Planning to self drive Uganda? Good choice! In 1908 Winston Churchill declared Uganda the “Pearl of Africa” in his 1908 Book My African Journey. More than a century later, visitors still flock to find this pearl. After our self drive in Uganda, I can’t disagree with Mr. Churchill. The country is filled with birdlife, vast plains, jungle, rolling hills, and some of the friendliest people in Africa.
We entered Southern Uganda from Rwanda with low expectations for the country. Sure, they hold the world’s largest population of mountain gorillas – but what else would we find?
A road trip through Uganda was a highlight of our African road trip. Besides the endless amount of speed bumps, roads are decent and traffic police corruption is low. It’s the perfect country to self-drive, with a rental or with your own vehicle, like us!
Here is our ideal self drive Uganda itinerary.
An Awesome Self Drive Uganda Itinerary
Start your self drive Uganda adventure in the capital.
Most trips to Uganda will probably involve the capital city of Kampala, although it’s worth mentioning that the international airport is actually in Entebbe. It will take you at least an hour to get to Kampala from Entebbe unless the traffic is horrendous (which it probably will be).
If you are arriving by plane late at night I would recommend staying in Entebbe for the night. We drove through Kampala at 6 pm on a Saturday night and I have to say that it was the worst traffic I have ever been in my life (and we used to live in NYC).
I thought it may just have been a fluke night, but a few more drives through Kampala while we trying to sell our truck proved that wrong. The traffic in Kampala is just always a nightmare.
To escape the city pollution and traffic I would recommend hanging out in Entebbe. We spent a few days relaxing on the shores of Lake Victoria at the Protea Entebbe.
If you are looking for a few days to kill in the area I would recommend heading to the Mabamba Swamp where the famous Shoebill Storks live. Alternatively, take a boat ride out on Lake Victoria or relax in the EntebbeBotanical Gardens.
Where to stay in Entebbe?
We stayed a few days at the Protea Entebbe Hotel right on Lake Victoria. The hotel is clean and comfortable and is minutes away to the airport (free airport transport too!).
Continue onto Jinja, the capital of adventure
Jinja is dubbed “the adventure capital of East Africa,” and for good reason. The city of Jinja is located at the source of the Nile River. Yes, the world’s longest river starts right in Jinja making it a hotspot for tourists in Uganda.
We spent a few days here relaxing on the great Nile River and enjoying some delicious coffee and cafe treats at The Deli. Of course, the highlight of our time in Jinja was white water rafting down the Nile.
White water rafting on the Nile is one of the most popular things to do in the country. We chose to spend our day with Nalubale Rafting and started the trip at 9 am near where we stayed – The Haven. Cameron and I were put in a group with five other daring souls from around the world.
Our guide, a local Ugandan, was an experienced rafter and spent a good deal of time instructing us on the basics of paddling and what to do in emergencies.
I’ve been white water rafting four times now. Twice in the United States, once in Bali, and once in Croatia and I thought I could handle it all. Oh, boy was I mistaken. One tumble out of my raft on class five rapids let me know the adventure was on. We spent the entire day dodging rapids, flipping rafts, and gulping in fresh Nile River water. This isn’t your walk in the park rafting folks – the Nile is serious.
Yes, we all lived thanks to the experienced guys and girls of Nalubale who ensured our safety every step of the way. However, after just two flips of the raft all seven of us in our raft were thinking the same thing.
Has anyone ever died doing this?
Rafting the Nile is extremely fun and I would recommend it to anyone looking for a real adrenaline pumping time in Uganda. If you’re not so prone to water sports then Jinja is also famed for having ATV Quadbike Safaris and bungee jumping over the Nile. Or you can say screw the whole adventure thing and opt for a brewery tour of the Nile Brewery.
Where to stay in Jinja?
Definitely the top place to camp is The Haven. This was one of the best campsites we found in all of Africa. The bathrooms were clean, the view is incredible, and they even have free WiFi.
Murchison Falls National Park
Head north to Murchison Falls
It’s hard to believe that the entire Nile River squeezes itself through just a 7-meter wide gap making Murchison Falls. The waterfall is 43 meters high and makes for an impressive sight to see.
Besides the beautiful falls, Murchison National Park the home of 76 species of mammals and 451 birds. It also holds Uganda’s largest population of crocodiles, so I wouldn’t recommend sunbathing along the river banks. A boat trip to the base of the falls runs visitors $30 per person.
Where to stay in Murchison?
The Red Chili Rest Camp is a great place to camp while visiting Murchison. They have a full restaurant and more importantly a full bar. Red Chili Rest Camp also organizes safaris into Murchison.
Kibale National Park
Continue to Fort Portal and to see the Chimps in Kibale
Bwindi may have the mountain gorillas, but if you want to come face to face with our closest living relative head to Kibale National Forest. Located about an hours drive from Fort Portal, Kibale National Forest is the primate capital of the world. With 13 different species of primates, it’s no wonder where they get their name.
Visitors flock here to get an up-close encounter with our closest relative – the chimpanzee. Chimp permits can be organized by the Ugandan Wildlife Authority. AT $150 they come in as a much cheaper alternative to gorilla trekking in Uganda.
It’s advisable to arrange your permits before getting to Uganda; however, we found that people were organizing their trips day of, during the low season. Finding the chimps took us less than an hour and once we spotted the first troop we were able to observe them at a close distance. Visitors are given an hour of observation time with the chimps during which we saw about 20 different chimps.
The male chimps are the most habituated to humans and are the least shy group. We heard them call and interact with one another and even caught two grooming! We did see female chimps, but they tended to hang out high in the trees with their young.
It’s worth noting that Cameron and I went chimp trekking in the Nyungwe forest in Rwanda, but enjoyed our time in Uganda more. The forest was easier to navigate, trekking the chimps took less time, and we were able to have a better interaction with them in Uganda. That’s not to say that the experience in Rwanda wasn’t memorable though!
Where to stay when Chimp Trekking?
We decided to park it at the Primate Lodge for a few days in the lush Ugandan forest. Nestled away from the hustle and bustle of life, The Primate Lodge is a five-minute walk away from the Kibale forest entrance. Each of the nine bandas is spread out to allow complete privacy for all guests.
All meals are fully inclusive at the Primate Lodge and the food is delicious. The local staff is kind and attentive to all of our meal requests for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Even dining in the comfort of our own room was no problem at all.
We arrived very late at night after getting completely lost in rural African villages and asked the staff if we could have our dinner in our room – at 10 pm. They happily catered to us and understood the long 10-hour drive we had to reach them. We were both so thankful for the kindness of the staff, taste of the food, and overall comfort of the spacious banda.
Queen Elizabeth National Park
Go on safari in Queen Elizabeth National Park
Queen Elizabeth National Park is 1978km in size. While 95 African animals and over 600 different species of birds call the park home! Queen Elizabeth is the perfect stop after Bwindi National Park. We were expecting a long drive after our amazing day gorilla trekking in Uganda, but instead, we drove just two hours to the southern entrance of Queen Elizabeth. The southern region of the park is known as Ishasha. It is a great spot to go in search of some famous tree-climbing lions.
The tree climbing lions only hang out in two places in the world (Tanzania is the other). We went into the park just before sunset and low and behold 30 minutes in we spotted her – a real tree climbing lioness.
The next day we self-drove through the park to reach Mweya peninsula. You can self-drive on the main road through the park without having to pay vehicle or park fees. The whole time you stand a chance of spotting of Africa’s famous wildlife.
It wasn’t until we hit the Mweya park entrance about 100 km from Ishasha that we officially entered the park and had to present our park passes. We made our way to Mweya lodge for some lunch but found it to be overpriced and went next door to Canteen for a more affordable meal.
From there we set out to see the crater lakes of the park. The drive around the crater lakes is one of the most stunning in all of Africa. The pockmarked land with dozens of crater lakes made us feel small. Two hours on the road we never saw anyone else in a two-hour drive along the rim of the craters.
We never managed to see much wildlife in Queen Elizabeth, but the tree climbing lions and famous crater lakes made it all worth it.
Where to stay in Queen Elizabeth National Park?
We stayed at a campsite and lodge called @ the River. I found the price to be too high for the lodge itself, but it is one of the cheaper places to stay in Ishasha. If you are planning to stay at Mweya the Mweya campsite is adequate for a night or two. A more luxurious option is the Mweya Lodge.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
See some of the last gorillas in Bwindi
Bwindi National Forest is famed for its population of mountain gorillas. The UWA offers the unique experience to trek into the forest to catch a glimpse of the critically endangered species. It is a highlight and draws for many tourists who come to Uganda, and one of the most incredible experiences in Africa.
Gorilla trekking permits are not cheap at $600 a permit; however, the experience is unforgettable. We trekked high into the Bwindi Forest to find a family of 17 gorillas. Visitors are given an hour with the gorillas to watch the group play, eat, and socialize.
Besides gorilla trekking in Bwindi National Park visitors are provided the ability to hike to beautiful waterfalls in the area and enjoy the dense jungle.
Where to Stay when Gorilla Trekking?
We stayed at the Bwindi Lodge a ten-minute walk away from the park headquarters in Buhoma. If you are looking to treat yourself I would highly recommend checking out Volcanoes Safaris. For a more budget-friendly option, visitors should look at the Nkuringo Bwindi Gorilla Lodge or Buhoma Community Campsite.
Continue down to the Rwanda border and check out Lake Bunyoni
It has been said that Lake Bunyoni may be one of the most beautiful lakes in all of Africa. Now that is debatable, but it is a lovely lake that is perfect to relax on for a few days. Lake Bunyoni was our first stop as we drove up from Rwanda. From the Cyanika border, it took us about three hours through rolling hills to reach our destination by car.
Lake Bunyoni is said to be the “place of many birds,” so if you are even slightly into birding I would recommend a stop here.
A popular thing to do on Lake Bunyoni is to take a small boat around to visit the various islands that occupy the tiny lake. Akampene, Bushara, Kyahugye, Bucuranuka, Bwama, and Njuyeera are some of the more popular islands to visit.
Lake Bunyoni is the perfect place if you just don’t want to do anything at all. We found great joy in just sitting with a coffee while overlooking the peacefulness of our surroundings.
It’s here that you can either drive into Rwanda and continue your overland trip, or head back to the capital completing your self drive Uganda road trip.
Consider adding on: Kidepo Valley National Park
Kidepo is almost a 10 hour drive from Kampala, so you may not have time to drive there. It’s almost as far north in Uganda that you can get as it borders South Sudan. However if you have the time it would be a great place to add on.
We never had the chance to visit Kidepo, but I feel I should give it a special mention as just about every Ugandan we spoke to absolutely loves the park. Kidepo is about as far north as you can get in Uganda and lies right next to Sudan and Kenya. It takes about nine hours to get to from Kampala, making the park isolated.
Its isolation is many visitors dream as they will have almost the entire park to themselves to see some of the 77 different species of mammals. The park is best visited during the dry season when animals flock to the few watering holes near Apoka.
Where to stay in Kidepo?
Uganda Travel Tips
- If you’re brave try taking a boda boda around Uganda. They are essentially motorcycle taxis best used for short distances. We took them a handful of times just to go short distances, but be warned that they aren’t for the faint of heart. Drivers drive fast and squeeze in and out of traffic. We saw three boda-boda crashes in Kampala – no one was seriously hurt those times.
- The National Bird of Uganda is the crested crane and can be found on the nation’s flag.
- Make sure to try a Rolex. A rolex is a rolled up Chapati with whipped egg and various vegetables inside. You can find this on any Ugandan street corner for less than 5000 Shilling.
- Visas: Americans traveling to Uganda can expect to pay $50 USD, cash only, for a single entry visa. If you have plans to visit Rwanda, Uganda, and Kenya visitors can obtain an East Africa multiple entry visa for $100 cash at the border. Be sure to apply for this visa at least three days ahead of entry online.
- The Ugandans are friendly people that avoid conflict. No wonder Uganda was named one of the friendliest countries in the world.
- We never felt threatened in Uganda. Even after sitting in standstill traffic in downtown Kampala at night. However, it is still a developing nation so be sure to use common sense.
- The national Park Costs for foreign registered cars is insanely high. Non residents can expect to pay $40 per day for park entry and $150 per vehicle per day.
- The Ugandan Shilling is the national currency. ATM’s can only be found in large towns. Always make sure to carry enough cash on you as credit cards are rarely accepted outside of Kampala.
- We experienced absolutely no hassle from the police in Uganda.
- Guess what? We sold our car in Entebbe! Read here to see what that experience was like.
Plan Your Self Drive Uganda
Look the part
Here is our guide to choosing the best safari clothes for your adventure. Browse through all our Africa packing lists:
Travel Water Bottle
Plastic pollution is a problem in Africa so it’s best not to contribute to the problem buying plastic water bottles everywhere. The tap water in Tanzania is generally not safe to drink, but a water purifier, like the Grayl waterbottle, works well!
However, we also love filtered water bottles in areas we’re uncertain of the water supply. Read more about favorite water bottle for travel in our post.
Chances are you’ll want a camera for your trip to Africa. Our favorite pocket-sized point and shoot camera for quick trips are the Sony RX100V. It takes fantastic photos and video and is the size of your palm.
For more professional photographs we use our Fuji XT-3, and LOVE IT.
Lightweight pants that are made from synthetic material are tremendous to have in your pack. It’s what we wear most days when traveling around Africa as they’re comfortable, antibacterial, and protect our legs from mosquitos (malaria).
We recommend neutral colored pants as they’re great at hiding dirt and can match most shirt colors. What’s great is they’re useful beyond Africa as they are a travel staple and we pack a pair everywhere we travel.
I like two pairs, one pair is made by prAna and rolls into capris and the other are convertible pants. For men, prAna makes the Stretch Zion Pant, a tremendous pair of hiking pants for a reasonable price.
If you’re wondering what necessities to bring to Africa then sturdy shoes are perhaps the most important thing you will need before you get to Africa.
I cannot stress a good pair of shoes enough because if you land anywhere outside of South Africa a quality pair of hiking shoes will be hard to come by. If you plan to walk around a lot get thick rubber soled shoes as acacia thorns are prone to stab through thin shoes. Cameron learned the hard way one day when he pulled a thorn out of his foot that went straight through his thin rubber sandals.
I love my buff. I usually wear it for keeping my hair back, but it’s also served its purpose as a scarf and wet rag too. Buffs last for years and aren’t only helpful in Africa. I actually wear mine every day when I’m snowboarding in the mountains. It’s been one of my top travel accessory investments ever!
Skin cancer is for real! Don’t forget your SPF when traveling around Africa. We recommend ordering some online before leaving the house as you will need it underneath the sun in the summer.
We highly recommend getting an eco friendly sun cream that does not contain harmful chemicals.
Make sure to protect your eyes from the sun. There are a lot of options for sunglasses and everyone should own at least a pair. It’s best to make sure they do have UV protection for the health of your eyes.
We made our first investment in quality polarized sunglasses with a pair of SMITH Optics Lowdown 2. Truthfully, not everyone needs to invest $150 in a pair of sunglasses, but they do make a huge difference from the crappy $10 ones.
Most hotels will provide you with a towel, but they often aren’t suitable or allowed on the beaches. I like to travel with a microfiber towel because they are light and fold up small, and they also don’t cling on to sand our dirt. Here are a few of our favorite travel towels.
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