Uganda Road Trip General Characteristics:
Uganda is a small country, but it is full of surprises. Speaking to my friends in Kenya, most wondered why I wanted to go to Uganda, as they thought the safari experiences were better in Kenya. They were wrong. Initially listening to them, I only budgeted about two weeks for the country, but ended up spending 25 days there, leaving with many places still unexplored.
While Uganda has less animals than Kenya for safari, it has some unique experiences that Kenya does not. Kidepo Valley National Park in the north-east is exceptional. You will not see the large number of cats or migrating wildebeest that you do in the Maasai Mara, but the landscapes are spectacular, there are big herds of buffalo and elephants, and there are almost no visitors. If you head up that way, make sure to leave some time to stop in the Karamoja tribal lands to learn more about their plight and culture.
On the complete opposite side of the country, the Abertine Rift in the southwest provides some of the most uniquely beautiful landscapes and wildlife in the world. From the tree climbing lions in the Ishasha sector of Queen Elizabeth National Park, to the crater lakes of Kasenda, the Chimpanzees in Kibale National Forest, and the great Gorillas of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park. This region is not to be missed, and offers wild experiences that are very hard to find elsewhere in East Africa.
Further, while there are many mountains in Africa, there are few ranges, and probably none with the epic beauty of the Rwenzori, known as the mountains of the moon. The park is seldom visited, but is full of wildlife in the jungles, and stacked with beauty all the way to the peaks. The trekking is hard though, harder than Kilimanjaro or Mount Kenya, so go prepared to do some suffering.
Finally, after traveling to Uganda, everyone will ask you if you rafted the source of the Nile River in Jinja. You should. It’s fun, and easily accessible from Kampala. For recuperating from hard hours on the road, Lake Bunyonyi has a tranquil rejuvenating power, and while I have never been a fan of East African cities, Kampala does have a fun nightlife to explore, so bring your dancing shoes. Just avoid the roads during rush hours on weekdays.
Uganda Road Trip Recommended Timing:
My Uganda road trip was 25 days and did not feel like I had enough time, so I would recommend a month, especially if you are planning a six day-plus trek into the Rwenzori Mountains. Note that for seeing the gorillas, there are big discounts in April, May and November.
However, also keep the rainy season in mind, because while showers are often short, they destroy the roads quite quickly. The short rainy season is March-May, and the long one is October to December. Uganda is on the equator, so the temperature is about the same all year. Overall, given the diversity of experiences, there is not a bad time to visit the country. For more in-depth information: Safari Bookings: Uganda Climate.
Uganda Road Trip Driving:
The highways in Uganda are good. Almost all are paved, and in reasonable shape, besides the ones in Karamoja, but even there, there is a lot of road work being done. Watch out for the policemen, most are dressed in white colonial style uniforms on the sides of the road. For the most part they were friendly, and we were not stopped very often at all, especially compared to Kenya. I would advise taking jerry cans of petrol with you if you drive-up to Kidepo Valley National Park as there is a lot of terrain to cover up there, and no options for filling your tank.
Uganda Road Trip Resources:
For some reason, Lonely Plant does not have a guidebook dedicated to Uganda. They do have a chapter on it in their East Africa book, but I found it too general to be of much help. Fortunately, Bradt’s Uganda Guidebook, while dated (A new 8th Edition comes out in November 2016), does a great job of explaining the country.
Websites and blogs for travel resources for Uganda:
- Visit Uganda for a wealth of general travel information in Uganda.
- The Ugandan Wildlife Authority (UWA) for information on Uganda’s national parks, including gorilla and chimpanzee trekking.
- Kara-Tunga Tours for the best information on traveling to, and activities in Karamoja.
- Charlotte’s Diary of a Mzungu has a plethora of information on everything from travel to culture.
- The Mountain Club of Uganda focuses on outdoor adventure, and leads regular trips around Uganda. Check out their Facebook page for details.
- Rwenzori Trekking Services is a quality guiding outfit for climbing into the Rwenzori Mountains, and can provide you all the information you need to make your trip there.
- Uganda Crater Lake Tours Noah is the best guide around for hiking the crater lakes of Kasenda.
- Nina Travels also does a great job of suggesting a 15-day road trip itinerary through the top sites in Uganda.
Websites for Ugandan pop culture, events and advice:
Uganda Road Trip Favorites Experiences:
Wilderness: It has to be a tie between Kidepo Valley National Park, and Rwenzori Mountains National Park. The former for my favorite safari, and the latter for my favorite landscapes and adventure travel.
Culinary: My favorite meal was the fish luwambo at @theriver Ishasha. However, for a local culinary experience try eating a rolex for breakfast, matoke for lunch, and some Ugandan fried pork at dinner. Wash it all down with a plastic bag of wagari gin.
Uganda Road Trip Travel Difficulties:
Uganda is a pretty easy and safe place to travel compared to its East African neighbors. English is not widely spoken, but usually you will be able to get around with some key words and gestures. Most people speak Luganda, and a good number also speak Swahili, but with seven major language groups, good luck trying to go local on this one.
Credit card fees are high, and ATMs are routinely out of service and/or money so definitely plan ahead. Power outages can also be an issue with trying to do anything electronic. Internet is fairly good if you buy a local SIM card (either Airtel or MTN as they share cell towers and have decent coverage), but service deteriorates in rural areas/national parks.
Uganda Road Trip Wish List:
While I was lucky to see a lot of sites in Uganda, some have still remained elusive. Top on my list is the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, as well as the waterfall at Murchison Falls National Park, and the horseback riding safari at Lake Mburo National Park. I also would have liked to spend some time learning more about the Batwa Pygmies in the South West of the country.