Visit Africa’s best kept secret……soon!


For a while Uganda was Africa’s best kept secret but it is rapidly becoming very popular with tourists and overland travellers and with good reason, I might add!  Uganda has become the darling of Africa and is being looked to as a shining example of a country that has managed to overcome its appalling past to become a productive, economically viable and stable, all things which are high on the list of priorities for tourists of course.  Not only is Uganda a phenomenally beautiful country but its relatively well organised and hassle free, by African standards, and the people are exceptionally friendly.  The strong presence of international investment and aid that is pouring into Uganda is obvious in all strata of life and it seems as though everyone is far to busy making a living to hassle tourists.  Its definitely time to put Uganda onto your list of future holiday destinations.


We were very dismayed to hear reports of a recent Ebola outbreak in Uganda.  From what we have been able to establish from other travellers and snippets of news on CNN, the outbreak was in the Gulu district in northern Uganda.  Although Gulu is not on the usual tourist drag it is relatively close to the Murchison Falls National Park which you will definitely want to visit if you find yourself in Uganda.  More distressing, is a recent report that we received from some Swiss tourists that the Ugandan borders were in fact temporarily closed.  We have not been able to verify this piece of information and, as with all planned travels, it would be adviseable to get the latest information about the outbreak and whether the borders are open before planning your trip.  We can only hope that this latest tradgedy will not spoil the budding tourist industry in this fantastic country. 


Our Ugandan route…..


Malaba border to Jinja (Bujagali Falls)


As always, border formalities (check out the fact file below) are never quick although we found that the Ugandan border officials were particularly slow about processing our documents.  It took us about two minutes to exit Kenya and about three hours to get ourselves through the Ugandan border.  The formalities are aggravated by the fact that the Ugandan border bost is literally jam-packed with trucks.  Some of the trucks are waiting to be processed through customs, others are waiting to have cargo collected, there are rumours about a weigh bridge problem on the Ugandan side of the border and some trucks are just broken and awaiting repairs.  Sanity levels are not helped by the unofficial guides who want to help you through the border formalities and hassle you incessently.  Altogether not the finest moment of our trip.  If you want to avoid this busy border you may want to try one of the other two Kenyan/Ugandan border posts.  The border post at Busia, just south of Malaba, is reputedly less manic and things seem to flow more smoothly.  If you are in for an adventure, you may want to try the Suam river border post north of Kitale.  This border post does not process many tourists each year – we met a couple in September who had been the second car through the post and the first with a Carnet!  Needless to say, the rules on border formalities, road tax etc are not always known and you may be able to slide by on the cheap.  The dirt road from Suam river takes you via Mount Elgon ending up in Sipi Falls and is reputedly diabolical in the rainy season.  You may want to check out the weather conditions before heading along this route if you want to avoid spending a couple of days trawling through mud.


From Malaba we headed for Jinja.  The road between the border and Jinja leaves much to be desired.  The tar is padly rutted and potholed and in some spots is almost non-existent.  The problem is aggravated by the large number of trucks, busses and matatu’s that travel this route.    Jinja lies on the shores of Lake Victoria and at the source of the White or Victoria Nile (00° 25.46’N  033° 11.82’E).  If you are heading for Jinja you will want to check out the spectacular Bujagali Falls and try your hand at some white water rafting on the Nile.  There is nowhere to camp in Jinja itself although there are a couple of cheap hotels.  The best bet is to head straight for Bujagali Falls where you will find two campsites worth checking out. The better bet is Speke’s Bujagali Falls campsite (075 720 906/075 777 783 or (00°29.28’N   033°11.82’E ) where you can camp right on the banks of the spectacular falls.  Camping costs US$2 per person per night and there are a couple of bandas and dorm beds available.  The campsite has good ablutions (although no hot water) as well as a bar and restaurant.  The other campsite is run by Nile River Explorers (who also do rafting trips) ( / and, although you get a free night’s camping if you chose to raft with them, the campsite is not nearly as scenic and is innundated by overland trucks (our personal nightmare!).  You can book your rafting trip through Nile River Explorers (US$65) or through Adrift (US$95) or you can do it local stlye by hurling yourself down the rapids clinging to an empty water container for ballast (only for those with hair on their teeth or no brains at all!)


Jinja to Kampala


From Jinja we covered the 90 kilometres to Kampala with ease.  The road is a lot better than its Malaba/Jinja counterpart.  Kampala is a bustling city where people drive with utter recklessness!  We thought that it was worse than any of the other cities we have driven in (but then again we have still to visit Cairo).  There are two camping options in Kampala.  The first is the Backpackers ( (00°18.45’N   032°33.08’E ) on Natete road which charges US$2 pp per night and has fairly decent facilites.  During our visit, however, the toilets were broken and we had to use what they termed their “eco-toilets” which were totally foul and spoiled our stay there.  On the up side, the Backpackers is near to town and has a great view of the city.  It also has a bar and restaurant.  The other option is the Red Chili Hideaway ( / (N0 19 05.0 E32 37 44.8) which is on the Old Port Bell road, about 5 kilometres before you reach Kampala on the Jinja road.  The Red Chili has huge sprawling grounds, good facilities (including internet and email, laundry, satellite TV, photo developing etc) and a series of cottages for rent.  We found it preferable to the Backpackers even if it was a couple of kilometres from town. 


In Kampala you will find lots of South African businesses – Nando’s, Debonairs, MTN to name but a few!  If your cell phone is on roaming you will hear the sweet sounds (and service) of MTN Uganda.  All the major motor groups are represented in Kampala and you will be able to have your vehicle serviced, buy parts and have repairs done.  If you are looking to have some work done on your Land Rover try Rhino 4x4 Services Ltd ( Kampala is also the best place to stock up on groceries, fresh goods and meat.  You won’t struggle to find a whole host of decent supermarkets, butcheries and restaurants. In fact, the city is a real pleasure!


If you are planning to visit the gorillas at Bwindi or Mgahinga you will need to obtain your permit at the Ugandan Wildlife Authority in Kampala (00 19.07’N  032 35.04’E) before you head out there (check out the fact file for more details).


Kampala to the Ssese Islands


After having completed a substantial part of our Kampala business we headed west to the Ssese Islands, one of the best kept Ugandan secrets.  The group of 84 islands lies off the north-western shores of Lake Victoria.  The islands are secluded and have not yet been overtaken by tourists.  There is no electricity and are very few cars and the people are exceptionally friendly.  On the landscape score, the Ssese’s provide some of the most spectacular views of Lake Victoria and are the home of a wide variety of birds. 


Reaching the Ssese islands is not the most simple process!  From Kampala, head to Masaka and turn off to Bukakata just before you get there.  The dirt road to Bukakata wends its way east of Masaka in the direction of the lake. If you get lost, anyone will be able to point you in the right direction!  The road is in good condition and at the end of it you will find the station for the ferry that runs between Liku island (one of the bigger ones) and the mainland on a daily basis.  The ferry is free and forms part of the Ugandan road systems so don’t let the staff con you into paying for it!  Of course if the ferry does not have diesel you may have to chip in to get the whole thing going.  If you are headed for the Ssese Islands, make sure that you arrive at the ferry station at around 14h00 in the afternoon.  Although the ferry only leaves around 16h00 there is fierce competition for the limited space on it so you will need to reserve your place in the pecking order.  The ferry waits for the Masaka/Kalangala bus which arrives at Bukakata around 16h00 after which it is loaded and sets sail for Liku.  Expect delays and irritations when it comes to the loading and off-loading process which is far from smooth!


The ferry takes about an hour and when you disembark you will need to travel a further 35 kilometres to the village of Kalangala – 35 of the most beautiful kilometres in Uganda.  In Kalangala there are a variety of accomodation options, resorts and campsites.  We stayed at the Hornbill campsite which gets its name from the literally hundreds of giant hornbills that frequent it.  The campsite is situated on the lake and is run by a very obliging German (if you can put up with his constange heavy metal music!).  Camping costs US$2 per person per night and there are limited facilities – the water supply is not always constant – not for any lack of the essential ingredient but more due to slackness on the part of the staff.  Detractions aside, you cannot beat Hornbill for scenery, sunsets and relaxation. 


On the day you journey back to the mainland you will need to make sure you arrive at the ferry station at around 7am.  The ferry sails at 9am (having left the mainland between 7am and 8am) but once again there is a lot of competition for space on it.  The loading process is timeconsuming and you cannot rely on the ferry to leave on time!  You can apparently also take a ferry to the Ssese islands from Entebbe as well.


If you are headed for the Ssese Islands, make sure you stock up with food before you go as there is not much available on the island.  Also, beware of swimming in areas of the lake where there is a high concentration of reeds and papyrus as there is a Bilharzia risk. 


Ssese Islands to Lake Bunyoni


From the Ssese Islands we headed via Masaka and Mbarara to Lake Bunyoni (01°14.71’S   029°58.41’E ) near Kabale.  The road is tarred and in good condition which makes travel fast and pleasureable.  You will also be able to buy the most gorgeous fresh fruit and vegetables from the road side stalls.  Lake Bunyoni is a famed overlander’s “chill out” spot and there are various places to stay where you can put your feet up for a couple of days, explore the lake on a canoe and check out some of the islands.  Lake Bunyoni is also a good place to camp before launching your gorilla trekking trip to Magahinga National Park.  You will find a plethora of camping spots around Lake Bunyoni.  The most popular at present is the Bunyoni Overland Camp and Parking ( / which, despite its name, is actually a pretty nice spot.  Camping costs 2500 Ush pp per night and there are excellent hot showers and flush toilets.  There is also a decent bar and restaurant where you can sample the local river crayfish (more like shrimp).  You can also hire a canoe or mountain bike to explore the area.  The only drawback is the fact that cars with roof-top tents are required to camp in the parking lot which is not as nice as the rolling lawns were you can pitch a ground tent. 


If you have time you may want to try out Jasper’s Campsite, a campsite run by a small community development project situated on a small island in the centrue of Lake Bunyoni.  Access is by dugout canoe and the campsite is also a working farm and proceeds of the campsite go to supporting the beigh ouring Bwama Island School.  Camping costs 2500 Ush pp pn. 


Lake Bunyoni to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park


From Lake Bunyoni we headed to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park (00°59.16’S   029°36.98’E ) in search of a gorilla permit – something we had not been able to get in Kampala for the period that we would be in Uganda.  Our hope was that there would be a cancellation or two and we would have the chance to visit the mountain gorillas.  Unfortunately this was not to be!  We discovered that we were not the only people waiting for permits – some people had been there for over a week hoping for a cancellation.  In the end we had to be content with a forest walk which is highly recommended.  There are a myriad of foot paths and waterfalls to explore.  You need to take a guide and an armed soldier with you on a walk in the forest but the chances are that you will see a whole host of rare birds and other primates.  You can camp at the community run campsite at the park gates where camping costs Ush2500 per person per night.  Once again this is great if you have a ground tent but with a roof tent you are forced to camp in the parking lot.  In the end we opted for another locally run campsite in the village which charged US$3 per person per night but which was able to offer us a hot shower and a flush toilet (facilities which are not available at the community campsite).  There are lots of other tented campsites and accomodation options near to Bwindi.


Check out the fact file for more details about gorilla trekking.


Bwindi to Kampala


Our time in Uganda was limited as we were facing a deadline on our Ethiopian visas so we had to curtail our travels around Uganda – something we are very sad about!  Our limited time meant that from Bwindi we had to head back to Kampala before heading back to the border.  We spent another night at Lake Bunyoni before returning to Kampala and then pushing on to the border.  We have already put together an itinery for our return visit though!


Other good spots to visit…


Sipi Falls & Mt Elgon


Sipi Falls (01° 20.17’N  034° 22.65’E) and the whole Mount Elgon area comes very highly recommended.  Our short time meant that we did not have time to spend a night there but we did manage to squeeze in a brief visit before heading back to the border.  If you are headed to Sipi Falls from the Kampala direction you should take the new road via Iganga and Budaka to Mbale which is in a lot better condition than the road which goes to Mbale via Tororo.  Sipi Falls is about 55 km’s north of Mbale and the three waterfalls make a truly magnificent sight!  The best place to camp is at the Crow’s Nest campsite ( where camping costs 3500 Ush per person per night.  Unfortunately roof top campers will have to camp in the parking lot but the views across the valley to the waterfalls is superb.  There are some cabins available and the toilet and shower facilities are in good condition.  There is also a nice restaurant and bar.  The campsite can arrange guided walks to the various waterfalls.  Another camping option, although not nearly as nice, is Moses’ camp which charges 2800 Ush pp per night.  While you are in the Sipi Falls area you could arrange a trek in the Mount Elgon National Park (see park fees in the Fact file section).


Kasese & Queen Elizabeth National Park


If you are in the Bwindi area why not head north to Kasese and take in the Queen Elizabeth National Park.  The Queen Elizabeth borders on the Rwenzori mountains and Lake Edward.  There have been some security concerns relating to this park in recent years because of its proximity to the border of the DRC so it is worth checking out the latest security situation before visiting the park but it has been highly recommended by bird and wildlife lovers alike.  The only sad thing is that much of the wildlife has been decimated by troops fighting on both sides of the border.

The Rwenzori National Park which contains the famed “Mountains of the Moon” complete with 6 snow capped peaks, 3 with glaciers and the well-known Mount Stanley is currently closed to the public because of the insecurity of the area. 


Fort Portal, Kibale Forest National Park & Lake Nkuruba


From Kasese and the Queen Elizabeth National Park, head north to Fort Portal and the Kibale Forest.  The best place to camp in the Fort Portal area is at Lake Nukuruba, a stunning crater lake which is supposed to be bilharzia free and very beautiful.  Its about 17km from Fort Portal on the Kibale Road. The campsite (00°31.14’N   030°18.06’E) here costs US$2 per tent and there are apparently decent facilities.  The Kibale Forest National Park (00°39.38’N   030°16.68’E ) is best known for its five groups of chimpanzees that are partially habituated to human contact.  Chimp trekking costs US$10 per person on top of the US$7 park entrance fee (Kibale Forest is cheaper than the other parks and on a par with Mt Elgon as far as park fees are concerned).  The walks take 2 to 3 hours and you can see up to 12 species of primates found in the park. 


Murchison’s Falls National Park


This is Uganda’s largest park, through which the Victoria Nile flows en route to Lake Albert and which has become almost synonomous with Ugandan tourism. No visit to Uganda would be complete without a visit to Murchison’s (01°51.16’N  031°42.59’E) to see the famous falls and to take the three hour boat trip to their base.  The launch trips cost Ush 15 000 per person with a minimum charge of  Ush150 000 per cruise.  You can also arrange guided game drives, fishing permits and boat hire.Check out the fact file for more details on the park entrance fees. There are campsites at the top of the falls which reportedly provide stunning views although the facilities are sparse.  Camping (02°16.59’N  031°41.38’E ) costs between Ush 5000 and 6000.  There are apparently also bandas for hire. Unfortunately, we have heard reports that the game in the park has been pretty much decimated by wars, poachers and retreating troops.



Ugandan fact file….


Motoring in Uganda


Driving in Uganda is a very pleasant experience.  The major routes are tarred and are in excellent condition with the exception, oddly enough, of the main road from the Kenyan/Ugandan border to Kampala.  This road is extremely badly potholed and carries a lot of heavy traffic as it is the main route from the Mombasa Port in Kenya  to Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.  We were also told that the Ugandan railway service had ceased some time ago and so much of the heavy cargo had to be transported by road.  Travelling along this portion of the road is very heavy going and slow.  On the whole the dirt roads that we travelled on were in good condition, obviously there are exceptions, but we found that, by in large, an effort was being made to ensure that the roads were maintained and repaired.  Of course, for you die-hard adventure junkies there are plenty of roads to test your 4x4’s on!


Entry Requirements






As always, crossing the border is time consuming so make sure you allow plenty of time for it!




Currency and money


The Ugandan currency is the Ugandan Shilling.  R1-00 is approximately equal to 234 Ugandan Shillings whereas US$1 is approximately equal to 1600 Ugandan shillings.  It is relatively easy to change money and travellers cheques in Uganda as there are plenty of banks and foreign exchange bureaus at the border and in the main centres.  You will need to shop around for the best rates though.  If you are carrying US dollars be aware that there is often a different rate given for small notes (US$ 5, 10, 20) than the rate for larger denominations.  The discrepancy is often substantial.  We recommend that you carry mostly larger denominations (US$50 and US$100) if you are going to be using dollars during your stay in Uganda.  If you are caught with a fistful of small notes, the best place to change them is at Metropolitan Forex Bureau which offers the best rate for small notes (only slightly less than the big note rate).


Credit cards are relatively widely accepted in the major centres but are not of much use in the out lying areas.  Its also not possible to draw money on your Visa or Mastercard at an ATM machine although you can get a cash advance against your credit card at some of the major banks.  In most cases, a punitively high surcharge is levelled on all credit card transactions.  This can often be as high as 13%.


There is a wide range of banks in Kampala.


Petrol and Diesel Prices


At the moment petrol costs 1560 Ush (around R6.50) a litre, diesel costs 1330 Ush (around R5.50) and Kerosene (Parafin) costs 1140 Ush (around R4.50) per litre.  To put it bluntly – its not cheap!  The petrol and diesel prices fluctuate regularly but are centrally controlled so should be the same all over the country.


Diesel, Petrol and Kerosene are widly available and can be found even in the smallest, most obscure villages.  So far, though, we have not come across any unleaded petrol.


Internet and email


There are a wide range of Internet and email options in Kampala – both Backpackers and Red Chili offer email services.  In town check out The Dome Cyberspace, Commercial Plaza (Kampala Rd) (         


Food, beer and other important considerations


There are a whole range of Ugandan beers available – some of the more popular brands include Club, Nile Special and Chairman’s ESB.  Beer costs between Ush 1000 – 1100 a bottle (500 ml).  Cold drinks like Coke and Sprite are also widely available and cost between 500 and 600 Ush a bottle. 


Fresh fruit and vegetables are widely available at all road side stalls and in the Kampala market and are ridiculously cheap and of very high quality.  Local food is like braaied meat and kebabs, ugali (maize) and rice is available at most restaurants and is very cheap.  You will also find lots of chapattis and samoosas available at the smallest stalls which make good travelling snacks – they too are exceptionally well-priced.


National Park Fees


Uganda has many super National Parks which are well worth a visit.  Luckily visiting these parks is a lot cheaper than visiting their Kenyan or Tanzanian counterparts.  Most of the parks charge standard fees although there are some exceptions.  Some of the smaller parks like Mt Elgon and Lake Mburo are cheaper. 


On average park entrance fees are US$15-00 per person per day for non-residents. Ugandan residents pay Ush 10 000 pp pd and citizens pay Ush 2 000 pp pd.  In most cases there is no vehicle charge, with the exception of Murchison Falls National Park where vehicles cost US$30-00 per day.  Most of the parks offer guided walks for between US$5 and US$7.50 per person. 


The Mountain Gorillas


A visit to Uganda would not be complete without a visit to the Mountain Gorillas although these days it has become so popular that it is almost impossible to get a permit unless you book well in advance.  You can track the gorillas at two parks in south western Uganda – Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Mgahinga but will need to obtain your permit to visit the gorillas at the Ugandan Wildlife Authority in Kampala (00 19.07’N  032 35.04’E ) before you head out to the parks.  If you can’t get a permit you can always hang out for a cancellation in Kampala or you could head to Bwindi or Mgahinga and take your chances that there will be a couple of no-shows on the day you want to visit the gorillas.  The fee structure for both parks is as follows:




There are two groups that can be visited and 6 permits a day are sold for each group.  Non residents pay US$250 per permit (residents US$180 and citizens US$50) for a gorilla tracking permit.  On top of this you will need to pay the standard US$15 per day park entrance fees.  Your permit entitles you to one hour with the gorillas once you have found them – although the finding can involve a couple of hours of hiking!  If you are not able to get a permit or, if you are going to be in Bwindi for a couple of days, there are some great forest walks to be done.  Guided walks cost between US$5 and 7.50 depending on the length of your trek.  You can camp at the community run campsite at the Park gates which charges Ush2500 pp per night.  There are also a host of other campsites, tented camps and accomodation options available.




The Mgahiga park is Uganda’s smallest and is in Uganda’s most south western corner where it borders on Rwanda and the DRC.  The park is contiguous with national parks in Rwanda and the DRC and the three parks make up the Virunga Conservation Area.  The problem with gorilla tracking in Mgahiga is that there is no guarantee that the gorillas will be in the Ugandan portion of the park and they have a way of sneaking over the border into neighbouring DRC and Rwanda at the most inopportune moments.  You will need to make enquiries at the office in Kisoro as to whether the gorillas are in fact in the park.  Because of the obvious difficulties, gorilla tracking at Mgahiga is slightly cheaper and you will pay US$175 as a non – resident  (residents US$150 and citizens US$40).  Once again you will have to pay park fees on top of this.  There are a couple of privately run campsites at the park gates otherwise there is accomodation in Kisoro.  There are the usual forest walks if you cannot get a gorilla permit or if you want to check out more of the forest.



Gorillas in the future


Word has it that the Ugandan parks authorities are planning to increase the price of gorilla trekking substantially in the next couple of years.  It is rumoured that next month prices will go up to US$300, next year US$500 and in 2002 that they will be pushed to a massive US$1000 per permit.  If this is true – it is definitely time to visit the gorillas while it is still (relatively) affordeable.


Summary of GPS points…


Ugandan Wildlife Authority (Kampala)

00° 19.07’N  032° 35.04’E

Sipi Falls

01° 20.17’N  034° 22.65’E

Source of the White Nile

00° 25.46’N  033° 11.82’E

Speke’s Bujagali Falls Campsite

00°29.28’N   033°11.82’E

Backpackers Kampala

00°18.45’N   032°33.08’E

Turn off to Bwindi (from Kanyantoroogo)

00°49.69’S   029°42.60’E

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park

00°59.16’S   029°36.98’E

Turn off to Lake Bunyoni (from Kisoro/Kabale Rd)

01°14.71’S   029°58.41’E

Lake Nakuruba Campsite

00°31.14’N   030°18.06’E

Turn off to Kibale Forest National Park and Lake Nakuruba

00°39.38’N   030°16.68’E

Murchison Falls National Park Entrance

01°51.16’N  031°42.59’E

Murchison Falls Campsite

02°16.59’N  031°41.38’E

Fort Portal

00°39.21’N  030°16.50’E

Red Chili Hideaway (Kampala)

N0 19 05.0  E32 37 44.8