An epic self drive Uganda trip is one of the most phenomenal vacations for every intrepid traveller. The country is often referred to as the “Pearl of Africa” with the melting pot of diverse cultures, spectacular landscapes, a wide array of wildlife species, a plethora of birds, beautiful sceneries and several landmark attractions that provide endless and unmatched possibilities for road trip safaris. Whether you are undertaking a long safari or just exploring the Urban tourism sites (Fort Portal, Mbarara, Mbale, Kapchorwa, and Kabale), planning a self-drive trip is the best way to undertake this adventure.
Uganda is filled with endless possibilities and any first time self-driver will be confused for choices. Therefore, these are the top 10 Tips for first time self-drivers in Uganda to help you prepare for the unexpected and arrange a stress-free trip;
Rent a 4WD Vehicle
There are several Asphalted roads yet the real exciting adventure begins when you make a turn to the smaller, murram roads. So if you plan to use the same vehicle for the entire safari (especially long safaris), then you need to rent a 4×4 Vehicle in Uganda. You wouldn’t want to get stuck on a Park road for days or spend a lot of money trying to move a vehicle that has been stuck in the mud.
Conduct checks on the car
When conducting checks on the car, make sure that the basics such as the right tyre pressure, check the spare wheel, water levels, and oil. Also, make sure that the lights are functional, there are no leakages and all these have to be done at least a day before the actual road trip. After all these checks have been conducted, fill up your fuel tanks before embarking on your first time self-drive trip in Uganda.
Understand the routes and driving distances
Using Google maps is wonderful but sometimes misleading and don’t function within the many roads in Uganda without signals. For any Ugandan self-drive planner, it is important to make sure that you have clearly indicated and documented your route plan hence saving a screen grab of the planned route on your phone, or better still printing a map, directions, and driving distances of the different destinations.
Additionally, if you are a first-time driver in Africa and undertaking a road trip in Uganda, yet have probably travelled in big cities or first-World countries, it may be challenging to determine how far you can travel in one day.
Avoid driving after dark/or at night
Another tip for first time self-drive trip in Uganda is “never drive at night”. It is sometimes inevitable but on a serious note, try as much as possible to avoid it at all costs. First time drivers are therefore advised to always set an absolute rule for rural, remote or distant safari destinations. A number of places in the country’s road network are really in bad state and crossed by livestock from time to time, making it difficult to maneuver during daytime but try your best to avoid driving at night.
Follow local traffic laws and regulations
Any first time self-driver in Uganda must follow the local traffic laws and regulations to avoid falling into troubles during the road trip. Some of the common rules include reading road signs, not driving under the influence of alcohol, possessing a valid driver’s permit, using a seatbelt when driving at all times and always keeping left when driving. The speed limit on highways is 100 kilometers per hour, 80 kilometers per hour around remote areas and 50 kilometers per hour within Urban Centers.
Respect other road users
You should always respect other road users such as pedestrians, cyclists, and small and large vehicle drivers to avoid causing accidents. You will notice that most Ugandan roads are smaller than the ones you are used to hence every road users deserved respect while trying to use the same roads.
Always carry extra cash
They say cash is King and this has more meaning when in Africa, and therefore don’t forget to carry some cash during your self-drive trip in Uganda. It is undeniable that credit cards and ATMs can work but in case of smaller transactions at roadside food/fruit stalls, supermarkets and tipping will require cash-either local currency (Uganda shillings) of smaller bills of US Dollars.
Follow and respect Park rules and regulations
A number of rules and regulations govern driving within Park roads and they have to be followed at all times, and they include “not driving outside the indicated game tracks, “avoid walking alone in the middle of the wilderness”, “speed limit in the Park is 40 kilometers per hour”, don’t get out of the vehicle to follow animals on foot, and many others.
Avoid driving when tired
Some of Uganda’s National Parks (Mgahinga, Bwindi impenetrable and Kidepo Valley National Parks) are over 8 hours away from Kampala Capital and given the hilly terrains of some roads, getting fatigued is common. If you ever feel tired along the way, you can rest or spend overnight within the en-route accommodation facilities to avoid landing into problems. Some travellers alternate with friends or colleagues (as long as they also possess valid driving permits). Take breaks along the way to stretch your legs and enjoy meals.
Always be prepared for last-minute changes, breakdowns and getting stuck along the way
Preparation for these unpleasant situations avoids panic in the event of these changes. This involves carrying the necessary equipment and tools such as tow ropes, jacks and satellite phone especially self-driving in remote places with limited signal.
Some of the key areas for first time self-drive trips in Uganda are Murchison falls, Queen Elizabeth, Bwindi Impenetrable, Kidepo Valley, Lake Mburo and Kibale Forest National Parks among others.