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Planning a trip to Uganda and Rwanda - important travel tips
Winston Churchill spoke of Uganda as that "Pearl of Africa". Is Uganda really that beautiful? And is Rwanda really that "Land of a Thousand Hills"? I would also like to experience the exciting experience of standing in front of some of the last mountain gorillas. I applied for a permit for gorilla tracking not just once, but twice.
Now I can confirm that there is hardly anything more exciting than walking through the thick cloud forest in the heart of Africa and at the Gorilla trekking suddenly to face a mountain gorilla!
But Uganda and Rwanda have a lot more to offer than gorillas: volcanoes, cloud forests, tea fields as far as the eye can see, national parks with a growing diversity of animals and simply great people and a magnificent landscape.
For a long time I have dreamed of visiting these two countries. Once again a travel destination where friends and family shake their heads in disbelief and first take a look at the globe to see exactly where the countries are.
Itinerary for Uganda and Rwanda
From Entebbe to Kigali and back again
The road trip as a self-drive brings us25 days through Uganda and Rwanda (read travel report here). I fly via Istanbul to Entebbe, the former capital of Uganda and only 40 km from Kampala, today's capital. Together with Susi (also a travel blogger under Black Dots White Spots) I rented a 4 × 4 four-wheel drive jeep (Toyota RAV4 - unfortunately there was no longer a Landcruiser) at Roadtrip Uganda.
Uganda and Rwanda are both travel destinations that have nothing to do with mass tourism. Both countries are surprisingly quite expensive in terms of accommodation and entry to national parks.
I have roughly summarized our places and route of this tour (as soon as the individual articles are online, I will link them here):
- Arrival Stuttgart - Istanbul - Entebbe. Arrival at 3:55 a.m. and overnight at the 2 Friends Beach Hotel in Entebbe. Takeover of the rental car from Roadtrip Uganda.
- 1 night in Nandereto visit the place where Steven and I are implementing a water project (more about our fountain project)
- 3 nights in Murchison Falls National Park, Baker's Lodge.
- 1 night Fort Portal,Rwenzori View Guesthouse
- 2 nights Queen Elizabeth National Park (Kyambura Gorge),Kyambura Gorge Lodge
- 2 nights Queen Elizabeth National Park (Ishasha), Ishasha Wilderness Camp
- 3 nights Bwindi Inpenetrable National Park. Gorilla Trekking, Volcanoes Bwindi Lodge
- 1 night Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, Golden Monkey Tracking. Volcanoes Mount Mgahinga Lodge
- 2 nights Volcanoes National Park. Border crossing to Rwanda. Gorilla tracking. Volcanoes Virunga Lodge.
- 2 nights at Lake Kivu, Paradis Malahide.
- 2 nights in Kigali, Hotel Gloria
- 2 nights Lake Mburo, Mihingo Lodge.
- 1.5 nights Entebbe, Boma Guesthouse. Workshop for start-ups in Kampala, in the morning flight back via Istanbul to Stuttgart.
Read the travel report for Uganda and Rwanda here
Visa and entry requirements for Uganda and Rwanda
As a German citizen, you need a passport that is valid for at least six months and an entry visa to enter the country. You will receive the visa upon arrival at the airport in Entebbe or Kigali or from the Bridge Corporation in Berlin commissioned by the Ugandan embassy.
The length of stay is handwritten in the passport upon entry. The criteria are apparently not always comprehensible - so pay attention to the date, because the requested length of stay does not always correspond to the entry in the passport.
If you enter and leave the country several times, you need a multiple entry visa. Unfortunately, this visa is not issued at the airport.
East Africa tourist visa for Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya
This tourist visa for East Africa (EAC) was introduced in 2014 by Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya, which allows entry into all three countries and is valid for 90 days. It entitles you to multiple entries to Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya.
When you arrive at Entebbe airport, you can get your visa by queuing at the customs controls on the left (sign: VISA). This saves you from filling out the other form. The cost of the EAC tourist visa is US $ 100, which you should have with you in cash and in US $.
Mandatory vaccinations, malaria and first-aid kit
Yellow fever vaccination for Uganda
No compulsory vaccinations are required when entering Germany directly. Indeed you must have a yellow fever vaccinationwhen you cross the borders between Uganda and Rwanda like us. So don't forget your vaccination certificate and make a copy to be on the safe side (or scan your vaccination certificate).
Nobody wanted to see my vaccination certificate. Neither when crossing from Uganda to Rwanda at Cyanika (between Kisoro and Ruhengeri) nor when returning from Rwanda to Uganda in Katuna (between Kabale and Kigali).
I went to the doctor to get the yellow fever vaccination before the trip.
Further vaccinations recommended by the doctor for Uganda and Rwanda
I gladly accepted a vaccination consultation. It is advised except Hepatitis vaccination also a Polio, tetanus and diphtheria booster as well as a Meningococcal vaccination. A Typhoid vaccination was recommended to me as well as one Rabies vaccination. Both vaccines are currently very difficult or impossible to get. Well, I survived Tajikistan without it.
Malaria in Uganda and Rwanda
Uganda and Rwanda are areas of high risk of malaria. Therefore, my doctor did not want to be traded (I would have liked to take the tablets with me as prophylaxis). Since we are also traveling in the rainy season (November), I took Malarone for over 4 weeks. I didn't have any side effects. I cannot judge whether the great tiredness came from the tablets. My impressions were too big and so many trips in our car were too exhausting and adventurous.
Alternatives to Malarone are Lariam and Doxycycline. The latter is recommended by the WHO for some regions, but is not approved in Germany.
To protect against mosquitoes, I also bought Nobite Spray for clothing for the first time when I was traveling. I also have Autan Tropical Dry for the rest of the body. Unfortunately, my Tropical Dry car was taken from me at the airport because an officer took it too carefully (unjustifiably).
I bought local anti-mosquito sprays with deet in the supermarket in Entebbe. These saved me from stings. Once I forgot to spray myself and had five stitches on the back of my foot. So: Always spray with mosquito spray!
My first-aid kit including a checklist to print out
Travel guide for Uganda and Rwanda
There weren't very many up-to-date travel guides for the trip to Uganda and Rwanda. The travel know-how for Uganda is brand new (see here). I also bought the road map for Uganda (view here) from the same provider. Why? Google Maps or similar apps do not know which roads are tarred and which are not.
Google Maps helped us a lot on site, but not with Bwindi and Fort Portal. Here, Google Maps often showed us paths that cannot even be called slopes. For Fort Portal on the way to the Crater Lakes this could have ended badly. Deep mud slopes or the worst paths through the smallest of villages.
Google Maps was also not up to date with the Bwindi National Park. Thus, the map of Reise Know-How was worth its weight in gold. There are hardly any street signs. Prepare to have to ask locals more often. Those who like to get on board or show the way with their Boda Bodas and drive ahead. A small tip is then appropriate.
In addition, I bought the English travel guides for Uganda (see more information) and Rwanda (see more information) from Bradt.
These serve as a supplement to the travel know-how guide; sometimes the maps in these travel guides are more detailed and better. These were recommended to me by friends who have already traveled to Uganda several times.
Book flights to Uganda
There are no direct flights to Entebbe (Uganda) from Germany. Almost all known airlines offer open-jaw flights with a stop: Turkish Airlines, Emirates, Ethiopean Airlines, KLM, Brussels Airlines, to name just a few that I had in my sights.
I found the cheapest flight at Skyscanner with Turkish Airlines. For only 505 € you can even travel from Stuttgart via Istanbul to Entebbe. The price is really unbeatable. Departures from Berlin, Frankfurt and other German cities would also be possible via Istanbul. The flight time is also the shortest of all airlines, and I've always enjoyed the great service from Turkish Airlines on my last flights.
Update: For the next trip to Uganda, Turkish Airlines is currently the cheapest at € 509!
My tips on how to find cheap flights
Book a rental car
You will find relatively few self-drive vehicles in Uganda and Rwanda. On the one hand, I wouldn't advise everyone to drive themselves; on the other hand, I found driving myself a great experience and challenge, and I feel freer and more flexible in the process.
If you want to travel to both countries, check the cost of the rental car. In Uganda, in my experience, these are a lot cheaper than in Rwanda.
Note the one-way rental:
If you rent the rental car at one location and return it to another, a so-called “one-way rental” is due in South Africa. A round trip was not an option for us, so we accepted the fees.
So we didn't pick up the rental car in Entebbe as originally planned and drop it off in Kigali (would have cost about $ 200 more, I mean), but went back to Entebbe via Lake Mburo, which was a very good decision in the end.
Here you can find my other tips for booking a rental car
My tips for driving a car in Uganda
Accommodation and where to stay
Finding accommodation is not always easy. If you rent a car from Road trip Uganda For example, if you rent, they offer you to work out a route with you and also suggest accommodation depending on your budget. We, too, have received such a sample route according to our wishes.
But since we had very special accommodations in mind for some places, we wrote to and booked them all on our own. Unfortunately, you will rarely find all accommodations and lodges for Uganda and Rwanda at booking.com (This is where I prefer to book my accommodations, e.g. for Fort Portal, Entebbe and Kigali).
At AirBnB you can find guesthouses and rooms for places like Entebbe, Kampala, Kigali. Musanze. A comparison is always worthwhile.
Otherwise there are many providers who offer you complete round trips with a driver. The lodges in which you stay then usually belong to the provider.
Providers are for example:
Uganda Exclusive Camps has accommodations in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest (Buhoma), Murchison Falls National Park (Baker's Lodge) and Queen Elizabeth National Park (Ishasha)
Volcanoes Safaris has accommodations in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest (Buhoma), Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, Volcanoes National Park and Queen Elizabeth National Park (Kyambura Gorge). Oops, as I can see, we stayed in all four. Absolutely luxurious, but above all the Volcanoes Lodge in Rwanda is an absolute dream. Here I was happy to pay every penny (and it was very expensive).
You can find many other providers in travel guides such as Reise Know-How or in great detail in the English Uganda Bradt Travel Guide and Rwanda Travel Guide (see above under the tips for travel guides).
Plan trips and activities!
Yes, you heard that right, planning is sometimes essential in Uganda and Rwanda, as permits for mountain gorillas, chimpanzees and, in high season, also for golden monkeys are limited per day. You can book all activities through your accommodation or directly with the Uganda Wildlife Authority or the Rwanda Tourism Board.
The latter Tourism Board asked me for a city tour in Kigali totally let down and only sent a link to sellers. No link to providers of city tours - no that would be too easy for Africa. A link to their website, where all tour providers are listed.
So I would have had to click on each provider individually and first look for whether and when they offered city tours. I capitulated to slow internet in Kigali. We ended up booking a taxi driver for a couple of hours and drove with him to everything we wanted to see. He also discovered something new (Ipanema Art Center, for example) and was happy about a great day.
Permits for gorilla tracking in Uganda and Rwanda
Gorilla tracking is in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, in the Mgahinga Gorilla National Park (both in Uganda) and in Parc National des Volcans in Rwanda (Volcanoes National Park) possible. In all three national parks you can visit mountain gorilla families for an hour.
To protect the gorillas and chimpanzees, the number of visitors per day per group in the national parks is very limited. Therefore, you need to apply for your permits in good time.
Tip: In the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, in particular, pay attention to the location for which you are applying for your permits. Our permits were for Ruhija, since in Buhoma (where we lived) all permits had already been issued. However, we only took care of the permits a month before the trip, which is usually much too late, despite the low season and rainy season.
According to the locals, the piste between Buhoma and Ruhija is normally passable without any problems. However, since the government started too late to restore this runway to a better condition than the rainy season began, it is hardly passable. Not passable for us in the morning of the tracking.
I slipped through 30 cm deep muddy slopes in the forest (really slipped - out of control - it went downhill) until we got stuck in a really bad spot. A truck with a delivery of tea (without four-wheel drive !!!) got stuck the night before. Thanks to our guide from the lodge and many phone calls, he was able to get us to spontaneously receive a permit near Buhoma and thus still come to our gorilla visit.
Read all information about gorilla trekking in Uganda and the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest here.
How to get your gorilla permit
You have to organize the permit for gorilla tracking in Bwindi National Park in Uganda and in Virunga National Park in Rwanda before your trip. Either your booked accommodation organizes your permit or you apply for it directly to the Uganda Wildlife Authority. The counterpart in Rwanda is the Rwanda Tourism Board.
Ideally, the permits will be sent directly to your accommodation. In Rwanda we received the permit (or the accommodation) by email. In Uganda, the location of the gorilla tracking is directly on your invoice (or confirmation), in Rwanda there is only one starting point to the gorillas. There you will be assigned to the groups or guides in the morning.
Gorilla tracking costs (often called trekking)
In Uganda tracking costs z. Currently US $ 600 (in the rainy season "only" US $ 350). In Rwanda you even have to pay US $ 750 for this. There is no low season and therefore no discount in Rwanda. Since the tours to the gorillas are very limited in both countries - luckily - you have to get your permit early. Especially if you are traveling during the main travel season. Only eight tourists per habituated gorilla group are allowed to visit the gorillas every day.
Both governments want to use the price to control the number of visitors and generate income to protect the mountain gorillas and the national parks. The question is whether these funds will actually arrive. According to the restaurant and our guides, around 10-20% go directly to the communities. These determine what the money is used for. Above all, roads are being built, protected areas for gorillas secured and the restaurants offered an alternative so that they no longer hunt gorillas.
This fee includes entrance fees to the national parks as well as costs for guides / rangers, trackers and (depending on the location and security situation) armed escorts. Tips and costs for a personal porter ("porter"), which I strongly recommend, are added. Porters in Uganda currently cost $ 20. In Rwanda only $ 10.
Withdraw money and credit cards
What is the currency of Uganda?
In Uganda there is the Uganda Shilling. 1 euro corresponds to approximately 3,650 Uganda shillings (UGX). So you can see that in Uganda you mutate very quickly into a millionaire:
>> My tip and reasons for the best free credit card for Uganda
How do I take money with me to Uganda - credit card or cash?
Cash? US dollars, credit card or should I exchange money before traveling to Uganda?
I had exchanged 500 euros for dollars before my trip. Overall, that was not enough for me. I would have needed at least 600-700 euros in dollars.If, like me, you don't want to give yourself the stress of going through all the banks in one place until one exchanges money for dollars, you'd better take more cash with you. I don't like to travel with so much cash, there was no other way here.
Immediately upon arrival I withdrew money at the airport in Entebbe. Thanks to my credit card (this time I had comdirect and Number26 with me) I can make money abroad without having to pay any fees.
Change money at home or in Uganda / Rwanda?
I withdrew cash from Entebbe on arrival at the airport. I only exchanged dollars at home in Germany and took them with me (see above).
There are many exchange offices in larger towns. The more you want to change, the better rates you get. You can also change money in banks. However, only euros or dollars in local currency. When we had to exchange local currency for dollars, we went to five to six banks until one of them wanted to exchange us Rwanda francs for dollars (in Rubavu). You need a lot of patience here.
In 2021, the best credit cards are the VISA card the DKB bank(as an active customer) and the GenialCard the Hanseatic Bank. With these cards you can withdraw money from ATMs for free and pay on site without paying foreign fees abroad in foreign currencies!
My tip for one sustainable account is the Tomorrow Bank. I like to use this credit card in Germany and Europe (Apple Pay also works with it).
See tips for the best travel credit cards here
How much do you tip in Uganda?
As in many other countries, tips are a very important additional source of income in Uganda. The service staff in restaurants are 10% usual.
Rangers, trackers and guides usually cost $ 3-5 (per person, not group). That adds up quite a bit when you consider that gorilla tracking always involves a ranger, three trackers and possibly armed rangers and porters.
In hotels and lodges, 15,000 UGX per night is recommended. You will find “Tip Boxes” everywhere, in which you can put your tip. Taxi drivers and locals who like to show you the way and drive ahead are also happy about less (depending on which we have given you $ 1 or 1,000 - 5,000 UGX).
How much tips do you give in Rwanda?
Tipping is generally not expected in Rwanda. However, every host is happy when they are rewarded for good service. A guide value of 10% of the invoice also applies to Rwanda.
As in Uganda, there is a recommended tip for guides, trackers and rangers in Rwanda. Typically $ 3-5 dollars per person.
Electricity and electricity
There are frequent power outages in both Uganda and Rwanda. Many lodges use solar energy. You will usually find a large socket for all technical devices in the main building. Take for yours camera Spare batteries (I had three for the SLR and two for the GoPro) and an external battery for your smartphone, eBook reader or whatever other electrical items you have with you. Plus a USB charger for the car.
MyPhoto accessories with cameras, lenses and technical equipment
In Uganda there is 220 volts alternating current, 50 Hertz. I recommend my travel adapter that works in both Uganda and Rwanda. It also has two USB ports for charging your smartphone and battery.
You don't actually need an adapter for Rwanda, as the same sockets are used here as in Germany. Sometimes the "round" plugs don't fit, only the "flat" ones. Then your adapter is used.
Time difference in Uganda and Rwanda
Many people who travel to both countries make the mistake of factoring in the one hour time difference between Rwanda and Uganda. Uganda is Germany (Central European Time -MZ) +2 hours ahead. In summer only an hour.
Rwanda, on the other hand, is only an hour ahead of us in winter. Since the clock is not changed here during summer time, there is no time difference between April and October.
Traveling to both countries is therefore very comfortable, as you can start your adventure without jet lag!
Best travel time for Uganda and Rwanda
First the good news: Both countries can be visited all year round. The best travel time and therefore also The main season is from December to February and June August. The main rainy season is in March and April, the small one in November.
Climate in Uganda
Uganda is located on the equator and therefore there is an equatorial climate. Two dry seasons (December - February and June - August) determine the main travel season. The coldest month is July (daily temperature around 24 ° C). During the rainy season, the Lake Victoria region and the mountains in the west and south-west of Uganda have the most rainfall.
Despite their location on the equator, regions are relatively cool due to their altitude (Bwindi, Rwenzori Mountains). The temperatures in some parts of the country fall relatively low u C despite the proximity to the equator. The average temperature in Kampala is between 22 ° C in January and 20 ° C in July.
When we asked locals about the best time to travel, they mostly advised us to go to April. Despite the big rainy season.
A visit to the gorillas during the rainy season?
For a visit to the gorillas in the cloud forests, this does not mean that there is no rain outside of the rainy season. Because both the Bwindi and the Volcanoes National Park are rainforests. It rains a lot here. During the rainy season, the mountain tours, forest hikes and gorilla tracking are more demanding, muddy and therefore more slippery than they already are.
During our Gorilla tracking in Bwindi poured it out of buckets. After the gorillas were spotted on an impenetrable steep slope, it was not only extremely wet but also slippery for us. We could hardly make out the gorillas between the thick branches. Just like us, they were not enthusiastic about the rain and were constantly on the move. Therefore we hardly saw any gorillas here.
We were lucky in Rwanda: bright sunshine and relaxed gorillas that we could visit and observe at close range (approx. 1 - 2 m). Right after that the rain came.
There are advantages to traveling during the rainy seasons: The gorilla permits are much cheaper in Uganda (only US $ 350 instead of US $ 600) and some of the accommodations and rental car companies offer you generous discounts.
Road conditions in the rainy season
If you are traveling with a driver in Uganda and Rwanda (estimated over 90% of all tourists) you are probably less interested in the road conditions. If you are like us self-drivers, I advise you to take one Four-wheel drive vehicle.
During the rainy season, in many places the roads are only accessible with an all-wheel drive vehicle. We are with that Toyota Rav4 been on the road and would have wished for a Toyota Landcruiser several times. Our car was often stuck on the bad slopes. Nevertheless, he did not let us down and we were spared a flat tire.
The disadvantage of traveling in the rainy season is that some roads are difficult to drive or completely blocked. You may have to take detours. We gladly accepted this from Buhoma (Bwindi) to the Mgahinga National Park, for example, because we no longer wanted to risk the shortcut to Ruhija through the forest and the bad mud track. Security comes first.
Driving in Uganda and Rwanda
In Uganda there is left-hand traffic. If you feel unsafe - even in front of the not always paved roads - you can hire a driver. Our car rental company Roadtrip Uganda said it is not a problem and we should drive ourselves. If, like me, you can live well according to the motto "Close your eyes and through - we have no alternative", drive yourself. It is a great and adventurous experience. Even if every trip held a new challenge in store for us.
More tips on driving in Uganda
Further travel planning
International driving licence
Nobody wanted to see my international (not even the national) driver's license on site, but you never know when to show it. Even the police in Rwanda didn't want to see my international driver's license when I was driving too fast. Still, I always have it with me. Can be applied for quickly at the town hall and costs only 16 euros.
Find the right credit card
In Uganda and Rwanda you can pay with all major credit cards in all cities and in some accommodations. I use a fee-free VISA card that does not incur any fees when withdrawing.
You can find my tips on money when traveling and my favorite credit card here in detail.
If you also have to pay a lot of things on site and also have to leave some kind of deposit for the rental car, make sure that you prior to travel lets you set your withdrawal limit upwards.
Back up your important documents
I have all important documents with me as scans (PDF) on my iPhone. I scanned my passport, vaccination book, driver's license (nat. & Int.) And forms for the trip and saved them on Dropbox.
Packing list - Pack your backpack
- For Uganda and Rwanda you should pack some things that you can neglect on other trips. This includes clothes in muted colors (Tse Tse flies love black and both are areas with a high risk of malaria). For gorilla tracking and game drives, I recommend packing clothes that are not too brightly colored. The animals don't like that.
- If you don't have a camera with a telephoto lens, it makes sense to buy binoculars. This is particularly worthwhile in national parks.
- You should definitely pack trekking shoes. It gets really slippery and muddy with the gorillas, chimpanzees and golden monkeys.
- A headlamp. There are frequent power outages, and often only solar power. If it was rainy or cloudy, not only warm water but also electricity can become a scarce commodity. Also, it's always better to keep your hands free instead of always having to walk around with a flashlight.
- You should also pack a USB charger power bank with integrated flashlight for your mobile phone, the batteries of the GoPro and additional batteries for your camera.
- Camera and Lenses: Which camera and lenses are useful for this trip? On this trip I have three cameras with me: Canon EOS650D, Canon M3 and the GoPro 3+. I borrowed the Tamron 70-300 mm as an additional lens for game drives and gorilla tracking.
- Rainwear and layers: Be sure to take a rain jacket with you. For the higher regions, I recommend longsleeves, softshell jackets (or fleece) and a warm sweater. Alternatively or additionally a thin down jacket (with a small pack size, for example like mine from Patagonia).
Here you can find mine Holiday packing list as PDF to print.
I've put together a checklist for the road trip here.
Have you thought of everything else and does your equipment cover the most important things? How many kg of luggage are allowed and which pieces of luggage do you take from me?
Ticked off packing list? Plane ticket with you? Confirmations of the accommodations and the rental car with you? Then it can go.
All reports on the Uganda - Rwanda road trip:
Don't you want to miss any more information?
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