Uganda by bike 2008/2009
I’ve just received this wonderfully detailed and useful trip report from Rolf Rabe:
Entebbe – Kampala – Luwero – Mygiera – Masindi – Murchison Falls N.P. – Butiaba – Hoima – Mabaale – Kagadi – Kyenjojo – Fort Portal – Kibale Forest / CVK Resort – Lake Kifuruku – Equator Lodge – Queen Elisabeth N.P. / Mweya Peninsula – Ishasha N.P. – Kihihi – Rukungiri – Ntungamo – Kabale – Sese Islands/Kalangala – Entebbe
All remarks refer to the 5th edition of the Bradt guide Uganda
I stayed in the Entebbe Backpackers. Nice place with a beautiful garden, located a stretch away from the main road. Clean Rooms with shared facilities are basic and not really a shoestring deal. I booked in advance from Germany via internet. I forgot the price but it’s mentioned on the website. The staff is friendly and the food is good.
The Forex Bureau at the airport exchanges money after 4 p.m. when all other banks in Entebbe town are closed. The rate is lousy but I was running out of money: I got 1.400 UGX (!!!) for 1 US$. There’s a Stanbic bank ATM opposite the 4 Turkeys pub.
Entebbe Botanical Gardens: Entrance fee: 2.000 UGX, camera: 2.000 UGX. Nice place to relax. A guide may be useful because they can tell you a lot of facts about fauna and flora. You can see vervet monkeys, hornbills and a lot more animals.
The admission fee for the Wildlife Education Centre has increased: Muzungus now pay 20.000 UGX (!!!) and 1.000 UGX for a camera.
Royal Arch Inn Guesthouse. Nice, save and quiet place with clean rooms and a courtyard. I was the only Muzungu there. The hotel is a bit hidden but signposted at the main road from Entebbe to Kampala, turn left shortly after the first roundabout (see map below). The rates are 25.000 UGX for a double room s/c with hot shower and TV without breakfast and 30.000 UGX including breakfast. After some bargaining I got a double room with TV, shower and WC for two nights for 55.000 UGX. Good food was served and the staff is very friendly and helpful.
Two absolute recommendable places for chill out from the traffic chaos are Café Pap and the 1000 cups coffee house. In the latter I tried some Ugandan highland coffee (made in a French press) and a fruit salad with ice cream – fantastic! The coffee house is equipped with internet connections and there’s a choice of 5-6 Ugandan highland coffees available besides some other types. The khaki safari overalls of the waitresses make it a perfect stopover in the city jungle ;-))
On my last day I visited the Muhammar Al Ghaddhafi Mosque, which is a must. I was the only Muzungu again and I had the whole Mosque for myself. The building was finished and opened in 2008 and it provides a great collection of Arabian artwork especially very elaborated mosaics. You have a nice view over Kampala from there. I left my bike locked at the entrance – no problem. Entrance fee was 10.000 UGX.
Having enjoyed some of Kampala’s amenities I also have to admit that Kampala traffic is absolutely hell – cycling is like a suicide commando! I won’t even try it on a motorbike.
Mirembe Guesthouse, located on the right hand side when coming from Kampala. It’s basic but very clean with a large double room and common showers for 10.000 UGX.
A very popular place for truck drivers. Noisy during the night with some bars offering the obvious entertainment for lonely truckies. I forget to write up the name of the guesthouse where I stayed but as far as I remember there are 2 or 3 more hotels. Not a nice village to stay – only if you don’t have another choice.
Homeland Guesthouse: Single s/c room with hot shower for 11.000 UGX including ear-blasting afro-pop ‘til the early morning, just next door to Masindi’s most popular club and Jackov’s and Downtown Guesthouse. The small restaurant attached serves breakfast, lunch and dinner as far as food is available. Staff is friendly.
Contrary to the Masindi map on page 367 of the guidebook the Yebo tour office is on the opposite side of the Masindi Port Road and the location of Hotel Aribas is close to the Murchison Falls Tourist Information office and not as shown on the map.
There is also a Shell petrol station opposite the Juice Joint (see map). The Stanbic bank (see map) has also an ATM. I was invited for breakfast by Patrick, the son of the owner of the Homeland Guesthose. He is managing the guesthouse now and his brother runs a computer and internet facility close to Traveller’s corner. The office was under construction at the time of my visit but internet service was available. The name is “Masindi District Business Information Centre”, Plot no. 4143 Masindi Road.
The staff at the Murchison Falls Tourist Information is friendly and helpful. The officer arranged a driver for a tour to Murchison Falls. Not the cheapest deal but I agreed because I didn’t feel like checking more offers. After bargaining I agreed on 420.000 UGX for a 2 day tour Masindi – top of the falls – Red Chilli – Masindi including car, fuel, driver, park entrance, 1 night at Red Chilli camp, game drive and ferry – not including the ranger for the game drive. The driver Karoli was very friendly and we went for a ride in his Toyota sedan car. We also went on the game drive in Murchison Falls N.P. with that car. Great trip – recommendable!
After a pleasant downhill to the lower plains of the Rift Valley I reached Butiaba after another 12 km ride on the plains in the early evening. The only accommodation I found was the Lunah (or Luner ???) pub and lodge directly located at the beach: Basic non s/c single room with mosquito net for 10.000 UGX. Premier League entertainment on TV ‘til 2 in the morning included ;-))
I was the only Muzungu in this town again. It was pretty difficult to find something to eat for dinner. Very important: Don’t forget a torch when walking around in the dark. There’s no light in Butiaba except some petrol lamps shining out of the shacks. I really enjoyed the walk on the beach in the early evening when a lot of fisher boats returned from the lake and the fishermen were selling their fishing to the locals.
I reached Hoima after a tough uphill from Butiaba and another 50 km of red dust in the late afternoon. I just saw the Kolping hotel on the right hand side of the main road and checked in. A double non s/c room with common shower was 30.000 UGX. Good value for money and very clean. Covered with a second skin of red dust and sweat I firstly felt a bit displaced in this quite upmarket hotel. It has a big courtyard and a very good restaurant.
I didn’t remember the name of the lodge but it is the only accommodation available in Mabaale. I arrived in the dark after I got a lift with my bike from a local in a station wagon to cover the last 7 km. I was offered the Mabaale biker’s special supreme suite for 5.000 UGX. The blue wall paint, floor coating and the blanket fits to my blue bike and panniers ;-))
The old lady from the hotel threw two mattresses onto the bedframe and gave me a candle and a padlock. After a bucket shower in the dark I tried to get some food – nothing available, even on the streets.
I was too tired this day to move any further so I made a non-scheduled stopover here after only 20 km. I chose the Central View Guesthouse located at the main T-junction. A single non s/c room with common showers was 6.000 UGX, pretty fair deal. The restaurant serves a number of cheap meals and drinks. Kagadi is also a headquarters and starting point of a local bus company.
I was shortly before kissing the asphalt sealing when I reached Kyenjojo in the late afternoon after 300 km of red dust on the unsealed Hoima-Kyenjojo road. Viva guesthouse on the left, few meters before the T-junction is a fair but not really a shoestring deal. A clean single room with common toilet and shower is 15.000 UGX including dinner. Kyenjojo is quite a busy place as it’s located at the junction of two main roads on the way to Ft. Portal.
The 50 km stretch from Kyenjojo to Fort Portal is a nice and relaxing ride. The asphalt road winds through tea fields and is in very good condition. In Fort Portal I decided to enjoy some comfort in the Rwenzori Traveller’s Inn. I spent one night in a s/c double room for 46.000 UGX and two nights in a s/c single room for 36.000 UGX, both with hot showers and a basic breakfast included. The Rwenzori Traveller’s Inn provides anything you need to fuel and clean up. Internet is 50 UGX/min, meals in the very good restaurant are between 7.000 – 9.000 UGX and a laundry is also available. The restaurant also serves a today’s special dinner including starter, main and desert for 12.000 – 15.000 UGX. Three parrots let you hear from the 1st floor why the rooftop bar is called parrot bar. There’s a nice view over the main road.
By the way: the statue of Sir Gerald Portal in the centre of the 2nd roundabout was replaced by a more modern clock with mobile phone advertisement (see photo).
A visit to the Amabere Caves is 5.000 UGX. Nice place in a beautiful surrounding with lots of nice plants and flowers.
Kibale Forest National Park
On my way from Ft. Portal to Kibale Forest I stopped at CVK Resort. I was the only Muzungu again and I stayed two nights in a banda. The resort may have seen better days but the location is very nice and the owners are friendly. The resort is managed by a retired Ugandan couple who both studied in Australia. The woman won the 1998 national enterprise of the year award for her eco-tourism concept (surrounding villages are supported and a lot of trees were planted on the resort’s ground). Her husband is a retired professor from Makerere University. The definitely serve some of the largest meals in Uganda! The banda was 15.000 UGX per night including breakfast. For contact details see the following brochure on the next page.
I went for Chimp Tracking the next day. It was a great experience to find the path through the dense forest. It took us half an hour to find the first group of chimps. After another hour we tracked a single chimp and stayed together with him for 1 hour. According to the rangers the chances of tracking chimps are higher in the early morning so the first tour starting at 8 a.m. is often fully booked. I went for the afternoon tour and was also successful. On our tour through the forest we saw footprints of forest elephants. According to our guide there is quite a number of those species in Kibale forest but it’s nearly impossible to spot them.
The Kibale Park headquarters at the western entrance of the park can provide a radio connection to the Kibale primate lodge to ask for available tickets for chimp tracking tours in advance. Ask at the park entrance office. It’s free to enter and to travel on the road through the park. You can spot some monkeys on the way.
Chimpanzee tracking in Kibale forest: 70 US$
Park entrance: 25 US$
Chimp tracking starts at 8 a.m. and 2 p.m.
The Lake Lyantonde campsite is no longer operating. The owner has shifted and established the new Lake Kifuruka Eco-Camp (see map below) which was under construction at my time of visit. The camp is on top of the crater rim and the access path is signposted. I pitched up my tent on the yard with a nice lake vista. The staff is very friendly and helpful and I got one of the hottest and most tasty beef curries on my whole trip. The bamboo fenced shower is also very charming. I forgot to write up the camping fees – think it was something about 6.000 UGX. For contact details see the card below.
Equator Highway Bar Restaurant & Lodge which is marked as the “Proposed Equator Lodge” in the Bradt guide in the map on page 288.
The lodge was still under construction with no electricity in the rooms and no running water. After some bargaining we got a single room with common shower and toilet for 8.000 UGX. The room was basic but large and clean. No food was available but the butcher at the corner of the road leading to the DRC served some grilled meat sticks. A shop, an open air bar and a filling station is also available.
Tel: 0702 045080 or 0772 618727
Queen Elisabeth National Park
After a very basic breakfast with coffee, cookies and chocolate (which was definitely too little for the next 35 km sand track bike ride) at the park entrance headquarters we started the crater drive on our bikes (me and two Italian cyclists which I met two days ago). After some investigation in travel forums all bikers told us it’s not allowed to enter the park on bikes so we asked ourselves about the rangers who didn’t make the slightest attempt to prevent us from entering the park on our bikes. Internet is also available (not cheap, but 50% of the money supports the park, the animals and the people living in the area). Park entrance is 25 US$ ~ 49.500 UGX per day. Absolutely recommendable is the boat trip on the Kazinga channel!
We pitched up our tents at Mweya campsite for 10.000 UGX per night and person. An absolutely recommendable place is the Tembo Canteen with a very nice view over the Kazinga channel. Make sure you bring enough cash! Mweya Safari Lodge doesn’t offer foreign-exchange facilities (neither cash nor Traveller Cheques!!!) and we couldn’t find any other foreign exchange facility on Mweya Peninsula. A UWA ranger arranged a boat transfer across the channel for 10.000 UGX for 3 persons, luggage and 3 bikes. Camping at the Ishasha campsite further down south in the Ishasha plains was 10.000 UGX per night and person. A canteen provides basic meals and drinks.
It’s a larger town without any special attractions but a Stanbic ATM to fuel up cash. The town also serves as temporary headquarters of the UNHCR from where the camp for Congolese refugees in Ishasha is managed. Although there are a number of lodges and guesthouses it was hard to find good accommodation because of the high number of NGO workers. We stayed in the paradise lodge a few meters away from the main road. After bargaining we got a single room with common toilet and showers for 12.000 UGX instead of 15.000 UGX because the electricity was not working. Rooms are basic and clean. The UNHCR presence in Kihihi was the only hint of the civil war in the DRC. I didn’t have enough time to do some more investigation on this topic but my impression on my trip was that the NGOs and the Ugandan government seem to be very well organised in coping with the huge amount of refugees. I didn’t read a lot of reports in the newspapers about the conflict in the DRC. Most reports in the papers were about chasing Joseph Kony.
Quite a large town – very hilly. After reaching the town some people suggested us to go to the Heritage Lodge for accommodation. Having done so we found the lodge closed. We turned around and after a short orientation ride through the city we found the Kacho Stars Inn Hotel, a multi storey building which appeared new and recently built. I got a very nice and clean single s/c room with hot shower for 20.000 UGX. This seemed to be a special opening offer to attract new guests. It was definitely the best value for money deal on the whole trip. The hotel has a courtyard and an attached restaurant with good meals. Ordering your meal at least 2 (two!!!) hours before you want to eat is recommended – if you don’t like fast food, Kacho Stars Inn is definitely the destination for you ;-)). For contact details see card and brochure below.
Just one more remark: We cycled the direct route from Kihihi to Rukungiri via Kambuga as shown on the map in the UWA Bwindi N.P. brochure (see page before). Two speedometers and a GPS indicated 56 km – not 45 km as indicated between the markers in Kihihi and Rukungiri.
After splitting from my Italian cycling mates in Rukungiri and being tired of bumpy dirt roads I decided to head to Ntungamo on the sealed road. I stayed in the Lucky Guesthouse on the road parallel to the main road. The price was 13.000 UGX for a non s/c clean single room with common showers. Ntungamo is not very exiting but it has a lot of facilities to fuel up and is probably the town with the highest number of petrol stations per capita in the world.
This was a very nice but tough ride through cultivated landscape with terraced fields. Kabale itself is dusty and not so much attractive. I decided to cycle directly to Lake Bunyonyi passing the interjacent hill – tough ride, mostly pushing my bike uphill.
In Kabale I stayed in the Amagara Guesthouse which is very recommendable. Single s/c with hot shower: 17.000 UGX, double s/c hot shower: 22.000 UGX. A very nice place is the Edrisa Cultural Centre which is also a traveller’s hotspot. The rooftop bar is very comfy and fresh, cold juices were served. The giant samosas are really giant! Internet at both places was 30 UGX per minute. Kabale has also a number of banks with ATMs. The officer at the National Parks Information Office told me that three tickets for gorilla tracking in Bwindi N.P. are available for the next day and two more for the following day. Chances seem to be very good to get tickets without booking ahead from overseas when you are flexible.
I stayed two nights camping at the Lake Bunyonyi Overland Camp. Camping is 10.000 UGX per night. The Overland camp is a recommendable place with nice camping facilities, clean toilets and showers and very good food. Sometimes the loud music can be very disturbing. Breakfast buffet is 7.000 UGX. Kabale – Masaka bus ride (Horizon): 35.000 UGX including bicycle – even after bargaining – too expensive.
Not a really appealing city but enough facilities to fuel up. I stayed one night in the Vienna Guesthouse: single s/c room with hot shower 16.000 UGX. It was clean and good value for money. In the evening I tried the sauna and the steam bath which was definitely one of the hottest I’ve ever tried. The price for steam bath and sauna including soap and towels was 5.000 UGX, your valuables are kept in a locker. The guesthouse has a small restaurant attached. The market in Masaka is a good place to fill up your vitamin resources.
The ferry (no fee) from Bukakata to Luuku takes 50 min. and departs in Bukakata at:
8:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. In the opposite direction the ferry leaves Luuku at: 9:00 a.m. – 12:00 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. – 6:00 p.m (see photo next page).
My confusing experience with African “rubber time”:
I speeded all the 35 km from the Vienna Guesthouse in Masaka to the jetty in Bukakata to catch the ferry at 11:00 a.m. I arrived with my bike 10 minutes to (!!!) eleven and all I saw was the ferry being already on the lake 100m away from the jetty so I had to kill 3 hours in the uninspiring small town of Bukakata. The village is not more than a pile of shacks and most people earn their living with fishing. On my arrival in Luuku I encountered lots of police and military at the jetty. A local told me that president Museveni was in Kalangala for campaigning and that’s the reason why the ferries didn’t run according to schedule that day. On my way from Luuku to Kalangala a convoy of approximately 20 cars with black window panes and heavily armed police and security drove up to me at high speed – definitely the president on his way back to Kampala.
The Hornbill Campsite in Kalangala is a very recommendable place. I paid 6.000 UGX per night for a tent. The campsite is run by a German couple, not a Dutch as mentioned in the guidebook. A very nice beach with white and fine sand is attached but swimming is not recommendable due to the presence of Bilharzia. It’s just a few meters from the Hornbill Campsite to the jetty where the ferry to Entebbe departs. The ferry departs in Entebbe direction once a day at 8:00 a.m. in the morning. Arrive early as there is a security and luggage check before you enter. I didn’t remember the price for the 3 hour journey.
Great trip!!! Lots of friendly people, very beautiful scenery, wildlife, fantastic national parks without herds of tourists and a lot more things to see and do than I have done. I would consider Uganda as one of the safest and most pleasant destinations I’ve ever been to. My only mistake: I skipped the gorilla tracking due to the lack of time at the end of my trip L – one more reason to come back!
Start: 2nd of December 2008
Entebbe 20.5 km
Entebbe – Kampala 34.6 km
Kampala 21.4 km
Kampala – Luwero 66.2 km
Luwero – Mygiera 80.1 km
Mygiera – Masindi 73.7 km
Masindi – Butiaba 73.3 km
Butiaba – Hoima 63.2 km
Hoima – Mabaale 68.8 km
Mabaale – Kagadi 19.7 km
Kagadi – Kyenjojo 56.0 km
Kyenjojo – Fort Portal 51.3 km
Fort Portal – Amabere Caves 17.4 km
Fort Portal – CVK Resort – Kibale Forest 47.0 km
CVK Resort – Kibale Forest 23.7 km
CVK Resort – Lake Kifuruka 21.5 km
Lake Kifuruka – Equator Lodge 75.4 km
Equator Lodge – Q.E.N.P. Mweya 37.3 km
Q.E.N.P. – Ishasha 84.0 km
Ishasha – Kihihi 39.4 km
Kihihi – Rukungiri 56.0 km
Rukungiri – Ntungamo 51.5 km
Ntungamo – Lake Bunyonyi 91.0 km
Lake Bunyonyi – Kabale – Rwanda border 57.5 km
Kabale – Masaka by bus
Masaka – Kalangala, Ssese Islands 78.0 km
Ssese Islands – Entebbe 37.6 km
End: 8th of January 2009