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  • Writer's pictureIngeborg Sæbø Oluka

Six Insider's Tips for a Good Road Trip in Uganda

Updated: Aug 21, 2023

Have you ever been on a road trip in Uganda? It can be exciting, but also overwhelming if you are not used to traveling in traffic here. Boda-bodas (motorcycle taxis) drive on both sides of the car, big trucks pass even bigger trucks, fully loaded taxis speed past, only to stop to pick up new passengers a few hundred meters further on, and the road may have a sudden pothole that you wish you had seen a little earlier...

In addition, there are pedestrians, cows, sheep, goats and chickens - even on the highway!

And then, when you get a little off the main roads, as you often have to, there are unexpected challenges in the form of big humps, deep potholes, mud and sharp rocks. And of course, the occasional herds of cattle! Therefore, we at Alakara Travels always recommend using an experienced Ugandan driver, unless you are used to this kind of traffic. Not only is the risk of something going wrong much less with an experienced local driver - it is also a great advantage having a local person with you in the car if (or most likely when!) something unexpected occurs!

However, even if the driving is left to the driver, there's a lot to experience as a passenger, and here are our six top tips to ensure that you enjoy the experience!

1. Have your camera ready!

It often happens that you see something along the road that you have never seen before - a truck full of green bananas, a car with a hundred chickens on the roof, a boda-boda with five passengers, a motor bike carrying a sofa, or a sign with a funny name... (for example, who wants to buy their medicine at "Surprise Pharmacy?"). And as you're in the car, if your camera is far away, the likelihood is that you have passed the motif long before you got the camera out!

Uganda, roadtrip
Have your camera ready - there are lots of good subjects on and along the roads in Uganda! Photo: Rune Braadland

2. Bring enough drinks!

(You should always do that when you're on a trip in a hot country :) ) Having said that, it is relatively close between the small towns, and as a rule it is possible to buy bottled water or soft drinks along the way on most of the main roads in Uganda. Further out into the countryside, it can be more difficult to find someone who sells bottled water or other drinks. Remember that you get thirsty much faster when it's more than 30 degrees outside, and that the trip may take longer than you planned.

3. Buy and eat "roadside chicken"!

If you drive the main road eastwards from Kampala, you must stop in the small trading centre called Namawojjolo and buy grilled chicken on a stick... it's delicious! The market here is strictly regulated, and we have never experienced or heard of anyone getting sick from the food here. If you want to be absolutely sure that the chicken you buy is straight from the fire, you can take the opportunity to get out of the car and buy it directly from the grill. Here you can also buy water, soft drinks and roasted gonja (plantain). It can be a bit overwhelming with a dozen people surrounding the car and offering chicken, gonja and soda by sticking it all through the window from the outside - but breathe with your stomach and enjoy the experience! And yes - you get your change back, even if you do not have complete control over who you ended up buying from, and who accepted the payment through the window!

Chicken on a stick, or chicken in your face as some call it!

4. Do you need to go to the bathroom?

You often have to after a few hours... In densely built-up areas, it is best to stop at a petrol station. We often stop at Total, but in recent years there are several different petrol stations that have clean and neat toilets. In many places the toilets are locked, so you have to ask an employee to borrow the key. If you go further out into the countryside, with houses far between, the easiest thing to do is find a bush or tall grass to hide behind. If you take a long-distance bus, the bus sometimes stops, and the conductor announces that the ladies go to one side of the road, and the men on the other! It might be a good idea to bring toilet paper and hand sanitizer in your bag, because you won't always find this at the public toilets.

5. Be nice to the police!

On a trip out of the cities in Uganda, you will pass many police checkpoints. Private cars are stopped occasionally, while trucks and buses are stopped very often. If you are stopped, it is important to stay calm, be polite and pleasant, and do as you are told. Usually the police talks to the driver, and only greets the passengers. If you travel with a Ugandan driver, let him do the talking! If you do drive, you will often be asked to show your driver's license, and then the police will go round the car, check the insurance papers (which are stickers that are put on the front screen), and maybe something else. As long as you have everything in order, there is little to be stressed about. Are you in a hurry? Remember that your hurry is not really the concern of the police man or lady at the road block! They are just doing their job, and remember that whoever stops you may have been standing there in the sun for many hours, with poor pay and little excitement, so there is no reason to be anything other than polite and nice! If you start to complain or criticise, you only have yourself to thank if you end up spending much more time than necessary!

6. Arrive before it gets dark!

Driving in the dark in Uganda is challenging - the roads are poorly marked, almost no pedestrians use reflectors, and speed bumps and potholes in the road are difficult to spot. So plan your trip so that you arrive at your destination no later than 07pm. Google Maps has fairly good time estimations. On longer trips you should be wise enough to add an extra hour compared to what Google Maps says. Things take time, as you know!

Finally - enjoy the ride! There is always something new and fascinating to see along Ugandan roads ;)

Have you been on a road trip in Uganda? Feel free to share stories, tips and tricks for a good road trip in Uganda in the comments!

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