“Where should we go? How about somewhere in Africa?” I asked Jim one Sunday in September. After road tripping in both Northern Africa, especially in Tunisia and Morocco, and going through much of Southern Africa hitting South Africa and Botswana. I was bitten. Not by the tse tse fly, but by traveling throughout this fascinating continent, and I couldn’t wait to do more.
Still, I was not ready for Jim’s response. His answer floored me, “Uganda.”
“Huh?” I’ll admit, it wasn’t one of my most intelligent replies, but I never even considered Uganda as a destination. Don’t ask me why, but it’s just not someplace that was on my radar…at all. Luckily, places that aren’t on my radar once mentioned will always peak my interest, so yeah…guess where we went? You got it, Uganda! And what a trip it was!
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Where is Uganda?
I had to get the map out right away and see where Uganda was. Uganda is bordered by five countries, all of which have something on my list I’d love to see. Republic of the Congo where you can visit Nyiragongo Crater, Rwanda which is one of the safest countries in Africa and has fantastic wildlife, Tanzania and Kenya where I’d love to see the wildebeest migration, Ethiopia which is home to the sunken churches, and South Sudan which has some of the most spectacular pyramids. Right smack dab in the middle is Uganda. I couldn’t wait to go.
As you know, we love to drive and Jim had recently read this article where the travelers had rented a four wheel drive vehicle and driven themselves around this lesser-known East African country. The seed sprouted and we started researching all the wonderful things we could do and see.
In the end we decided to go with Roadtrip Uganda and rent a small 4X4 and drive ourselves. Other friends from Sidewalk Safari just booked it through a tour company who then drive you all around the country and you don’t have to do the work. Either way we were sold and the next thing we knew, we had air tickets to Entebbe.Taking to the road in Uganda, for the most part, was not too bad. Of course it’s very different when you are dealing with animals and people on roads that completely vary in maintenance. However, we thoroughly enjoyed it, but it certainly helps to pay attention to some Uganda driving tips.
Self Drive or Car with Driver
Most of the other travelers we met along our route had chosen a car with a driver for their trip. In fact, the only other tourists we came across who were self driving were expats or long term visitors. So why did we choose to drive ourselves?
Did I mention Jim loves to drive? We’ve driven ourselves through more countries than we can count. Some of our favorite road trips have been through Georgia and Armenia, our ten days exploring Morocco, and of course our epic Iceland adventure.
So after doing some research and budgeting, we decided to just do it on our own. Driving our own rental would cost about half as much as renting the car with a driver; and, as long as we didn’t rush, the driving conditions seemed to be at an acceptable risk level. Of course, our contacts at Road Trip Uganda helped us out quite a bit.
For instance, they arranged our Gorilla Trekking and Chimpanzee habituation experiences so the permits were waiting for us on our arrival. They also recommended and made reservations for our lodging along our chosen route. Oh, and they even provided us with an emergency use mobile phone so we could contact them 24 hours a day if we ran into any problems.
We saw it all in our drive around Uganda sometimes all in the same day. We had smooth sailing down asphalt highways on the route from Kampala to Lake Mburo and then on to Kisoro. However, once you leave the highway, all bets are off.
The road to Lake Mburo national park was a fairly wide hard packed dirt. While the road to Lake Mutanda was criss crossed with veins of rock threatening to tear our tires apart. Then the stretch to Ishasha was loose sand so deep it nearly pulled us off the road twice.
Roads within the National Parks were all mostly very well maintained hard-packed dirt. We had some rain a couple of days that made the roads nearly undriveable without four wheel drive. Luckily, we never had any lengthy storms, and the roads would dry up within an hour or two.
Having a four wheel drive SUV meant we could take some smaller tracks in the parks. On one of these roads we came across a water-filled pothole that was wider than our Rav 4. Out of this innocent little mudhole sprung an adult hippo who really didn’t want us there!
Rules of the Road
The written rules and regulations for driving in Uganda are pretty much what you’d expect. You need to obey the traffic signs, drive at or below the speed limit, nothing out of the ordinary. Unfortunately, the unwritten rules are quite a bit different.
If I had to sum up driving in Uganda I would say the number one rule is “might makes right.” Only a fool would stand up to a massive old truck barreling down the road with undoubtedly questionable brakes, no shocks, and bald tires. And, of course, the truck driver knows this and takes full advantage. Your best bet, just get out of his way as quickly and safely as possible.
This rule doesn’t just apply to trucks, however, basically anyone with enough power and guts to bulldoze their way down the road will be doing just that. Again, just stay out of the way and take your time.
The second unspoken rule covers when to pass. Basically, if you have the authority from rule number one, then rule number two says you can pass at any time whether the road ahead is clear or not. Again, don’t assume that oncoming Mercedes is going to get back in his lane. Instead, start looking for a place to pull off to the left.
The final rule we should talk about is what to do when faced with a police stop. I know what you’re thinking. “I’ve followed all the written rules and traffic laws. I’m not speeding, my car is in good shape. I won’t be pulled over.”
In fact, you will be stopped at least once. There are regular checkpoints and traffic stops all around the country. When stopped, be very friendly, smile, ask how you can help. Then let the policeman in his clean white shirt do the talking. We were never stopped for more than a minute or two with nothing more than a friendly hello. Maybe we were lucky.
The Uganda Self Drive Itinerary Map
Here is the route that we took on our Uganda self drive: Entebbe – Mburo National Park – Bwindi Impenetrable Forest- Queen Elizabeth National Park (2 different areas, first Ishasha then the main part of the park)- Kibale National Park- Semliki Wildlife Reserve – Kampala – Back to Entebbe.
A dusty little city on the shores of Lake Victoria, we didn’t spend much time in Entebbe. We did go down to the lake and watch the fisherman’s wives cutting up and selling the catch of the day amidst some huge, otherworldly storks.
Mutanda Lake Resort
Ihamba Lakeside Safari Lodge
Kibale Forest Camp
Semliki Safari Lodge
We loved every minute in the parks, but we wanted to see at least a little of the capital city, Kampala. I have to say, it surprised me. Along the way, we’d met a few people who lived there as expats. They couldn’t say enough about the city and how wonderful living there was, but when we drove in we were surprised. Most of it, except the real central part of downtown, looked exactly like all the other villages we’d driven through, just much, much larger.
And then we were through. Our Uganda self drive was over…way too soon. It was one of those trips that both Jim and I could have spent so much more time. We boarded the plane talking the whole time about what we are going to do next time.
It turns out that even though we hit a number of the major sights and parks, most tour companies do it in reverse order from us. I think they want their visitors to go home with the gorilla tracking as one of their last activities. Bwindi was closer to the beginning of our trip. However, it’s an unforgettable experience, so I don’t really think it matters where it falls in your itinerary.
One of the lesser-known countries in Africa, Uganda is one of the best places to do some amazing safaris. We saw everything from lions to gorillas. We came home with stunning photo and a love for the Ugandan people.