Choosing the right vehicle for the trip
(work in progress)
Often when you're travelling in the developing world, the most important consideration when choosing a vehicle is not necessarily whether it's four wheel drive (4WD), but rather whether it has high enough clearance to deal with potholes and uneven road surfaces.
When travelling in Uganda, your key considerations should be the vehicle's ability to negotiate poor road conditions, having enough clearance on dirt (unsealed) roads to avoid losing your oil sump and (perhaps) added height for game viewing.
If you do bite the bullet and decide that 4WD is for you, then make sure you know how to operate a vehicle in 4WD mode - a bewildering number of people who hire them (and even some that actually own one) don't, and the time to be experimenting with this is not when you find yourself stuck in the middle of nowhere!
Motorbike taxis are a good way to beat the traffic
In most Ugandan towns and cities, the quickest way to get around is to grab a ride with one of the many motorbike taxis. As the motorbikes can weave (sometimes alarmingly) in and out of gridlocked traffic, they can short circuit the legendary congestion of particularly the larger cities like Kampala and Entebbe, which makes them to transport of choice, particularly for locals.
Obviously this is not an option if you're laden down with luggage or are of a nervous disposition, but if you're trying to get somewhere fast (or just fancy the adrenalin rush of riding pillion), it's something to consider.
Keeping kids occupied on long road trips
This links to my earlier tip about road travel in Uganda taking longer than you think.
Some people - myself included - can happily stare out the window for hours on end and not get bored as the landscape unfolds. I find it quite a hypnotic experience, and - unlike air travel, which I consider to be a 'necessary evil' - I like the sense of continuity that it lends between your departure point and your destination.
For the more impatient - particularly kids - long drives do not necessarily have the same attraction, so if you or your travelling companions fall into the same category, then you can save yourself a lot of grief with a little advance planning.
Books are the most obvious solution, but it can be hard to concentrate on a bumpy road. For my son, I packed a small plastic lunchbox with (his own) selection of Lego, which kept him happily occupied for hours. Playing cards are also an excellent option, as are drawing materials, and it can lend a fascinating perspective to your journey (and mementoes) if you encourage children to draw what they see on your drive. Also don't discount the possibility of letting them take photos of their own: in these days of digital imagery, this doesn't have the same cost implication as it would have done in the days of photochemical development, and again you may get a fascinating 'child's eye' perspective on your trip. Obviously this isn't an option with highly sensitive camera equipment, but with my 'point and fire' Nikon, it's - forgive the pun - child's play!
Lastly, don't underestimate the value of brief stops en route. All too often, we get fixated on the destination rather than the journey, and miss out on the little things that can make the trip really memorable. For example, en route for Queen Victoria National Park, we stopped off for a toilet stop by a pond literally on the roadside, where we spotted over 20 species of bird in less than 10 minutes, and, in hindsight, it was one of the highlights of the day.
Imagine mzungu (white man) who is first time visiting Uganda and who rented a car in Kampala. The car is in a "perfect" conditions (as I was told) but it is automatic car and has a steering wheel on a wrong side. But it wasn't all, my nightmare was completed when I found out that have to drive on the wrong side of the roads!
It was my first experience ever, driving car on the left side of the road and was totally in panic....
Matatu rules in Kampala
Matatu is the fastes public transportation in Uganda, also it is the cheapest one too. This guys undoubtelly rule in the city centres, finding way out even in the biggest traffic jams, which is usual situation in Kampala. I always insisted to be sitting on the front sitts and was observing their incredibly high driving skills. They move around as perhaps having thousands eyes, likewise Argus from the ancient Greek mythology. To be honest, I was very impressed and didn't expect to find so skillfull drivers in Africa.
Matatu is actually very small bus with no more then 12 or 14 sitting placees but in each of it you will find at least 25 to 30 persons. Besides a driver, there is also his assistant who is master of the ceremony. He is the one who will let you in and out of the matatu, overfilling it for more than double capacities. At first I was avoiding matatus but later on find it very interesting and entertaining transportation.
On 4WD over country
We traveled around Uganda on 4W drive car that belonged to mamaland safari tour operator with our guide Tony. Most of the roads were unpaved and hard to drive especially after rains.
But we got to all our destination Murchison falls,Kibale,Bvindi,Quin Elisabeth NP,Mburo lake.Related to:
- Road Trip
Boda - boda the name comes from a time when to cross no-mans land between borders/bodas of East African countries bicycles were used and still are last time I came through Busia border crossing.
Next time you are sitting around a table in a bar in Kampala ask anyone there to show you their scar from falling off a boda - boda everyone has one. Even me! I still bodas, they are dangerous and because of that they are great fun. Saying that they are probably no more dangerous than white water rafting.
Look out for hippos
On my last trip to Uganda there was a spate of bus crashes. several in one week. most were buses crashing into eachover or other vehicles. But one bus travelling from Karuma to Nebbi hit a hippo!
Several bus companies had there buses impounded while checks were being made on the vehicles. Gateway had for a few days all 40 vehicles off the road.
Kampala to Nairobi by bus is easy. A full list of prices and times of departure are on the uganda travel planner site. -
Akamba bus are mind numbingly slow. And here is a nice picture of yet another puncture being repaired. They are one of the many bus companys that operate on the Kampala - Nairobi route. If/when I do the trip again I think I'll be travelling with "Regional". Scandanavia have freezing aircon, Noisy TV, and a smelly toilet on board and you have to pay a lot more for the privallage so wont be travelling with them.
I have done the trip 3 times always with Akamaba Bus (Execitive service). I travelled with them as they are one of the few companies that have a morning departure. Some buses take the Eldoret route and some go through Kisumu.
Last time I didn't fancy doing the 12 hour trip so stopped in Kisumu which is about 1/2 way and got the morning bus from there. If you are travelling straight through on the morning service you should reach Nairobi about nightfall.
The border itself is fairly hassle free. Every one piles off the bus and queues up at customs and immigration on the Ugandan side, get your exit stamp then walk across no-mans land to the Kenyan side. You can get a visa at the border, a yellow fever vaccination certificate was once a must but doesn't apear to be so now. Once you have got your passport stamped you can board the bus again on the Kenyan side and continue on your journey.
The bus stops a few times along the route. First stop is a breif one at Mabira Forest where you can buy roast chicken or gonja. Momey changers usually board the bus just before the border or you can change money at the border itself. Once you enter Kenya there maybe time to buy food, water and have a toilet break at the border if not the next stop will be in Kericho. The last stop will be a couple of hours before you reach Nairobi at Nakuru.
Cracks in the dam
The 54-year-old Nile Bridge at the Owen Falls Dam in Jinja has developed serious cracks and is on the verge of breaking, an occurrence that only spells doom for a land locked country that heavily depends on its functioning to survive.
Any closure of the bridge would effectively cut off the south-eastern part of the country, the main import-export route, from the western and central portions.
Every road has road works!
Every road has road works! Well it seems like that at the moment in May 2008. The road from the border to Kampala has improved since last year but there are a few dodgy areas around Iganga still.
The road between Soroti and Lira is a right mess and is supposed to be 5 years before the road is surfaced between the 2 towns. The road directly north at the moment is an absolute shocker, as soon as you leave Kampala the road is horrible all the way passed Nakasongola and all the way to the junction to Masindi. Its been a few years since I've been on the Mubende Fort Portal road which was a few years ago being surfaced so I guess by now it should be complete.
I remember being surprised at the quality of the roads in West Nile province they were well good but then again that has been a while since I was in that neck of the woods so could well have got a lot worse.
In this photo the chap in the hole did well to jump out in time before the truck almost backed onto him.
A lot of people moan about gateway Bus. You often hear how the conductors are rude, the buses are in bad condition, and that the drivers are crazed miraa chewing mad men. But if it wasn't for Gateway bus a huge part of Uganda especially the east and north would grind to a halt. They may not be the best but do provide an invaluable service.
Uganda / Kenya border
Crossing this border to and from Kenya at one time used to be a right pain but over the years it has become easier and easier. These days they don’t even seem to bother looking at your vaccination certificate.
I've crossed the border here at Busia many times always coming by public transport. If you are travelling on a through bus such as one from Nairobi to Kampala there usually is no problem. The bus will wait for you the other side of the border while you go through all the formalities of customs and immigration, and will make sure everyone has boarded the bus again before moving off.
I have at one time travelled to the Busia border crossing on a matatu from Kisumu and walked across the border through no-mans land before boarding a bus in the Busia (Uganda) bus park. So after a swift beer at one of the bars before the border I crossed by foot and got on my way again much quicker than I would have had I had to wait for a busload of travellers to get back on board a bus.
There is a constant stream of transport to many destinations not just Kampala so you would not have to wait too long weather you were moving on to Kampala or Tororo!
I was very close to use local public bus for my trip to Jinja, which is only 76 km's far from Kampala. The return ticket is very cheap, if I remember well it was around 3000 shillings, which is something more than on euro. I was told to get in the bus and to buy ticket there. There was guy in front of the bus whom I asked how long it takes to Jinja, over two hours, he said. From the outside, the bus was in a poor conditions but it's nothing compare with what I saw inside of it. It was dirthy and bad odour all around, I was more faster out of it than I get inside.
Boda Boda is very popular transportation among the locals, but not only, some whites use it especially inside the city areas. It is the cheapest transportation that exist in Uganda, average ride cost much less than half an euro. Besides, by Boda Boda locals can reach all those distant destinations in the outskirts of the towns which matatus usually do not cover.
There is one problem though, Boda Boda ride might be very dangerous for both drivers and passengers. Many accidents happened to Boda Bodas, some of them because of the bad road conditions, the others because of drivers in a vehicles who didn't see or didn't want to see those motorcycles. Also, a number of accidents was caused by Boda Boda drivers alone because they drive like nuts sometimes.
If you want to stay in a luxurious hotel in Kampala, here it is. The Sheraton is located in some...more
Ternan Avenue, Entebbe, KM, UG
Good for: Solo
I have enjoyed staying in this hotel for 4 nights. Rooms are really spacious and well furnished....more
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