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We decided to visit Uganda completely out of the blue. One day Sam called me at the office and asked if I was interested in joining a team from his company on a trip to Uganda.
“To where?” I asked. I knew Uganda was a country in Africa, but that was about it.
We had our plane tickets by the next day.
I was ecstatic since it was going to be Sam’s and my first time to set foot on the African continent, a part of the world I had always wanted to explore.
But as our trip approached, I devolved into full-blown panic mode. Having never visited Africa, I felt overwhelmed trying to figure out what I needed to do to prepare.
Is it safe? What will the weather be like? What on earth should I pack? What if I get sick??
These questions swirled through my brain like a vortex.
It didn’t help that our itinerary involved tenting in a rural Ugandan village, which meant, in addition to our clothing and toiletries, we somehow had to fit our camping gear into our backpacks.
Further complicating matters was that, unlike Sam, I didn’t grow up in an outdoorsy family. Our “camping” trips were spent in my Uncle’s RV at a full-service resort. The fact that our “suggested packing guide” included toilet paper was disconcerting.
I felt entirely ill-prepared.
Visiting Uganda is an incredible experience, but it also requires advance planning. In order to help you (hopefully) avoid a weepy meltdown like mine, we’ve compiled a list of what you need to do before visiting Uganda:
Check Visa/Passport Requirements
This is an important step to take when visiting any foreign country.
For American citizens, the U.S. Department of State’s International Travel site is a good source for general information about entry requirements.
We were able to purchase a travel visa at the customs desk in the Entebbe airport for 100USD.
Note: While we were allowed to pay with USD, customs agents only accept new bills (from 2000 or newer).
Uganda also requires you to have a passport that is valid for 6 months or more after you enter the country, and has at least one blank page.
For many travelers, visiting Africa requires vaccination. Be sure to discuss all vaccination/medication options with your doctor as far in advance of your trip as possible.
These are the vaccinations required (or strongly encouraged) for visiting Uganda:
Routine (including tetanus) – Though fairly obvious, it is important to be up-to-date on routine vaccinations. This is not only good for travel, but also just smart.
Typhoid –Typhoid is spread through contaminated food/water. Though we were very careful with the food/drinks we consumed, we wanted to be sure we were protected (especially since we would be spending time in rural areas). Immunity from the Typhoid shot lasts several years.
Hepatitis A – Hepatitis A can be spread through contaminated food, or through person-to-person contact. This vaccination is given in 2 shots, six months apart. Because we didn’t have six-months notice, we only received our first shot before our trip and were told it was okay to get the second shot after we returned home.
Yellow Fever – While the above vaccines are recommended, the Yellow Fever vaccine is mandatory. After receiving the Yellow Fever shot, you will be given a certificate with the date of vaccination and the date when you will be considered immune. Uganda requires travelers to have this certificate as proof of immunity. Though we were never asked to show ours, we carried it with us on our trip just in case.
I would also note that some people might experience side effects from the Yellow Fever vaccination. While Sam felt fine the day after receiving his, I woke up with a massive bruise on my arm and experiencing flu-like symptoms. However, Yellow Fever is a serious (and often fatal) disease, so a day or two of discomfort was well worth the trouble in my opinion.
Malaria – While the first defense against Malaria is avoiding mosquito bites in the first place (by applying and reapplying bug spray, sleeping under a mosquito net, and wearing long, loose clothing), antimalarial pills are often highly recommended when traveling in Malaria zones.
There are several types of antimalarial medicines, so you and your doctor will need to discuss which one is right for you.
We used Malarone, which required us to take one pill per day starting two days before our trip and ending seven days after we returned home. We chose Malarone because it is the only antimalarial medication with no known side effects. Neither of us experienced any complications.
Other types of antimalarial pills are known to have side effects such as skin sensitivity to sun, nausea, vivid dreams, and bad reactions when taken in conjunction with stomach medicine.
Because we needed medication and vaccines that are not mandatory in the United States, our health insurance did not cover the expense, nor could we have the vaccines administered in our regular doctor’s office. We made an appointment at a medical clinic nearby designed especially for travelers.
The result was a steep bill of approximately $350USD per person. However, we agreed that the risk posed to ourselves and others was too great to forgo taking every health precaution available.
What to pack depends a great deal on your travel preferences and itinerary, but here is a list of items we found extremely useful on our trip:
Bug Spray – Even while taking antimalarial pills, it is wise to take precautions against mosquito-borne illnesses by preventing bites in the first place. We used a travel-size DEET repellent.
Stomach Tablets – Much of our time was spent traveling in a non-air-conditioned van along some of the bumpiest dirt roads I’ve ever seen. The combination of the jet lag, heat, and motion sickness resulted in a very upset stomach. I was glad I planned ahead and packed an ample supply of stomach medicine (something I pack on any trip, regardless of the location).
Battery-Operated Fan – None of the places we stayed or any of the vehicles we traveled in had air conditioning. Uganda is located right on the equator, which means it was HOT. If I could only pack two items for the trip, I would have chosen my antimalarial pills and my battery-operated fan. Seriously, it was a complete lifesaver.
Outlet Adapter – Be aware that the electrical sockets/voltage might be different than what you have back home. Uganda’s sockets are the same as in Britain (BS- 1363), and 220-240 Volts. This meant we needed an outlet adaptor and a Voltage converter to avoid frying our North American electronics.
Backpack – We were moving around a lot on our trip and had a multi-connection flight itinerary, so we decided to take backpacks rather than wheeled luggage. This ended up being way less hassle, as we were traveling through rural, muddy villages. We also chose to scotch-guard our backpacks to give them an extra layer of protection against the elements. We used our Osprey Porter 46 backpacks. You can read our backpack review here.
Thin Sleeping Shell – For camping, we brought the Sea to Summit Coolmax Adaptor Liner, a thin sleeping shell that wicks away moisture and also repels mosquitos. We have since used the sleeping shell while camping in Georgia in August.
Hiking shoes/boots – Be prepared to get your shoes dirty. We were constantly trekking through mud and puddles. I took my Merrell hiking boots, which was pretty much all I wore (Full disclosure: when I took them off at home I’m surprised the paint didn’t peel of the walls they were so vile…) The only other pair of shoes I took was a pair of flip flops I wore in the shower and around the complex where we were staying.
Long Skirt – For women traveling to Uganda (especially in rural areas), be aware that the dress code might be more conservative than what you are used to. It is traditional for women to wear long skirts (not pants, and definitely no shorts). While I was able to wear pants in some areas of the country, when we were in the rural villages, I was asked to wear a long skirt out of respect for their culture.
Visiting Uganda was an incredible experience, and something neither of us will ever forget. While much of the trip put us well outside our comfort zone, the payoff was amazing.
Do you have any tips for visiting Uganda?
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