Important information about Uganda
Visas, Health, Age Limits, travel insurance, flights, Accommodation, Tips, Safety, Internet access & more
At AVIR Tours & Travel, we offer different kinds of services to our clients who come to Uganda and therefore we have come up with Uganda general travel information to help those who might be having any queries. Uganda is a landlocked country bordered by Kenya in the east, Sudan in the north, Democratic Republic of the Congo in the west, Rwanda in the south west and Tanzania in the south. Uganda’s total land area is 241,559 sq. km. About 37,000 sq. km of this area is occupied by open water while the rest is land. The southern part of the country includes a substantial portion of Lake Victoria, which it shares with Kenya and Tanzania. Although generally equatorial, the climate is not uniform since the altitude modifies the climate. Ugandans speak over 30 different African languages, belonging to many ethnic groups.
English and Swahili are the country’s official languages.
Currency: Uganda Shilling Approximately 3605 UGX = 1 $ USD (As at March 2017)
Below is the Uganda general travel information, important for everyone coming to East Africa.
VISAS: Uganda & Rwanda
Most nationalities require entry visas when traveling to Uganda. Visas can be purchased on arrival at the airport for USD 50 or can be issued by Ugandan High Commissions in countries where they are represented. The fees for visas issued at Ugandan high commissions abroad are generally more. USD notes have to be dated 2006 or newer and be in good condition with no tears or marks.
East African Tourist Visa
The East Africa Tourist Visa will allow you to travel between Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda with the same multiple-entry Visa. This visa is eligible to tourists who want to visit simultaneously the Republic of Kenya, Republic of Rwanda and Republic of Uganda for tourism. Applications for this visa shall be lodged at any of the diplomatic representation of the respective countries.
This will only be applicable in the period of 90 days. Visas issued for specific countries can only be used for that particular country. An East Africa Tourist Visa shall not be extended and work is not permitted.
Yellow Fever – inoculation is required should you travel between East African countries, and should you be flying into SA after visiting East Africa. This must be done no later than 10 days prior to your departure. If you have a history of liver disorders (hepatitis etc.) you must consult your physician first.
Tetanus is also recommended, as is Cholera, but are not compulsory.
Hepatitis inoculation is at the discretion of the traveler.
Malaria prophylactics are a must and can be purchased from your local pharmacy. Please consult your pharmacist/doctor. It is also a good idea to bring some insect repellant with you to spray on yourself in the evenings and early morning when mosquitoes tend to be about.
Diarrhea / Guardia etc. – good personal hygiene and control over the quality of your drinking water should avoid this. Bottled water is readily available throughout the country, but take along some medicine in case, particularly if you are planning to spend some time traveling alone and not with a tour company.
Straddling the equator, there is little year-round fluctuation in temperature and no real winter or summer. The hottest months are January and February when the average daytime range is 24-33°C (52-91°F) with peaks of up to 40°C/104°F in the far north. The south has two Wet seasons: from mid- September to November and March to May. The Dry season from December to February means only that it rains less and the gorilla parks remain fairly wet during these months. The second Dry season – from June and July – is considerably drier. Still, with 1000 to 2000mm (39.4-78.7in) of rain every year, it can rain at almost any time. The north, including Murchison Falls and Kidepo Valley, has one continuous Wet season from March to November and a more obvious Dry season from December to February.
Dry season – June to August and December to February
June, July & August – June and July are the driest months in most of the south, but it can still rain. Average temperatures hover around 27°C/81°F in the afternoon and 16°C/61°F in the morning. It will be colder at altitudes above 1300m/4265ft, including the gorilla parks.
December, January & February – Most of the south has less rainfall, but still more when compared to June and July. It is slightly warmer with daytime temperatures of about 28°C/82°F and morning temperatures of 16°C/61°F. The north has a clear Dry season with little rain.
Wet season – March to May and September to November
March, April & May – There is more rainfall throughout the country during these months, with a clear peak in April in the south. Most days have some sunshine as well. The rain can make travel more difficult since dirt roads and forest trails used for gorilla trekking can become challenging to navigate. Daytime temperatures average around 28°C/82°F and morning temperatures around 16°C/61°F. It will be colder in the gorilla parks at high altitudes and warmer in the north.
September, October & November – These months are comparable to March, April and May but, on average, there is a bit less rain. Daytime temperatures are around 28°C/82°F.
Road Conditions / Distances / Vehicles
While travelling through Uganda, you will be mostly on tarred roads and they are in reasonably good condition by African standards. There may be some VERY LONG days in the vehicle, but the interesting and diverse scenery generally makes up for it! There are however, some really bad sections of dirt road, especially in the more mountainous areas. In these areas travel will be slower, quite bumpy and there could be a lot of dust experienced en-route. There are options for scheduled or charter flights for the longer routes – please inquire for prices and feasibility of this. The safari vehicles you will be traveling in are customized 4×4 vehicles (mainly Toyota Land cruisers) which have been converted for local conditions – they have good leg room and seat between 4-7 persons, depending on the seating configuration, and have opening roof hatches for optimal game viewing. They are a little slower on the road than a saloon vehicle or a smaller ‘family’ 4×4 and do have air conditioning. Your safari vehicle is generally used throughout the safari for traveling between destinations as well as for game drives and other activities at the lodges and within the National Parks.
Depending on the class or style of your safari, your accommodation may range from luxurious to Comfort to Standard. There are many different styles of accommodation in Uganda varying from large hotels to smaller more intimate lodges and tented camps. Our scheduled departures and most tailor-made itineraries use the best accommodation options available, ranging from 3 to 4 star and can expect en suite bathrooms (some with eco-friendly toilets), hot water, good meals, bar service etc. Please consult your personalized itinerary for full details of each place you will be staying on your safari.
Should you stay in the more modest local hotels/guest houses you will have the use of showers and toilets, hot water cannot always be guaranteed. The hotels/guest houses themselves are very basic and generally clean, the staff is friendly and helpful. These hotels/guest houses are mainly utilized by local businessmen as not many tourists pass through these areas. They can be fairly noisy, especially on weekends but the atmosphere is friendly and accepting. Food is generally good, hearty African fare, sometimes there are European/Western items available.
Due to space limitations in the vehicles it is imperative that luggage be kept to a minimum. We suggest a barrel or soft bag (15 kg maximum) for your main gear, plus a camera bag or smaller ‘day pack ‘ for inside the vehicle. Sonsonate / hard bags / suitcases, etc. are not suitable as it makes packing very difficult. If you are travelling internationally with one we suggest you repack safari items into your soft bag, before the safari, and then leave your hard suitcase at your return point e.g. Entebbe Hotel to collect later.
Charters luggage allowance – If you are travelling on a light aircraft within Uganda, then the Luggage restriction is dependent on combined client and luggage weights and varies from plane to plane and routing but usually only up to 10 kg per person in soft bags and this is strictly adhered to for safety reasons. Please check your personal allowance on confirmation of itinerary and aircraft.
Gorilla Tracking Age Limits
The age limit for gorilla tracking in Uganda and golden monkey trekking is 15 years. The authorities are very strict on this, so kindly make sure all clients and children are 15 or older to avoid any sad incidents like guest(s) kids being refused to track! The age limit for trekking chimpanzees in Uganda is also 15 years old.
Uganda general travel information; Important for anyone travelling to East Africa
Videos & Photography
There is no charge for personal filming of gorillas and other scenes with personal video cameras, e.g digital, SLR etc in Uganda or Rwanda. Professional photographers, film makers or media should advise us at the time of booking as special procedures are required as well as costs to be incurred for photographing and filming.
The safari vehicles you travel in may be equipped with an inverter for recharging but you should not rely upon this and always ensure you have additional batteries for your cameras/videos. You may be able to charge directly from the car battery but you will need to supply your own equipment to do this. Film, tapes, batteries, etc. are not always readily available in Uganda – ensure you have ample for the trip.
Most lodges operate on solar power and so have limited facilities for charging batteries and some none at all, so come prepared with extra, just in case and charge up where ever it is possible en route on your safari – do not wait until down to your last battery!
Do not photograph any government buildings, police or military posts. Ask permission before Photographing local tribesmen. For gorilla photography a 35 – 70 mm zoom, or 50 mm fixed is usually sufficient, but you may want to carry a longer lens but remember you may well be in low light conditions. Take fast film if using film (200-400 ASA plus), as you are not allowed to use a flash. Please check your camera beforehand to ensure you know how to turn it off manually. Game & bird photography obviously longer lens would be recommended 80-300mm ideally. Do not spend all your time with the gorillas trying for the classic photograph, look around you and observe and enjoy these gentle animals.
Laundry is possible at most establishments in Uganda at an additional cost. Mostly it is done by hand and dried naturally outside and so this requires at least 1-2 days for turn-around depending upon the location and weather. Please check the system upon arrival at each lodge to ensure you are not caught short with wet washing – especially in high rainfall areas e.g. Bwindi.
Electricity spec Uganda: 240 volts British Standard, generally through 3 pin square plugs. Some lodges and camps have power only at certain times of the day, and in some charging facilities are centralized. You will need your own charger. In lodges/ camps utilizing solar power systems, the amount of power available for charging often depends on how sunny the weather has been and how busy the lodge is with charging equipment, so whilst they will always try to assist, continuous charging cannot be guaranteed at all times to be available. Use of specialized breathing machines, hair dryers, curling tongs, shavers and other electrical equipment is possible at hotels in towns and at lodges with large generator power back up systems but generally not possible at solar powered lodges – please check your detailed itinerary to ensure you are aware of where you can utilize these items and advise your agent in advance if special arrangements need to be made e.g. for breathing machines. The safari vehicles you travel in may also have inverter systems for charging items but this facility is not guaranteed.
This is a service which is available at some locations, more especially those in towns and the larger International style hotels. Up country, if the service is available it can still be limited (only available at certain times for example) and quite erratic due to the quality of the network signal from the providers and so it should not be relied upon. Some places do charge for it separately and you should check this policy upon check in at the different establishments.
US Dollars cash is the preferred option to bring when traveling to Uganda. Once in Uganda, we advise guests to change some dollars into local currency for use as spending money on the road e.g. for drinks, curios. We suggest a combination of small denomination notes (USD 1, 5, 10, 50) as well as USD 100 bills – make sure they are POST 2006 as generally only post 2006 series are accepted in Uganda and have the ‘large heads’ on – (the older notes depict the various senators with ‘smaller heads’ – this may sound a bit cryptic, but when you compare the notes it will become clearer). Please ensure that all USD bills are in good condition, i.e. without rips, tears and any mark. Note that whilst more convenient in terms of changing currency and not having to carry around huge amounts of local money, there is normally a surcharge on the smaller notes when changing them. Keep your slips; you are able to change surplus local money back to cash if you have proof of purchase when leaving the country. Traveler’s cheques are difficult to change and really bad rates of exchange generally apply, and are often very difficult to cash, even in large towns and especially over weekends and after hours. Throughout the rest of the country, changing TC’s is almost impossible.
There are only a few banks in Kampala (to our knowledge) that are authorized to give cash advances on credit cards. Visa cards are generally fine BUT MasterCard are NOT guaranteed and will only be cashed IF they clear certain internal security checks. There is a limit on amounts that may be drawn, and only during banking hours. Exchange rates will be poor, and they may also charge a hefty service fees.
Payment for services by credit card can only be done by VISA card or MASTERCARD in some places. Only large hotels generally accept this means of payment and they will also levy a fee of at least 5% on top of any bills. So the long and short is keep your credit card for EMERGENCIES ONLY.
ATM Machines – they are often not working although there are now some in Entebbe, Kampala and also some in larger up country towns. They pay LOCAL MONEY only and the client needs an international use PIN code to draw money and it can only be done with certain cards. Maximum Ush2 million per day (about USD 600 equivalent) but also depends on the clients own individual bank set up so may well be less. Please also be aware that the traffic in & out of Kampala is terrible and so going to the bank can take up to one hour just standing in traffic in the city. Spending money – you will need to cater for drinks, curios, tips etc – USD 20-40 / day / person plus the odd dinner not included (please refer to your itinerary)
Exchange rate USH 3,600 Approx. = 1 USD
You will generally be expected to purchase your own drinks on safari. Most camps/lodges have a reasonable selection of wines and spirits – with the more up market ones generally offering more choice. Beer, cool drinks (sodas), bottled water, local gin, etc. are readily available everywhere. Prices vary depending upon where purchased. Please be aware that you should only drink bottled water, not from the taps for health safety reasons. Bottled water is available for purchase everywhere en route and some lodges also supply limited courtesy bottles in the rooms. Please bring your own supply of water purifying tablets, or your own water bottle if you prefer. A cooler box or small fridge is kept in the vehicle for any drinks you wish to store en route, whilst traveling. A complementary beverage bag with tea and coffee is also available in the safari vehicles – useful for early morning game drives and also to supplement packed lunches on long days of travel. Discuss these requirements with your guide en route.
It is a strong recommendation that you are covered by some type of medical insurance. Should you require further information please do not hesitate to contact us.
You must ensure you reconfirm your onward and return flights not later than 72 hours prior to departure. Failure to do so could result in your seats being cancelled. Our office in Uganda will assist with this. Make sure you supply us with your onward/return flight details.
Airport Duty Free & Curio Shopping
The Entebbe airport has a reasonable duty free section – with an array of curios, t-shirts and books, maps etc – for last minute shopping. Certain of the more up-market lodges also have curio shops. There is also a limited choice at the curio markets around the country and in Kampala. Speak to your guide for advice if you are looking for something in particular. Duty free allowance is 2 bottles of wine/spirit, and 200 cigarettes.
If you particularly enjoy bird-watching, try and get hold of an East African bird book – it will make your journey even more enjoyable! The guide generally carries a set of reference books for the entire group’s use and local maps. Binoculars are handy to take along.
Your personal safety and well-being is our prime concern. Please take care of all your personal possessions at all times – do not tempt petty theft, pickpockets, etc with displaying large amounts of money, especially when near markets or in the center of Kampala / Entebbe. Valuables, especially cash, traveler’s cheques and credit cards should be kept on your person at all times. A “moon bag” or “body belt” is a useful item for storing cash and other valuable small items. When leaving the vehicle in towns, please ensure all the windows are shut and that you take your valuables and cameras with you for safe keeping. When at lodges / hotels we recommend you either keep your money and valuables with you or utilize the safe keeping facilities provided at the various establishments. Please also be sure to check your room and ensure you have everything packed before moving on to a new place. Is Uganda Safe to visit? Find out more here
Tips / Gratuities
It is at your discretion as the guest, customary in this part of the world, but not compulsory, and based upon service levels received. Our guidelines per passenger travelling are:
Gorilla & Chimpanzee Guides: Tips should be placed in the central tip box if provided or given to the main guide who will distribute amongst all the trackers and game guards – region of USD15 for the main guide (per guest)
Porters: This is an optional extra and they are normally hired for around USD15 per porter per day and the tip will vary depending on the work load – between USD15-20 per guest for each porter.
Safari Driver/guides: USD 5 to 10 per day – per guest, averaging 4-6 guests in a vehicle. If you are traveling privately, i.e. just two of you, please tip at your discretion.
Lodges /camp staff: We suggest USD3-5 per guest per stay. Many of the smaller lodges have central tip boxes. At hotels and larger establishments it is generally given at your discretion to individuals who have performed well.
National Parks Guides (cruises / bird walks): For each guide USD 3 to 5 per guest in local currency.
Porters at hotels: Around USD 1-2 in local currency
Waiters / Bar Staff: 10% of bill, or say Uganda Shillings 2000-3000 as a tip for service.