The stamp in my passport says that I traveled to Uganda on the 11th of May 2021. I just came from Tanzania were they actually lost my PCR test. Well, it didn’t surprise me and within a couple hours they fixed me a negative test result. However the put in the wrong dates, as if I did my test on May 11th as well. Of course this was trouble when arriving at the Mutukula border post in Uganda.
Let’s say it just took a little more time than usual but they put a stamp in my passport with a smile: welcome to Uganda!
My plan for Uganda
My original plan was to go on a tour around the country to see some of the best places to visit in Uganda with an Instagram friend I had never met before: Kristijan Ilicic, a very successful social media figure in his country Croatia. Kristijan is aiming to travel to every country in the world as well and it was great to meet up in Uganda. Such a great guy, I bet you will see him more often in my stories about visiting every country in the world.
Unfortunately because of all the hold up in Tanzania I came late to the show and he already started his Uganda tour. The Uganda itinerary he had planned was also my trip plan for the Traveltomtom Uganda Group Trip: 7 days in Southern Uganda. For more Traveltomtom Group Trip news click on the link.
After my trip with Kristijan I had in mind to visit Kampala and then take a bus to Nairobi. Of course things didn’t go as planned, but you will find out later.
I joined Kristijan on day 4 of his Uganda tour when he was on his way to Bwindi National Park for trekking with the mountain gorillas, but more about our adventures later. From the border crossing I still had to make my way to Ntungamo, where he would pick me up. I had about 36 hours to make that happen!
Arriving in Uganda
At the Mutukula border post of Tanzania and Uganda I met the first backpacker in weeks, well may be even the only one so far since I started my big Africa overland trip in Cape Town. Sean, a cool dude from South Africa was traveling with his motorbike across the African continent, but his motorbike broke down in Tanzania and while it was getting fixed he decided to go see the mountain gorillas in Uganda.
There was a bus waiting at the Uganda border that was heading in the direction I was aiming for as well. The biggest city in South Uganda: Masaka. The road was terrible and I was thrown around in my seat for a couple hours and the bus sounded as it was about to fall apart. It took a while but we made it to Masaka. It was dark already and we got off somewhere outside the city on a bypass road at a gas station. We decided to walk towards the city center as on Google Maps we saw a guesthouse/lodge on the way. It was dark and there are no street lights in Uganda but it was fine. I did not feel unsafe at that time and in general while traveling in Uganda, there was not a moment I felt unsafe, anywhere!
Along the way we tried buying a Uganda sim card, but we failed. After about 30 minutes walking we reached our guesthouse and they luckily had a room for us. We stayed at Banda Lodge and the next morning I saw it was actually a pretty nice place to stay. We paid about $55 split between the 2 of us.
We also found out that Uganda had a 10.00 pm curfew because of the global pandemic. As we still didn’t eat yet we sneaked out and found some potatoes and beans in a little plastic bag. It wasn't as bad as it sounds and actually looked. My first day in country number 111 was definitely an adventure! :)
I was pretty lucky that the next day Sean was going on a tour to Bwindi National Park and a driver came to pick him up in the early morning. I was able to hitch a ride to the town Ntungamo where I arranged that Kristijan would pick me up the next day. Suddenly after all those busses through Eastern Africa I was traveling very comfortable. Thank again Sean for the ride through the beautiful Ugandan landscapes.
On the way I finally got my Uganda sim card and found out that Whatsapp, Instagram and Facebook are actually blocked in Uganda. That was definitely a bummer when I heard it and it may sound stupid but honestly felt a bit down about it. As you can understand documenting my travels is part of my life and the news hit me. I didn't prepare for this at all! At that time I wasn't feeling it with Uganda!
These and other things are among the many Uganda travel tips I have written down for you in my blog with 26 things to know before you travel to Uganda. BTW I got back online a day later when I found a working VPN.
Bwindi National Park
A big luxury jeep stopped in front of my guesthouse the next morning, it was Kristijan! Damn buddy you are doing very well, was my first thought when I saw that oversized luxury safari vehicle! The next 4 days we were traveling Uganda in this space ship? It made me really happy! Things were getting better and better by the day. From being cramped into a local bus for 12 hours to super comfortable safari vehicles. This is Africa!
That day we drove to Bwindi National Park and on our way we passed through what our driver called the Switzerland of Uganda. The green rolling hills looked much more to Philippines or Northern Vietnam to me, but whatever, I was in awe!
The Ugandan landscapes here in the South are absolutely spectacular! We made it to Kabale where we had our lunch break. The city of Kabale welcomes you to the land of the gorillas and on the main roundabout you see big statues of the famous mountain gorillas. Also the Rwanda border is just a 15 minute drive, however closed at this time because of the global pandemic. Closed land borders were a nightmare on my big Africa overland trip. It made me already skip: Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Malawi, Burundi and now Rwanda. However, more reasons for another trip to East Africa.
The next two nights we were staying in the Gorilla Safari Lodge, right next to the entrance of Bwindi National Park. It was a damn nice lodge, good job on organizing this Kristijan as we luckily just paid the media rate apparently ($100). The normal rates are a little over the top if you ask me with prices of more than $300 p.p.p.n. and the bath tub wasn't even working and the shower was broken. Uganda prices are outrageous sometimes.
After a shitty and short night sleep, I have difficulties sleeping at altitude, it was time to prepare for something that was high on my travel bucketlist for many years: Mountain Gorilla Trekking in Bwindi National Park.
Mountain Gorilla Trekking in Bwindi National Park
Although we got a major discount because of the global pandemic, the trekking still is a very expensive activity. We paid only $400 for the mountain gorilla trekking permit, but normally it is $700. That includes the briefing, the trekking guide, the trekking itself, spending 1 hour with the gorillas and a certificate at the end. For your reference in Rwanda the mountain gorilla trekking costs $1,500 USD! :)
So how was it?
Yeah absolutely incredible. So impressive to spend time with these wild and endangered animals. They act just like us and you get so close to them. They literally don’t seem to be bothered, although Mr. Silverback came running at us one time just to make his presence known. Most of the gorillas just do their thing, eat, chill and stare at you.
The connection with these animals seems so much deeper than with other animals, I guess they also feel like we are so similar. Don’t know it is hard to explain, you gotta feel it.
The way to get to the mountain gorillas was pretty damn cool if you ask me. Our trek through the thick jungle was wild. Some people in the group found it incredibly hard, I think it was pretty easy. The pace is super slow as the trekking guide literally has to wade through the thick vegetation up and down slippery slopes. It took us 3,5 hours until we reached the gorillas. Some people were exhausted.
I opted for a porter just to support the locals, it was $15. Though I honestly didn't need one. In the end some other people in our group used my porter as they were honestly struggling big time.
Add another hour that we spent time with the gorillas and 3 hours on our way back to the starting point and that makes a total of 7,5 hours trekking through the jungle. I found the experience absolutely worth it. Totally recommending you to sign up for the Traveltomtom Group Trip!
For more about my adventures and my tips for the visiting Bwindi National Park please have a look at my guide for mountain gorilla trekking in Uganda.
Lake Mburo National Park
After two nights in Bwindi we drove about 7 hours to get to Mburo National Park. Our lodge for the night was the Mihingo Lodge, which was located all the way at the end of the National Park. So upon entering we straight away started game driving. Lake Mburo is a National Park with no lions, unfortunately farmers killed them all to protect their livestock.
Lake Mburo National Park is the second smallest National Park in Uganda after Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and the wildlife is just everywhere. There is an abundance of impalas, zebras and warthogs. We also saw giraffes, waterbucks, various species of antelopes and some cool birds. We even got the opportunity to leave the car.
After a 3 hour game drive in Lake Mburo National Park we reached the Mihingo Lodge. This lodge is all about the magnificent location on top of a rock overlooking the national park. I was in awe! However, I must say the lodge itself is a bit outdated and rustic.
In my blog about everything you need to know before traveling to Uganda I mentioned that Uganda is EXPENSIVE! The National Park fees, the lodges, etc. There are definitely ways to travel to Uganda on a budget, but these days I was splurging. For the Mihingo Lodge we paid a LOT of money, like more than $200 p.p.p.n, but the room was actually just a tent, I didn’t find it luxury really and the facilities were pretty outdated too.
The staff was nice, the breakfast was good and the location is exceptional, so I guess that is what you pay for. Overall it was a nice experience, but I am not sure if I am going to take my Traveltomtom group trip there.
Horse ride safari in Lake Mburo
A super cool activity that deserves a mention was a horse ride safari the next morning. Well safari… we weren’t really going into the National Park just on the edge of it. But since there are no fences there is a lot of wildlife around still. Normally I am not a fan of horse riding to be honest, because it is just sitting and barely riding and following the group. I fall asleep on these horse ride tours most of the time, so boring.
Luckily the guys were super chilled and let us run around freely. The activity was arranged through the lodge and cost $40 for 1,5 hour. I was impressed how good I actually knew how to ride a horse. I ran full speed with my naughty boy and even managed to film with one hand. The guy was like, oh you do this often. I was like… uhm honestly don’t know if I ever actually ran with a horse like that. Naturally gifted I guess! :)
Horse ride safari was pretty cool, you get to see the animals from pretty nearby and there is like a different connection with them compared to getting close to the animals in a safari vehicle. A horse ride safaris is definitely recommended.
Funny fact: about 3 minutes into the horse ride we saw the carcass and some leftovers of a Zebra ripped apart by hyenas according to our guide.
I got stuck in Entebbe, but for a good reason as I decided myself to stay a couple days after I ended up in Muti Entebbe, a hipster coffee cafe. Unfortunately Kristijan was flying to Rwanda and I was about to take a motorbike to Kampala for taking the bus to Nairobi. That changed when I went for lunch at Muti and decided to book a room there for a couple nights. When visiting Entebbe, this is definitely where you should stay. I felt so at home and found it hard to leave. The first kind of place on my overland trip in Africa where I felt at home as a digital nomad: healthy food, good coffee, couches, juices and ok WiFi.
Also when in Entebbe make sure you don’t miss the plane graveyard and the quaint statues at the most popular tourist attraction in Entebbe: Aero Beach. Click on the link to read my complete guide for visiting.
From Entebbe I took a motorbike to Kampala, it was a cool adventurous ride of 50 minutes. I travel light when on big trips and only had two daypacks for my trip to Uganda. Check out my gear list and my luggage preference in this article. I paid the guy 45,000 UGX and he seemed very happy with it.
Upon entering Kampala I was a little shocked as in I didn’t expected it to be that crazy, busy and chaotic. Super dirty and horrendous traffic, but it made me smile. I am used to these crazy cities and actually like it from time to time. It made me even more excited about visiting Kampala.
I chose my hotel in the middle of the old town, it was cheap and had a rooftop, so great for droning. Little did I know that Peak Fortune Hotel was located right in the middle of the Old Kampala chaos. I was a little overwhelmed. But great, I was ready for an adventure.
The view from the roof at Peak Fortune Hotel.
There are many cool places to visit in Kampala and I hit up Steve from Free Walking Tours Kampala. The next day he showed me around his city and it was WILD! Damn Kampala, you straight away became my favorite crazy city in Africa. We toured around for 4 hours and no there is nothing beautiful about Kampala, it is all about the experience.
There is not a single moment you can switch off your brain. There is something happening everywhere, so many impressions. At the end of the day I was just constantly smiling thinking back about all those things I saw on the streets in Kampala. Almost forgot it, but I was right in time back at my cool hotel to go to the rooftop to take my drone for a spin for sunset.
The morning that I left Kampala I quickly visited the Uganda National Mosque, better known as the Gaddafi Mosque. They were asking an entrance fee of 20,000 UGX ($5), but when they said that included going up on the minaret I was sold. Let’s go! The mosque interior is pretty cool too with chandeliers from Egypt, carpet from Libya, stained glass from Italy, etc.
Going up the minaret of the Gaddafi Mosque is definitely one of the best things to do in Kampala and something you shouldn’t miss. To views are amazing from up there.
My last stop on my Uganda trip was Jinja. I heard many cool stories about it and it is where you can find the source of the longest river in the world: the Nile. Honestly no need to visit the source of the Nile sign, it is marketed as a tourist attraction for those visiting Jinja, but it is NOT worth it. The Nile river itself: YES. I stayed about 8 kilometers North of the city on the banks of the river in a cozy Airbnb. I paid around $40 per night and it was like a little cabin surrounded by nature called The Black Lantern.
There are a bunch of adventure activities to do in Jinja but I found them all overpriced to be honest. Yep, mentioning it again, Uganda is expensive. Normal life like supermarkets, local restaurants, bars, busses, etc. are cheap, but when it comes to tourist activities then suddenly prices rival western countries.
Rafting on the Nile River is for example $100, but some companies start with asking $140 per person for this day trip. I was SHOCKED! Also 2 hours tubing is $30 after bargaining. But tubing is just sitting on a rubber band, floating down the river. Like why does that have to be so expensive? Most tubing tours around the world were not even $10.
In the end I decided to only go for a sunset boat cruise for about 1,5 hours to experience the Nile, they charged me $20. The whole vibe of staying on the Nile River and wandering around in nature was worth it coming up here and the cosy Black Lantern Airbnb hut on the Nile river added up to the experience.
Jinja was a pretty relaxed town and I took a motorbike back to the city to do my PCR test for my trip to Kenya. After I did the test I took a minibus to Busia, the border town. I paid 35,000 UGX ($10) for the two front seats in a matatu, way overpriced I know, but it was worth it. Matatus are little local minibusses that stop a million times to load and unload passengers. It felt like traveling ‘in style’ and actually loved it big time. In Busia I spent one night in a no-name hotel waiting for my PCR test result to come in so I could cross the border.
One last funny anecdote from my last night in Uganda was that around 11.00 pm someone knocked on my hotel room door. It was a younger guy, kind of shy even, but he said: I have a girl for you. Like what? I was confused, but before I realized there was this girl standing in my door pushing her way inside my room. What is going on here? I am not interested! Wait a damn second!
The girl looked confused, but she was determined. She said: but I am staying with you tonight, you don’t want? I felt bad for her, because obviously this guy was trying to sell her to me. I declined friendly to the girl and gave the guy a bad look.
Thank Uganda you were a damn cool travel experience! Off to Kenya now…