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Uganda & Rwanda Travel Guide 2016

How to reach Uganda and Rwanda

Uganda International Airport is at Entebbe, 40 km off Kampala. If you are coming from Europe, many international airlines are travelling to Entebbe, including KLM Royal Airlines, Brussels Airlines, Ethiopian Airlines, Egypt Air, British Air, Emirates, Turkish Airlines.

If you come from South Africa, South African Airways is directly flying to Entebbe.

Rwanda is connected through Kigali International Airport, where are flying Brussels Airlines, Ethiopian Airlines, Emirates, KLM/Kenya Airways.

Entry visa

Entry tourist visa to Uganda is issued directly at the exit at Entebbe airport to all citizens showing a valid passport for over six months and it is not necessary to carry photos. In 2016 it was introduced the online application for visa at the following address: https://visas.immigration.go.ug/.

The cost is USD 50 or 50 Euros. In case of travelling to other countries Uganda does not issue multiple visas.

Visa to Rwanda is obtained through on-line application with Ministry of Internal Affair http://www.migration.gov.rw/page.php?article11 and the acceptance of the application shall be presented at the airport or at any entry point (if you come from Uganda at Cyanika) to obtain visa, at the cost of 30 USD. Rwanda does not issue multiple entry visa.

In case you enter both Uganda and Rwanda, you can apply online from the country of entry for the East African Visa and you pay USD 100 on arrival.

Climatic conditions

Uganda generally enjoys worm climatic conditions, due to its altitude above sea level, therefore the average temperature ranges at 20-25 degrees and normally it does not reach very hot temperatures. There are normally two rain seasons during the year, particularly between October and November and between April and May.

Rwanda is characterised for its altitude above sea level; it is a country of hills situated above 1000/1500 meter above sea level. The climate is tropical with more rain all along the year.

Tourism and gorilla safaris to Uganda and Rwanda are advisable all over the year, though the dry seasons are the best period for travelling especially concerning road conditions.

Local currency and credit cards

In Uganda it is advisable to use the local currency, the Ugandan Shillings, for any expenditure. You can exchange US Dollars or Euros or UK Sterling at the forex bureau mainly in Kampala town for the best exchange rate. In 2014 on the average 1 USD is equal to 2600 Shillings and 1 Euro is equal to 3300 Shilling.

In Rwanda the local currency is the Rwandan Franc and you can obtain Francs at the border with Rwanda as well as from any Forex Bureau. In 2014 on the average 1 USD is equal to 450 Francs and 1 Euro is equal to 650 Francs.

Credit cards and visa cards facilities are still not well developed in Uganda and Rwanda and transactions will be subjected to bank fees of 4% on the average. Payments are made mainly in cash and you can withdraw a limited amount of money per day using your card from the ATM machine. Few banks, including Barclays and Standard Chartered Bank accept visa cards, while master card and America Express are not recommended at all. Traveller’s cheques are difficult to exchange and encounter high banking fees.

Please note that US Dollars are accepted when the banknotes are not older than 2300 serial numbers or they are accepted at lower exchange rates as well as small notes below 50.

Roads

Roads in Uganda are still in poor conditions especially the roads connecting the national parks. However Kampala is connected to the main towns through good tarmac roads. Generally speaking, travelling through Uganda requires a strong 4x4 vehicle, which we provide for the tour. For this same reason, you expect long distances, driving sometimes in dirt roads.

In Rwanda the conditions of roads is better, exept for the road along Lake Kivu connecting Gisenyi, Kibuye and Cyangugu.

Luggage

Travelling to Uganda for safari adventures means spending part of the time inside vehicles, therefore we recommend carrying light luggage for this holiday, possibly not rigid and not too big.

Health requirements

There is no compulsory vaccination for travelling to Uganda and Rwanda, except the yellow fever vaccination as well as for Congo. Malaria is present especially in the lower areas of the country such us Kampala, Lake Mburo, Lake Victoria, Entebbe. Therefore we recommend you protect yourself while travelling using mosquitoes’ repellents, long clothes in the evening. You normally find mosquito nets in the lodges and hotels. If you take anti malaria prophylaxis, we recommend Malarone. Generally speaking it is always advisable for a traveller to update vaccinations like tetanus, cholera, hepatitis A, meningitis.
Be advised to bring with you your first aid medicines. In any case, along the itinerary there are many clinics, health units and pharmacies in case of any emergency.

Food

Tourist hotels and lodges in Uganda serve standard food, based on rice, meat, fish or vegetarian food. The so called “continental food” is mainly inspired by British cuisine in Uganda and Belgian – French cuisine in Rwanda. Mediterranean cuisine such us olive oil or table breads are not common. Generally, food in these countries is light and does not have many spices; moreover, you will find a lot of tropical fruits.

Hotels

Bear in mind that there is a consistent difference between the level of the so called comfort lodges and hotels and the economy category. In any case the level of the services might not always be of good standard and it is advisable to be flexible with situations like waiting for food or waiting for hot water to give an example. Moreover, the electricity supply might be instable.

Other things to remember

The power sockets in Uganda are the British type with three entries. You might bring the converter. All lodges and hotels have power through generators or solar panel, however sometimes in certain small lodges and hotels at night the power might be disconnected and it is advisable to have a torch.

The power sockets in Rwanda are the European type.

Films for cameras and video cameras are available especially in Kampala and Kigali, as well as batteries.
Remember to bring with you: sun creams and protections, rain jacket, trekking shoes for the trekking and nature walks, binocular.

Tips

Tips in Uganda and Rwanda are welcome and expected. You need to consider tipping the guide after the trip if you are satisfied with the service. For the gorilla safari, rangers and porters are expecting tips from the whole trekking group, on the average of 10 USD per person. In hotels and lodges, you might give tips to the personnel and porters helping you with luggage or serving you. We recommend the tips being in local currency.

Clothes

It is recommended to wear comfortable light clothes, like t-shirts, while having some heavier cloth for the evening, especially for the areas like Bwindi, Kisoro, Lake Bunyonyi, Volcanoes, which are the coldest regions. Sandals are comfortable during the transfers and in the vehicles, whereas trekking or walking shoes are needed for the activities. Very useful is the cap for the sun. Remind to carry comfortable trekking cloths for the trekking, including trousers, light rain jacket, trekking shoes.

Communication

Most of the areas along the itineraries are covered by mobile telephone networks through the local operators, like MTN, Uganda Telecom, Airtel. It is also advisable to purchase local sim cards for accessing better rates of telephone calls.

Insurance

It is advisable to travel with a tourist insurance covering health expenses, loss of luggage and other tourist related policies. We might offer a local insurance policy through the operator AIG or UAP.

Gorilla Tracking

One of the best attractions in Uganda, Rwanda and Congo is the mountain gorilla tracking. Mountain gorillas are an endangered species of primates which could only be found in few rain tropical forests in these areas of Equatorial Africa.

Mountain gorillas only in recent decades were studied and approached by the science, especially thanks to some primatologists, including the most famous Dian Fossey (Gorillas in the Mist, 1988). Fossey was killed in 1985, aged 52, after spending years sensitizing the world on the protection of the gorillas against poachers and illegal trades.

The national authorities for the preservation of the national parks started to habituate some of the gorilla families, so that they could be familiarized to receive visitors as humans. This activity so called “gorilla tracking” must be booked long in advance to secure the individual permit. It is carried out in small groups of people, maximum of 8 per day per family of gorillas. This helps to safeguard and preserve the livelihood of the primates.

There remain only about 800 mountain gorillas in the world. Half of them, 420 individuals according to 2012 census, are found in the Ugandan Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, a small but original tropical forest in the South West of the country. The forest suffers from a highly population growth surrounding the park boundaries. About 40% of the gorillas have been habituated for the tourist visits, corresponding to 11 families.

The other half is found in the Virunga Volcanoes Conservation area, which is shared between Uganda, Rwanda and Congo Democratic Republic. At the present moment, there are about 10 gorilla families which are possible to visit from the Rwandan Volcanoes National Park, starting from Ruhengeri. From the Congolese Virungas, there are about 5 families habituated and the tracking point can be reached from Kisoro in Uganda and from Gisenyi in Rwanda.

How to prepare your tracking

The gorilla safari is a trekking inside the mountain tropical forests. These are found in a high altitude of about 2000 meters on the average, and you expect cold temperature in the evening and very humid climatic conditions. Rain in this area is frequent and common all over the year. The duration of the trekking to see the selected gorilla family cannot be predicted since it depends on the movements of the particular group of gorillas.

However, you can expect a trekking of about 5 hours, sometimes in very hard terrains deep into the hills and mountains trails of any of the national parks where the gorillas are living. Bring with you trekking boots, light rain coat, and small bag to carry enough water and packed lunch from your lodge.