If you are looking to visit Uganda (this is probably relevant to other parts of Central Africa too), either for a charity trip or for tourism, here are some tips for helping you prepare. If you are from a developed country, travelling to a developing country brings with it a different set of challenges.
Access to healthcare
Healthcare is not the same as in ‘the west’. Even if you are from a country with a National Health Service, get travel insurance which covers medical expenses (you do not want to find yourself with an enormous un-payable medical bill) and repatriation (being shipped back to your country) in case you get really sick and need to come back.
Get the injections you need before you go. Check with your doctor – in good time – which injections you will need. Some immunisations require several injections over the course of a few weeks.
You will probably need at least the following: Diphtheria, Tetanus, Typhoid, Hepatitis A (Hepatitis B is also recommended) and Yellow Fever. It is also worth asking about Rabies, Meningitis and Cholera too.
I was told I couldn’t go into Uganda unless I had received the Yellow Fever vaccination, but I was never asked to show any documents. Better safe than sorry though.
This is probably the most annoying part about travelling to Uganda. Mosquitos are everywhere (especially at night) and malaria tablets will protect you against malaria whilst you are there. The two main choices are Doxycycline or Malarone. The tablets need to be taken daily and are quite expensive (better to pay this than get malaria though), I was also told to take another 10 days’ worth after I returned.
Another tip, from my unfortunate personal experience, always have a bottle of water to hand, because if you take Malarone on an empty stomach (all the shops were closed) the tablet can do weird things to your throat or insides. I woke up one night feeling like it was effervescing in my stomach – after taking one without water, and it was incredibly unpleasant.
Deet and Mosquito nets
Most hotels and guest houses have mosquito nets over the beds, as mosquitos mainly come out at night and are very annoying and will want your blood whilst you can’t swat them. If you are planning on going camping, take a tent which will protect you from mosquitos (and snakes).
Deet is a weird-smelling spray which you can put on to try and keep mosquitos away (try not to get it in your mouth), I found it quite helpful, but my brother stopped wearing it because he said that it was doing no good. Also eating Marmite is allegedly helpful for keeping mosquitos away, and maybe that is why they kept more away from me than my brother!
You are practically on the equator. Wear sunblock. My brother wore a:
but I just wore a cap. Incidentally, I didn’t get sunburnt, but he did!
As a non-local, you are likely to be given non-local prices whilst you are out and about. Ask trustworthy people you meet (maybe someone in your hotel or hostel who has been there a while) how much things should cost. After this, barter until you get closer to that cost if you are being quoted a different price.
Also, because of the big numbers used for money in Uganda (10000 Ugandan Shillings is, on writing, equivalent to 2GBP or around 3 Dollars), it is easy to think that you are being charged a lot more for something than you probably are. At the end of the day, your pride may be at stake, but it isn’t worth getting in a fight because the taxi driver is trying to ‘rip you off’ by charging you something that is, relatively-speaking, probably not very much.
At the first ATM I went to, I put my card in and was trying to calculate how much I needed (thinking in a highly inflated currency can be quite tricky), after a while the machine asked me if I, “Needed more time”, I said yes, and then again, and then again, and then it swallowed my card because I was taking to long. Thankfully the bank was open and they got my card back for me, but watch out for this! Get familiar with the exchange rate before you go.
You might also need to tell your bank that you are abroad so they don’t block your card. Visit their website or ask them about it.
Withdraw large amounts at a time because you will probably be charged a fee for each time you withdraw, but keep some stored in a safe place instead of carrying it all around with you. Try and get money out during the day, most cash points are guarded by the police/guards with guns, so you will probably not be robbed at one (although you may need to watch out for them instead).
DO NOT TAKE PHOTOS OF THE POLICE OR THEIR VEHICLES.
If the ATM asks you which currency you want to pay in, select the local one, or the bank will charge a conversion fee.
Check your bank account periodically – after returning – for any suspicious transactions (you should probably do this anyway, as card fraud can happen anywhere).
Here is a list of accessories which I used and found to be incredibly helpful:
Anker Travel Charger
This will charge your phone four or five times, very useful when a socket/outlet is not nearby. (I just realised you can plug a Mac into this too!)
I would strongly advise getting one of these as there are frequent power surges which is not good for any plugged in electronics! This one has usb charging ports too. This link is for a British one.
Take a torch with you or you might stand on a snake in the dark! This tiny keyring torch is powered by one AAA battery and has 3 different intensities. I have this on my keyring and think it is great.
More powerful torch
This one is bright (900 Lumens), I wanted one more powerful than my brother had, but I bought a second hand one and it didn’t work. Own a working one now and it is great!
- If you do meet any other Westerners, they will probably be British or Dutch.
- If you have it, don’t flash your cash around, it isn’t very respectful.
- If you need data, there probably aren’t many wired connections around, but the mobile networks are remarkably good and I had good internet on my phone most of the time. I bought a local SIM card from MTN and they used about 20 scratch cards to load the data on for me!
- Don’t wear shorts if you are a male, yes it is hot, but you will get some funny looks if you do (I was told they will be more amused than offended, but this may not be the case everywhere).
I wore some like these:
The zipped pocket is useful, and they can become shorts (for when you leave Uganda or are inside!)
- If you are a woman, in order to respect the culture, wear a long skirt or trousers (pants if you are American) and cover the shoulders, especially in more remote villages.
- Don’t drink the tap water there, I brushed my teeth in it, but was told when I returned that I probably shouldn’t have done.
- If you really need to drink the water there (maybe you are going camping), get a:
or use water tablets. Otherwise, bottled water is readily available.
- Keep an open mind, don’t speak to people like you know better than they do, be respectful and ready to listen and learn as well as teach.
Please let me know if you think anything here is incorrect or if I have missed anything!