Uganda is a beautiful country with an impressive people. This is one of my favourite countries in all of Africa. The people of Uganda have survived the troubles of 1967-86 period and emerged standing upright and wearing a smile. In that short period, the country suffered under the caprice of two despicable despots. One was the indisputably insane Idi Amin and the other, the arguably insane Milton Obote.
Travelers to Uganda are drawn by its stunning landscape - green rolling hills, snowcapped mountains, rainforests, majestic rivers and massive lakes. There are also a number of outstanding national parks for your safari encounter with the wildlife for which Africa is renowned.
Though not as famous for safari as neighboring Kenya and Tanzania, Uganda still has some pretty good game sanctuaries. The 3,840 sq. km Murchison Falls National Park is the largest and most spectacular of them. Aside from game, this park is renowned for its scenic beauty. Rolling savannah, tall grasslands and thick bush woodlands make the park. But you are advised not to miss out the magnificent waterfalls after which the park is named. The waterfall is formed where the Nile tapers from 50 metres to rush through a 7 metre gorge, falling 45 metres in a breath taking leap. This phenomena is said to be the most powerful natural flow of water anywhere on Earth.
Visitors over 1 year of age from yellow fever infected areas require yellow fever international certificate of vaccination. Exemptions are made for visitors arriving from non-endemic areas such as Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand. Visitors from non-endemic areas, if traveling outside urban areas are encouraged to obtain a vaccination. Cholera is a serious health risk in this country and precautions are called for. Typhoid is also widespread and immunization is advisable.
Malaria is widespread throughout the country including urban centers such as Kampala, Fort Portal, Jinja, Mbale and the Kigezi area. Visitors are strongly advised to take anti-malaria medication commencing two weeks before travel. Note that resistance to chloroquine has been reported. Bilharzia is a risk and you are advised not to swim or paddle in fresh water lakes and rivers. Swimming pools in good hotels and clubs are usually well chlorinated and maintained and are safe. Tuberculosis and hepatitis (A, B & E) are present in Uganda.
HIV-AIDS is prevalent in the country and needless to say prudent measures are necessary. Good hospitals, health facilities and chemists are only to be found in the main towns. Medical facilities for advanced treatment including surgery are scarce even in Kampala.
Passports valid for 3 months from date of entry are required of all visitors. All visitors require a visa except for citizens of some Caribbean and African countries. There are also exceptions for citizens of Cyprus, Fiji, Malta, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Vanuatu and a few other countries.
Some visas may be issued on entry into the country. It is however advisable to obtain visa's in advance from Ugandan Embassies and High Commissions as some airlines may require it before allowing you to board. Entry may be refused to travelers with no proof of sufficient funds and return or onward tickets. Visa requirements vary from time to time and you are advised to check on prevailing status well ahead of travel.
Uganda's people are complex and diverse. Bantu speakers, widespread in east, central and southern Africa, include the Baganda and a few other tribes. In the north, the Acholi and Lango are Nilotic speakers and have much in common with natives of southern Sudan. The Teso and Karamojong found in the east are related to the Maasai found in Kenya and Tanzania. In the west, the Ankole and Toro are culturally close to the natives of Rwanda. The famous Pygmies are found in the forests of the west.
As a nation, Uganda is an amalgamation of ancient kingdoms and independent chieftains. Among the indigenous kingdoms are the Baganda, Bunyoro, Toro, Ankole and Busoga. The Kingdoms were suppressed in the times of the troubles that razed the country in the two decades after 1967. Today they have been restored with their ancient privileges shorn and play only a ceremonial role in the life of the nation. The Baganda king, the Kabaka, whose domicile is Kampala has historically been the most prominent. His lineage stretches back to the 14th century.
Swahili, the language originating from the east African coast is widely spoken though not as well as in Kenya or Tanzania. Luganda, the language of the Kabaka, is also widely spoken. English is is understood by good numbers though only in urban areas. For the most part, local cuisine consists of matoke (a staple based on green bananas), millet bread, cassava, sweet potatoes, chicken, goat and beef stews and freshwater fish. Ugali, the maize meal based filler popular in east Africa is used as an accompaniment for meat or vegetable dishes. You will easily a decent locally brewed beer. Popular brands include Bell, Club and Nile Special. The national drink is however a banana gin known as waragi. This is a giant killer and if you imbibe it in immoderate quantities, you will sooner come to grief.
Telephone, fax, telegram, post and Internet services are available in urban centers. International direct dialing to many countries is available in the principal towns. In rural areas telephony services are unreliable. The country code for Uganda is 256.
Mobile phones are based on GSM 900/1800 network. Coverage extends to the principal towns. You can obtain a GSM card that will allow you to make international calls to any country. The main network operators are: Uganda Telecom (www.utl.co.ug), Celtel (www.msi-cellular.com) and MTN Uganda (www.mtn.co.ug). You will find Internet cafes in Kampala and some of the main towns.
There is international standard accommodation in Entebbe, Jinja and Kampala. The quality is variable in the smaller towns and rated accommodation is scarce. All of the major national parks offer accommodation in game lodges and tented camps.
The local currency is the Uganda Shilling (Ush). The import and export of local
currency is not allowed. There are no restrictions on the import of foreign
currency provided it is declared on arrival. On departure, export of foreign
currency is restricted to the amount declared on entry. Visa, MasterCard,
Diners and American Express are widely accepted at bigger hotels, restaurants,
travel agencies and shops.
Travelers cheques can be cashed at major hotels, banks and forex bureaus. You will do best when your travelers cheques are denominated in US Dollars or Sterling Pounds. Foreign currency can be exchanged at the Central Bank, commercial banks and forex bureaux. Generally you will get better exchange rates at forex bureaus. Changing money in the streets is a bad idea. Street traders sometimes deal in funny money.
Uganda enjoys a tropical climate tempered by altitude. The country is generally flat though the average altitude is about 1000m. Due to the rather high altitude, temperatures range between 21 to 25°C. The mountain areas of Mount Elgon and the Rwenzori mountains are even cooler and the top of both mountains experiences some snow. The hottest period of the year is from December to February when temperature rise 29 degrees Celsius. The country experiences two rainy seasons: April to May and October to November, with April being the wettest month. The north however has a wet season lasting from April to October. The best times to visit are December-March and June-September.
Uganda's only international airport is at Entebbe, 35 km from the capital
Kampala. Outside Uganda, the airport gained fame as the place where Israeli
commandos rescued passengers on a hijacked plane, back in the days of the
infamous Idi Amin. The dramatic rescue captured the imagination of the world
and is the subject of a few films. There are few direct flights to Entebbe from
outside Africa and most travelers from Europe, Asia and North America will
arrive via Nairobi, the Kenyan capital. Daily connections are available from
Nairobi. Airlines landing at Entebbe include British Airways, Egypt Air,
Emirates, South African Airways, Kenya Airways, Ethiopian Airlines, SN
Brussels, Air Rwanda, and Air Tanzania.
To save on cost, some travelers disembark at Nairobi and take the overnight bus to Kampala. There are two overland crossing points from Kenya: Busia and Malaba. From Mwanza in Tanzania, you can get to Kampala by ferry. You can also enter the country from Tanzania through the Kagera salient between Bukoba and Masaka. Overland travel through Rwanda, Sudan and Zaire is uncertain due to security considerations. Make sure to check the latest situation with the security authorities before committing to travel.