Near the border with Zaire
There are no signs or any customs shelter or pole indicating you are near the border between Zaire (at the time it was called Zaire) and Uganda. Here the border is the Semliki river, which in fact is the Nile before it enters Lake Albert.
The deep dark green colour of the grass indicates wet areas which you do not see when driving and you easily get stuck driving off road (no road here). In the border areas (here easy to identify, as it is the river) many people are travelling from one side to the other and you never know if they are “friendly”, when they visit you if you are stuck there..
Do not stay too long in the area.Related to:
- Historical Travel
Arrogant and corrupted
Actually, I haven't seen much police around neither I had any kind of encounter with them. It wouldn't be honest to say that I in person had bad experience with the local police. However, I've seen the way they treat the locals, with no respect at all and lots of arrogancy. Some of my Ugandan friends advised me to avoid the police forces because they all very corrupted.
My friend from Kampala have book a house for me, it is in the outskirts of Kampala in small and peacefull place called Naalya. There excist a standards for the houses which could be rented to a foreigners, must have high walled fence with barded wire on top of it and very solid iron doorentrance.
Poor houses do not have fence around, probably because people cannot afford it, but even some houses which aren't looking poor do not have a fence. As I was told, most locals don't like fences around the house, especially not those walled, even if people can afford them. On the other hand, midle class and rich people are building kind of fortified walls around their houses in order to safe hidding themselves behind the walls.
There are residential block-houses in the close outskirts of Kampala which are guarded by the security guys, whom to me doesn't look alike trustfull security. I have noticed that they usually sleep on a doorways.
Disastrous conditions of the roads
All this pictures were taken in the city of Kampala and its outskirts. What you see is what you can expect if driving in Uganda.
I rented car, on my ariving, but never left Kampala with it! The roads in Kampala and its outskirts, where I stayed, are in disastrous conditions. The very first picture indicates very clearly what is the main problem on the roads, such a huge pot holes, one after another, which normal driving render impossible. Trust me, it is worst than a nightmare and extremely dangerous. Besides pot holes, one have to watch the matatus and boda-bodas because they drive madly, violeting all driving rules, and respecting nothing and nobody.
Ant Prophylaxis For Reluctant Prey
Rain forests are amazing places with enormous biodiversity significance and very powerful advocates (think Sting, just for starters), but that doesn't mean that they're necessarily very hospitable to visitors.
Ants are a particular case in point. These little buggers have HUGE jaws in proportion to their body size, and once you have them on your skin, they'll continue to savage you until you shake them off or they die (or both). And in the case of the gorilla trekking we did in Bwindi, there were a couple of short nightmare sections where we had to scale very steep slopes covered with slippery mud with troops of ants thrown into the equation just for variety.
So, for what it's worth, here are a few pointers on Ant Prophylaxis For Reluctant Prey.
First, never stop in the rain forest without first checking to see what you're standing on. If the forest floor is covered in ants (or indeed, anything mobile), then move on swiftly. This can take some discipline, especially if you have just spotted a gorilla, but once these critters are in your clothing, it takes major effort to dislodge them. And if you see large sections of the forest floor ahead that are covered by ants, it is permissible (and indeed advisable) to sprint across these sections.
Which brings me to my second point. Make sure you're wearing long trousers and closed shoes (preferably hiking boots) and that your trousers are tucked into your socks. Yes, I know it's not a good look, but being jungle-ready seldom is, and it's a lot better to look like a prat than be eaten alive.
Thirdly, despite your best precautions, chances are that you'll be bitten by something in the forest, even if it isn't ants. So be prepared for the eventuality and make sure you've packed an anti histamine cream (Anthisan is my preferred product) so that you can at least alleviate the itching. If you have a history of allergic reactions to insect bites, then also be sure to pack some anti histamine tablets, injections or whatever you know works for you.
Itchy and scratchy they are and are also a pain in the backside to get rid of.
Not only found in beds but can easily be spread around from infested clothing so they can be picked up almost anywhere. I have seen bedbugs climbing up the back of chairs in bars in Uganda as well as being bitten by them on a long distance bus journey in the country. If you see some creepy-crawly and think it may be a bedbug but you are not sure squeeze it between your fingers and smell, if it stinks then it looks like you have got bedbugs.
Once when sleeping in a cheap hotel in Uganda I got seriously bitten and the things even got into my pack and so all my clothes were infested with them. For some reason they liked climbing up the inside of my mozzie net and congregated in the top most corners of the net.
I bought an insecticide spray that kills them (not all insecticides do) emptied ALL my clothes and pack into a very large plastic bag/bin bag and sprayed the can into the sealed bag. I waited awhile before I felt safe enough to get dressed again with some bug free clobber and found a new hotel.
Suggest you eat lunch on the hoof: service is slow
If your decide to do a tour of Uganda - or indeed, anywhere in the Great Lakes region - with a safari company, chances are that the package will be all inclusive and will feature lunch.
This sounds good in principle, but in practice we found it a nuisance. Firstly, we're not used to eating large lunches, and the generous portions at breakfast and lunch meant that we were really only interested in a snack and a drink in the middle of the day.
Far more significantly, service in hotels and restaurants in this region is abominably slow, even by African standards for reasons that I can only speculate on (for what it's worth, my theory is that the kitchens don't keep much food in storage and only send out for certain perishable ingredients once they have been ordered). You can wait up to an hour for your food to arrive once you've ordered, and even the 'fast food' options such as toasted sandwiches or soup of the day can routinely take 30 minutes to arrive. This means that lunch stops can easily stretch out 1.5 hours, which can take a chunk out of the day which you can ill afford if you're on a tight itinerary.
One other unwelcome source of delay is that often what you order turns out not to be available. However, for reasons that I don't begin to understand, you're not told this immediately, and it take a considerable time for the waiter to deliver the bad news, thus further adding to the delay. For example, we had one occasion where we were only told that an item wasn't available after 20 minutes, and then had to go through the whole drawn out exercise of ordering an alternative.
Our perspective on things is that we didn't travel all this way to spend out time looking at the inside of restaurants, and so after a few days, we asked our guide whether we might opt for packed lunches instead. This turned out to be a much better option, as we could choose a picturesque place to have our picnic, and didn't have to worry about service delays. The packed lunches were perfectly adequate - if somewhat unexciting - and if you're travelling with children, have the benefits of being allowing them to be eaten in 'installments' whenever they get hungry.
Managing the yin and yang of mozzie coils
Make no mistake, malaria is a killer, and although there are fewer mosquitoes in the cooler highlands of Uganda, you need to consider the entire country as being malarial and take appropriate precautions.
Regardless of the effectiveness of whatever malarial prophylaxis you're taking, the best precaution you can take is to avoid getting bitten in the first place. So, in addition to religiously popping your malaria muti, you should be slathering yourself with mosquito repellent, covering up with long sleeved shirts and long trousers between dusk and dawn and taking particular care not to get bitten when you're sleeping. That means sleeping under mozzie nets (where possible) and using mozzie coils.
That said, why would I be recommending devices as primitive as mosquito coils when travel shops are full of all sorts of clever gizmos that you can plug in to keep the pestilential little buggers at bay? Well, the simple, unvarnished truth is that unglamorous mozzie coils are effective in almost every setting - regardless of how primative your accommodation might be. Moreover, they don't rely on an external power source, which in a country plagued by such an unreliable electricity supply as Uganda, is absolutely vital. And, as though they didn't already have enough going for them, they are also cheap as chips and almost always available in malarial areas.
I always travel with several packets of mozzie coils, because they are brittle and tend to break easily, especially when you are trying to ease the 'yin' and yang' parts of the coils apart. This is not as easy as it sounds, and takes some practice before you become proficient: I find that it's easiest to start in the middle and press gently along one coil to separate them. This is a task best done slowly and in good light before you decide to imbibe alcoholic beverages - trying to achieve this in the dark when you've had 'one over the eight' is bound to end in tears ...
You then need to push up the little pin from the little metal stand that comes in the packet so that it's at 90 degrees to the base, and carefully push the pin into the little slot in the coil - again, it's easy to break the coil at this point, so proceed gently and with caution. Once this manoeuvre is complete, you are ready to light the coil. It will initially burn with a flame, but in a few seconds, the flame will go out, leaving a smoking 'stump'.
Quite apart from being messy, you need to bear in mind that the ash that falls off the coil as it burns is extremely hot, and will sear most surfaces that it falls on: something that is unlikely to endear you to your hotelier. To avoid this happening, I find that it's best to place the coil onto a metal or glass surface (most rooms in the developing world still come equipped with an ashtray). At the other end of the spectrum, don't be tempted to place them on the sole of a flipflop, as I once nearly burned down a tent this way, narrowly avoiding asphyxiation in the process due to the noxious fumes liberated by burning plastic ... not my finest hour! [blush]
A couple of very obvious last points, which i mention because they are so obvious that you could easily overlook them. Firstly, each packet (which usually contains 10 coils) only has one coil stand, so however short your trip, sharing a packet of coils between two people sleeping in separate rooms isn't possible unless you bring an extra stand. For this reason, I tend to save coil stands after I've finished a packet of coils, and pack a few spares just in case, as they're elusive little gubbins that can easily get lost in your luggage. Oh yes, and bear in mind that you need to bring matches or a lighter too ... ;)
DO NOT FEED THE MONKEYS
The great thing about Uganda is that you can drive just outside of a town or village and see wild Monkeys. Please do not fee them inside the grounds of nice hotels or inside towns. This just attracts them and they then leave their natural areas. They also eat foods that are really not good for them and they can cause the locals a lot of issues after you have left. Some villagers will happily kill the sweet Monkeys you have attracted into their living areas.
So please keep wildlife live in the wild. Take a good look at these pictures of Monkeys eating rubbish. It doesn't look right does it? Do not feed the Monkeys.Related to:
- Family Travel
- National/State Park
You have to be over 18 to go gorilla trekking
Chances are that if you're in the Great Lakes region, gorilla trekking will be high on your 'To do' list, and with good reason, as it's a unique and extraordinary experience.
As we were travelling with our children (aged 6 and 9 at the time), one of the details that we had surprising difficulty in clarifying was whether there was an age limit for gorilla trekking. In fact, you are not allowed to go gorilla trekking unless you're 18 or older, and as you need to present your passport at the muster point where you assemble prior to the trek, you'll be found out if you've been dishonest on this count.
Nine hours later, I could quite understand why the age restriction is imposed. Although you may be one of the lucky few that sees gorillas after a gentle half hour amble into the forest (something that is apparently more likely on the Rwandan rather than Ugandan side), most people have to trek for several hours before they find the gorillas - in our case, 3.5 hours of hard slog on the way there, and 3 hours back. The trails are well laid out and maintained, but the terrain is steep and the vegetation is extremely dense (note to self: next time you decide to trek through somewhere called 'Bwindi Impenetrable Forest', give a little more though to why it's so named!).
Once you find the gorillas, the trackers will hack a rough path through the undergrowth with machetes. This will almost certainly mean some intense scrambling up/down steep slopes, where having an adult stride is a real advantage (as a short person, I found it more challenging than the taller members of our group, and a child would really struggle). Once you begin the trek, there is no option to turn back or wait by the trail until the group returns if you're too tired to continue, and although many people may be mentally repeating the childish mantra, "Are we there yet?" to keep them going as they trudge along, a whining chorus of this sentiment wouldn't be tolerated when you're trekking what are essentially very shy animals.
In summary, you need to be motivated by an intense desire to see the gorillas, backed up by good physical fitness and stamina, and although the 18 cutoff is probably harsh to animal obsessed 16 or 17 year olds, the line has to be drawn somewhere.
If you are planning to travel in this region as a family, my earnest advice to you would be to make them aware of this limitation as early as possible (preferably in the planning stage). Bear in mind that the gorillas are the iconic image for tourism in the Great Lakes region, and your children will expect to see them unless you're brutally and repeatedly blunt about telling them otherwise. We found that ours reluctantly accepted the situation - which was easier to explain because they were so far below the age limit - and it helped to ease their disappointment when they saw how exhausted we were on our return and looked at our photos to confirm how difficult the hiking had been.
The upshot is that if you're travelling as a family and do decide to go gorilla trekking, you'll need to make an alternative plan for your children. Expecting them to wait patiently at the muster point for anything up to eight hours is neither kind nor realistic (especially if they're disappointed at not being able to join you), so you'll need to have consulted with your tour company/guide well in advance to identify an alternative. In our case, we were staying at the amazing Nkuringo Gorilla Lodge, and arranged for one of their staff to take the kids and experience life in her village for the day. They had an utterly wonderful time - arguably the highlight of their entire trip - and a fabulous time was had by all!
Dos and Don´ts
- Camp only on approved sites and never in secluded areas.
- Watch your handbag when shopping or in crowded streets, restaurants or pubs.
- When visiting tourist sites do not wander off the trail or the environs of the site unless you are sure you know where you are going.
Don´t take chances!!!!!!!
Facts are bitter but true. Despite Ugandas´ sucess story, as the one and only country that has undertaken the strongest campaign in controlling AIDS; you shouldn´t take chances.
STICK TO SAFE SEX IF AT ALL!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Almost all supermarkets around the country will have a few fake notes stuck to the wall behind the counter or near the till. When they are discovered the shops for some reason like to punch holes in them. The bottom two notes I was offered in Capital supermarket in Kampala after I was seen "admiring" them, as a collector of banknotes I couldn't resist the chance of acquiring a few fakes. The top 20,000UGX note I found screwed up in the bottom of a draw on my hotel room.
I was told that a lot of these fakes originate in central Asia; I have visions of an Uzbek guy slaving over his printing press.
To combat the fraud many shops now have those small ultra violet lights that show up figures and marks not visible to the naked eye. Some are easily recognisable as they just don't feel right.
TVs are spreading across East Africa like a plague. They are cropping up everywhere they appear in bars, saunas, there is even a huge one by the side of Entebbe Road in Kampala just keep your eyes off the traffic. The last time I entered UG from Kenya there were two TVs in the immigration office one on the punters side and one on the officials side and the young lady who gave me a visa and stamped my passport found a need to keep up with a south American soap opera as she was processing my visa!
Whose side are you on?
Or, more precisely, which side of the road are you driving on? There are cynics who would claim that this is a moot point, as Africans drive in the middle of the road anyway (either because the road isn't good enough to have a choice, or because it's easier to mosey down the middle of the road) ... but I digress ...
The issue is that whilst Rwanda - having been a Belgian colony and thus following Francophone traditions ... nominally drives on the right, Uganda was part of the hige pink expanse of the pre-independence British Empire, and thus, still follows the British convention and drives on the left.
The upshot is that if you're driving across this border, on one side or the other, you'll find yourself driving on 'the wrong side of the road'. This can be disconcerting - especially if you're not used to it - and the simplest piece of advice that I can give to continually orient yourself is that the driver must remain on the side that is closest to the middle of the road.
If I might offer some unsolicited advice, if budget allows, I would strongly recommend hiring a driver wih your vehicle, even though I'm someone who usually self drives in most other parts of the world. A driver will be familiar with local road conditions and driving habits, will be best equippped to talk you through roadblocks and will free you up to enjoy the journey. Often it's not all that much more expensive than self drive when insurance is taken into account, and it's certainly worth it for peace of mind, especially if your driver also doubles as a guide.
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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