Uganda – Not for Overlanders

Uganda could be the perfect travel destination in East Africa:

  • Safaris
  • Chimpanzees and mountain gorillas
  • Mountain regions for hiking
  • The source of the Nile

It could if it weren’t so costly. We have a few tips for the slim wallet.

Uganda is excellent, but unfortunately not for overlanders driving their cars. As a tourist, you can experience a tremendous African adventure here in a few weeks on good roads. The parks are cheaper than in Kenya and Tanzania if you travel by rental car.

The classic Uganda tour

You go directly to the country’s southwest from the airport in Entebbe, not far from the Ugandan capital Kampala. To the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. Those who venture into this last stretch of “impenetrable” rainforest will be rewarded with mountain gorillas. Here the permit only costs 600 US dollars per person. A real bargain compared to $1500 in Rwanda.

Continue north to Queen Elizabeth National Park. You can go on safari here for $40 per person mainly because the Ugandan rental car is only allowed into the park for 5 dollars. Queen Elizabeth is famous for its lions perched on trees. The cats only do that here. We also caught a lion cub in a tree in the Serengeti. And also considered that there aren’t that many parks in southern Africa with trees strong enough to support a lion. Well then…

After all the driving, you can now stretch your legs in the Rwenzori Mountains. The hikes are more for advanced hikers. Alternatively, you can search for chimpanzees in Kibale Forest for US$150. Even further north is Murchinson National Park, whose animal populations are gradually recovering after heavy poaching in the 70s and 80s.

Finally, on the way back to Kampala, visit rhinos at the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary. You can join for $40. And that’s a complete Africa vacation. If you want, you can mostly drive on main roads. Thanks to the hard-working Chinese, they are in surprisingly good condition, and there are only security problems in the border areas with Congo and Kenya.

All of this sounds tempting. But if you travel by your car, you have to shell out 150 US dollars for each park just for the vehicle. Our wallet still had to recover from the Serengeti. Affordable activities fell through for us because the rainy season was too early this year! Suitable for dry Uganda. Bad for us. After 13 rainy days in eight months, our statistics in Uganda jumped up to 25.

The border crossing between Rwanda and Uganda at Katuna

Coming from Kigali, you can reach the border with Uganda in less than two hours via the paved main road. The Rwandan part looks bumpy but goes surprisingly fast. Over in Uganda, it’s starting to rain. Deep puddles run through the red mud. Everything seems more improvised here. And dirty. In a small wooden hut, we get our stamp in the carnet. Thanks to the East Africa visa, entry and exit is cheaper and faster (article on this follows). The customs officer gives us initial travel tips. We’ll be there in less than an hour.

Uganda for the lean purse

Lake Bunyoni

Just an hour from Katuna is through Kabale. There are smaller shops here, and the place seems lively and surprisingly likeable. Now it is only a stone’s throw to Lake Bunyoni. In the same name resort, you can enjoy beautiful lake views or go boating. Only on the first night were their several overlander buses. After that, it was wonderfully quiet. With a heavy heart, we decided against visiting the mountain gorillas. $600 is a lot. That was a good thing since we both had colds. Anyone who has a cold is not allowed to go to the gorillas, but of course, there is still no money back.

Fort Portal

Continue north. On the way to Fort Portal, you can take a free transit route through Queen Elizabeth Park and get a small impression. We spotted elephants, buffalo, and antelope.

Shortly after the park, we cross the equator. The heavy rain takes its toll. A section of the road has been washed away. The police regulate the traffic. Or at least tries.

About 30 km south of Fort Portal, we take up quarters in Kluge’s Guestfarm, which is in German-Uganda hands. The food is sensational. A crossover of African, Indian, and German cuisine. Now that we have been on the road for more than eight months, we enjoy beef roulades with red cabbage. The weather was suitably cold and rainy. So nothing came of the migrations through Rwenzori or Kibale. Our training status after all the driving is terrible anyway. After all, at Kluges, you can trudge through the forest on the premises and watch black and white colobus monkeys.

A trip to the nearby Crater Lakes is worthwhile. A collection of crater lakes lined with small villages. We painted an excellent tour of the towns to the lakes on Google Maps. When the sun is shining, you can enjoy beautiful views from the “Top of the World” viewpoint. Not far from there is a free transit route through Kibale Forest National Park. If you try, you can spot monkeys in the trees from the road. Unfortunately, we did not discover any chimpanzees.

Kampala

We stayed at Red Chilis Camp on the outskirts of town. Even though this facility is large and frequented by overlanders, we liked it. It was pleasantly quiet, we were standing pretty and alone in a meadow, and the pizza wasn’t bad either. In the evening we met friends in the city and experienced how lively it is here after dark.

Also, Kampala has the best shopping in Malawi. In Garden City and Lugogo Mall, you can stock up properly, browse the bookstore and drink good coffee. We came with practically no expectations and were pleasantly surprised.

The city traffic can only be endured with a lot of humour. It feels a bit like driving a bumper car. The other road users were all very considerate. Important: Honking is not meant to be aggressive, but an essential “Hello, this is me, don’t hit me” signal.

Jinja

We chose Jinja as the last stop before the border with Kenya. Here you can enjoy beautiful views of the Nile from the camp “The Haven.” If you dare, you can sign up for white water rafting. We limited ourselves to watching. Went excellent from the bar. And only cost two beers.

Our route through Uganda at a glance

The travel guide is not optimal for self-drive, but still a reliable source. Despite GPS, we always have a paper map with us.

Our conclusion

If money is no object, we can well imagine Uganda as a holiday destination. It is also suitable for the first impression of Africa because it is easy to travel around and relatively safe. Nevertheless, Uganda will not be our favourite. People are friendly but very reserved. The landscape didn’t change much on our route through Uganda, and the mood was somehow depressing. Whether our hearts were still heavy from Rwanda or were it because of the rain? Hard to say.

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