Uganda Overview: A small, landlocked country straddling the equator between Kenya and the DRC in Eastern Africa, Uganda is one of the continent's most beautiful countries, boasting a wide variety of scenery, culture and wildlife despite its modest size. Its reputation as 'Africa's friendliest country' is not only accredited to its likeable people, but also to its redevelopment as an eco-friendly environment, with the enlightened management of 10 national parks, and its introduction of eco-tourism projects, adventure sports and unique gorilla-trekking opportunities that have put the country back on the tourist circuit.
Not only is Uganda progressive in its development as an environment-friendly destination, but its approach towards HIV/AIDS has been hailed as the most effective in sub-Saharan Africa. After years of misrule, hardship and war under Idi Amin, Uganda is once again receiving positive global interest due to its forward-thinking policies and wealth of tourist attractions. The hardship and war have not been forgotten by the people, but they are memories confined to the past.
Uganda's variety of landscapes is as astounding as its biodiversity. Forested crater lakes on the floor of the Rift Valley give way to typical East African savannah as well as tropical rainforest. The glacial peaks of the highest mountain range in Africa, the 'Mountains of the Moon' or Rwenzori Mountains that mark the country's western border, as well as a number of extinct volcanoes make for world-class hiking and mountaineering. There are several large bodies of water, including the massive Lake Victoria, which it shares with Tanzania and Kenya, and the myriad islands dotting Lake Victoria and Lake Bunyoni are ideal birdwatching destinations. Lake Victoria is also the source of the Nile, the longest river in the world, which passes through the impressive Murchison's Falls and creates some of the most exciting white water rafting on earth. What also makes Uganda a unique safari destination is its remarkable concentration of primates, which is the highest on earth, and people are drawn from around the world to track chimpanzees and to experience the face to face encounter of a lifetime: that with a massive mountain gorilla.
Electricity: Electrical current in Uganda is 240 volts, 50Hz. Three-pin, rectangular blade plugs are in use. Language: English is the official national language in Uganda. Luganda is also widely spoken and is the most common of the numerous indigenous languages.
Getting around: Buses connect all major towns daily. Minibuses and shared taxis are a good way of getting around and are the most commonly used by Ugandans - they are frequent, have fixed fares and leave when full. A few airlines offer scheduled and charter flights within the country; some places can only safely be reached by air. Cars can be rented from Entebbe Airport, Kampala and other major towns.
Travel Health: Travellers' diarrhoea is the most common complaint for visitors to Uganda. Recommended vaccinations include hepatitis A and typhoid; a Hepatitis E outbreak in northern Uganda since the end of 2007 has killed over 60 people so far and infected thousands more, and visitors are advised to take precautions if visiting the area. All visitors require vaccination against yellow fever. Cholera outbreaks occur occasionally, but most travellers are at low risk for infection; bottled water is widely available. Malaria and HIV/AIDS are widespread. Outbreaks of the plague and meningitis occur and visitors should insure that vaccinations are up to date. A recent outbreak of Ebola has killed 37 people in western Uganda; it is spread through direct contact with blood or secretions of an infected person. Incidents of sleeping sickness are on the rise, carried by tsetse flies. Limited health facilities are available outside of Kampala. Comprehensive medical insurance is advised.
Safety Information: Due to the risk of serious attacks and the killing of foreign aid workers by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), as well as the risk of banditry and attacks by other rebel groups, and tribal clashes; most foreign governments advise against travel to northern Uganda. The Government and the LRA signed a new 'Cessation of Hostilities' agreement in April 2007, but the situation remains unstable. Areas bordering Sudan in the north, the region known as West Nile in the north west (except Arua town, which can be visited by air), and the Karamoja region of north eastern Uganda are insecure and pose a serious risk to travellers. Kidepo Valley National Park should be visited by air only. In November 2005 there was an attack on a vehicle in Murchison Falls National Park (in the north west) and visitors are advised to avoid the park due to the risk of rebel groups in the area. Security has been heightened in both Bwindi and Mgahinga National Parks in the far south west, bordering the DRC and Rwanda, following the murder of six tourists in 1999 in Bwindi by Rwandan rebels. Most national parks are safe to visit and a holiday to Uganda is generally trouble-free. Kampala, the capital, is a relatively safe city, although visitors should take sensible precautions against opportunistic crime and at night. Theft of EU passports has been on the increase in recent months. Demonstrations and political rallies should be avoided in Kampala and the main towns.
Local Customs: Visitors to Uganda are advised not to take photographs of military or official sites, including Owen Falls Dam. Homosexual practices are frowned upon and public displays of affection should be avoided.
Business: Uganda has one of the fastest growing economies and is one of the most liberal countries in Africa. Agriculture is the largest sector of the economy and coffee the chief export. Uganda is most welcoming for foreign investment and business is steadily on the increase. Appointments should always be made prior to business meetings. Formal dress attire is to be observed, and the shaking of hands is expected on introduction. Business is usually conducted in English. Business hours are generally 8am to 5pm Monday to Friday with an hour taken over lunch.
Communications: The international dialling code for Uganda is +256. The outgoing code is 000 followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 00027 for South Africa). City/area codes are in use, e.g. (0)41 for Kampala. There is extensive cellular telephone network coverage over most of the country with GSM 900, and Internet facilities are available in most large towns.
Duty Free: Travellers to Uganda over 17 years of age do not have to pay duty on 200 cigarettes or 227g tobacco, or a combination of 227g tobacco products; 1 bottle of wine or spirits; and 500ml of perfume or eau de toilette.
Health: Travellers' diarrhoea is the most common complaint for visitors to Uganda. Recommended vaccinations include hepatitis A and typhoid; a Hepatitis E outbreak in northern Uganda since the end of 2007 has killed over 60 people so far and infected thousands more, and visitors are advised to take precautions if visiting the area. All visitors require vaccination against yellow fever. Cholera outbreaks occur occasionally, but most travellers are at low risk for infection; bottled water is widely available. Malaria and HIV/AIDS are widespread. Outbreaks of the plague and meningitis occur and visitors should insure that vaccinations are up to date. Incidents of sleeping sickness are on the rise, carried by tsetse flies. Limited health facilities are available outside of Kampala. Comprehensive medical insurance is advised.
Uganda Tourist Board, Kampala: +256 (0)41 342 196 or www.visituganda.com Uganda Embassies
Uganda Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 726 7100.
Uganda High Commission, London, United Kingdom (also responsible for Ireland): +44 (0)20 7839 5783.
Uganda High Commission, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 789 7797.
Uganda High Commission, ACT, Australia (also responsible for New Zealand): +61 (0)2 6286 1234.
Uganda High Commission, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 (0)12 342 6031/3.
Foreign Embassies in Uganda United States Embassy, Kampala: +256 (0)41 259 791/2/3.
British High Commission, Kampala: +256 (0)31 231 2000.
Canadian High Commission, Nairobi, Kenya (also responsible for Uganda): +254 (0)20 366 3000.
Australian High Commission, Nairobi, Kenya (also responsible for Uganda): +254 (20) 4277 100.
South African High Commission, Kampala: +256 (0) 770 2100. Ireland Embassy, Kampala: +256 (0)41 771 3000.
Uganda Emergency Numbers Emergencies: 999
Climate:Uganda has a typically tropical climate with little variation in temperature throughout the year. Distinctive wet and dry seasons characterise the climate of most of the country, except in the semi-arid north east. The dry season, generally from December to February and mid-June to mid-August, is the best time to visit. The two rainy seasons are from March to May, and September to November. In the south the rainiest month is April. The mountainous areas in western and eastern Uganda can be cold at night.
Money: The official currency is the Ugandan Shilling (UGX), which is divided into 100 cents. Foreign currency, like US dollars, Euros or Pounds Sterling, can be exchanged at banks and bureaux de change. Travellers cheques are not widely accepted outside of Kampala. ATMs are available in Kampala. Credit cards are only accepted at major hotels, shops and restaurants, usually only in the cities.
Visitors must hold return or onward tickets, and sufficient funds. All nationals can obtain a visa on arrival at a cost of US$50 (single entry) or US$100 for a six month visa (multiple entry) and US$200 for a one year visa (multiple entry).
Flights to Uganda: Flights to Uganda from the UK: British Airways has three direct flights a week to Entebbe International Airport near Kampala from London Heathrow. However, most flights from the UK use Nairobi in Kenya as a gateway to Uganda and so it is often easier for travellers to get a connecting flight to Kampala from there. There are also connecting flights available from Tanzania and Rwanda.
Activities: Uganda Gorilla-tracking Most visitors to Uganda come to track the endangered mountain gorillas in the south west of the country, in either Bwindi Impenetrable Forest or Mgahinga National Park. Less than 700 of these gentle giants exist in the world, with half the remaining population living in Uganda, divided into four habituated gorilla troops: three in Bwindi and one in Mgahinga. Despite their fierce reputation, gorillas are peaceable primates, the largest and most ferocious looking of the ape family, and the chance to view them from up close is a thrilling as well as awe-inspiring experience.
Tracking them generally involves a fairly strenuous walk through forest or dense undergrowth, and on steep mountain slopes, led by guides who take trekkers to where the gorillas were found the day before. From there the trackers look for signs to indicate which way they went. Tracking can take anything from three to eight hours, but groups are only permitted to stay with the gorillas for one hour once they have been found, to prevent behavioural disturbances and the possible transmission of diseases from humans to gorillas. Gorillas share 95% of their genes with humans and people with even a common cold are not allowed to join a group, as this could be fatal to the animal. Peak season is January, being one of the drier times of year. Permits allow a maximum of six people per group per day and booking is at the UWA Headquarters in Kampala.
Uganda Hiking: Forming the western border of Uganda lie the majestic Rwenzori Mountains, the legendary snow-covered 'Mountains of the Moon' as described by Ptolemy in 150 AD. Reaching an altitude of 16,762ft (5,109m), they form Africa's highest mountain range, lower only than the freestanding Mt Kilimanjaro and Mt Kenya, and include Africa's third highest peak, Point Margherita on Mt Stanley. Protected within a national park, the six peaks and their slopes form a world-class hiking and mountaineering destination. Experienced alpinists will find challenging climbing opportunities on three glacial peaks over 16,000ft (5,000m), while serious hikers will enjoy the demanding six-day Bujuku Circuit that offers superb scenery and is regarded as the most challenging of all African mountain walks. However the Rwenzoris are not the only hiking destination in Uganda. Mt Elgon National Park in eastern Uganda on the border with Kenya offers an exciting alternative to hikers with no technical mountain experience, but who still enjoy being able to reach the highest point.
The extinct, 14,177-foot (4,321m) volcano has a four-mile (6km) wide caldera encompassing impressive caves and hot springs. Its highest peak, Wagagai, does not project noticeably above the crater. It is possible to reach the summit of Mt Elgon in three days and no special equipment is necessary. In south west Uganda, three extinct volcanoes in Mgahinga National Park also offer exciting hiking without the necessity of special mountaineering equipment. Mt Sabyinyo, Mt Muhabura (the highest at 13,540ft/4,127m) and Mt Gahinga are part of the Virunga mountain range belonging to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Mt Mahinga is also famous for its mountain gorillas.
Uganda White-water rafting: Uganda's white-water rafting industry is relatively new - the first descent of the river by a paddler was in 1996, and the grade IV and V stretch of rapids on the Nile have since been developed into a world-class rafting destination boasting some of the most powerful and sustained rapids on earth. The mighty volume of water creates monstrous rapids that provide an unforgettable rafting experience comparable to that of the Zambezi River in Zimbabwe.
Home of the white-water rafting industry is the town of Jinja, situated at the source of the River Nile, the longest river in the world. Bujugali Falls, downstream of the Nile's source, and close to Jinja, has been vaunted the 'adrenaline capital' of Uganda, offering not only white water rafting, but also kayaking, river boarding, bungy jumping, and mountain biking. Sadly the Ugandan government intends to construct a hydroelectric dam above Bujugali Falls, which would flood the existing rapids and bring about an end to this exciting industry.