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10 Interesting Facts to Expect When You Take a Safari to Uganda, The Pearl of Africa

Updated on May 13, 2018
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Alfred is a long-time teacher and computer enthusiast who works with and troubleshoots a wide range of computing devices.

When you finally decide to take a safari to Uganda, the Pearl of Africa, a few handy facts about its people, cuisine, and lifestyle, may just be what you need firsthand. Then you will have a wonderful safari to a country gifted by nature.

A grey crowned crane (Balearica_regulorum)  The Crested Crane is a symbol of Uganda's beauty and diversity and is the country's national emblem.  Sadly though, its becoming an endangered species. Make sure to view it when you travel to Uganda
A grey crowned crane (Balearica_regulorum) The Crested Crane is a symbol of Uganda's beauty and diversity and is the country's national emblem. Sadly though, its becoming an endangered species. Make sure to view it when you travel to Uganda | Source

Uganda is referred to as The Pearl of Africa because of its exceptional scenery and diverse natural heritage. This was observed by 20th Century explorers Henry Morton Stanley, Captain Speke and Richard Burton.

The expression was formally used after Winston Churchill popularised it in his book, ‘My African Journey’ in 1908.

Uganda is landlocked and located in the eastern part of Africa. It shares its borders with Kenya to the east, Tanzania and Rwanda to the south, Congo to the west and Sudan to the north.

Fast forward to the 21stCentury and you are made to wonder if Uganda still is a pearl of Africa, reminiscent of colonial years. If truth be told, the scenery, the animals, the people, and culture have remained almost intact. Except for a few mishaps, political and otherwise, you should enjoy your stay in the country.

If you decide to take a safari to Uganda in the near future, you may want to get factually equipped about its people and how they live, eat and use technology. You may also want to know how they view you as a tourist.

Probably then, you will plan your safari better and carry the right mindset as you travel.

Below is a look at everyday life vis-à-vis the food, communication, infrastructure, money and lifestyle of the ordinary people.

1. Food - Katogo, Rolex and Molokonyi

Anyone visiting a new country is first challenged by the food served on the table. Uganda is no exception.

First and foremost, Ugandan diet is largely organic. Food is harvested in the farms and gardens and cooked right away. For the most part, processed food is found in supermarkets.

Mealtime is divided into breakfast, lunch, and supper.

Breakfast is usually a cup of hot tea or porridge made of maize or millet flour. It is taken with a variety of other servings. Popular ones are katogo and chapati. Katogo is a combination of boiled bananas, rice, Irish potatoes, mixed with beef or bean stew, or even cow offal.

Katogo, a mixture of rice, banana, leafy greens, irish potatoes, beef or offal, is a favourite breakfast for Ugandan people
Katogo, a mixture of rice, banana, leafy greens, irish potatoes, beef or offal, is a favourite breakfast for Ugandan people

Breakfast aside, the other popular cuisine served in hotels and homes is called matooke (plantain). It is made up of banana fingers which are peeled and steamed in banana leaves. These are later mashed into a paste and served with beef stew or groundnut paste.

Food is also served with other kinds of sauce, usually chicken, goat meat, tilapia, or Nile patch etc. The stew is served in a separate bowl or actually mixed in the main serving.

A serving of matooke, posho and rice, and chicken stew
A serving of matooke, posho and rice, and chicken stew

Besides matooke, other popular foods, include boiled/fried rice (pilau), posho (mingled maize flour), sweet potatoes, cassava, and yams.

The normal cuisine aside, the Ugandan people have also learnt to improvise with food that can be eaten for breakfast, lunch and supper, or other times without the fanfare of a full meal.

Rolex is a popular serving for those on the move, much like a burger in other parts of the world. A rolex is a chapati with one or two fried eggs rolled together like a sandwich.

It is also popular late in the night when people leave nocturnal hangouts and want a quick fix before hitting the bed. There are several rolex kiosks spread all over the major towns.

Kiosks located close to bars and other 'happening places' operate for close to 24 hours.

A sliced rolex is a popular quick meal for Ugandan people
A sliced rolex is a popular quick meal for Ugandan people

Typically, a rolex kiosk is a charcoal stove atop a table, and one or two young men frying the chapati and eggs.

Besides rolex, other popular quick fixes include:

  • Molokonyi – boiled cow hoof
  • Pork
  • Nsenene - fried grasshoppers

Molokonyi is boiled cow hoof. It is popular in the evening hours for those indulging in alcoholic beverages
Molokonyi is boiled cow hoof. It is popular in the evening hours for those indulging in alcoholic beverages

2. Mobile Money

In Uganda, money is exchanged as cash or mobile money. The latter is more or less an eWallet system. It does not use the internet though. It has become the de facto medium of exchange for business and family.

Mobile money transaction is done via mobile phones. The money is converted from mobiles to cash and vice versa through the numerous mobile money kiosks.

Unlike the developed world, credit cards are not common in Uganda, where very few actually understand how they work.

A mobile money shop
A mobile money shop

A huge section of the Ugandan people owns mobile phones. This makes mobile money transactions ever more convenient. It is actually spreading fast across the African continent and is threatening the very existence of banking institutions.

When in a Ugandan safari, make sure to travel with a mobile phone or better still, purchase a cheap Chinese model from the stores available everywhere.

3. Chinese Tech and Infrastructure Rule

As mentioned above, many Ugandans own mobile phones. This is probably because the country does not have a landline telecom infrastructure in place. The little that had been set up in the previous decades was wrecked because of wars.

When telephone communication took root in the 1980s, there was no landline to talk of. The population thus embraced mobile phones when they became available.

Mobile phones in use range from iPhones to Samsungs. The majority of the people though are using Chinese handsets such as iTel and Techno. These brands account for roughly 70% of mobile devices in the country. They sell for less than $8 dollars.

The Internet is available in a variety of wired and wireless dongles or through mobile phones. The highest speed is 4G but actually averages 3G. Do not be fooled though, as you may not get these bandwidths when you travel deep in the country.

Chinese model phones are everywhere
Chinese model phones are everywhere

When it comes to computer software, Windows and Microsoft rule the market. Desktop computers are still available and you will collide with Pentium IIIs in some places.

The sale of laptops has however usurped that of desktops in the recent years.

You may also want to travel with your legitimate software backup just in case your laptop breaks down. Copies of genuine software are rare in the market. Almost 90% of software, including Windows operating systems, are pirated.

Besides the pirate status, Uganda is also a dumping ground of cheap and fake Chinese products. They range from laptop batteries to sandals. You may easily get a raw deal when you walk into Indian shops for accessories and jewellery.

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4. The Roads, Japanese Cars and Boda Bodas

The road infrastructure in Uganda is actually fair especially when travelling on highways. The same cannot be said of rural areas where roads are largely marram and muddy.

A safari to Uganda's rural areas can be muddy in rainy seasons. This probably makes travelling a little more exciting.

Typical Ugandan road
Typical Ugandan road

You may also consider carrying along your driving permit just in case. Do not always trust everyone sitting in the driving seat. A few are outright reckless and others drive vehicles that are visibly dangerous - DMCS.

It is important to note that the majority of automobiles in Uganda are right-hand drive and 95% are Toyota models, imported and used from Japan. These vehicles are actually 5 to 15 years old at the time of importation. The average cost of imported Toyota is about $2,000 US dollars. This figure doubles because of taxation when the vehicle arrives in Kampala city from the port of Mombasa or Dar es Salaam.

New vehicles are imported by the very rich, government parastatals and NGOs.

Over 90% of cars on the road come from Japan
Over 90% of cars on the road come from Japan

Motor vehicles aside, most folks use 100cc motorcycles (boba-boda) as means of transport. They are handy if you want to get around quickly. The traffic jam in Kampala city and its suburbs will make you want to try them too.

Just like their motor vehicle counterparts boda-boda riders are equally reckless. Be in charge when sitting behind them. Otherwise, you will be whisked around dangerously! You do not want to risk your leg or worse still, find yourself in the mortuary. Common sense requires that you stay ahead of these fellows.

Ugandan people use bodabodas to get around quickly
Ugandan people use bodabodas to get around quickly

5. Malaria and Your Health

In Uganda, just like elsewhere in Africa, malaria is serious business. It continues to kill many people every year.

Malaria is not actually life threating like reports suggest. Medication is available everywhere for free and for pay and you can actually treat it at home.

What kills people is lack of timely medication, negligence by medical personnel, ignorance, misinformation and sometimes, rejection of medication by patients.

In most of Africa, a visit to the doctor is a rarity except when someone is critically ill.

When you travel to Uganda make sure to get the right treatment straight away. Plenty of information is available to help you stay safe. This information is provided at your embassy.

While down on the ground in Uganda, sleep under a treated mosquito net. These are available everywhere almost free of charge.

On another note, Uganda is actually hot and dusty country when it is not raining. You need to be prepared when moving around. Carry your shades, sun creams, a hat and light clothes.

Use mosquito coil or other repellent to keep mosquitoes away
Use mosquito coil or other repellent to keep mosquitoes away | Source

6. Security, Police and Guns

In general, Uganda is a peaceful country and you can actually move around alone, even at night. Be reminded though to have lighting gear when walking through the alleyways and rural villages. Electricity can be erratic sometimes and the roads are littered with pot holes.

Uganda police at work
Uganda police at work

Meanwhile, Uganda police is riddled with bribery and both infantry and traffic police officers seldom do their work wholeheartedly. You will get away with lesser crime if you part with Kitu Kidogo (bribe). Thus to stay away from police cells, carry a few Ugandan shillings in your pocket. $3 dollar bill will suffice most of the time.

Turning to firearms, it is illegal to own a gun in Uganda. Firearms can only be used by the army, police, persons with special connections or warriors from Karamoja. You may not easily bribe your way out of a hole if caught with a gun.

7. Uganda and Gays

Uganda is renowned for its anti-gay stance which has placed her at crossroads with western countries where same-sex relationship is okey.

Ugandans may not be anti-gay per se, but simply do not grasp the idea of same-sex relationships. It just does not make sense to them and for your own good do not even try to start explaining it.

It is one of those topics that should go unnoticed and never brought up for discussion. People simply become annoyed.

8. Socializing With Mzungu

Mzungu is a Swahili word used in the East African region to refer to a person of American or European descent with a white skin.

Quite a number of white tourists don’t take this very well and always insist they are called by their real names. Some even go as far as acquiring local names and insist they are referred thus and not Muzungu.

Mzungu is not derogatory in any way but rather identity tag for someone of a lighter colour. Ordinary Ugandans actually regard whites quite highly and this comes with its own advantages and disadvantages. You will be respected and accorded attention wherever you go.

This comes with strings attached though. You are expected to part with double the amount you pay for services.

But don’t allow this to bring you down and rather enjoy your time in the country. Ugandans are full of life and you should have as much fun every single day you spend in the country.

The point in Jinja where the River Nile starts its journey to the Mediterranean Sea
The point in Jinja where the River Nile starts its journey to the Mediterranean Sea

9. Uganda and Her Diverse Culture

Over 80% of the population in Uganda live in rural areas. You, therefore, have to visit the villages to get the true feeling of ordinary Uganda.

Overall, 60% of the population is literate, and can somehow communicate in English. Besides the English language, the two other principal languages are Kiswahili and Luganda. The latter is spoken widely in and around the city of Kampala.

Kiswahili is fairly spoken in the north and eastern regions. It is worthwhile to remember that Kiswahili is the national language spoken in neighbouring Kenya and Tanzania.Kampala.

Besides the three languages mentioned above, Uganda has a total of 40 indigenous languages divided into three major categories: Bantu, Nilotic and Central Sudanic.

An Introduction ceremony in Uganda, where a young lady introduces to her family, the husband to be
An Introduction ceremony in Uganda, where a young lady introduces to her family, the husband to be

Uganda is very rich in culture and each of the 40 tribes is represented with diverse cultural tenets.

The tribes are as diverse as the cultures they represent. Prominent tribes that boast popular cultures include, the Baganda, Gishu, Banyoro and Karimojong.

Some of the tribes are also classed under kingdoms and some of the popular monarchies and their Kings include:

  • Baganda Kingdom have the Kabaka
  • Toro Kingdom have the Omukama
  • Bunyoro Kingdom have the Omukama
  • Iteso Kingdom have the Emorimori
  • Ankole Kingdom have the Omugabe

A group of people from Karamoja in Northern Uganda doning cultural outfits
A group of people from Karamoja in Northern Uganda doning cultural outfits | Source

10. Uganda Tourist Attractions

Uganda may not have the fancy beaches that line the coastal countries but has a flurry of beautiful scenery to behold.

There are amazing 1000 bird species which account for half of all species found in the African continent, and 7 out of the 18 plant varieties found across the continent.

For the most part, wildlife is confined to the parks except for monkeys which can be spotted jutting out of anything that resembles a forest.

Monkeys can be spotted in many places
Monkeys can be spotted in many places

As mentioned earlier, Uganda is the pearl of Africa owing to its diverse scenery which spans the whole country. For this reason, it has lots of attractions which should keep you busy as you move around.

Popular activities that have gotten the attention of tourists include:

  • Gorilla and chimpanzee tracking
  • Game viewing
  • Bird watching
  • Water Rafting
  • Mountaineering and trekking
  • Cultural education
  • Boating

White Water Rafting on The Nile
White Water Rafting on The Nile | Source

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Gorillas at Bwindi Impenetrable Forest
Gorillas at Bwindi Impenetrable Forest | Source

For you to accomplish the aforementioned activities you may want to visit just some of these parks and tourist attractions:

  • Murchison Falls National Park with its 40-meter drop fall and amazing rafting sites
  • Bwindi Impenetrable Forest with world famous mountain gorillas
  • Queen Elizabeth National Park with vast collection of wildlife
  • Kidepo Valley National Park with amazing collection of bird species and other animals
  • Semliki National Park, the only tropical lowland forest with vast collection of wildlife
  • The source of River Nile, the only river in the world that flows north from Lake Victoria
  • The snow-capped Ruwenzori mountain in the middle of Equatorial Africa
  • Ssese and Buvuma islands with 84 and 52 islands respectively boasting vast marine and land animal life
  • Kasubi Tombs, the burial site of the Kings of Buganda Kingdom
  • Uganda museum for historical and traditional exhibitions

© 2015 Alfred Amuno


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    • Dariya Lopukhina profile image

      Dariya Lopukhina 

      3 years ago

      After reading your article I feel like I have already visited Uganda and enjoyed the trip a lot. Thanks for this awesome hub!

    • amuno profile imageAUTHOR

      Alfred Amuno 

      4 years ago from Kampala

      Thanks Lewis.

    • Linnea Lewis profile image


      4 years ago from USA

      Very great and interesting introduction on regular life in Uganda. Really enjoyed reading it, nice hub!


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