Uganda is a landlocked country in East Africa, bordered by Kenya, Sudan, Congo, Rwanda and Tanzania. Straddling the equator, much of her southern border is dominated by Lake Victoria. It is a tremendously lush country, dotted with lakes and rivers (the most famous being the Nile) and the west is fringed by the glacier-capped Rwenzoris Mountains. Covering an area of 235,796km² it is similar in size to Great Britain or the state of Oregon in the USA. One of the most striking features is the lushness of the country, from the air much of the country seems to shimmer. Endless lakes, rivers, waterfalls and wetlands make Uganda a lush tropical haven, and its borders seem naturally geographical: Lake Victoria dominates the South, her blue waters funneling into the Nile River which journeys the length of Uganda. Mountains form the Western borders, the Virunga volcanoes and the legendary and mysterious Rwenzori Mountains, known as the “Mountains of the Moon”. The far North stretches towards the Sahara and the East transforms into arid plains.
President: Yoweri Museveni (1986)
Prime Minister: Dr Ruhakana Rugunga (2014)
Multi party democratic republic.
Land area: 93,065 sq mi (236,580 sq km);
Population (2014 provisional.): 34.9 million (growth rate: 3.03%); birth rate: 47.4/1000; infant mortality rate: 66.2/1000; life expectancy: 59; density per sq mi: 377.
Capital and largest city (2003 est.): Kampala, 1,461,600 (metro. area), 1,246,000 (city proper)
About 500 B.C. Bantu-speaking peoples migrated to the area now called Uganda. By the 14th century, three kingdoms dominated, Buganda (meaning “state of the Gandas”), Bunyoro, and Ankole. Uganda was first explored by Europeans as well as Arab traders in 1844. An Anglo-German agreement of 1890 declared it to be in the British sphere of influence in Africa, and the Imperial British East Africa Company was chartered to develop the area. The company did not prosper financially, and in 1894 a British protectorate was proclaimed. Few Europeans permanently settled in Uganda, but it attracted many Indians, who became important players in Ugandan commerce.
Uganda became independent on Oct. 9, 1962. Sir Edward Mutesa, the king of Buganda (Mutesa II), was elected the first president, and Milton Obote the first prime minister, of the newly independent country. With the help of a young army officer, Col. Idi Amin, Prime Minister Obote seized control of the government from President Mutesa four years later.
On Jan. 25, 1971, Colonel Amin deposed President Obote. Obote went into exile in Tanzania. Amin expelled Asian residents and launched a reign of terror against Ugandan opponents, torturing and killing tens of thousands. In 1976, he had himself proclaimed “President for Life.” In 1977, Amnesty
International estimated that 300,000 may have died under his rule, including church leaders and recalcitrant cabinet ministers.
After Amin held military exercises on the Tanzanian border in 1978, angering Tanzania’s president, Julius Nyerere, a combined force of Tanzanian troops and Ugandan exiles loyal to former president Obote invaded Uganda and chased Amin into exile in Saudi Arabia in 1979. After a series of interim administrations, President Obote led his People’s Congress Party to victory in 1980 elections that opponents charged were rigged. On July 27, 1985, army troops staged a coup and took over the government. Obote fled into exile. The military regime installed Gen. Tito Okello as chief of state.
The National Resistance Army (NRA), an anti-Obote group led by Yoweri Museveni, kept fighting after it had been excluded from the new regime. It seized Kampala on Jan. 29, 1986, and Museveni was declared president. Museveni has transformed the ruins of Idi Amin and Milton Obote’s Uganda into an economic miracle, preaching a philosophy of self-sufficiency and anticorruption. Western countries have flocked to assist him in the country’s transformation. Nevertheless, it remains one of Africa’s poorest countries. A ban on political parties was lifted in 1996, and the incumbent Museveni won 72% of the vote, reflecting his popularity due to the country’s economic recovery.
Uganda has waged an enormously successful campaign against AIDS, dramatically reducing the rate of new infections through an intensive public health and education campaign. Museveni won reelection in March 2001 with 70% of the vote, following a nasty and spirited campaign.
Close ties with Rwanda (many Rwandan Tutsi exiles helped Museveni come to power) led to the cooperation of Uganda and Rwanda in the ousting of Zaire’s Mobutu Sese Seko in 1997, and a year later, in efforts to unseat his successor, Laurent Kabila, whom both countries originally supported but from whom they grew estranged. But in 1999, Uganda and Rwanda quarreled over strategy in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and began fighting each other. The two countries mended their differences in 2002. Uganda also signed a peace accord with the Congo in Sept. 2002 and finally withdrew its remaining troops from the country in May 2003.
In July 2005, parliament amended the constitution to eliminate term limits, thus allowing President Museveni another term in office. In August, a multiparty political system was reinstituted after a 19-year absence. In Feb. 2006, Museveni was reelected with 59% of the vote.
Uganda’s 18-year-long battle against the brutal Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), an extremist rebel group based in Sudan, showed signs of abating in Aug. 2006, when the rebels agreed to declare a truce. Between 8,000 and 10,000 children have been abducted by the LRA to form the army of “prophet” Joseph Kony, whose aim was to take over Uganda and run it according to his vision of Christianity. The boys are turned into soldiers and the girls into sex slaves. Up to 1.5 million people in northern Uganda have been displaced because of the fighting and the fear that their children will be abducted. Kony and four other LRA leaders are wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court.
Economic summary: GDP/PPP (2003 est.): $46.06 billion; per capita $1,700. Real growth rate: 9%. Inflation: 9.7%. Unemployment: n.a. Arable land: 22%. Agriculture: coffee, tea, cotton, tobacco, cassava (tapioca), potatoes, corn, millet, pulses, cut flowers; beef, goat meat, milk, poultry. Labor force: 13.17 million; agriculture 82%, industry 5%, services 13% (1999 est.). Industries: sugar, brewing, tobacco, cotton textiles; cement, steel production. Natural resources: copper, cobalt, hydropower, limestone, salt, arable land. Exports: $768 million f.o.b. (2005 est.): coffee, fish and fish products, tea, cotton, flowers, horticultural products; gold. Imports: $1.608 billion f.o.b. (2005 est.): capital equipment, vehicles, petroleum, medical supplies; cereals. Major trading partners: Kenya, Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany, Rwanda, U.S., UAE, South Africa, India, China, UK, Japan (2004).
Member of the Commonwealth of Nations
Best Time to Visit
The climate is good in Uganda all year round and the bulk of the country is tropical with daytime temperatures generally hovering between 24-28°C. It cools down considerably at night (about 16-18°C), enough to warrant bringing a sweatshirt, fleece or wrap. The rains come twice a year, in October/November (short rains) and late March to end of May. However, rainy season is no reason to postpone travel as it generally rains for an hour leaving the rest of the day clear and sunny.
Figure 1. Mean Annual Rainfall in Uganda. Inset map shows the location of Uganda’s national parks
Visas are now necessary for most nationals and should be obtained prior to travel. Single entry cost of $ 50.00 per person (please check for updates).Or The East African Visa at $ 100.00 taking you to Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda.
On 1st July 2016, Uganda launched a new e-Visa application system. Visitors requiring a visa will now have to apply online prior to entering the country. To access the online application form, click here.
Yellow fever vaccinations are required and we recommend anti–malaria tablets, especially during the rainy season. Most prescription drugs can be bought affordably and with ease over the counter in Kampala. Personal insurance is strongly advised.
English is the official language, but Ugandans speak many local languages and dialects, Ganda or Luganda, other Niger-Congo languages, Nilo-Saharan languages. Swahili is also widely spoken and understood.
Currently there is one international airport at Entebbe, an hour’s drive from Kampala. A number of international airlines fly direct to Entebbe, among them Kenya Airways, Emirates, KLM,SN Brussels and SAA. Most major towns have an airstrip as do most National Parks and Game Reserves.
Note Regarding Baggage Limits
Weight limits on light aircraft flights within Uganda are 12 kgs/26 lbs including hand luggage. All bags must be soft – no hard suitcases or wheeled bags permitted. No excess baggage will be allowed on these flights.
The Uganda Shilling is the local currency and it is best to bring American dollars to be exchanged. There are numerous Forex bureaux and banks in the capital and the main towns. Credit cards are accepted in major hotels and restaurants, but generally it is best to carry cash (shillings) upcountry while on safari.
With regards to clothing you are going to be hot, cold and possibly wet on the trekking. So would suggest light clothing, shorts, t-shirts, flip flops, hat, and study shoes are essential for trekking. Long sleeved-shirts and a sweatshirt or fleece for evenings. Women in rural towns may feel more comfortable wearing clothing that cover their knees and shoulders, but this is not mandatory. It gets quite hot by mid-day, but evenings are always pleasant. Lodges do not have a dress code and for the most part casual clothes are de rigueur.
Please note our recommendations for all on-foot activities in the parks (walking safaris, chimpanzee and gorilla treks):
- Long sleeve shirts and trousers (old clothes recommended as they can get very dirty and torn from the thorns and jungle foliage)
- Hat and sunglasses
- Good comfortable sturdy hiking boots with good ankle support
- Long socks to truck your trousers into or gators
- Rain jacket
- Gloves for trekking (old gardening gloves, just in case the trekking gets extreme though the thick foliage).
- Cameras please note that using a flash is not permitted while photographing the Gorillas.
- Waterproof rucksack (or plastic bags inside your rucksack)
- Insect repellent and sunscreen
- Packed lunch and lots of water
A Note on Gorilla Trekking
As of recently (early 2012) there are 3 gorilla groups in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable national park. Buhoma group located north of Bwindi made of 3 gorilla families (Habinyanja, Mubare and Rushegura), Ruhija group in central Bwindi has (Oruzogo and Bitukura families) Nkuringo Gorilla family is on its own and Rushaga group comprises of (Nshongi, Mishaya, Kahungye and Busingye gorilla families).One nomadic family is in Mgahinga National park, this family spends a lot of time between Uganda and Rwanda. The family numbers varying between 5 and 31. Each trekking group is allowed a maximum of 8 visitors per day. Tracking commences from the Park office. Tracking is done usually with 1 park guide and 3 armed escorts and porters (should you require the services of a porter there is 1 per person to carry a single bag). The guide liaises with about 2-3 trackers who have gone ahead to ascertain the gorilla group’s location. Once the gorillas have been located your group will be allowed a maximum of one hour with them (this time limit is carefully observed and protects the gorillas from undue stress).
This trip is rated as Rigorous Touring/Trekking. The time taken to track the gorillas varies enormously, from as little as half an hour to as much as 9 hours before returning to camp. The terrain is extremely difficult, with steep slopes (often steeper than a flight of stairs) covered in dense vegetation that gives the park its name. In addition, the altitude of 5,200 feet and more means participants do need to be physically fit to enjoy the track.
Tracking conditions differ greatly according to the location of the gorillas, so the exact level of difficulty for a specific trek is impossible to define in advance. Because it is impossible to predict the length and difficulty of any single tracking excursion, this program should not be attempted by anyone who is not in very good physical condition. Because of the climbing and bending required as you make your way through the thick foliage, gorilla tracking should not be attempted by anyone who has any kind of heart or back problem. Only those who are absolutely 100% fit and are capable of walking long distances at high altitudes over slippery, muddy terrain should attempt gorilla tracking. Tracking is likely to involve scrambling through, over, and under dense undergrowth with nettles, barbed vines, and bamboo thickets
Built on seven hills, Kololo, Mengo, Rubaga, Namirembe, Kibuli, Kampala and Nakasero. The name Kampala comes from the Bantu word Mpala meaning a type of antelope, which, it is said, the Buganda chiefs used to keep on the slope of a hill near Mengo Palace. In 1890 Captain Lugard, a British Administrator, established his fort, also an administrative post, on Kampala Hill (now known as Old Kampala Hill) which attracted several hundred people and a small township developed.
Kampala grew and the town spread over the surrounding seven hills. On top of three of these hills, Rubaga, Namirembe and Kibuli, places of worship were built – Catholic, Protestant and Muslim respectively. The town has continued to grow and now encompasses 23 hills over an area of nearly 200km². Over the last few years the city, the centre of most economic activity in Uganda, has changed dramatically. After systematic looting and destruction during the changes in government, it is being rebuilt with office towers, hotels, stadiums and shopping malls appearing almost monthly.
On the hills, all is calm with pleasant colonial-style buildings and pretty streets lined with jacaranda trees. Most of the buildings, if not government offices or embassies, have been turned into apartments. Downhill all is a bustle with a huge street market surrounding the chaotic matatu station and Nakivubo Stadium.
As yet untouched by mass tourism, Uganda’s parks and reserves are ideal retreats for the discerning eco-tourist. The experience is very different to that in some of the parks in South Africa, Kenya and Tanzania. Here there are no tarmac roads through the parks, no mass convergence of zebra-camouflaged safari trucks and no animals turning up by appointment! The experience takes you back to basics where patience and good game tracking skills the key.
During the years of civil war and rebel activity hundreds of thousands of animals were killed, often machine-gunned down, resulting in a huge depletion in all of the parks. Tourism is attracting investment and interest, aiding the redevelopment of infrastructure in the National Parks, and with increased control and management the animal populations are on the increase. Uganda’s National Parks encompass and conserve all of the ten major habitat types occurring in Uganda.
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park
530km south west of Kampala (10 hour drive)
350km west of Kampala (4.5 hour drive)
840km north east of Kampala (1.5 hour flight or 1day drive).
230km southwest of Kampala (3.5 hour drive)
300km northwest of Kampala (6 hour drive)
435km southwest of Kampala (5.5 hour drive)
375km west of Kampala (5.5 hour drive)
370km west of Kampala (6.5 hour drive)
In all instances tipping should be treated as a personal matter and a gratuity should only be given if you feel the service warrants it. It is important to individually recognize service people such as airport transfer drivers, restaurant and camp or lodge personnel, and your local safari guides with a tip.
The following should serve as a useful guideline:
Tips may be given in Uganda Shillings or US Dollars.
Airport Representative: US $3 per traveller
Transfer Driver in Entebbe: US $3 per traveller per transfer
Each Airport and hotel porter: US $2 per traveller
Hotel staff (waiter): most hotels and restaurants include a 10% service charge. It is customary to leave a small tip of about US $3 per meal per traveller
Driver/guides: $5-10 per traveller per day
On The Gorilla Trek (Bwindi) Porter: US $ 20 per trek per traveller (30,000ug shillings)
Guide (1 per group), Trackers (2-3 per group) and Security Personnel (2-4): US $20-30 (40,000ug shillings) per trek per traveller. This may be given to the head guide in view of the rest of the staff for distribution amongst the staff.
Other Park Guides (Kidepo) Park Guide/Ranger: US $5 per traveller each time of guiding service
Lodges and Camp Staff outside Kampala and Entebbe Entire camp/lodge staff: US $6 per traveller per day.
The lodges will have a staff tip box from which tips are distributed equitably amongst the entire staff.
EXCHANGE RATES: As of 01/Feb/206, the exchange rate was as follows:
$1US = 3300.00 Ugandan Shillings
The currency in Uganda is the shilling, and it is available in usable denominations of 50, 100, 200, 500, 1,000, 5,000, 10,000, 20,000 and 50,000 notes.
Please note: US$ Dollar bills smaller in denomination than US$100 may attract a less favorable rate of exchange and notes older than 2009 are not accepted by hotels, banks etc. The reason for this is there were a huge amount of imitation/fake US $ notes, so only the new notes are widely accepted here.