Right, you have made the decision to go to Uganda, first off fair play its a great choice! It’s an indescribable place, you just have to experience it for yourself. I’d recommend it to anybody with a pretty solid roll. Water levels are prime 365 days of the year.
First stop is to the health clinic. All details for injections for Uganda can be found at www.mdtravelhealth.com. These injections are expensive but some will cover you for up to ten years. If you are planning a trip for less then two months I recommend getting the Malerone malaria tablets. They are more expensive but the best, other types can mess with your stomach and energy levels.
Flying to Uganda from the UK or Ireland
Next are your flights, the main advice I can give is obvious; the earlier you book, the cheaper flights will be. Both times I have traveled to Brussels and flown direct to Entebbe from there. Brussels airlines are great, hassle free and very friendly. If you contact Kayak the Nile, Sam and Emily will be delighted to book your flights through their contacts in Brussels airlines, this gets you the cheapest option with your boat and extra baggage included free of charge. There are other possibly cheaper options, I know Emirates fly from London to Dubai and then down to Entebbe and they are a solid bet as well. Some people fly with Ethiopian airlines; I have a friend who spent a week in an airport because of them! Long story short there are many airlines who will bring your kayak hassle free, do your own research and find the cheapest, reliable choice for you.
Tip: Always cover your boats and paddles in some kind of bag cover, use a roofrack strap to make a nice handle. It protects them and saves awkward questions. If you have bulky items like a towel or a hoody, tape it to your paddles, this saves space and provides protection.
On arrival almost every nationality will have to pay 50 € visa to enter the country. Luckily for the Irish, Ireland has a waiver to this and entry is free. To avoid any airport related stress, organise with Kayak the Nile for a shuttle from the airport. Tell them what time your flight is landing and they will pick you up and drive you to the river, it’s a two hour journey. In this time you will become slightly accustomed to the madness that is the roads. The journey costs around 120,000 shillings for small car, 150,000 shillings for big car.100,000 Ugandan shillings is equal to 28 €.
You have three choices now that the Bujagali dam has flooded the Silverback section from Bujagali. Most people opt for the Hairy Lemon, it is pure paradise. A tropical island with monkeys and birds, delicious food, not mention that it is right beside the world famous Nile Special rapid. The price for the Lemon has gone up in recent times, this is mainly down to the vast improvement in food and the addition of flushing toilets and showers. It costs 55,000 UGS a night, which is 15 €. Not bad for three full meals (the evening meal is always two course). I’ve always liked the absence of power or internet here as well.
If you want to live ultra cheap, you will save quite a bit of money staying at the local village. It seems to be pretty cool living among the locals, on the other side of the river beside Nile Special. The downside is preparing your own food and the lack of any power. The standard thing to do is to set up your tent within a mudhut. This is possibly the better option if you plan to be in Uganda for a few months or more.
The third option is staying at the top of the river in Bujagali. Despite the dam which flooded the Silverback section and turned the famous tourist attraction of Bujagali Falls into a lake, this small town is home to an amazing and interesting community of people. Power and internet are commonly available here and it is only a fifteen minute journey from the city of Jinja. However, staying here to go kayaking requires much more logistics now. The closest whitewater is over a half an hour drive away and shuttles to and from the river need to be arranged every day.
- The river now starts below the Bujagali dam. At the top of the river now is the Dead Dutchman on river left and Overtime on river right.The Dutchman takes 90% of the water flow of the Nile, it is a massive rapid and until recently was not run very often. There is an absolute must make move at the top which can’t be seen from scouting locations. After this move it seems to be a lucky dip on whether you come through unscathed or on the verge of puking while coming through the huge crashers and whirlpools. Overtime is a comparatively shallow rapid that is definitely worth a scout.
- A great run on the first day is from Kalagala Falls down to the Lemon! There will be somebody there who you can bribe for a couple of beers to show you the lines down the river as there are a few channels to get lost in! Kalagala is a very intimidating first rapid to run, the line on the right seems crazy but is good to go, if you don’t fancy it your first day you can get on below no problem. There are six rapids on this section down to the Lemon. All are safe as houses, ginormous waves, twenty-eight degree water, awesome stuff, stay in the middle of the rapids and shoot is generally the aim of the game. On the sides you will find big boils and whirlpools. Hold your breath and wait it out, they will let you go!
- From the Lemon you might also go up higher on the river and session Super Hole, a tremendous freestyle spot for all hole and wave moves. Once you are done there you have a flat section before the river splits into three sections. Hug the left bank and get out to inspect Kalagala. Hug the right bank and get out well before Itanda, you will get some spectacular views of this rapid from here. Down the middle is Hypoxia! Worth a scout someday, it is a crazy piece of whitewater.
- Itanda is the most infamous rapid on the Nile probably because of its size and how often it is run. Itanda has claimed 50% of the swims that I have ever done thus far. I found out the hard way that it is a lot more difficult in high water then in lower water; a minefield of massive white holes which require three or four moves to make the obvious line. No feeling in a kayak has bettered the feeling of styling this rapid on the occasions that I have. Looking up from below at what you just did is outstanding! Get somebody reliable to follow and go for it, just make sure somebody is filming from river right!
- The Nile has numerous play waves. Club wave usually works in the morning and Nile Special works in the evening as the power demand goes up and the dam releases more water. The Hair of the Dog waves work at very low water and Malalu works in very high water, so wave boating is guaranteed!
What to bring
A difficult question between whats essential and what is handy. I’ll try to be balanced here:
- Bring a credit card and make sure it’s Visa, Mastercards are plastic food for Ugandan ATM machines. Ring Visa and your bank before you go and tell them you are going to Uganda!
- Small first aid kits for cuts. Make sure you have disinfectant, getting a bad infection is not ideal. Almost all medications are available without a prescription over the counter.
- Bug spray, bugs aren’t too bad there but they can be annoying at night, I’d suggest bring a pair of longer pants for evening time.
- Always wear decent footwear, you don’t know what you may be stepping on!
- Bring a spare paddle, it is powerful water and has broken and swept away many paddles.
- Don’t overload with clothes, you can buy t-shirts and ridiculous things at the famous Jinja market if you need extras.
- Sleeping bag.
- A tent if you are on a budget trip which will keep you dry and act as a mosquito net. Do not under any circumstances leave it open, it will be infested with wildlife! If you are lucky you will get to see some amazing tropical storms while you are there, I have never known rain like it.
- A throw bag is handy to tie boats to a truck on the way back from the wave downstream of Hairy Lemon, Malalu, but not much else to be perfectly honest. Washing line?
- Cameras and spare batteries, you will regret it if you don’t. “The river is like something off the National Geographic channel” – Moe Kelleher on his first spin down the river.
- A laptop can be handy if you own one, you can get wifi about fifty minutes from where you will be staying in Jinja, my favorite town in the world.
- Small things like cable ties and duct tape always come in handy!
- No need for pillow’s or sleeping mat. Buy a mattress in jinja as soon as you can, they are very comfy and cheap. Give it to one of the local children before you leave.
- A rash vest is nice on the rare occasion it rains or to protect the skin of pale Irishmen!
- Unless you have Spanish ancestors, bring sun cream, small ones that fit in your BA are the best.
- Bring an unlocked phone or buy one between a few of you there. The network MTN works well from the hill on the Hairy Lemon island – you can buy credit cheaply and call home easily.
- A roofrack strap.
- On the river you will likely get the waterborne parasite which causes schistosomiasis (bilharzia). No big deal, but it needs to be treated. Buy the one day cure in any Ugandan pharmacy for a couple of euro (costs over 100 € in Ireland), it’s called Praziquantel. Wait three months after you are home and then take the treatment – don’t forget this.
- Your main form of transport will be by motorbike (boda boda) and dodgy looking local. Forget the river or any snakes, this is the most dangerous and often the most fun part of your trip. Wear your helmet. Pick a good boda boda driver and stick with him. Build up a rapport and you will no longer need to haggle on prices. They will all try to rip you off, but in a good humored way. My last time there a boda tried to charge me 150,000 shillings for a 3,000 shillings journey! Know the price that others pay for things and stick with it, don’t be afraid to haggle.
- Although its cool to look at, don’t take pictures of Owen Falls dam in Jinja, it is heavily guarded and stories of guards smashing cameras have emerged. The police have be known to be corrupt! My friend Joe once got pulled over and fined for driving with sandals, luckily the guard, despite having X-ray vision didn’t spot the other people hiding in the raft on the roof.
- Strengthen your shoulders before you come, with push ups etc. Especially if you plan on surfing Club Wave and Nile Special which I am sure you do. An injury on the first day could spoil your trip.
- Check out what else Uganda has to offer. We went on a Safari in Murchison Park, it was spectacular. The cheapest way to do this is to arrange your own driver instead of going through adventure companies. Rent a car with some friends and go on a road trip!
- If you want to travel to Jinja from Hairy Lemon. The best way is to get a boda boda to the nearest town called Nazigo (3,000 shillings) and then get a Matatu (mini bus) to Jinja (4,000 shillings). Charging equipment on the Lemon is all solar powered and does not last long, so bring your stuff to Source Café in Jinja to have an internet session and charge your stuff. If you are having a day off go to the Nile Resort, which has five star facilities, a swimming pool with a bar, delicious food (try the Nile perch fish) and it only costs two euros to use.
Tip: Buy a ridiculous suit and have a night in Jinja casino, you are playing with small cash by British and Irish standards but you feel and are treated like a high roller! Free beers accompany your participation! Go mad! Barry ended up winning two million shillings over a couple of nights in Jinja casino. Be warned, it can be addictive it is so much craic! Parties are still epic in the rafting company hub in Bugagali, especially on weekends. Treat your hangovers to some delicious chapatis (Nutella and banana ones are awesome).
That’s a ton of information but I hope it proves useful. If you are still considering Uganda as a destination don’t think twice, do it! You won’t regret it – Andrew