Budget Safaris in Uganda

Giraffe in Uganda

Safaris in Uganda are big business, and for good reason. We have a wealth of natural beauty and wildlife. We also have a vast number of national parks where you can get your nature fix. However, for many a safari is simply out of the question on the basis of budget. Even cheaper trips can set you back a good 300 euros and some of the more inclusive options can easily range into the thousands.

Well, what if I told you that you can have your safari without spending all your cash? Yes you will have to make provisions, yes you will have to sleep in a tent, but you’ll also get a front row seat to some of the most magnificent nature on Earth. So let me tell you how I’ve managed to get around to a number of national parks on a shoestring budget.

The first thing you’ll have figure out is transportation. If you own your own 4×4 you’re already halfway there. The issue then is just if you’re comfortable driving out to these parks. I have to say that in terms of road safety, the biggest issue is bad driving, rather than bandits or robberies. Although you should always be cautious, driving yourself around Uganda isn’t nearly as intimidating as it’s made out to be.

Muddy Buffalo in Uganda

However, there are a few safety measures you’ll want to abide by if you go it independently. Make sure you drive during the day, seriously, this cannot be stressed enough. You’ll also want to go with proper provisions (tow ropes, spare tires, and extra petrol, and always bring extra water). It’s also prudent to keep the numbers of a few mechanics on you, so that if your car does break down, you’ll have someone to call. Often mechanics from Kampala are happy to come out to you to fix your car as long as you pay their transportation costs. If you don’t have your own car, you’re still not out of options. Road Trip Uganda, the brainchild of two expats living in Kampala, will happily rent out a Rav-4 for a few days. Insurance is covered, and if you take a number of friends with you, the cost can be quite affordable.

The second part you’ll want to prepare yourself for is food and drink. Eating nice food at a fancy lodge is, well, it’s lovely. However, all you need is a tiny metal stove (sold at every market in Kampala), some charcoal, and some foodstuffs to keep your trip within budget. Bring easy to carry, non-spoiling items like potatoes, corn, and pasta and (if you eat it) buy your meat on the way there. It’s easy to pack a few days worth of veggies, pasta, and biscuits to keep your stomach happy. Canned tuna is also a great option for making delicious sandwiches in between game drives.

The next part involves a little bit of research. For those who are not fond of camping (although you should give it a proper try) there are a number of national parks which offer reduced budged options. Mweya in Queen Elizabeth National Park offers an ecological center where you can stay for a fair price, Murchison has Red Chilis where you can hole up in a safari tent, and Kidepo offers bandas next to the UWA headquarters where you can sleep on a budget. If you ask around at most national parks, it’s generally not that hard to find a cheaper set of beds. That said, camping is dirt cheap and available in almost all national parks. Many campsites have UWA rangers that patrol it at night (who will even start your fire for you), or if you want to pay a bit extra (around 40 USD) you can get an armed guard to stay with you for the evening. Note that in some campsites this is mandatory (such as the Nile River Delta in Murchison), so it’s important you check before you go.

Lazy Lion in Uganda

And now we arrive at the game drive portion of the trip. For more popular parks, a proper map and GPS can negate the need to have a ranger with you. One trick you can use is to simply follow around the other cars. At Murchison, for example, getting the park to yourself is a luxury rather than a given. So you can simply join the line of Prados making their way into the distance. However, if you do pick up a ranger, it’s generally not terribly expensive, and if all your friends chip in, it becomes downright cheap. The upside of having a ranger in the car is that he can radio around, figuring out where the best wildlife is concentrated and the best tracks to see them.

Then of course there are national park fees. For non residents these tend to hover around the 30-40USD/day range and fees for residents or citizens they are considerably cheaper. There is no way to get around these fees and please do not try to shirk the system. They will keep track of you, as you must present your entry slip upon your departure, and failure to do so will result in a rather large fine.

That said, a group of five of us were able to get up to Kidepo National Park, spend two nights there (one in the bandas and one camping) plus the costs of spending two nights in Gulu for a grand total of 250 USD. A quick internet search of some of the cheaper safari-company options start from about 400 USD, and that’s also includes staying in a tent. One independent trip to Murchison Falls saw two of us spending around 150 USD for a two day experience.

It’s definitely not the way to go about a safari if all you want to do is sit back, relax, and watch as nature passes by. But for those that love a little bit of challenge and adventure, cooking over a fire, and spending your time independent of any other itinerary but your own, it’s a fantastic, and incredibly affordable, option.

Road Trip Uganda

Phone: 0773 363 012
Website: http://www.roadtripuganda.com

About Lizabeth Paulat

Hi, I’m Lizabeth, a freelance writer whose been stomping around Kampala for the better part of two years. I came here while pursuing a story and decided never to leave. I’m originally from Seattle and have found refuge in both the sun and the culture of Kampalans (plus I still get the rain when I’m feeling homesick).I’m always trying to unearth new and interesting stories about Kampala’s culture and development and am so exited to have an amazing platform to explore the city with. I hope to bring a bit of know-how and a bit of fun to Living in Kampala. Feel free to contact me any time at lizabeth@livinginkampala.com.