Budget travel in Uganda
It’s easy to spend thousands of dollars when you travel to Uganda – but you should know that visiting Uganda on a budget is possible. With a bit of planning and preparation, you can have a fun and comfortable road trip on a budget.
When travelling through East-Africa, the only thing we don’t recommend you skimp on, is your car. Although main roads are well-paved, you’ll hit the occasional muddy patch or pothole-ridden road, or you find the treks in the national parks washed away after heavy rains. In those key-moments, you’ll be glad you rented a reliable car with good roadside assistance in case something happens.
Outside of that, you can be more strategic in how you spend your valuable vacation money. From careful accommodation choices to visiting some destinations over others, you’ll leave Uganda with lots of unforgettable memories (and some extra money in your pocket).
Uganda as a destination surely packs an impressive lot in its tininess. Uganda’s small size, its treasures in nature and wildlife, and the little to no tourist crowds make it a great choice for Uganda safari trips.
Combined within this single small destination is the best of everything an African safari has to offer. Uganda is home to the continent’s tallest mountain range, the snow-capped Rwenzori mountains. The world’s longest river, the Nile, oozes gracefully out of the second-largest freshwater lake on the planet (Lake Victoria). The humble mountain gorillas roam the misty jungles up the mountain, and the tropical rainforests harbor one of the largest primates populations on earth. Kampala, the cultural hub and capital of Uganda is safer than most destinations in the region. On top of all this glorification, Uganda’s ever-growing number of safari activities has earned it the Adrenaline Capital title.
Yes, yes! But how can an interested traveler visit Uganda on a small budget? Mwanzo Tours Uganda attempts to help budget travelers get a close enough estimate of how much they can spend on a Ugandan trip.
How to travel to Uganda on a budget
Because Uganda is at the threshold of its discovery as a tourism destination, now is the best time to travel to Uganda. Generally, the tourism industry is recovering from a travel lockdown because of the Coronavirus pandemic. Uganda is getting popular enough to push hotels and safari lodges to the region’s excellent standards and offers relatively lower room prices than other destinations in the region. From shoestring to luxury, every traveler in their style will find where to stay in Uganda. But before you excitedly dive into planning your safari itinerary, here are a few ways on how you can travel in Uganda on a budget.
How to save money on transportation
Uganda presents a wide variety of transport means that include the indistinct but affordable public means and the pricey means of transportation. public transport in Uganda essentially boils down to buses and other motorized road transport forms. And it’s basically the cheapest means to travel in Uganda on a budget.
Boda Boda (Motorbike)
One of the most popular and cheapest ways of travel around Uganda is the motorcycle-taxi or boda-boda—so-called because it originated as a bicycle with large panniers, used for smuggling goods across borders by rural footpaths. Now fitted with pillions and powered with 50 to 200 cc engines, they are a convenient form of suburban transport and great for short side trips where public transport barely exists.
Fares are negotiable and affordable — just about less than US$2, which is about Ush1,000 to 10,000 per trip. And, two travelers can share the same bike with the rider and get away with it. You’ll be amazed when you see a family riding the same bike.
If you’re reliant on public road transport in Uganda, you’ll inevitably use a boda-boda at some stage. But before hopping aboard, you should be aware of a pretty poor urban safety record. Boda-boda riders are invariably lacking in formal training and road safety awareness, which is frequently suggested, much between the ears.
Subsequently, the unruly nature of Boda Boda transport in Uganda has recently attracted the tech eye. Ride-hailing services or ride-sharing apps are the new way of travel around cities, and if you’re an ardent Uber user, you’ll continue to enjoy the services also in Kampala on Boda Bodas. This is a far great alternative to just hailing a bike on the street late in the evenings. Famous Boda Boda mobile applications you’ll find tolerable in Uganda include Taxify, SafeBoda, and UberBoda. The price is not different from street hailed bikes.
Next to Boda Bodas, minibus-taxis are the cheapest of transport around Uganda. In addition to buses in Uganda, most major road transport routes are covered by a regular stream of white minibuses, which have no set departure times but leave when they are full — every ten to 30 minutes on busier routes. They are significantly the fastest way to travel in Uganda on a budget.
Fares are generally slightly higher than for buses when traveling long distances but significantly lower if traveling within the same region, city, or town. For a dollar or less, a minibus taxi will take you 38km (23 mi), like Entebbe to Kampala. And it’s customary on most routes to pay shortly before arriving rather than on departure, so there is little risk of being overcharged provided that you look and see what other passengers are paying.
Special hire taxis are what a modern city dweller would be familiar with. (taxi or cab) Special hire is a term that means hiring a vehicle privately to take you somewhere. Urban taxis are also known locally as special hires and are usually painted yellow, or with a white and yellow band (Entebbe airport taxis) around the middle or with a taxi cab light on the top.
Taxicab fares are relatively more expensive than all the road transport means but far more secure to travel with if you organize a special hire vehicle, bargain hard.
Alternatively, download one of those taxi-hailing apps that allow you to pay per distance traveled. They are much cheaper than special hires and are available in Kampala, Entebbe, and major towns. Uber and Taxify outshine the rest, download from Apple or Google stores.
Shared salon taxi commonly found where there’s insufficient traffic for minibuses.
If you’re in a far-flung Ugandan town junction, shared taxis will be your cheapest means of transport. They are generally light saloon cars that carry four to six passengers. They drive into their own on routes that attract insufficient human traffic for minibusses. For instance, when traveling between Katunguru and Mweya in Queen Elizabeth National Park or between Kisoro and Buhoma in Bwindi Impenetrable NP.
They tend to be crowded and slow compared to minibusses and on routes where no other public transport exists. Fares are quite affordable ($1 – $5 on shorter routes), considering it may be the only option you can get from where you are. Often highly inflated, though. The drivers habitually overcharge tourists, so establish the price in advance, so bargain hard.
How to save money on accommodation on a Uganda trip
Traveling on a budget in Uganda has never been simpler. The number of hotels in Uganda has grown enormously in recent years, and wherever you travel, and whatever your budget, you’ll seldom have a problem finding suitable accommodation. Most towns have a good variety of moderately priced and budget hotels, and even the smallest villages will usually have somewhere you can stay for a couple of dollars. Travelers in Uganda have not always enjoyed such a wide choice.
Before going into further detail about the different accommodation categories, it’s worth noting a few potentially misleading quirks in local hotel-speak. In Swahili, the word ‘hoteli’ refers to a restaurant, while what we call a hotel is generally called a lodging, guesthouse, or gesti. So if you ask a Ugandan to show you to a hotel, you might well be taken to an eatery.
Another local quirk is that most east African hotels in all price ranges refer to a room that has en-suite shower and toilet facilities as self-contained. Several hotels offer accommodation in bandas, a term used widely in Africa to designate rooms or cottages detached from any other building.
How to avoid expensive accommodation
Accommodation in Uganda is categorized in upmarket, moderate, budget, shoestring, and camping considered the lowest. The upmarket or luxury category embraces all hotels, lodges, and resorts that cater primarily to the international leisure or business traveler and would probably be accorded a three-star to four-star ranking internationally. Most hotels in this category offer smart, modern accommodation with en-suite facilities, mosquito netting, air conditioning or fans (depending on the local climate), and in cities digital satellite television (DSTV) in all rooms. A luxury room price bracket exceeds US$300, in a couple of instances topping US$1,000.
But if you’re to travel in Uganda on budget, this flimsy information is enough to help you avoid the luxury accommodation category.
With a slimmer wallet, your next option is the moderate category. Essentially, it embraces those accommodation facilities which, for one or other reason, could not truly be classified as a luxury but are also too expensive or of a sufficiently high standard that they cannot be considered budget lodgings. They are decent lodges or hotels in recognized tourist areas that charge considerably lower rates than their upmarket competitors but are clearly a notch or two above the budget category. Hotels in this range normally offer comfortable accommodation in self-contained rooms with hot water, cooling fan, and possibly DSTV, and they will have a decent restaurant and employ a high ratio of English-speaking staff.
Most moderate hotels charge around US$100-$300 for a double room inclusive of breakfast, but some are slightly more expensive or cheaper.
Budget Accommodation For Travelers in Uganda
If you’re still interested in saving on lodging and travel in Uganda on a budget, Mwanzo Tours Uganda still needs to get you where to stay. The hotels in this category are generally aimed largely at the local market, and they definitely don’t approach international standards. Still, they will usually be reasonably clean and comfortable and a definite cut above the basic guesthouses that proliferate in most towns.
Safari lodges in this bracket will more often than not have a decent restaurant attached, English-speaking staff, comfortable rooms with en-suite facilities, running cold, or possibly hot water, cooling fan (but no air conditioning), and good mosquito netting.
Budget room rates are typically around US$30-100 for a double, including breakfast, which may or may not be very substantial. This is the category to look at if you are on a limited budget.
There has been a great increase in the number of organized campsites in recent years, and there are now very few established tourist centers where you can’t pitch a tent in a guarded site with good facilities.
Camping typically costs around US$5 per person per night and US$10 in the national parks. UWA’s tents go for US$20-$30.
How to Save Money on Food and Drinks
If you are not too fussy and don’t mind a lack of variety, you can eat cheaply almost anywhere in Uganda. In most towns, numerous local restaurants (often called hoteli) serve unimaginative but filling meals for under US$2.
Typically, local food is based around meat or chicken stew eaten with one of four staples: rice, chapati, matooke, and ugali (posho)—starchy cornbread eaten throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Matoke is a cooked green banana dish, served boiled or mushy heap, and the staple diet in many parts of Uganda.
A Street Rolex Vendor
You’ll find Rolex street vendors armed with metal hot plates, a charcoal stove, and a chopping board in all popular nightspots of ‘local’ flavor. It’s exactly the sort of street food your mother warned you against eating in Africa, so Rolexes are obviously a firm favorite with backpackers, gap-year students, volunteers. Expect to pay around 60 cents to a dollar.
You’ll usually find a couple of better restaurants (sometimes attached to upmarket or moderate hotels) serving Western or Indian food for around US$5-10. There is considerably more variety in Kampala and Entebbe, where for US$10 per head, you can eat very well indeed. Good lodges in parks generally serve high-quality food.
Cooking for yourself
The alternative to eating at restaurants is to put together your own meals with ingredients purchased at markets and supermarkets. The variety of foodstuffs you can buy varies from season to season and from town to town, but in most major centers, you can rely on finding a supermarket that stocks frozen meat, a few tinned goods, biscuits, pasta, rice, and chocolate bars. budget travel
Fruit and vegetables are best bought at markets, where they are very cheap. Potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, tomatoes, bananas, sugarcane, avocados, paw-paws, mangoes, coconuts, oranges, and pineapples are available in most towns.
If you have specialized requirements, you’re best off doing your shopping in Kampala, where a wider selection of goods is available in big international supermarkets like Shoprite and Game. Big chains like Quality supermarkets provide great international choices too.
Brand-name soft drinks such as Pepsi, Coca-Cola, and Fanta are widely available in Uganda and cheap by international standards. If the fizzy stuff doesn’t appeal, you can buy local quality packed juices like Splash or imported South African fruit juices at supermarkets in Kampala and other large towns.
Tap water is reasonably safe to drink in larger towns, but bottled mineral water is widely available if you prefer not to take the risk.
Gorilla Trekking ($700/$400)
Seeing the mountain’s gentle giant gorillas is unmissable, but the price tag on a permit is hefty. For US$700 per person for a gorilla permit, you’ll be escorted into the jungle with two armed rangers, a tracker guide, and seven other trekkers to where a gorilla family was last seen. With your facemask on, gloves, and 10 meters distance, you’ll only be allowed 60 minutes in their presence unless you chose the more lengthy habituation experience that allows you 4 hours for a hefty US$1,500.
If you’re traveling during the holiday season, a gorilla permit has been discounted to $400/$300/UGX150,000 for foreign non-residents/foreign residents/EA nationals respectively.
Even if you can’t afford gorilla trekking, Bwindi is a rewarding park to visit just for a chance to explore the lush virgin rainforest. Several 3 to 4-hour hikes run by the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) penetrate the Impenetrable Forest around Buhoma. The walks begin at 09:00 and 12:15 and cost US$30 per person (not including your park entry fee of $40).
Chimpanzee Trekking ($50 and $200)
Chimpanzee trekking in Kanyanchu, Kibale forest, is the best alternative to chimpanzee trekking, cheaper and easier to access than Bwindi. A Kibale chimp permit costs US$200 though you can trek the greater apes in other parts of Uganda at a lower price.
In the eastern part of Queen Elizabeth NP, Kyambura (Chambura) Gorge is a beautiful green scar running through the savanna, a little Eden brimming with chimpanzees and other primates. A chimp permit here costs US$50, but in Semuliki NP, the permit costs US$30.