Travel, Currency and Money saving tips for Uganda
With a tapestry of landscapes, excellent wildlife watching and welcoming locals, Uganda packs a lot into one small country. It's home to Africa's tallest mountain range (the Rwenzoris), the source of the Nile, the world's longest river and the continent's largest lake. Rafting the Nile offers a world-class adrenaline adventure, but the country's most iconic experience is tracking mountain gorillas in their misty habitat. And if you view the Big Five, you'll see that nature looms large here.
Emerging from the shadows of Uganda's dark history, tourism is returning the sheen to the 'pearl of Africa'. While anti-gay sentiments mar an otherwise positive picture, Uganda remains one of the safest destinations in Africa – save for the odd hippo at your campsite. Don't rush. Here you'll find the best the continent has to offer at a good value and with fewer visitors than in longer-established East African destinations.
What currency to use in Uganda?
Uganda, for the most part, is a cash-based society and although the Uganda Shilling is the official Currency – the Currency of choice, Commerce and Tourism is the US Dollar. Here and there you can use your credit card, (Visa cards are most readily accepted, Master Card, is next, but not Discover Cards and American Express, except in a few spots) and usually it means 5 to 6 or more% surcharge for the privilege of using your card (due to fees that are incurred by merchants in Uganda by Banks).
That means one needs cash while in the country. Many hotels, safari companies, airlines, Uganda Wildlife Authorities for Gorilla Permits and Park Fees will ask for US dollars. Ugandan Shillings will be accepted in many cases instead, not always at the market exchange rate. Traveler Cheques are often harder to cash and are cumbersome requiring extra fees in banks. Most Forex Bureaus will not take traveler cheques from you.
It is suggested to avoid using credit cards in Uganda due to the possibility of someone stealing your card information. Cases of such have happened even in high-end hotels according to the UK government website. Cases of employees stealing your credit card information has happened here and other African Countries.
Getting around in Uganda.
Standard buses and sometimes half-sized 'coasters' connect major towns on a daily basis. The longer your journey is, the more likely it will be on a bus rather than a minibus. Bus fares are usually a little less than minibus fares and buses stop far less frequently, which saves time. Buses generally leave Kampala at fixed departure times; however, when returning from provincial destinations, they usually leave when full. There are many reckless drivers, but buses are safer than minibuses. Night travel is best avoided.
The safest option is the post buses run by the Ugandan Postal Service (UPS). Post buses run daily (except Sunday) from Kampala to Kasese (via Mbarara), Kabale (via Masaka and Mbarara), Soroti (via Mbale) and Hoima (via Masindi).
Boat travel in Uganda is limited to reaching the Ssese Islands, either by ferry from Nakiwogo (in Entebbe), Bukakata (east of Masaka) or small fishing boats operating from Kasenyi (also near Entebbe).
Uganda is the land of shared minibuses (called taxis, or occasionally matatus), and there's never any shortage of these blue-and-white minivans. Except for long distances, these are the most common vehicles between towns.
There are no train services available currently in Uganda, though a restoration of original lines which would connect Uganda to the Kenyan coast is in the works.
Travel tips for Uganda.
You will need a multiple-entry visa if you plan to take side trips into neighboring countries and re-enter Uganda. These cost 100 USD and can only be purchased prior to entry by following the instructions available on the Ugandan embassy’s website. Plan ahead, and research specific rules for entering Uganda’s neighbors. An East Africa Tourist Visa covers Uganda, Kenya, and Rwanda.
Casual, modest apparel is best in Uganda. If you wear skirts, they should be knee-length or longer. Jeans/trousers and t-shirts are most commonly worn. Button down shirts and tank tops are fine as well. It can get cool in the evenings so a light scarf/jacket or a light sweater is recommended.
You do need shots to go to Uganda as without a Yellow Fever vaccination certification you can not obtain a visa. On top of that it is also advised you get vaccinations for DTP, Hepatitis A and malaria. Some organizations may advice you to take Typhoid, Cholera, Hepatitis B and Rabies as well.