August 2013 trip report

Geoff Wellard writes:

Money
With few exceptions, prices far higher than current edition, late 2009 accommodation +50%, food > double, transport, whether public or private too.
MasterCard still very limited throughout country. Best still to change as much as possible at Forex bureaus in Kampala – can often up rate with a bit of encouragement, if more than one in the same area (e.g. Imperial hotel forecourt – Kampala Rd/Luwum etc.). Rate equally good for Pounds and Euro, so dollars perhaps only needed for favourable rate to pay park fees. Banks are cumbersome and often rates lower than Forex, although many have ATMs.

Transport
If off to QE and Bwindi, well worth considering private hire – and with driver, (went with Alpha, decent vehicle, sound driver, good rates) as many locations inaccessible, and expensive to get to, and in the case of drives like to Rushaga gate, by no means technically easy. As for Murchison – little on road much after Masindi, so do not rely on public transport to get up to places like Paraa. Would not Boda-boda this one.
For SW (Kisoro/Kabale) – At 30,000UgX, the post bus, leaving at 6 am outside the post office in Kisoro is a safe bet – can buy ticket same morning and bus unlikely to fill when it leaves, (usually punctually). Locals recommended it too. Although much of the road towards Mbarara is being improved and many stops were made up to Kabale, it gets in to Kampala at about 4 30pm – though hop off when it stops by the bus parks rather than going on to the Post Office wading through the jams.
5. From Kisoro to Mgahinga either for Muhavura and gorillas or Ntebeko Gate for Golden Monkey tracking, Batwa trail, Gahinga and Sabinyo, think about arranging transport via the Mgahinga Park office in town to avoid getting lost, as the road forks off and many riders just don’t know way there. More doable on a boda-boda is the nearer sector. Cost 15,000UgX – takes nearly an hour to get there, about 35 minutes to return, if not too laden it’s doable. As for walking from Kisoro…it will not be a quiet trip…and three hours at least most probably with the word “mzungu” ringing in your ears for the next month.
Kampala – if you can, avoid picking up the taxi (minibus) in the old park. It will take you ages just to get out of the place at most times of day. Most of them have the odd place spare, depending on the destination when past the massive jams along the main roads they are headed to, e.g. if going towards Port Bell, points East etc. minibuses are easily picked up by the PO on Kampala and Jinja roads e.g. down from Garden City.
Entebbe minibuses leave from Nakasero near the junction of Entebbe and Nasser roads. Takes about an hour and costs just a few thousand UGX, and will drop you on Airport road. Caught a boda-boda to the airport entry gate for 1000UGX and then walked, so if strapped for cash at end of trip, Kampala to airport can be done for $1.
Security
No doubt there are issues, but compared to other African states, Uganda feels very safe, indeed rarely felt safer anywhere on the continent. There were rumours circulating about gangs armed with iron bars going around at nights, knocking out victims and robbing them, but had an urban legend feel to it. General impression of Kampala by day and well into evening was not of a lawless city by any means, at least not around any of the central districts.

Accommodation
Value for money not easy, especially compared to other parts of the world, though beds generally comfortable everywhere, even in the tents. Worth trying to knock down prices in locations where more beds than guests, (except the grotesque looking Entebbe flight motel, which suddenly became full when I suggested a discount from the asking price of around 40US. Perhaps best were the private twins at Red Chilli – not SC, but at 53,000 UGX per twin, OK. Speke in Kampala was charming, and they reduced our rate, coffee and pizzeria are great, but it’s not great value at 120US for a twin b&b.
Nshongi camp is in lovely location, cosy, but until new WC, shower block completed, it’s still rudimentary. No doubt there will be a price hike there soon from the 120US for two FB two nights. But if you’re going from Rushaga and don’t mind nipping out at night, it’s the option.
In a similar vein is the Amajambere Community camp (Mgahinga) – similar prices – never saw the dorm and was not offered the option despite booking it. There’s a lovely main building – with the hydrangeas in bloom, looked like a Sussex cottage. Shame the bare light bulb undoes the charm of the interior. They also run the Golden Monkey in Kisoro, which at over 80,000UGX felt overpriced, especially considering the noise made – particularly by the “Co-op” crowd into the night. Only an option if you can sleep on the bus next day!
Red Chilli is moving down the road towards Ggaba and understandably, are not going to worry too much about maintaining facilities there. Nevertheless, at their Paraa camp, there was practically not a single toilet or shower facility which was in good working condition, added to ripped groundsheets and split seams in the tents. The emplacement is lovely, true, but investment is seriously needed here, as it’s not good enough.
After the eyesore and reception at the Flight Motel, the Camp Entebbe seemed almost a relief and knocked down to 78,000UGX no more overpriced than most, quiet and conveniently by the airport road. Perhaps should switch, putting former in moderate and latter in budget section.

Food and drink
In Kampala, well worth checking out St Anthony’s on Lumumba Ave, in centre, not far from UWA – traditional food, cooked on charcoal at about 20,000 – 25,000 a head.
As for FP – Gardens still handy, as quick and good food, but now buffet at 14,000UGX!
Igara tea shop – Well worth a stop. Kasese – Ishaka road 12km north of the latter by Bushenyi. Betty makes a good cuppa and can even pick up a souvenir mug.
Can vouch for the 4 points on Airport road, near the plush 7 seasons hotel – mains for about 18,000 UGX and a nice little bakery set up at the entrance.

Activities
Don’t skimp on Kampala – the Kasubi tombs are being rebuilt, but the guides are great and give a useful background. Likewise, the Buganda parliament and palace are easily visited, including the walk to Amin’s torture cells, not to mention markets and more, thoroughly run through in the guide.
Rafting – went with Nalubale – seemed a sound outfit – safety very much to the fore – people to lose your rafting virginity to – but not an activity for everyone.
Game – Definitely more to be seen in terms of volume at Murchison – with the bonus of the falls, though only spotted cats and “dogs” at QE, though lions were around at Murchison. The Kazinga Channel trip rivals any safari boat trip – not to be skipped – much of a muchness who to do with, but better afternoon when animals are down drinking and wallowing.
Trekking –Sabinyo – vertigo less of a factor if the clouds cover the third “tooth” or ascent of the three to make it to the top. Route takes you through all kinds of vegetation types and since last year, sturdy steps up have replaced some of the most rickety step ladder sections, making the 60US appear slightly less steep than some of the climbs up the second and third teeth. Even taking it slowly, setting off at 8am, unlikely to be back much after 4 and as all seem to comment – a few litres of water and some energy foods come in more than useful, whereas, the staff is absolutely essential and gloves extremely recommendable.
For local music lovers, seems that the Imperial has live music Tuesday evenings on the covered terrace with Ugandan and Congolese bands – saw a couple of very good acts.
Lastly – worth learning some Luganda – appreciated and universally understood in the country, now Swahili out of favour. If you have private transport, worth bringing over material to donate to schools – never hard to find – took over about 75 sports shirts for teams and a dozen or so balls that went down well, as budget often doesn’t stretch to sports kits.

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