly from Cairo, only to Entebbe. East African Air provides connections from Nairobi, and Johannesburg. Air Tanzania provides connections from Dar-es-salaam. Rwanda Air flies from Kigali, Johannesburg and Nairobi. Emirates flies twice a week from Dubai, only to Entebbe. 

Domestic Air Services: Some attractions such as Bwindi, Mgahinga, and Kidepo in Uganda are far from Kampala/Entebbe, covering long distances of up to 500km and more with approximate driving time of 8-11 hours. It is advisable, where funds allow, to use air charter or scheduled flights to these far away locations. Scheduled flights are available from Entebbe to fly to these destinations, especially in the Western part of Uganda where most tourist attractions are.

The major tourist destinations which are usually in remote parts of the country are always accessible by charter/scheduled flights incude;-  Kisoro and Kihihi near Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Ishasha and Kasese to access Queen Elizabeth National and the Rwenzori Mountains and Queen Elizabeth Park and Kibale National Park, Pakuba to access Murchison Falls National Park and Kidepo National Park. Much of Rwanda can be reached in a day by road.

Some long distances that could require travel by chartered aircraft are; Kigali to Nyungwe/Cyangugu; and Nyungwe/Cyangugu to Ruhengeri. The approximate drive time between any of these localities is about 7 hours.

Arrival by Road: The main road border crossings are open at Malaba, Busia, Mutukula, Kisoro, Arua and Lwakhakha for Uganda. The main road border crossings for Rwanda are open at Cyanika, Katuna, Kagitumba, Cyangugu, on the outskirts of L.Tanganyika and a few border points with Tanzania and Burundi. Drivers require a valid international driving license, and must carry their vehicle log books. They will be expected to show adequate third party insurance, and pay a temporary road license.

Gorilla Tracking and Permits

To track gorillas each person must have the day’s gorilla permit which needs to be arranged and paid for in advance. In each gorilla park (Bwindi in Uganda and Parc National des Volcans [PNV] in Rwanda) , to protect gorillas from disease and to avoid problems of arduous conditions in the forests, young trackers below the age of 15 and those with illnesses are not allowed to track.

Flash photography is not allowed and visitors are advised to use still cameras, at a distance of at least 5 metres away from the animals. Professional filming requires extra fees to be paid. Tracking through the thick jungle, traversing canopies of thick undergrowth can be tough, arduous and wet – the tracking can last from as little as 45 minutes to as much as 9 hours.

Trackers therefore need to be well equipped with food and water, strong water-proof clothing and must be fit and healthy. Strong, light clothes could be carried, as well as rain jackets, a torch, sunglasses, a sun hat, gloves to grip vegetation, socks. Use jungle boots, long-sleeved shirt. A walking stick may be needed. Porters can be hired to carry equipment for all trackers (fees range between $5-20 per porter per day). Part of the fees paid to the park authorities goes directly to help local communities around the Protected Area(s). 

Health

Visitors from or passing through a yellow fever and cholera zone (most of tropical Africa and South America) may be able to produce a valid International Certificate of Vaccination. Air travellers who only pass through the airports of such a zone are exempt from the requirement.

It is also advised that all travellers be vaccinated against Meningitis, Typhoid and Hepatitis. As Uganda and Rwanda are in a malaria zone, visitors should also take prophylactics against malaria although the best way to avoid catching malaria is to avoid bites by using mosquito repellent and sleeping under a mosquito net. For your own comfort take a mosquito repellent.

Mosquito nets are provided in most hotels, lodges and camps. Precautions should be taken against malaria both when visitors are in the country, and when they return home. It is advisable to drink only boiled or bottled water and avoid swimming in ponds and still water pools.

While doctors and dentists are available throughout many areas of the country, the major hospitals are located in the main towns. Bring any special medication you may need, and carry medical insurance. Most chemists in the major towns are open from 08h30 to 12h30 and 14h00 to 17h00 Monday to Friday and 08h00 to 13h00 on Saturdays. There are no emergency chemists open after hours or Sundays.

Swimming in some lakes is not recommended except in designated areas. Consult our itineraries or ask your guide for bilharzias-free lakes open to swimmers.

Medical Insurance should be purchased before you leave your own country and should include emergency air evacuation coverage if you’re spending any time in remote parts of the country. There are some medical rescue organisations available. 

Insurance

Evacuation insurance Clients are advised to purchase evacuation insurance before traveling. This covers evacuation in case of an accident, health difficulties, etc. Evacuation insurance for mountaineering in the Rwenzoris is covered in this package. ALL our trips will include Amref Evacuation cover.

Health insurance It is advisable that clients purchase the necessary health insurance for themselves. The company will not be held liable for sickness of a client as a direct or indirect consequence of traveling.

Travel Insurance It is a condition of booking that all clients must have, and demonstrate to the company prior to their departure, adequate insurance for the duration of the tour. Such insurance should fully cover death; personal injury; loss; accident; medical expenses; repatriation in the case of accident, illness or death; cancellation or curtailment of the tour by the company or client; and loss of, damage to, or theft of the client’s personal property. Activities with a greater inherent risk, such as mountaineering, animal tracking, water rafting, swimming in lakes, should be covered. 

Language

There are over 56 dialects spoken in Uganda which is a reflection of Uganda’s multi-tribal society. English and Swahili are the official languages and most Ugandan’s are able to communicate fluently in English. All media and business is in English and most Ugandans speak it fairly well. Swahili is the next most commonly understood language in the East African region, including Uganda, followed by Luganda. Kinya-rwanda, Luganda, Swahili, English and French are widely spoken and understood in Rwanda. French and local Kinya-rwanda are the official languages. 

Laundry

Most hotels and lodges will offer a laundry service. For low budget travellers there are no coin operated Laundromats at all so consider drip dry clothing and be prepared for hand washing. In most places one could hire someone to do your washing. 

Laws Applicable to You

The importation and exportation of game trophies is prohibited by law. Offenders will be persecuted to the full extent of the law. Souvenirs may be exported without restriction but game trophies such as tooth, bone, horn, shell, claw, skin, hair, feather or other durable items are subject to export permits. Foreigners are not allowed to engage in the local politics. 

Media

Uganda and Rwanda are awakening to reading and writing. A number of Newspapers are published in Kampala and Kigali. The quality of the news content reveals Uganda and Rwanda’s ever prestigious quality education and training which has been a source of envy in the whole of Africa. Uganda boasts of the first and most prestigious Journalism and Mass communication Institute which plays a big role in replenishing Uganda’s scribe folk. Many international newspapers and magazines are available in major hotels, restaurants, government and travel agencies. 

Money

Clients are advised not to carry too much money around. Our safaris are all-inclusive and except for a need to tip, buy souvenirs and a few meals in towns, there may be nothing else in relation to your safari that you need to buy. It is best to budget for around US$30-50 a day as a reasonable minimum.

Kampala is well serviced with banks. International Banks include Stanbic, Allied Bank, Barclays, Standard Chartered, and Tropical Africa Bank. The unit of currency in Uganda is the Ugandan Shilling (Ush). There are coins in the following denominations: 100, 200, 500; and notes in the following denominations: 1000, 5000, 10000, 20000, 50000 in circulation concurrently with British Pounds Sterling, US Dollars, German Marks, Swiss Franks, French Francs, Euro, Japanese Yen, SA Rand notes.

Kigali is well serviced with a few international banks, such as Stanbic, and a few modern local ones such as the Bank of Rwanda and the Bank de Kigali. The unit of currency in Rwanda is the Rwandan Franc (RWF). Coins in this currency are in the following denominations: 10, 20, 50, 100; and notes in some of the following denominations: 500, 1000, 5000, 10000 in circulation concurrently with British Pounds Sterling, US Dollars, German Marks (rare), Swiss Franks (rare), French Francs, Euro, Japanese Yen (rare), SA Rand notes. 

There are no restrictions on importation or exportation of currency into or out of Uganda and Rwanda although any monies over US$5000 have to be declared to customs officials. Licensed Forex Bureaus can be found in all major urban areas and are abundant in Kampala. Rwanda does not have a Forex bureau to date but money can be exchanged from some international hotels and banks in Kigali.

Some licensed individuals also exchange cash in Kigali and at borders. It is best to consult your guide for advice on the licensed and trustworthy money exchange agents. Individual Agents and forex bureaus will gladly exchange. It is safest to carry US Dollars. When changing travellers cheques a valid passport may be required, and the exchange rate for these could be less than that for real money notes. Some agencies may ask for your Sales Advice Slip. It is also important to note that small denomination bills of US$1, 5, 10, and 20 are changed at a substantially reduced rate, as are torn and soiled notes. This can be as much as a 5% difference or more.

Credit cards

Only a few hotels in Uganda and Rwanda will accept credit cards, these countries operate on cash economy. Most banks in Kigali and Uganda accept credit cards. Most of the bigger banks and hotels will advance local currency against a credit card. The most commonly accepted credit cards are VISA, MASTER CARD

Photography

Before taking pictures of people it is polite to ask. Photographs should not be taken of people or religious ceremonies without their consent. Photography of the airport or strategic buildings, military installations and soldiers is NOT allowed.

Bring sufficient films, including fast film for gorilla tracking and batteries although these can readily be bought in Kampala and Kigali. Only print film and processing is available in Kampala/Kigali, not slide. Keep your cameras in a dust resistant, padded case and out of the midday sun. A 200mm (or longer) telephoto lens will prove very useful on safari. Commercial photographers should consult the Ministry of Information for a permit. 

Public Holidays

It is important to note that tourism being a year-round activity, these holidays do not affect the operations of travel agencies/tour operators, national parks and other tourism-service providers.

The following are public holidays in Uganda on which offices, including banks and diplomatic missions, may not open:

  • New Years Day (1st Jan)
  • Good Friday (variable)
  • Easter Monday (variable)
  • NRM ruling Government Anniversary Day (26th January)
  • International Women’s Day (8th March)
  • Labour Day (1st May)
  • Uganda Martyr’s Day (3rd June)
  • National Heroes Day (9th June)
  • Independence Day (9th October)
  • Christmas Day (25th December)
  • Boxing Day (26th December)
  • Idd-el-Fitr (variable)
  • Iddi Adhuha (variable)

The following are public holidays in Rwanda on which offices, including banks and diplomatic missions, may not open:

  • New Years Day (1st Jan)
  • Good Friday (variable)
  • Easter Monday (variable)
  • Democraty’s Day (28 January)
  • Genocide Commemoration Day (4 April)
  • Labour Day (1st May)
  • Independence Day (1 July)
  • Kamaramkapa Abolition of the monarchy Day (25 September)
  • All Saints Day (1 November)
  • Christmas Day (25th December)
  • Boxing Day (26th December)
  • Idd-el-Fitr (variable)
  • Iddi Adhuha (variable)

Safari (On safari)

Always remember that while some animals have become accustomed to the presence of people they are still wild animals. Keep your distance. It is illegal to feed any animal, make excessive noise to attract their attention, or to agitate and scare an animal, or deviate from designated roads for that closer photograph. Never get out of your vehicle except at designated points. 

Safety and security

Be quite awake when walking around carrying anything of value. As in all countries petty theft, including pickpockets is around in some places. Do not walk around at night unescorted before seeking advice. If possible, never leave your vehicle unattended and never change money on the streets. This is less of a problem in the rural areas.

Carry minimum amounts of cash and keep it hidden or in a money belt, if possible. Secure your belongings such as passport or airline tickets and other valuables and documents; use safe deposit boxes where available. For the most part, however, Ugandans and Rwandans are very friendly and helpful. If in doubt seek local advice. For specific questions on current security conditions please contact us. 

Time

  • Uganda is GMT +3 hrs. Rwanda is GMT +2hrs. 

Visas

A visa is a clearance permitting an individual to proceed to visit another country. Ugandan/Rwandan visas are issued at our Missions/Embassies abroad and also at the Entry/Exit Points such as Entebbe airport, Kanombe/Kigali airport, Busia, Malaba, Cyanika, Katuna, etc.

Underlying the Uganda Visa Policy is the principle of reciprocity, which is all countries that require visas for Ugandans are also visa prone in Uganda. Ugandan visas are required by the citizens of the European Union, the USA and Japan. Not required by nationals of many African countries, Bahamas, Seychelles, Jamaica, Mauritius, Madagascar, Italy (only Diplomatic Passports), Cyprus. Other nationals should check.

Rwandan visas are not required by nationals of many African countries, as well as nationals of Canada, Germany, South Africa, Sweden, UK and USA. Other nationals should check.

A valid passport is mandatory in all cases. Must have enough leafs for visa stamping and monitoring. For a stay not exceeding 6 months, the single-entry visa fee is US$50 and US$30 for Uganda and Rwanda respectively; the East Africa entry visa fee is about US$100 for Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda

Weather

Uganda and Rwanda are both near the Equator. As a result the climate does not change much and they can be visited throughout the year. The rainy seasons tend to be from March to April and October to November, but this varies in different areas and it can rain any time of year, especially in the forest and mountainous areas. Travel can be slower in the rainy season but the views are often better.

Gorilla tracking can be muddier but it can certainly be done. In the mountainous areas it is much colder than on the plains and the rainfall is greater. The temperatures on the plains tend to be between 21°C and 30°C and in the mountainous areas they can go down to 10°C in certain months. So our advice is to travel when it is most convenient and usually the rain, which is often for short periods, is part of the great experience.

A client may avoid tracking in the “official” rainy season only to find that it pours throughout his visit during another period! For this reason camps and lodges are not closed during the rainy season as they do in savannah countries. It is important to be well equipped at all times and follow your guide’s advice. 

 

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