Uganda- Rwanda

18 days,  june- july  2005


Kind of travel: alone in a wholly independent travel

When: 24th june- 12th july 2005

How I moved: autobus, minibus (matatu), moped (boda- boda) and hitch hiking

Where I slept: cheap guesthouse, dormitory and rented tent

What I liked: the safety of the country, the friendship of the people, lake Bunyonyi, the fresh weather and travelling around on the mopeds (boda- boda).

What I disliked: being referred as white man (mzungu), being packed like hell in the minibus (matatu), waiting at the bus station and the breakdowns in the middle of nowhere.

How much daily: Uganda is not a cheap country! For eating, accomodation, pubblic means of transport  30$/day for a low budget travel + visa fees (30$ for every entry) + park fees (from 35$) + extras (for instance: rafting (95$))

Freezing or baking?: very nice weather: hot (not too much), but dry. In the south (lake Bunyonyi) can be even chilly (12-20 C), bring a good sweter! 

Dangers: despite being a big city, even Kampala is safe. No dodgeys and people weren't pushy. I didn't even have health problem, but protect yourself against mosquitos and watch out bathing on the lakes (risk of Bilharzia). The last but not the least, keep the distance from the Congolese border!!

What you do need: if travelling by pubblic means of transport a lot of patience and don't forget a good flash lamp!!


I flew to Entebbe, a small nice town on the bank of lake Victoria that is a good welcome for those arriving in Uganda. It was midnight, hence I slept in a simple but convenient guest house very near the airport (Farba hotel, 9$). The following day by my first lift of boda boda, (on the back of a moped) and of matatu (crowded minibus) I reached Kampala. Hanging around here I spent one day and the next morning I was sitting on a comfortable private bus heading to Kigali. It took 9 hours (10$, breakdown included) and it has been an easy travel despite the long distance.
In Kigali I slept in the Muslim quarter (very typical) and the day after I arranged the Gorilla tracking. It was the 28th June and there was almost no more availability, since the whole July was overbooked (I'm sure about it)!! Luckily there was a place for the day after, so I didn't hesitate to book it and jump over a matatu (minibus) to Ruhengeri. It cost a fortune: 375$!!!!!!! (for the details read here XXXXXXXXXX) In 2 hours I reached this "big village" that is the base for the Gorilla tracking in Rwanda. Here I met some other mzungu (whites) with whom I arranged the jeep to reach the head quarters of the park, one hour away from the town (try to share the cost since the round trip is 50$). I saw the Amahoro B family: it took from 8.00 to 16.00 by jeep, walking in the park tracking the Gorillas, spending one hour with them and coming back.
The next day I headed to Gisenyi by matatu (minibus, 2h) where I spent one very relaxing day on the clean and desert sandy beach. Gisenyi is the last place you wouldn't think to find in a country like Rwanda.
The leg Gisenyi- Kibuye has been the toughest of the travel: it took 9h to do less than 100km on a supercrowded rusty bus (read the story!! XXXXXX). However it was worthwhile, since Kibuye turned out to be located in a very nice area of lake Kivu.
The next day I reached Butare by matatu, via Gitarama (7h). Butare is definitely the nicest town I visited in Rwanda: very fresh climate, very nice people and more lively then Kibuye and Gisenyi, but calmer then Kigali. Here I spent 3 days visiting also the shocking memorial of Murambi, where hundreds of dead bodies are kept in 24 former classrooms.
Then by bus, matatu, taxi and finally boda- boda (moped) in 9h I did from Butare to the wonderful lake Bunyonyi in Uganda, where I rented a tent with the mattress (5$) and stayed for two days in a camping on the lake bank. My days here have been the best of the whole travel: here I met a Slovenian volunteer (Brigita) who took me to the local school where she was working for the last six months. This school is supported by Miha, a Slovenian guy who found out that lake Bunyonyi is his place and moved definitely here. Drop by their site: www.edirisa.org and have a look to the great job they're doing there!
After few days I set off again to the Queen Elisabeth National Park: thank to www.absoluteafrica.com had a lift from the lake to Kabale, then it took the whole day by bus, matatu, bus again, on foot, and finally private car to Mweya village. Here I found a cheap accommodation but I quickly realised it's not a good place to be without your own vehicle. I had the typical launch trip visiting the hippos and the elephant but then I was just looking forward to be again on the road. I had to beg a little bit some Germans for a lift from Mweya through the park till the main road where I hitch hiked till Kasese. The funny thing is that during the lift they diverted to chase the lions hence I even had my unplanned safari for free!! From Kasese I did by matatu just half way to Fort Portal then because of a breakdown they dropped me off on the road. By miracle after a while a bus passed by and let me to the town.
My money were running out so the day after I was in Kampala (6h, 10$) to withdraw some cash by the only one working visa ATM in Uganda. At end of the travel I spent two days at Bujagali falls (Speke campsite 5$) where I rafted (95$ full day) and it turned out really cool even if easily harmful.



I didn't expect the travel in Uganda (the central and southern part) to be so easy. It's quite plenty of means of transports: for the long connection there're big and comfortable buses, then matatu (minibus) everywhere for the medium- short distances, while by boda- boda (moped) you can avoid to walk even 100m!
You can find cheap accommodations almost everywhere, where water and electricity are not such so unreliable as in Rwanda. Being an english speaking country helps a lot, but the fact that the people are more used to the whites made my staying more relaxed than in Rwanda. Locals are not pushy to sell you their services and I didn't experience particular attempts of cheating. Unlike in the neighbouring country overcharging is not common, and it's not necessary to bargain like hell everywhere, anyway being still far from fixed prices.
Besides there are some tourist spots like the lake Bunyonyi (very nice place) or Bujagali falls where it has been a pleasure to meet some foreigners and exchange some travel experiences. Kampala is for sure not the nicest town I've ever been, but to be a big town in Africa, it's not that bad, and above all it's safe. Besides here you can find the only one VISA ATM in Uganda and Rwanda!!!! In the south the weather is quite fresh (lake Bunyonyi even chilly) while eastwards is hotter, but still very bearable.
As for Rwanda, Uganda is not a cheap destination (cheaper than Rwanda), especially for the park fees (50$), the rafting (95$) and everywhere you need to rent a private vehicle (like in Queen Elisabeth National Park).
One thing you've really to keep in mind: you are in Africa, you need to have patience; things will work out, but they need their time, in particular dealing with the public means of transport.
The last but not the least, you will need a steel ass to travel by matatu painlessly.


Funny story


It was a big effort to get to Mweya in the Queen Elisabeth N. P. from the lake Bunyonyi by public means of transport. Besides in the final part from the main road (Mabarara- Kasese) to Mweya I had to get a taxi being not allowed to walk in the park.
I got a little disappointed when I saw that from my crappy hut in Mweya it is was not possible even to walk 200m around without, at least, hiring an armed (and expensive) guard. Frankly I expected something more similar to the green landscape of the lake Bunyonyi but I found a dry hot area suitable only for jeep safari: in short not for me.
Since the very first moment I arrived, I wanted to leave but my budget didn’t allow me to have a taxi called till there, so I waited for a lift. I spent there one day and half also to have the classical launch trip to see the hippos, then a group of Germans arrived. I humbly asked them for the 10-km lift till the main road from where I could hitch hike. After a quick voting they agreed and the following morning I was on their jeep.

On the way we met another guide warning us about the sighting of two lions further in the park; they decided to look for them and of course I agreed. It isn’t easy to spot two animals in a huge area, as it is the Queen Elisabeth National Park, even being not very far from them. After 30min driving we met two guards riding a moped: they were very funny because, while the front one was just driving, the one in the back was wearing the crash helmet (in the middle of the savana (?)) and holding a riffle. I still laugh thinking about this two black guys chasing the lions by moped. They were supposed to take us to the exact point. In fact after wandering a little bit and patiently observing through the binocular we got them.
They were a couple of lions and the driver managed to get about 50m from them. They didn’t seem bothered by us and behaved as we weren’t there. I must admit that, even without doing anything of special, they were quite impressive.
Later while I was getting to Kasese on a pick up that stopped where the Germans dropped me off, I thought I would have never imagined to have had a safari for free while having a lift.



    Travel tips


      It's not a very cheap country!!
      People calling you MZUNGU!!
      Use local guides
     Matatu (minibus)
      Rafting in Jinja
      Off limits areas


Visa: at the airport it’s possible to get the visa on the spot for 30$, but just single entry or transit visa. No multiple entry visa are issued there.

No compulsory vaccination for italian citizens. Considering from Uganda I was heading to Rwanda I got vaccinations for:
-yellow fever (compulsory in Rwanda)
-hepatitis A/B 

Besides I got Lariam pills to prevent malaria, I didn't have any particular side effect due to Lariam as it's said, left out some depression after the last pill back from the travel...I didn't figure out if the depression was for Lariam or for the end of the travel or just a psychological influence. Anyway I didn't commit suicide ;-)
My suggestion is to prevent from mosquitos to bite using repellents, a mosquito net and a burning spiral
Watch out from bathing in every charming lake you will find; unfortunately Bihlarzia is quite spread. Ask to the locals.

I changed Dollars, but even euros are commonly accepted.
The only one ATM from where it’s possible to withdraw money by VISA is in Kampala

I'll list just the main stuffs:
-mosquito repellent spray
-mosquito repellent burning stuff
-a flash lamp with batteries change
-a good knife... to eat bananas ;-)
-I do not reccomend trekking shoes. I had sport shoes
-long linen pants and short ones


It's not a very cheap country!!
.Forget travelling with less than 30 euro/day, unless you don't travel walking, sleeping on the side of the road and eating bread ;-),... Accomodation are the main expense.

People calling you MZUNGU!!
You'll hear a lot of people calling you MZUNGU, it means white man. To me it doesn't sound so friendly, depite  their aim is not to offend you. Anyway it's not as bad as in Mali, Senagal and Rwanda

Use local guides
Getting a local guide is often the best way to avoid bothering people but the risk then, is that to be stuck in a turistic root.

Matatu (minibus)
For most of the connection between the main towns there’re the public minibus and the private ones. I suggest you the formers, since, even if slightly more expensive, faster and relatively more comfortable.

Rafting in Jinja
Rafting in Jinja is great but also really expensive: I did it with the company Adrift for 95$ the whole day breakfast, dinner and night accommodation not included. I’ve to admit that the safety support was good, but for me quite expensive. I don’t know if with the same safety standards, but I met a guy who did it with another company (he didn’t know the name) paying 30$. You can get info at the hostel backpackers in Kampala.
The company Equator rafting at Speke camp charges 85$, with dinner and one night accommodation included, but I couldn’t do since we didn’t reach the minimum number of 4 people, if you get a leaflet promoting the rafting for 65$ be aware it’s old stuff.

Off limits areas
Keep away from the off-limit areas like the Congolese borders. Ask about the latest news.