Uganda travel guide
A reputation for political instability and the looming shadow of Idi Amin have long – and unfairly – blighted Uganda’s fledgling tourism sector. Now, though, things are looking up for the central African nation once described as “the pearl of Africa” by Winston Churchill.
And a brief look around is enough to show you why. From the second you step off the plane, the overwhelming impression of Uganda is one of rich natural diversity, friendly locals and a burgeoning cultural scene that is currently producing some of the most exciting artists in Africa.
Culturally, much of the action happens in the capital, Kampala, an urban sprawl ringed by farmland and perched on the muddy banks of Lake Victoria. While most foreign travellers confine themselves to the city centre or the diplomatic quarter, Kololo, its worth venturing into the bustling bars and clubs of Kabalagala, where expats and locals meet for a slug of the local Nile beer and a friendly game of pool.
Away from the capital, Uganda’s towns and cities have little in the way of diversions (although Jinja’s location on the banks of the River Nile has made it a favourite with thrill-seeking rafters). Instead, head west towards the Congo border where, along with the fascinating pygmy people of Fort Portal, Uganda’s natural wonders reveal themselves.
A popular spot for wildlife watching is Queen Elizabeth National Park, which is home to four of the Big Five, a flock of flamboyant flamingos and the rare tree-climbing lions of Ishasha.
The star attraction, though, is the iconic mountain gorilla, which can be found further south in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. While you’re down there it’s also worth taking a detour to Lake Bunyonyi, a mountain retreat famed for its stunning vistas and freshwater crayfish.
More natural wonders await in northern Uganda, home to the magnificent Murchison Falls, and in the east, where visitors will find the outstanding desert crags and ossified anthills of Kidepo.
Regardless of where you go in Uganda, when it comes to leaving, it will be with a heavy heart.
241,038 sq km (93,065 sq miles).
40,322,768 (UN estimate 2016).
153.9 per sq km.
President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni since 1986.
Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda since 2014.
240 volts AC, 50Hz. British-style plugs with three square pins are used.
Last updated: 13 March 2017
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. ‘We’ refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
Opportunistic crime like burglaries (some using chloroform gas), muggings, drive-by bag snatches and thefts from vehicles do occur in Kampala and other areas of Uganda. There have been a few cases of individuals being drugged and robbed on public transport and in bars.
Don’t carry large sums of cash or wear expensive looking jewellery or watches. Take particular care of your passport. Take extra care when going out on foot and avoid walking after dark wherever possible.
Keep car doors locked and windows shut when driving in towns. There have been a number of thefts from cars and taxis while stationary in traffic. Don’t leave valuables in vehicles. If you are stopped by armed criminals, don’t resist.
Local travel – north-east Uganda
Rural areas, particularly in the north eastern parts of Uganda, experience cattle rustling, banditry and tribal clashes. Foreigners are not usually the target of localised violence and banditry, but you should take great care. Small arms are widespread and there are regular deaths or injury from gunshot wounds. The north east is susceptible to flooding during the rainy season. Monitor local media and take care in all remote areas including the use of suitable 4 wheel drive vehicles.
Local travel – northern and western Uganda
Take great care near the border with Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan. There have been some clashes and there is a risk of banditry. If you travel outside the main towns (Lira, Gulu, Kitgum, Pader, Arua) you should do so with experienced local guides.
Local travel – west Uganda
A series of violent clashes in Kasese District, including the town of Kasese, between Ugandan security forces and the royal guards of the Rwenzururu Kingdom in late November 2016 resulted in significant loss of life. There were violent clashes and deaths in Bundibugyo and Kasese districts during and after the February 2016 elections. There had previously been violent attacks by local armed men against police and army installations and some civilians in Bundibugyo, Kasese, and Ntoroko districts in July 2014, causing over 90 deaths.
There has been no suggestion that tourists or foreign nationals have specifically been targeted in these incidents, but if you plan to visit these areas, which are close to popular tourist destinations including Queen Elizabeth, Rwenzori Mountains and Kibale National Parks, you should remain vigilant, exercise caution, avoid crowds and follow local media for updates on the current situation.
In the past there have been violent incidents involving Ugandan forces and Allied Democratic Forces rebels in and around the Rwenzori mountains. The situation is now under control but a recurrence is possible.
Local travel – south west Uganda
The parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo immediately neighbouring southwest Uganda have a history of instability and violent conflict can flare up with little notice. Some Congolese refugees have crossed the border into Kisoro district in Uganda. Take care when travelling in the area. Fighting and refugees have in the past spilled over the border into Mgahinga and Bwindi National Parks. If you are planning travel to Kisoro and Kanugu Districts, seek local advice before you set off.
Local travel – eastern Uganda
Travel to eastern Uganda is largely trouble free, but during heavy rains there is a risk of landslides particularly in Bulucheke sub-county in Bududa District near Mount Elgon National Park, a popular tourist destination.
Local travel – National Parks
Use reputable, registered tour operators and contact the Ugandan Wildlife Authority (UWA) for up to date advice and information before you travel. If you travel to Kidepo Valley National Park you should do so by air rather than road. Mgahinga Gorilla National Park and Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Parks are in the extreme south west of Uganda near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda. It’s routine practice for security personnel to accompany tourists on gorilla-tracking visits in this area.
Some gorilla trekking operators cross into the Democratic Republic of Congo. You should avoid taking these tours.
You can drive in Uganda using a UK driving licence for up to 3 months, after which you will need to get a Ugandan driving licence from the Uganda Revenue Authority or an International Driving Permit.
Travelling on the roads can be hazardous, particularly outside the main cities. Driving standards are poor, vehicles are often poorly maintained and the accident rate is high. Other road users may be driving without lights and livestock roam across the roads. The Jinja – Kampala and the Kampala – Masaka roads are particular accident black spots.
Speed limits in built-up areas are generally 50km/h and out of town 80km/h. The police enforce this law and breaking speed limits can result in a fine, imprisonment or both.
For reasons of road safety and security you should avoid travelling outside of the main towns after dark, except on the road between Kampala and Entebbe International Airport.
Make sure your vehicle’s in good condition and stocked with items you might need in case of breakdown or other incidents.
There have been a number of serious accidents involving Ugandan long distance bus services, linking Kampala with other towns in Uganda and internationally with Nairobi, Kigali and Dar es Salaam. Some overnight buses have been robbed after being forced to stop by roadblocks or by criminals posing as passengers.
Other common forms of public transport are matatus (minibus taxis following a particular route) and boda-bodas (motorbike taxis). Though cheap, matatus and boda-bodas don’t meet western safety standards, are generally in poor condition, badly driven and often without proper insurance cover. Accidents are common, and can be fatal. There have been recent incidents of foreign nationals being mugged whilst using boda-bodas; you should avoid using matatus or boda-bodas.
Large numbers of ferry passengers have died in accidents on Lakes Albert and Victoria in recent years. Police believe the accidents were caused by the overloading of passengers and goods.
Political and other demonstrations can become violent without warning, causing loss of life and injury. There have been political protests in Kampala in recent years. The police have been reported to use tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition to disperse demonstrators. You should take great care and avoid all demonstrations and rallies where possible.
If you find yourself caught up in a political demonstration, remain calm and try to move away from the area by the safest possible route. If you’re travelling in a vehicle, ensure that the doors are locked. If you’re in your accommodation and there’s a demonstration nearby, remain inside if you judge that leaving your accommodation is threatening or unsafe. Familiarise yourself with the security procedures in place at your accommodation, and make sure appropriate precautions are deployed as necessary.
Until 2006, the Lord’s Resistance Army was active in northern Uganda. There’s been no Lord’s Resistance Army activity in Uganda since 2006, but the group continues to attack civilians in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, and South Sudan.
Contacting the British High Commission
You can keep up to date with travel advice by subscribing to email alerts. You can see messages about travel advice on social media by following @FCOTravel and @UKinUganda on twitter and fcotravel and ukinuganda on Facebook.
You can also subscribe to an SMS alert system which the British High Commission uses to alert British nationals to incidents related to safety and security. To subscribe for SMS alerts, email your name, Ugandan mobile telephone number and British passport number to Consular.Kampala@fco.gov.uk, indicating in the subject line that you wish to register for SMS alerts. If you do register for SMS alerts, please instruct your Ugandan mobile telephone service provider to remove any “do not disturb” filter on your number (usually put in place to block SMS advertising), as this filter may prevent SMS alerts reaching you.
The British High Commission in Kampala operates a system of consular wardens. Contact the High Commission at Consular.Kampala@fco.gov.uk to ask for details of the warden who covers the area you’re visiting or living in.
Read the FCO’s How to deal with a crisis overseas page for more information and advice.