Budget travel in Uganda. Useful information for independent travellers.

As we visited Uganda in a complete southern and eastern Africa trip, we reached it from Rwanda (Cyanika border) and leave it for Kenya (Malaba border).

We visited Uganda in April 2015 during 1 month, moving in public transport, eating in local restaurants, doing couchsurfing and sleeping in small local hotels.

We visited mainly the south and east of Uganda, where most of the tourist attractions are.  

We liked Uganda! Our favorite country in East Africa!

Uganda is a super recommended and complete country in Africa, also for backpackers and independent travellers. YES!

Many cheap rooms in towns, public transport goes to all the main towns and it´s also cheap, the main roads are now tarred, local restaurants are cheap.

Uganda is beautiful and diverse, in the heart of Africa. Volcanoes, mountains, hills, lakes, savannahs and wildlife, vast plains, rural, true Africa… That´s why they call it “the Pearl of Africa”.

Local people are really friendly. You will feel it!

There are enough things to keep you busy, enjoying the landscapes, mountains, hills, lakes. Even without doing activities (expensive and so do the national parks). Walking around is nice. And it´s also possible to see wild animals for free (read our post of Queen Elizabeth NP!). We did and big ones!

Not too many tourists around, never crowded (some foreigners and a few expats), specially out of season.  
The tourist infrastructure is quite good

Here we share some information, that can be useful if you are planning a budget and independent trip in Uganda.  See all the details about Uganda on the right sidebar menu.

     UGANDA  AT  A  GLANCE    

A safe country at least now. Always update the security information before going. Uganda is in Central Africa, and always up and down, specially being neighbor with Congo and South Sudan.


   WEATHER IN UGANDA   

Mid march to the end of may is the rainy season with a small rain in november and december. Northern Uganda is much drier. But in the southern part of the country ( Kisoro, Kabale and Fort Portal.) it can rain all year round.

We were in Uganda in April, rainy and low season, it was a nice time there, we had many beautiful sunny days to walk around, but we also experienced heavy rains, mainly in the afternoons. Most of the times, no change of plans.  
Not many travellers, so easier to get discounts in tourist places (Kisoro, Buynonyi, Sipi), even the gorillas were on promotion (but still too expensive for us). But maybe not the best time of the year if thinking in camping around or going to high mountains.

   CHEAP  ACCOMODATION  IN  UGANDA    

Every main town has at least a few local lodges. On the main roads, in smaller towns you will also find at least a place to sleep.
So it´s really easy to find a cheap room almost everywhere in Uganda. 
Many guesthouses have also a bar, so they can be noisy. Try to find one without if you want a calmer room,  but some Uganda towns are quite noisy.

“Hotel” is often a “restaurant” in Tanzania, so if looking for a room it´s a “lodge”, “inn”, “guesthouse”…

Standar rooms in local lodges

In tourist spots and Kampala, you will find a few “backpackers” and camps, with dormitories, huts/bandas, camping, etc. Usually not the cheapest places in Uganda as they are focused in foreign customers and expats. But sometimes the only options in places like Bunyoni, Sipi, Crater Lakes...
Also many luxury places in Uganda. Expensive, super expensive!

 
Bandas in tourist places

The quality varies a lot from town to town, from lodge to lodge, most are a bit old but quite correct. We recommend paying a few € more to get a better and self-contained room (it will be less than 10 € in total for a double) and not staying in the superbasic rooms with shared WC. Always check first a few lodges if possible, the WC are not always well maintened. 

There are single (usually half price), double and twin rooms (usually double are cheaper than twins). Breakfast is usually not included. Shared and private WC. 

Cheap rooms are basic, no TV and no hot shower (except in some cooler areas). Usually towel, soap, toilet paper.
Even the basic rooms have always mosquito nets.

Prices for cheap and affordable accommodation in Uganda:

Local lodges:

- Double basic room: from 10.000 Sh/pp (3 €/pp), with shared bathroom
- Double room: around 30.000 sh for a self-contained room (around 10 €). 
Breakfast is usually not included.

In tourist places:
- Camping: 10.000 Sh/pp (3 €/pp).
- Dorm: 15.000-20.000 Sh/pp (5-7 €/pp).
- Banda (circular small room): 20.000-30.000 Sh/pp  (7-10 €/pp)
- Self-contained double room: from 75.000 Sh (65 €).

In game parks and national parks:
- Room/banda: from 30.000 Sh/pp (10 €/pp).
- Camping: really expensive, 40-30 $/pp for park category A-B
Couchsurfing in Uganda:
Not so many active people in fact, many are foreigners. You can try to find a host in the main towns as we did in Mbarara, Kasese, Kampala…and even the Crater Lakes-Fort Portal. Thanks!


    MONEY IN UGANDA   

The currency is the Uganda Shilling (UGX or Sh).

In April 2015, the exchange rate was: 1 €= 3.150 Sh. 

Good ATM rate, similar to money changers.
  • You will find banks and ATMs for international cards in the main towns, in most of the banks, like Standart Chartered (good rate), Stanbic, Barclays, Crane, etc., usually easier with Visa than Master. There are at least 2 or 3 banks in each town.
  • No extra fees even if Barclays´s ATM said there was a 16.000 sh fee but then the rate change was correct and not extra fee charged (in our case)
  • Payment by card is not avalaible usually.
  • Money changers: easy to find in the main towns. They say the best rates are in Kampala.
  • For tourist activities (national parks, gorillas, safaris, etc.) and in some tourist hotels, US$ are also used. But also possible to pay in Shillings or other currencies for the NP.

   TELECOMS IN UGANDA   
  • Buying a SIM card is easy in Uganda and cheap, for around 3.000 Sh (1€). 3G net in the main towns, E net in the smaller. The way to be connected in Uganda.
  • Airtel and MTN are the main companies, also Orange. You will need to register, but it´s easy as usually you will just need your passport (they can charge you around 1.000 Sh extra to fill the papers…). 
  • Easy to find airtime everywhere (vouchers), usually airtime has a limited expire time (24 hours or 1 week). Minimum airtime is 500 Sh. 
  • One week internet plan costs minimum 2.500 Sh (less than 1 €). Ask if any special pack internet+calls+sms but usually they don´t exist and you have to opt for internet or SMS or calls plans.
  • Not too many wifi spots but easy to find an internet shop in the main towns (around 1.500 sh/h in big towns).

   FOOD & DRINKS IN UGANDA   

Many local restaurants everywhere, serving food all day long (sometimes less in the late evenings and on sundays). The places vary a lot from town to town, more or less bright and clean, but the food is always the same. The main dish is always a mix of rice, matoke (green mashed bananas), posho (maize mix), karo, sweet potatoe, Irish potatoe. Served with beans, G´nuts (peanuts cream), greens (spinachs).
The price is 3.000-4.000 sh (1 €), goat or beef meat for 5.000 Sh(around 2 €), cheap, big and OK!

 Local restaurants

Most of the hotels don´t have a kitchen for the customers but you can always ask if you want to cook.
We always eat in local restaurants, except sometimes when doing couchsurfing that we cooked.


Plenty of small shops to buy the basic things everywhere, correct price. Also small supermarkets in the main towns, well supplied (Indian owners). Shopping malls just exist in Kampala, but prices tend to be quite expensive.

Markets and fruit stalls are cheap places to buy fruit and vegetables. Butcheries have a quite limited offer and no fridges, beef and goat usually, some special places sell only pork (pork joint).

Water is not safe to drink in Uganda, but boiled it´s usually OK, always ask first (you can buy a water heater as we did, really cheap for 10.000 sh).

Some reference prices:
Uganda is really cheap!

- Chapati, Samosas or snacks: 500 Sh (6 for 1 €).
- Rolex (a chapatti rolled with an omelette and vegetables, one egg): 1.000 Sh (3 for 1 €).
- Water bottles: 1.500- 2.000 Sh for 1,5 l(0.5 €) or bigger with 5 l for 5.000 sh (2 €).
- Sodas: 800 - 1.000 Sh for a 33-40 cl (3 for 1 €).
- Fresh milk: 1.200 - 1.500 Sh/l (0.5 €).
- Beer: local beers (Nile, Bell, Club, etc.) cost from 3.000 Sh for a 50 cl bottle (1€). Also 2.000 sh for Eagle beer at the local pubs (many).


   NATIONAL PARKS IN UGANDA   

In UWA (Uganda Wildlife Authority) offices, you can find a free booklet with the conservation tariffs and usefull information. You can download the booklet online, www.ugandawildlife.org.
Really useful.

Uganda national parks prices:
They are divided in 3 categories with different prices.
Prices are for 2014-2015 (maybe higher next). Entrance fee is valid 24 hours.

  • Category A: Bwindi, Mgahinga, Lake Mburo, Queen Elizabeth, Kibale, Murchison Falls, Kidepo, 40$/pp (30 $ if resident and 15.000 Sh if East African Citizen).
  • Category B: Rwenzori, Semuliki, Toro-Semuliki, Mt. Elgon, 35$/pp (25 $ if resident and 10.000 Sh if E.A. Citizen).
  • Category C: All other reserves, 10$/pp (5 $ if resident and 2.500 Sh if E. A. Citizen).
There have special passes/year for residents and EA Citizens.

Prices are in US$ for foreigners, but can be paid in US$, Ugandan Shillings, Euros, Pounds, etc. Usually only cash paiments.

Cars fees/day: quite expensive as it´s 20.000-30.000 Sh Uganda car-4WD, 50-150 $ if foreign car-4WD.

 We saw animals very close ... and for free!


Gorilla Tracking in Bwindi NP and Mgahinga NP:  Price: 600 $/pp (350 $/pp in april and may).
Includes guide fee, park entrance (no transport to the meeting point). You will walk in the forest, maybe long hours depending on where the group of gorillas is and stay with them for 45 min. 
We explain it in detail in a special post. Thanks for keep on reading!

UWA also has accommodation in some parks, from 30.000 Sh/pp (10 €/pp) in a room or banda. Camping is expensive, 40-30 $/pp for category A-B (?).

GOOD TIP IN UGANDA:
We didn´t go inside any park. We stayed in Katunguru village, just outside the Queen Elizabeth NP area, on the shores of Kazinga Channel. And guess what? Yes, we saw many animals for free! Good tip! In all this area, no fences, there´s wildlife around... and not everywhere there are gates... Easy, more if you have a car!

   LANGUAGES IN UGANDA   

There are many local languages in Uganda and some people in rural areas are not very familiar with English. But usually communication is not a problem in Uganda, people are friendly, and around towns and tourist spots most of the people can speak correct English.

   SAFETY IN UGANDA   

  • We didn´t feel unsafe in Uganda. We slept in local lodges, took public transports, walk alone… Never had any problem.
  • Just an example: at the guesthouses, the local people always let the rooms open with all the bags inside!
  • We avoided going out at night, not too much light.
  • People are really nice in Uganda.
  • Just be careful in big towns and taxi parks.
  • On the roads, some drivers like to speed too much!
    HEALTH IN UGANDA    
Washing hands everywhere

  • Most of the basic rooms have mosquito nets. Always ask around to check if any malaria cases. Southern Uganda is high, it´s cooler so not many problems there.
  • Extreme precautions if going on safari, specially around hot and swampy places.
  • In the supermarkets, you will find mosquito coils and insecticides and repellents.
  • Like in all Africa, malaria controls are quickly done at the health centers, easy to get the medicine. In the villages, you find always basic health centers and in towns there are hospitals.
  •  Water is usually not safe to drink, ask first. Boiled is fine most of the times. You find bottles of water everywhere.
  • Hygiene conditions vary a lot from town to town and in the villages. Sometimes quite limited. Local restaurants and stalls are really basic. We eat at the local places, simple food, and we were never sick!
  • AIDS rate is quite high, but not like in southern Africa.

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