As I previously mentioned in my post on backpacking in Africa, travelling in that part of the world can add up to be quite pricey. But with a little imagination and a sense of adventure you can travel/backpack in Africa on a relatively low budget. Of course, it will never be as low as India, Nepal or South East Asia but still cheap enough that anyone could afford it.
One of the African destinations that lends itself perfectly for an interesting, budget friendly Africa vacation is Uganda. I’ve visited the country twice, both times as a backpacker using public transportation.
This is what our budget backpack trip in Uganda looked like:
COUCHSURFING IN KAMPALA
I’ve quite often used Couch Surfing in my “travelling career”; both as the guest and as the host. When I Couch Surf, I usually do so in big cities as they can be quite overwhelming when you first arrive and I prefer experiencing sprawling urban area’s through the eyes of a local or expat instead of following a guide book.
As it usually goes with CS, you don’t always know where you will end up. We were in luck in Kampala and stayed with an awesome expat in one of the city’s fanciest areas, Kololo. Our host took us to his favourite spots in town where we chatted and laughed over some cool beers and fresh tilapia.
On the second trip, I stayed in a quaint hostel (ICU guesthouse, dorm 15$) on the edge of town where many semi-long term volunteers reside. Alternatively you could stay at Red Chili Hideway, it’s also outside of town but with a swimming pool and a free daily shuttle to the city centre. Red Chili offers a good deal on trips to Murchison Falls as well.
EATING ROLEX AND OTHER STREET FOOD
When on a budget, street food is the way to go. In Uganda, you’ll find grilled kebabs and barbecued bananas/corn -to name a few- sizzling on every street corner. The most popular (and in my opinion most tasty) street side snack are rolex (comes from ‘roll eggs’): a tomato-onion-paprika omelette rolled onto a freshly baked chapati. One would really have to have two left hands to mess this snack up! We’d eat rolex from the street almost every day for lunch and it never disappointed.
SAFARI’S AND HIKES IN QUEEN ELISABETH NATIONAL PARK
Just having just crossed the border form DRC (that’s a story for another post) we were in desperate need for some luxury and internet. So we threw our budget out of the window (for a day) and checked into a higher end lodge. Considering most lodges in and around the African national parks often have rates starting at €250 per night, this lodge – Kingfisher Lodge Kichwamba- was a bargain at €160 a night, breakfast and dinner included for both of us!
Disclaimer: these were the rates in 2011, converted with an interesting currency exchange from US Dollar to Euro. Today’s rates in Kingfisher Kichwamba start at 205$ for a double room, half board.
It was exactly what we needed: relaxing by the pool, a western meal á la carte, getting some work done, a much needed wifi fix and a view to die for.
After soaking in as much as possible from our splurge, we returned to our backpacker’s reality the next day. We hitchhiked to Simba Safari Camp where we stayed in a dorm, talk about contrasts! It’s a great budget place to stay, they also offer private rooms.
From there we arranged a boat safari on the Kazinga Channel, bringing along a cold beer to enjoy with the scenery. You don’t need to book a package tour, you can easily arrange transport to the departure point and buy a ticket for the boat trip once you are there. Though I can’t recall the exact price, I can tell you it was definitely less than 30$ per person.
Instead of booking a multi-day safari package, we hired a car with driver to take us on a game drive in the national park. Though Queen Elisabeth NP may be far from the most impressive safari I’ve been on, it very well is the cheapest. Perfect for animal lovers on a budget!
There’s plenty to do in QE National Park like chimp tracking or looking for tree climbing lions but we opted for a more economical activity: hiking in ‘Maramagambo Forest’. Since we already had a car and driver for the day, the only cost left was that of the entrance fee to the forest and a tip for the guide taking you along the trails, pointing out various species of primates, birds and medicinal plants.
Our main reason to hit the forest, was to see the massive python living in a bat cave. Apparently, it doesn’t hunt, it just opens its mouth and waits for one of the thousands of bats to fly in. This is all the python does, all day long. Therefore it has gotten so fat, it can hardly move. We were keen on seeing the spectacle. Unfortunately we missed the freak show as the python had already returned deep inside the cave after its daily suntanning moment, when it drags itself out of the cave.
TOTAL RELAXATION BY LAKE BUNYONYI
Next we headed to Lake Bunyonyi, if you’ve been following this blog for a while, you might have read my post on Lake Bunyonyi, my favourite spot in Africa so far.
Both times we stayed in a magical place called Byoona Amagara, definitely the best value lodge I’ve stayed in. For just 15$ per person per night, we had a small geodome with private bathroom and a stunning view over the Ugandan lake. They also provide dorms (7$) if you’re really tight on cash but the beauty of staying here is undoubtedly the geodome experience. There are plenty of other places to stay on Lake Bunyonyi, I haven’t tried any of them as I’m totally hooked on Byoona Amagara…
The entire trip in Uganda took us about 10 days, travelling quite slowly, spending enough time at each destination. You could backpack the same trip in fewer days but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it. If you have more time, why not add a stop in Jinja and/or a jaunt to Murchison falls to see more animals and a stunning waterfall.
Have you been to Uganda? Would you consider going?