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Travelling in Uganda

Uganda is a landlocked country located in East Africa. It is bordered by Kenya to the east, Tanzania to the south, Rwanda to the southwest, the Democratic Republic of Congo to the west, and South Sudan to the north. The country has a diverse landscape, ranging from lush tropical forests and savannas to mountains and lakes. Uganda has a population of approximately 46 million people, with English and Swahili being the official languages.

The capital city of Uganda is Kampala, which is located in the south-central part of the country. Other major cities include Entebbe, Jinja, and Mbarara. Uganda has a mixed economy, with agriculture being the main sector, accounting for about 70% of employment and 20% of GDP. Other important industries include mining, tourism, and services.

Uganda is known for its diverse wildlife and natural attractions, including the endangered mountain gorillas that can be found in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. The country is also home to several national parks, including Murchison Falls National Park, Queen Elizabeth National Park, and Kidepo Valley National Park. Uganda is a cultural melting pot with over 50 different ethnic groups, each with its own unique customs and traditions.

Uganda has had a complex political history, including periods of British colonial rule, military dictatorships, and political instability. However, the country has made significant strides in recent years in terms of economic growth, reducing poverty, and promoting human rights.

History of Uganda

Uganda has a rich and complex history, with evidence of human habitation dating back over 50,000 years. Here is a brief overview of the key events and periods in Uganda's history:

  • Pre-colonial period: Uganda was home to several powerful kingdoms, including the Bunyoro-Kitara, Buganda, and Ankole kingdoms. These kingdoms were known for their complex social and political systems and were involved in regional trade networks.

  • Colonial period: In the late 19th century, Uganda came under the control of the British, who established a protectorate over the region. The British introduced cash crops such as cotton and tea, and many Ugandans were forced to work on European-owned plantations.

  • Independence and post-independence: Uganda gained independence from British colonial rule in 1962, with Milton Obote becoming the country's first prime minister. In 1971, Idi Amin seized power in a military coup and ruled the country with an iron fist for eight years, during which time he oversaw widespread human rights abuses and political repression. In 1979, Amin was overthrown by Tanzanian troops, and Obote returned to power. However, his government was plagued by corruption and political instability, and in 1985, he was overthrown by General Tito Okello.

  • Recent history: Since the 1980s, Uganda has made significant progress in terms of economic and political stability. In 1986, Yoweri Museveni became president after leading a successful rebel movement against Okello's government. Under Museveni's leadership, Uganda has made strides in reducing poverty, increasing access to education and healthcare, and promoting human rights. However, there have been concerns about rising levels of corruption, political repression, and human rights abuses in recent years.

Highlights of Uganda

  • Go gorilla trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park: Uganda is home to almost half of the world's remaining mountain gorillas, and Bwindi is one of the best places to see them up close in their natural habitat.

  • Take a safari in Queen Elizabeth National Park: This park is known for its diverse wildlife, including elephants, lions, hippos, and over 600 species of birds.

  • Visit Murchison Falls National Park: This park is home to the spectacular Murchison Falls, where the Nile River cascades through a narrow gorge. You can take a boat safari to see hippos, crocodiles, and birds along the riverbanks.

  • Explore the Rwenzori Mountains: These mountains are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and offer some of the best trekking and hiking opportunities in East Africa.

  • Visit Lake Bunyonyi: This scenic lake is surrounded by lush green hills and is a great place to relax, swim, and kayak.

  • Take a cultural tour: Uganda is home to many different ethnic groups, each with its own unique traditions and customs. You can visit local villages to learn about Ugandan culture, music, and dance.

  • Go birdwatching: Uganda is one of the best birdwatching destinations in Africa, with over 1,000 species of birds, including the rare shoebill stork.

  • Visit the source of the Nile River: The Nile River begins in Uganda at Lake Victoria, and you can visit the town of Jinja to see the source of the world's longest river.

  • Explore Kampala: Uganda's capital city is a vibrant and bustling metropolis with many historical and cultural attractions, including the Kasubi Tombs, the Uganda Museum, and the Ndere Cultural Centre.

  • Go whitewater rafting on the Nile: The Nile River in Uganda offers some of the best whitewater rafting in the world, with rapids ranging from Class III to Class V.

Before you go to Uganda

Visas can be obtained online through the Uganda Electronic Visa System or in person at a Ugandan embassy or consulate. You can also apply for a visa on arrival at Entebbe International Airport or at a land border crossing, but it is recommended to obtain a visa in advance to avoid delays or issues at the border.

In addition to a valid passport and visa, travelers may be required to provide proof of yellow fever vaccination, particularly if arriving from a country with risk of yellow fever transmission. Other vaccinations, such as for hepatitis A and typhoid, may also be recommended, and it is always a good idea to check with a healthcare professional before traveling.

Travelers should also be aware of COVID-19 entry requirements, which may include a negative PCR COVID-19 test taken within a certain timeframe before arrival, proof of vaccination, and/or quarantine requirements. These requirements may change frequently, so it is important to check with the Uganda Ministry of Health or your airline for the latest information before you travel. Getting to Uganda

Uganda can be accessed by air, road, or rail.

By Air

The main point of entry into Uganda is through Entebbe International Airport, which is located about 35 km south of Kampala. Several major airlines, including Emirates, Qatar Airways, Ethiopian Airlines, and Turkish Airlines, offer direct flights to Entebbe from various international destinations.

By Road

Uganda is connected to neighboring countries by a network of roads, but travel by road can be slow and often uncomfortable. Buses and taxis are available for travel between major towns and cities, and border crossings are possible with neighboring countries such as Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, and South Sudan.

By Rail

Uganda has limited rail infrastructure, with only one railway line running from Kampala to Mombasa in Kenya. Train travel is slower and less comfortable than road or air travel, but it can be a scenic way to explore the country.

Once you arrive in Uganda, it is possible to rent a car, hire a driver, or use public transportation to get around. It is important to note that driving in Uganda can be challenging, as road conditions can be poor and traffic can be chaotic in some areas. It is also recommended to use a reputable taxi service or ride-hailing app to ensure safety and reliability.

Getting around Uganda

There are several options for getting around in Uganda, including public transportation, private taxis, and self-driving. Here are some of the most common modes of transportation:

  • Public Transportation: Public transportation in Uganda includes buses, minibusses, and shared taxis, which are often called "matatus." These can be a cheap and convenient way to get around, but they can also be crowded and uncomfortable, and safety can be a concern. It is important to be vigilant and use reputable operators.

  • Private Taxis: Private taxis are widely available in Uganda, and they can be a convenient and relatively affordable option for getting around. It is recommended to use reputable taxi companies or ride-hailing apps to ensure safety and reliability.

  • Car Rental: Renting a car is an option for those who prefer to drive themselves. However, driving in Uganda can be challenging due to poor road conditions and erratic driving behavior. It is recommended to use a reputable car rental company and to obtain comprehensive insurance.

  • Boda Boda: Boda Bodas are motorcycle taxis that are a popular and affordable way to get around in urban areas. However, they can be dangerous, and it is important to wear a helmet and use a reputable operator.

  • Domestic Flights: Domestic flights are available to certain destinations within Uganda, and they can be a convenient way to avoid long and difficult road journeys. However, flights can be expensive and limited.

It is important to be aware of safety concerns when traveling in Uganda, particularly when using public transportation or driving. It is recommended to use reputable operators and to take necessary precautions to ensure safety.

Paying for things in Uganda

The official currency of Uganda is the Ugandan Shilling (UGX). Here are some ways to pay for things in Uganda:

  • Cash: Cash is the most widely accepted form of payment in Uganda. ATMs are available in major towns and cities, and foreign currency can be exchanged at banks, foreign exchange bureaus, and some hotels. It is recommended to carry small denominations of shillings, as many businesses may not have change for larger bills.

  • Credit and Debit Cards: Credit and debit cards are accepted in some hotels, restaurants, and larger stores, but they are not widely used in Uganda. It is recommended to carry cash as a backup, as card acceptance can be unpredictable.

  • Mobile Money: Mobile money is a popular form of payment in Uganda, and it is widely used for transactions such as bill payments, money transfers, and airtime top-ups. Services such as MTN Mobile Money, Airtel Money, and Africell Money are widely available.

  • Traveler's Cheques: Traveler's cheques are not widely accepted in Uganda, and it can be difficult to find a bank or money exchange that will cash them. It is recommended to use cash or a debit card instead.

When paying for things in Uganda, it is important to be aware of the potential for fraud or scams, particularly when using mobile money or exchanging foreign currency. It is recommended to use reputable providers and to exercise caution when giving out personal or financial information. Safety in Uganda

Uganda is generally a safe country to visit, but it is important to take certain precautions to ensure personal safety. Here are some safety tips for travelers in Uganda:

  • Be aware of your surroundings: It is important to be aware of your surroundings and exercise caution, particularly in urban areas where crime rates can be higher. Avoid walking alone at night and avoid carrying valuables in plain sight.

  • Use reputable transportation: When using taxis or other forms of transportation, use reputable providers and avoid using informal or unmarked vehicles. It is recommended to use ride-hailing apps or to ask your hotel or accommodation for recommendations.

  • Avoid political demonstrations: Political demonstrations and protests can occur in Uganda, and it is recommended to avoid participating in or attending these events. They can be unpredictable and potentially dangerous.

  • Be cautious with money and valuables: Carry only as much cash as you need and keep your valuables in a safe place, such as a hotel safe. Be cautious when exchanging money or using ATMs, and avoid displaying large amounts of cash in public.

  • Take precautions in national parks: When visiting national parks, it is important to follow park regulations and to take necessary precautions when encountering wildlife. Always stay a safe distance from animals and avoid approaching them on foot.

  • Seek local advice: When traveling to remote or rural areas, seek advice from locals or reputable tour operators to ensure safety and avoid potentially dangerous areas.

Overall, Uganda is a safe and welcoming country to visit, but it is important to exercise caution and take necessary precautions to ensure personal safety.

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