Getting to Uganda About Uganda – Geography – Location – Visa and Passports – Safety & Security
Getting to Uganda
Uganda’s international airport is Entebbe which is 40 km from Kampala. Several international airlines fly to Uganda and include British Airways (Centre Crt,4 Ternan Av), Ethiopian Airways (United Assurance Bldg), Emirates (FNC Bldg Kimathi Av), Kenya Airways (Jubilee Centre 11 Parliament Av), KLM Royal Dutch Airlines (14 parliament Av, Jubilee Insurance Bldg, 3rd floor), Rwanda Express (1st floor Garden City), South African Airways ( Workers House, Pilkington Rd), SN Brussels (Rwenzori House, Lumumba Dr), Egypt Air( Grand Imperial Arcade, Speke Rd) and Air Tanzania ( Workers House, Ground Floor, Pilkington Rd).
Visitors who arrive by air are often asked to produce a yellow fever vaccination card but if you arrive without it, you will probably be asked to bring it next time although as a traveler it’s not advisable to take things for granted. However, if you have a valid passport and a return ticket, you will have no hassle with the formalities at Entebbe airport.
The only reason visitors arrive without a return ticket is because they intend to travel more widely in Africa but you will encounter some difficulties from immigration officials who may be concerned that you may not have enough funds to buy your return ticket. Proof of more than sufficient funds and a credit card will convince them. If you intend to travel to a neighbouring country, you can arrange for a visa or visitors pass for the next country you intend to travel too before Uganda. Although, immigration officials may sometimes be annoying, bridle your annoyance and assume diplomacy for the officials are simply doing their job.
When you arrive at Entebbe, there are 24- hour foreign exchange facilities at the airport and you can get some local currency because most transactions are conducted in local currency. However, make sure that you compare rates for they are not standard and other places offer better rates. Entebbe particularly used to offer lousy rates but although it has improved, Kampala still offers better rates so wait to exchange the bulk of your money there.
Special hire taxis cost about US$ 10-15 to Entebbe or US$ 25-30 to Kampala. They are negotiable so don’t be embarrassed about haggling for it’s the norm and you will be surprised at how much you save. Airport taxis cost a little more.
Airport collection can be arranged in advance through most tour companies and upmarket hotels. The cheapest option though is to take a shared taxi to Entebbe from the airport for the cost is split with the others. However, if stuck you can talk one of the drivers of the tour companies who have come to pick their pre-booked clients and eager to make an extra buck they may give you a lift to Kampala but this is only advisable during the day but at night, it’s only sensible to get a bed and then proceed the following day where you can use public transport for about 1 US$ to the taxi park either old and new. You could hop off from the city centre though.
Unfortunately, most taxi operators don’t speak English though some may surprise one. The magic phrase is “ mumaso awo” in the local Luganda language which is the predominant language meaning “ infront there”. This usually gets the conductor to instruct the driver to park and if there’s no designated parking space, they will look for one. However, you have to say this out aloud and sometimes repeat it for the conductors are often hard of hearing from the shouting the do when calling out to passengers in the park and streets.
While at the parks, it’s often disorientating what with the disarray of taxis. Don’t hesitate to ask for help from the UTODA- Uganda Taxi Operators Association guides on taxi where to find taxis to different destinations and the actual fares as the conductors may sometimes be unscrupulous and take more than the usual. The guides are dressed in blue uniforms written on UTODA in white and are actually very helpful.
The possibilities of combining East African travels with overland travels in other parts of the continent are immense and very realistic. You can come to east Africa through many border crossings but the most common are coming into Tanzania from Zambia (at Tunduma) or from Malawi (at Songwe Rriver Bridge). For the more adventurous, there’s a crossing from Mozambique at Namiranga, north of Palma.
Less frequently used crossings include at Kasesha between Mbala(Zambia) and Sumbawanga (Mozambique) and Tanzania along the River Ruvuma west of Namiranga ( Mozambique); and between Mozambique and Tanzania by lake Nyasa. Other countries that border East Africa are Congo (formerly Zaire), Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia but overland travel through these is not very safe. The Uganda Sudan border is open to traffic and for Ethiopia, the main crossing is at Moyale with another seldom used one at Fort Banya at the northeastern tip of Lake Turkana. The Kenya Somali border is another crossing.
Uganda borders five countries namely; Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, DRC and Sudan. Most visitors enter and leave Uganda at the overland borders with Kenya and Tanzania. Few visitors enter or leave Uganda through DRC or Rwanda though crossings to these countries to track mountain gorillas are fair. Uganda’s land borders at Malaba and Busia are generally hassle – free if you have your papers in order and you most likely won’t be asked about your finances, vaccination certificates or onward tickets.
It may be necessary to exchange your money at any overland border in or out of Uganda. Be very careful about this for the money changers are usually unscrupulous. So always bargain over the rate they may quote and it’s better to inquire beforehand with even the immigration officials so that you have an idea of what rate and amount to expect. Don’t pull out a wad of bills unless you intend to change it all. However it’s better to exchange what is just sufficient, and exchange the rest at a more reputable place. Make sure that your money isn’t all kept in a porch within reach as you can easily be relieved of it. Money changers tend to crowd around visitors all at once and apart from this being unnerving, you are likely to get cheated for they are smooth talkers. Instead seek out only one to transact with.
Crossing from/ to Kenya
This is very straightforward and there are several ways to go about it. There are two main border crossings that most overland travelers use and these are Malaba and Busia, with Malaba being the busiest and the most commonly used. You would most certainly use Busia when you happen to be coming from Jinja or Kampala and intend to go to Kisumu.
Bus, Minibuses and Taxi
There are several companies running between Kampala and Nairobi and vice- versa, offering services that range from basic to luxurious. You can either travel express or do it in bits. These include the Scandinavian Express, Akamba Bus Company(Kenyan), Gateway Bus Company(Ugandan) and Gaaga Coaches (Ugandan) and they offer good services although the Scandinavian Express is decidedly the best. The journey takes between 12- 15 hours. All these companies operate daily and have booking offices in Kampala. It’s better to book in advance and arrive atleast 30 minutes to departure time. Connecting services to Tanzania can be got in Nairobi and Uganda too.
Crossing from/to Tanzania
The most commonly used direct route between Uganda and Tanzania is on the west side of Lake Victoria between Bukoba and Masaka, at Mutukula. The road conditions have considerably improved over the years and the journey can be undertaken within a day. The border crossings are easy and on either side of the borders are money changers though those on the Tanzanian side give a lousy rate. The best way to travel to Uganda from Tanzania depending on which part you happen to be is by bus. You can either go via Nairobi or use the buses that go from Bukoba to Kampala and vice- versa.
Crossing from/ to Rwanda
There are two main crossing points between Rwanda and Uganda. From Kigali, you will pass through Katuna and Kabale. There’s also Cyanika via Ruhengeri and Kisoro. There are bus services direct from Kigali to Kampala. Jaguar Executive Coaches plies the route. Between Kabale and Kigali are several minibuses but involves a change of vehicles at the border. The Rwandan border is called Katuna or Gatuna.
Crossing from/ to Sudan
There are many buses plying the juba route and these can be boarded in Sudan and will bring you safely to Uganda and vice- versa.
Unfortunately, there is no rail service in Uganda currently. There used to be two internal rail services; one connecting Kampala to Kasese in the west via Jinja and the other Kampala to Pakwach via Tororo Soroti, Lira and Gulu but all these were suspended in 1997. However, even before this they were very rarely used by visitors for they were excruciatingly slow. The weekly overnight train that started from Kampala to Nairobi was popular among visitors for not only was it fast but was clean and comfortable but this too was suspended and the rail service in Uganda has little likelihood of resuming soon or in the foreseeable future for the Uganda Railways has been privatized a term that aptly means sold off and is now transports mostly cargo.
The suspension of the ferry service between Mwanza in Tanzania and Port Bell in Uganda at Luzira leaves very limited possibilities of travel by ferry to Uganda. The only opportunities are localized and involve the short ferry to the Ssese Islands on Lake Victoria and small boats among others.