Most self drive in Uganda will probably involve the capital city of Kampala, although it’s worth mentioning that the international airport is actually in Entebbe. It will take you at least an hour to get to Kampala from Entebbe unless the traffic is horrendous.
Get behind the wheel and experience Uganda, the smiley countryside, and the vistas of the Kabale highway; a self-drive along the country’s western roads is the definitive safari road trip for locals and tourists alike. Spend a few days on a self-guided game-watching drive in Uganda’s national parks, an expedition sure to calm your nerves because it requires a bucket load of patience.
For wildlife lovers, there is the Big5, primates the endless list of mammals and birds to see. For lovers of cultures, there are country homes, communities, and villages untouched by modernity. There are stretches of road that pass sweeping plantations and travel over dramatic mountain passes for those who love driving through the open countryside.
If you decide to rent a 4×4 self-drive rooftop tent car for your trip around Uganda, check it over carefully and ask to take it for a test drive. Even if you’re not knowledgeable about the working of engines, a few minutes on the road should be sufficient to establish whether it has any seriously disturbing creaks, rattles, or other noises.
Check the condition of the tires (bald is beautiful might be the national motto in this regard) and that there is at least one spare, better two, both in a condition to be used should the need present itself. If the tires are tubeless, an inner tube of the correct size can help repair the required upcountry.
Ask to be shown the wheel spanner, jack, and the thing for raising the jack. If the vehicle is a high-clearance 4×4, ensure that the jack can lift the wheel high enough to change the wheel. Ask also to be shown filling points for oil, water, and petrol and check that all the keys do what they are supposed to do — don’t leave the city with a car you’ll later discover cannot be locked!
Once on the road trip, check oil and water regularly in the early stages of your Uganda safari journey to ensure no existing leaks.
Aside from unexpected potholes, the main hazard on Ugandan roads is other drivers. Minibus-taxi drivers, in particular, have long been given to overtaking on blind corners, and speed limits are universally ignored except when enforced by road conditions.
As significant a threat as minibus-taxis these days are the spanking new coaches that bully their way along highway routes at up to 120km/h — keep an eye in your rear-view mirror and, if necessary, pull off the road in advance to let the loony pass. The coaches are, in reality, just a heavyweight manifestation of a more widespread road-hog mentality that characterizes Ugandan drivers.
Larger vehicles show little compunction when overtaking smaller ones so tightly that they are practically forced off the road. Vehicles passing in the opposite direction will often stray across the central white line forcing oncoming traffic to cut onto the verge.
One frequently taken to unnecessary extremes in Uganda — is the giant sleeping traffic man or ‘speed bump’ or hump as it’s known locally. A lethal bump might be signposted in advance, painted in black-and-white stripes, or simply rear like a macadamized wave a full 30cm or so above the road without warning. So slow down at any looming hint of urbanization.
Other regular obstacles include bicycles laden with banana clusters, which can often force traffic to leave its lane, and livestock and pedestrians wandering around blithely in the middle of the road.
Traffic police erect road stops for all vehicles that can appear anywhere on the highway. They place metal spikes that no car can drive over, so make sure you slow down and stop for the police check. Usually, there’s nothing you should be concerned about if you have your driver’s license in order; they will wave you through.
Be aware that piles of foliage placed on the road at a few meter intervals warning of a broken-down vehicle. Local drivers don’t use red warning triangles since thieves usually steal them; however, the triangles are helpful to show at police checks if crossing into Rwanda.
Indicator lights are not only there to signal an intent to turn. But also, they are switched on only in the face of oncoming traffic with the intention of warning following drivers not to attempt to overtake.
Ugandans, like many Africans, display a solid and inexplicable aversion to switching on their headlights except in genuine darkness — switch them on at any other time, and every passing vehicle will blink its lights back at you in bemusement.
In rainy, misty, or twilight conditions, it would be optimistic to think you’ll be alerted to oncoming traffic by headlights. Or for that matter, to expect the more demented element among Ugandan drivers to avoid overtaking or speeding because they cannot see more than ten meters ahead.
Avoid driving on main highways outside towns at night. It is evident that a significant proportion of vehicles either lack a full complement of functional headlights (never assume a single glow indicates a motorcycle) or keep their lights permanently on a full blinding beam!
Unsurfaced roads vary from season to season, with conditions likely to be most tricky during the rains and least towards the end of the dry season.
Even within this generalization, an isolated downpour can significantly damage a road in excellent condition a day earlier. Nevertheless, the government always has a grader on standby to transform a wet and pot-holed route into a road navigable by any saloon car.
The soil type is also a significant factor in how prone any road is to deterioration. In wet conditions, one should always be conscious that firm soil or gravel can give way abruptly to a mushy depression or black cotton soil.