11 things you need to know about driving in Uganda
Are you planning to go on a self-drive holiday in Uganda? This guide contains important information for self -drive roadtrippers, so read thoroughly. Check the 10 things you need to know about driving in Uganda. From driving safety tips to car rental insurance and back-up support.
Covered in this section:
- Is it safe to travel to Uganda?
- How are the road conditions in Uganda?
- What side of the road should I drive?
- Tips to drive safe in Uganda
- Are there restricted areas for self-drive?
- Can I cross the border with my car?
- Is comprehensive insurance included with my car rental in Uganda?
- Which Sim Card should I buy?
- How does it work with navigation?
- What happens in case of a breakdown or accident?
- How to deal with traffic police in Uganda
1. Is its safe to travel to Uganda?
Is Uganda a safe self-drive destination? We occasionally get this question. The answer is yes!
Uganda is known to be one of the safest countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, with very friendly people. Most Ugandans speak good English, and armed attacks on travellers are unheard of. We would not have gone into the self-drive car hire business in a country where it isn't safe.
Nevertheless, we trust you to travel sensibly. That means taking the following precautions:
- Always travel with cash, a charged phone with airtime, enough water and some food.
- When you fuel up your car, know where the next gas station is.
- Always park your car at a private parking lot.
- Do not go wild camping.
- Do not travel after dark (7PM) - fellow road users in Uganda often have no lights or put on their high beam lights so you can't see a thing.
- The biggest mistake travellers make is wanting to cover too much ground in one trip. Travel is a great deal slower than you are probably used to and being on the road is much more tiresome. Use one of our suggested routes as a starting point to assess whether your travel plans are realistic.
2. How are the roads in Uganda?
By African standards, the road conditions in Uganda are very good. All the primary roads radiating out of Kampala to all four corners of the country are smooth asphalt.
You can expect a lot of speed bumps and the occasional pothole though.
Usually, the last stretch of your daily trip requires some driving on gravel roads to get to your lodge or park entrance gate. Inside the parks it's off-road driving on dirt roads. The conditions of these gravel and dirt roads tend to be variable from one season to the next and are most difficult during the rainy season.
Although the asphalt roads are in good condition, you generally don’t reach more than 60km/hour, due to the many speed bumps, the need to reduce your speed when passing through villages - and because you will probably want to take a lot of pictures! Even the scenery from the highway is stunning. On dirt and gravel roads, you will be driving at an average of 25km/hour.
The Toyota Hilux is the most comfortable vehicle in our fleet for driving on asphalt roads, which make up 80% of the driving you will do in Uganda.
3. What side of the road should I drive?
Left. The driving side in Uganda is the left side of the road.
4. Tips to drive safe in Uganda
- 80 km/hour on highways. This might seem limited, but take note that a Landcruiser and Hilux packed with luggage and camp gear is a heavy vehicle. The police, therefore, classify safaris vehicles as trucks, because of the longer brake distance.
- 50 km/ hour when driving through towns. Note that the main highways also pass through towns, so greatly reduce your speed.
- 30- 40 km / hour inside the National Parks, depending on the tracks
Our cars are equipped with car trackers, and for your own safety, we receive instant notifications when our vehicles drive beyond the allowed speed.
- Drive defensively. Minibus drivers are notorious for overtaking on blind corners and the big coaches feel like they're on top of the food chain, so keep an eye on your rear-view mirror and if necessary, just pull off the road in advance to let the coach pass.
- Beware of unmarked speed bumps, which are plentiful in many parts of the country, especially at the entrance to towns.
- Beware of potholes. They damage the car if you hit them and can cause a flat tire.
- Always put on your central lock when driving in the city and bigger towns. Do not leave valuables in your car unattended.
- Always park in a secured area. In case you're spending the night at some local hostel in a town, make sure they have a secure car park on their property.
- Avoid driving at night. The potholes are difficult to see and approaching traffic uses blinding high-beams.
- Always carry some cash, water and a charged mobile phone to handle any situation
5. Are there restricted areas for self-drive?
There are no off-limit areas when driving in Uganda. However, hiring a Hilux or Landcruiser is required for travel to Kidepo and Karamoja. The RAV4 is not geared for the road conditions in these areas.
6. Can I cross the border with my rental car in Uganda?
Yes, no and maybe.
- It is possible to cross the border to Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda with a Roadtrip Uganda rental car.
- In case you are considering to go to Malawi, Zambia or Zimbabwe, that is also possible, but be aware that we cannot provide roadside assistance.
- You are not allowed to cross to Ethiopia, South Sudan or DRC.
If you want to do a multiple country road trip, you do need to let us know in advance as we have to arrange a COMESA card, an extension of the car insurance for your vehicle. Without our consent you are not allowed to cross the border and you are not insured for any damage. Please contact us for more information.
7. Is comprehensive insurance included with my car rental in Uganda?
Our cars for hire in Uganda are comprehensively insured against damage as a result of accident or fire, and third party liability to property and bodily injury due to a car accident. Personal injury and possessions are not covered, and fall under your medical and travel insurance.
There's a maximum own risk of €250, not covered by the insurance. Tires, underbody coverage and windows are not covered by the insurance. The hirer is liable for any damage to the rental car and / or third party property, if:
- Driving in excess of speed limits;
- single vehicle incidents or rollover (these are considered a result of reckless driving);
- damage to the vehicle is caused by lack of proper care / maintenance of the vehicle;
- driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol;
- driving on restricted roads / areas.
Our full terms & conditions are included in the car rental agreement. You can also consult them here.
8. Which Sim Card should I buy?
Uganda has a number of mobile network providers. The most prominent ones are MTN and Airtel. Both providers support the 4G network. But we recommend you take MTN as coverage in the rural areas tend to be better.
Before you start you road trip, make sure you get a sim card and load it with sufficient data for internet and phone calls.You can easily get any of the sim cards by taking your Passport to any service center of those particular companies.
Please note that in 2018, Uganda introduced Social media tax, commonly known as OTT. So on top of buying data, you’ll need to pay that mandatory tax to access any social media platforms like Whatsapp, Facebook and Instagram. We thought its pretty complex to sort this out yourself. To make things easier for you, request the person who sold you the Sim Card to load for you OTT for the period you’ll be in the country.
9. How does it work with navigation?
All our rental vehicles in Uganda come with the latest Bradt Travel Guide and a detailed roadmap of Uganda.
We strongly recommend that you install Maps.me on your smartphone before you travel to Uganda. It's a free app. Download the Uganda maps and enjoy driving on GPS, offline. Almost every lodge and campsite is plotted on Maps.me.
The biggest mistake travellers make is rushing it and trying to cover too much in one trip. If you are trying to estimate your travel itinerary with Google Maps, increase the suggested travel time by 30%. Have a look at our suggested routes page for a realistic assessment of what you can cover during your road trip.
10. What happens in case of a breakdown or accident?
Take note that when driving a vehicle in challenging conditions, unexpected issues can arise. We are very experienced in trouble shooting along the way, but it requires cooperation, trust and patience from your side as well.
In case something happens, always contact the Uganda team first. Our phone number is available 24h/day and we will try to solve the problem to the best of our ability.
Most mechanical issues that happen on the way are minor things and the fastest way to get you on the road again is to provide help on the spot. We have a network of up country bush mechanics to assist you in case of any issues, and we will either direct you to the nearest workshop or send a mechanic to assist you on the spot. In case a car cannot be fixed on the spot within 24 hours, a replacement car from Kampala will be provided so you can continue your journey.
Honestly ask yourself if you easily stress out or become agitated if something unexpected happens. In case the answer is yes, then going on a self-drive trip is not for you. Getting stuck in the mud, getting a flat tyre, or experiencing a mechanical issue along the way because of the bumpy and dusty roads are likely scenarios and this can impact your travel plans for the day.
In case of an accident, contact us immediately and we coach you through the process. You need to take pictures of the damaged vehicle(s) and make sure to process a police report.
Refer to our Terms & Conditions published on this website, for more information.
11. How to deal with traffic police in Uganda
There are a lot of traffic police in Uganda. You can recognise them from far away by their bright white uniform.
We always wonder how they keep their uniforms so white on the dusty roads, but that's not answering your question...
So, advice which comes in handy when dealing with any kind of government official in Uganda is to be respectful, remain patient and be/stay friendly. Greet them politely (preferably in Luganda: Jebale Ko Afande? = Are you doing fine, officer?) and you have a new friend.
Traffic police can pull you over to check:
- If your car is insured,
- If the tires are in good condition,
- Or to see your driving license. Any valid driving license (even from your own country of residence) is accepted in Uganda.
In our experience, traffic police are friendly, curious and often just want to make chit chat.
If you committed an offence (speeding, dangerous overtaking, etc.), you’ll have to pay the fine. Officially this should be done at the nearest police station. That office can be miles away and can be a very time consuming procedure. Usually, Ugandan traffic police will also offer a faster payment option and hint that you can "buy them a soda". This is not something you should propose though.