There are all kinds of ways to learn about the countries of the world. If you want to find out more about Africa you can read about it in an encyclopedia, log on to an official (or unofficial) website, or even have a conversation with a native of the continent.
These are all well and good, but nothing beats actually treading the soil of a foreign country and experiencing all the sights, sounds, and smells. If Africa is a place you have always been fascinated with, I would highly recommend Uganda as your country of destination. There are other countries worthy of visitation on this grand continent, but it was Winston Churchill who dubbed Uganda the ‘pearl of the Nile’ (a saying later changed to the ‘pearl of Africa’). I have also traveled to this great country and can testify to Sir Churchill’s adage.
This will be the first of several articles about traveling to Uganda.
Listed below will be some preliminary questions to ask before undertaking this sort of trip.
Where is Uganda?
It is always a good idea to find out where your destination is before making plans. Uganda sits on the equator and is bordered by Sudan in the North, Kenya in the East, Tanzania in the South, Rwanda in the Southwest and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in the West.
Is it politically stable?
Yes, Uganda is a stable country and has been since the 1980s. The government is a democratically elected Parliament that has taken advantage of its stability to draw visitors to the country. The effects of the Idi Amin regime are all but gone.
Uganda used to have trouble with war lords “recruiting” (kidnapping) children from the northern part of the country to use as soldiers and taking them to Sudan. (Fans of the Fox TV show “24” will have insight into this.) However, the government drove these factions back in the 1990s and the northern borders of Uganda are secure from any influence there. The southern part of the country near Lake Victoria (where Entebbe and Kampala are located) has not seen any problems for many, many years.
Rwanda, believe it or not, is also very stable, recovering quite well from all of the turmoil suffered in the mid-90s. A Peace Corp volunteer told me the process was quickened by all of the foreign aid that poured into the country, thanks obviously to its proper distribution.
Do I need to receive vaccinations?
These are more often recommended than required. Generally you will be advised to get shots for yellow fever, hepatitis (A & B), typhoid fever, and even rabies. You will want to be up to date on MMR (measles/mumps/rubella) and tetnus.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention even recommends being updated on polio. It is easy to drop big time money on these vaccinations and many of the diseases posted by the CDC can be prevented through thorough hygiene and knowing what you are eating.
Personally, I was administered shots for yellow fever and hepatitis A and took pills (before the trip) for typhoid. I was not worried about rabies or polio. Malaria is still a legitimate concern in Uganda, so malaria medicine is probably the most important item to have after your passport and money. Weekly or daily pills can be obtained via prescription from any pharmacy.
I took the daily variety called Malarone and did not experience any complications. Other items to take would be strong insect repellent, anti-bacterial gels, sunscreen, and long-sleeve shirts.
What airline should I fly?
That’s a great question because you don’t want to be stuck on a cramped single-engine Cessna with a pilot who only goes by “Doug.” If traveling from the United States, you will likely fly through Europe. British Airways and KLM (Dutch) are two of the primary international airlines that fly to Africa, although feel free to research others.
Many travelers to Uganda have to stop in Nairobi, Kenya before continuing on. Kenyan Airlines is a good option there. There may also be direct flights from Europe to Entebbe. It’s a long journey as it is, so if you can limit the number of flights, do so.
I flew KLM and I thought they were terrific. The staff is very professional and friendly, the food (even in coach) is decent, and you have many movie and game options available on the TV screen embedded in the seat back in front of you. Don’t worry, everyone speaks English and the Amsterdam airport is phenomenal.
What other recommendations or concerns should I know?
For US travelers, communication should not be an issue because English is the second language learned by Ugandans (after their native Luganda). All of the signage throughout the country is in English whether it is travel information or roadside advertisements.
Secondly, I would urge not living the life of the tourist. By that I mean spending all nights in a hotel and eating only in top restaurants.
There are numerous volunteer organizations in Uganda that you can hook up with and participate in the work (World Vision, World Health Organization, etc.). By doing this you will be making a difference in people’s lives and you will experience the real Uganda and not the touristy Uganda by interacting with the natives and developing relationships. There will be plenty of time to see the tourist attractions, so why not help out at the same time?