This is the second article of a special two-part series on making the most of Uganda’s neighbours. If you missed last week’s first article you might want to start there. This week’s article looks at how you can make the most of Uganda, at the heart of East Africa as a fantastic starting point for venturing all over the region. Base yourself in Uganda and explore the region by road or air and you won’t be sorry!
Bordered by Tanzania, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to the south and west, Uganda provides residents and visitors alike with plenty of travel opportunities to visit the “neighbours”. Transport links and roads have never been better than they are now so, what are you waiting for?
It’s possible to get to Uganda by road but it’s not something you would really want to do unless you’ve got lots of time and don’t mind terrible roads. Tanzania’s roads are pretty terrible and untarmacked. Kampala coach runs services to Dar el Salama but it takes something like 40 hours so you’ll definitely needs a whole host of good books to survive that one. Cross the border and you’ll also find yourself on the wrong side of the country to be where anything is happening. Flying is definitely the answer and Air Uganda has daily flights to Dar, or you could go through Nairobi on Kenya Airways. There is also a mythical ferry which crosses Lake Victoria to Mwanza but how long it takes and whether it’s safe, affordable or actually possible is the stuff of legend.
They weren’t wrong when they named Rwanda the ‘Land of a Thousand Hills’. Although it might not be possible to count them all, the hilly and verdant beauty of Rwanda is enough to draw thousands of visitors every year. This compact neighbour to the south west of Uganda is increasingly easily reached by new road and air links. A multi-million dollar project and feat of engineering has restructured the road from Kampala to Kigali and is already paying dividends in terms of facilitating the connection between the two countries. In fact, the road itself is practically a tourist destination in its own right! It is well worth taking the drive through through the beautiful Kigezi region of Uganda, right by Lake Bunyonyi, an on to the Rwandan border at Katuna/Gatuna. The border crossing itself is a short drive from Kabale town and easily accessible.
There can be long delays at the Katuna/Gatuna border if you get stuck behind lorries trying to clear customs and border paperwork, but otherwise it’s relatively hassle free. If you are driving you will need a “Carte Jaune” (yellow card) which is proof of insurance. The good news is that once you have one you’re covered for many East African countries. You can get one in a few hours and for around $50 USD from most reputable insurance companies. You will also need a valid logbook and, as it’s required in Rwanda, a fire extinguisher, spare tyre and jack, and emergency triangle.
Flights are also frequent on Uganda Airlines and Rwanda Air and buses also leave from the downtown bus park regularly.
Democratic Republic of Congo
Visiting DRC from Uganda is complicated but not impossible. Travel warnings from foreign embassies abound so make sure to read those if you’re a follower of travel advice. If you are more apt to throw caution to the wind know that an overland visit is probably still ill-advised. Visas must be arranged in advance and, at times, the Congolese consulate in Kampala will not issue them to non-Ugandan residents insisting instead that you get your visa in your country of origin – problematic if you’ve already begun your journey. While Virunga is accessible by road the only other two places within reach are Goma and Bukavu and you’ll need to dip into Rwanda to get to these. It is possible to also cross the border at Vurra in West Nile, but, again, ill-advised. The question would arise- where are you hoping to go, exactly?
If you’re willing to fly, however, and get your visa in advance then brush up on your French and take a weekend trip to Kinshasa. Both Kenya Airways and Ethiopian will fly you to Kinshasa through their hubs in Nairobi and Addis.