Uganda vs Kenya
Replies: 14 - Last Post: Dec 2, 2012 5:19 AM Last Post By: straggler
Nov 15, 2012 1:57 PM
we are a couple planning our first trip to Africa, starting after christmas for almost 4 weeks. We are in our twenties, flexible, but not exactly rich. We consider Uganda or Kenya. My questions are as follows:
1. Which one is cheaper? I guess its Uganda, since Kenya is more touristy and January is going to be peak season there, right?
2. I have traveled Asia quite extensively, and I am used to travel independently, low-budget and to be able to organize everything as I go. Will that be possible in these countries too? Would I need to book rooms in advance, for example?
2. We are considering to stretch our budget to go on safari, gorilla watching, or something similar. However, even after reading through several threads, its hard to get an idea how much a safari is going to cost altogether (incl. permits, guides, transportation, sleeping). Also, I don't know how many days they usually last. We wouldn't need much comfort, but seeing beautiful nature and wildlife. I read a lot about gorillas in Uganda, would it be possible to go on safari there and see other big animals? Or would then be Kenya the better pick?
3. Are there good places to hang around on a lake and go swimming in Uganda? If you know, how do they compare to the sea side of Kenya?
4. Finally, if you have seen both, I ask you for subjective opinion which one to pick! :)
I am looking forward for responses and suggestions.
Edited by: Ploid
Nov 15, 2012 11:48 PM
I live in Uganda and have travelled to both Ug and Ke as a backpacker, spending several weeks in both places
1. Nowhere in Africa is super cheap. Compared to Europe or the US then it is, but compared with SE Asia or India, it is pretty pricey, if you have travelled in Asia, i would say it is similarly priced to Nepal, if that makes sense, though the food is no where near as good! Of the two, Uganda is much cheaper, I was shocked how much I spent in kenya in just a few days after arriving and although that was in Nairobi, comparing just capitals as a general overview of both countries, Kampala is around 3-4 times cheaper. It obviously depends where you travel in the countries. In Kampala a beer will be about $2 and dinner $10 at the best restaurants, in Nairobi you could probably nearly double it. Prices then fall rapidly when you progress down the food chain and away from the cities, though Kenya still remains higher for backpackers hotels and travelers food. Local food and street sodas are about the same in both places as are long distance busses and local minibuses, bear in mind though that Uganda has the motorbike taxis which make it a lot easier to get around as almost anywhere int he country there will be drivers willing to take you so you dont have to hang around for a bus.
2. I would book your 'hub' places, i.e. where you stay first on arrival just in case as this will be in either Nairobi or Kampala and there are limited backpacker options. Sometimes buses sell out across country so its usually best to book these a day before, but it is not essential as there is always another bus.. safari tours will need to be booked and never do it on the street, book them from a backpackers place that is reputable. gorilla permits need to be booked well in advance and you need to pay in USD as there are no card machines so its a bit of a strain to organize. As you are backpacking and have no date commitments it won't be a problem to just organize it once you have decided you want to do it and then pick a date that they have permits on. you might not be able to get them for 'tomorrow' but you should only have to wait a few days at worst, and none of the places where you trek from are exactly ugly!
3. Safaris are expensive. it depends if that is the reason you are coming though. If you want the best wildlife experience then its worth dropping $500 for a couple of nights in Ngorogoru or Serengeti (in Tz but very easy to organize from Nairobi as its just 4 hours away) You can usually pick up a safari from a backpackers where they run a vehicle and all inclusive accommodation trips to the national parks for game viewing. Usually these run in 1, 3 and 5 days and are around $100-200 a day. Trying to organize one yourself is easier to do on the ground as guide books will make it seem a lot harder than it is. Seeing the gorillas for example sounds like a nightmare, where in fact all you need to do is hire a taxi for the day which will cost about $60. Because the gorillas can be accessed from a place that would already be on any visitors itinerary, you dont really need to add in the cost of food and accommodation as you would be there anyway, if you get what i mean. It is possible to do other safari trips in Uganda, like Kenya there are popular trips to Murchison Falls national park which run about $350 for 3 days, they have lion, elephant, hippo and giraffe though leopards are very hard to see. Certainly you will have better traditional game viewing in Kenya if that is what you want to do, but Uganda certainly has ample wildlife. If you dont want to do the whole backpacker road trip thing, then you can either just hire a taxi to take you round the parks or rent a 4x4 from kampala and drive yourself, they run at $65 day for the car, which is pretty good value, there are then a ton of places to stay near the national parks which are fairly cheap.
4. Uganda has Lake Bunyonyi which is regarded as the most beautiful lake in the world by a lot of travel guides. It is monumentally lovely and like nothing you will probably have seen before. Compared with the beaches and coast, it is not a hot and it could well rain as it is high up, all the likes are above 2000m. But it is quieter, there is zero hassle, its much more private and all the places to stay are literally on the lake and have their own jettys and loungers etc, if the weather is good it is really nice, though it is more isolated than the kenyan coast so other than walking or trekking or kayaking, you cant really nip into town unless you take a cab or a motorbike, and if you want the whole relax by the sea on the sand thing then again, kenya might be better.
5. I would pick Uganda every day. its a much prettier country, the climate is nicer, the people are generally friendlier, there are mountains, there are even glaciers, tropical forests, volcanoes, savannas, hills and green, green, green. Its also cheaper and has a more independent traveller vibe to it. I found it easier to get around and every corner of the country has something to go to so i found there to be more things to see and do and each one was completely different. Kenya has better safaris, it has a WONDERFUL train through Tsavo East National park all the way to Mombassa, which in itself is a great city, there is a totally different vibe and lively culture on the coastal towns which is like stepping out of africa into a strange morph of asia, india and the middle east. I guess it comes down to which un-africa like experience you think sounds best as they both offer enough traditional african adventures to suit (though kenya does it more i think, its more 'traditional africa'. For me, exploring green volcanoes above tropical steaming forests and rolling hills while relaxing on lakes was what i preferred
Nov 16, 2012 2:58 AM
2Ric has done a very good job of stating the balanced views for both countries. Yes Kenya will be more expensive, but does have the big game National Parks that Uganda does not have.
If you are going in early January 2013 it will be a high summer, especially if you went to Samburu NP (about 8 hours north of Nairobi). As from mid-January the migration (wildebeests etc) are more likely to be across the Mara River and on the Serengeti (in Tanzania). There will still be game (probably the big 5) and it may even be less crowded. Good luck - hope you have a great time.
Nov 16, 2012 8:19 AM
3I'm going to chip in for Kenya (though I also like Uganda).
Yes it has some amazing game viewing and Uganda just can't match that (though it does of course have the gorillas). I would go to the Mara over the Serengeti any day - obviously same eco-system but a very different feel in my view.
But there is also a lot more to Kenya than that. I love the north west - Cherangani Hills and so on - incredible scenery. Then there's the Rift Valley Lakes - flamingos in hot geysers and camping in a fig tree forest at Lake Bogoria, and incredible birds and hippo in camp at Lake Baringo. Then there's Hell's Gate NP for more scenery and biking through herds of zebra and buffalo. The Swahili culture on the coast as mentioned above.
Buy The Rough Guide to Kenya for research purposes and it will give you a great idea of the diversity.
I would agree it is more expensive but I wouldn't say anything like 3 or 4 times more. We spent perhaps 30% more in Kenya than in Uganda.
Have you considered a couple of weeks in each? I'm no great fan of rushing through but if you could say land in Nairobi and fly out of Entebbe you could see a lot of nice things on the way!
In Uganda highlights for me were rhino tracking at Ziwa - not too expensive and chimp tracking at Kaniyo Pabidi (cheaper than Kibale and just you and a guide ie no group). Saw gorillas in Rwanda but believe you get a very similar experience in Uganda - no regrets though admittedly very expensive. I have to say I'm afraid I hated Lake Bunyoni. It was a holiday to be fair but it was heaving and there was pounding music blasting out of speakers that carried all round the lake ....
Nov 16, 2012 9:18 AM
4Our daily expenses for 2 in Kenya were £36 (in 2009) and Uganda £38 (in 2011/12).
So not that different really.
DIY animal viewing easier to organise in Uganda (& cheaper), but Kenya has the coast - hard to pick one over the other, both are great fun, but unless beach time is important to you, then I think I'd choose Uganda.
Booking in advance not really necessary for anything except choice rooms at holiday times like xmas, but It's good to have something pre-booked for your 1st night.
Nov 17, 2012 12:53 AM
Nov 17, 2012 3:27 AM
First we went to the Bunyoni Overland Resort. That's where the music was coming from. Big speakers were set up and they had (the same) pop music on a loop all day (aaarrrggghh!!) and late into the night. There were a couple of overland trucks in but most of the guests were local to be fair - lots of big family groups. Staff showing us around kept stopping to remonstrate with people who had bought their own cooking equipment and were cooking outside the chalets which apparently wasn't allowed.
We tried another couple of places further round the lake (sorry cant recall the names) which were fine but you couldn't get away from the noise.
I should say this was easter weekend last year. It was a public holiday.
I can see it was a lovely setting but that weekend it was my idea of a nightmare.
Nov 17, 2012 6:34 AM
thank you so much for your extensive replies. It's a big help! Though we haven't come up with a decision yet.
Do you need a car to do DIY trips into the countryside? Also, do you need an international driver's license to rent a car? Would you suggest renting a car when you have no mechanical skills? Similarly, if we want to see rain forests in Uganda, are there other options besides booking an expensive safari, assuming that we wouldn't care much about big game but just wanted to see the landscape?
@itchyfeet38: doing both countries would actually be possible in terms of flight costs, and we are now considering it. We only have 24 days, I am a bit afraid we will lose a lot of time in tranpsort and it will get a big rush to see everything (I know what I am like once I'm there...).
@kaz: Was this the daily budget for one person or for both of you?
@ric: woa, thanks again for this amazing overview!
Edited by: Ploid
Nov 17, 2012 8:29 AM
8My figures were for 2 people, covering all our on the ground costs - including a generous beer budget...;-)
In over 20 years of visiting Africa, I've never felt the need to hire a car and drive it myself, it's easy enough to hire a local car and driver for the odd day. We did this in Uganda to visit Murchison, as there's no public transport or shared taxis going there. It wasn't very expensive, worked out cheaper than using a company to do a similar trip.
You go through a bit of the Budongo Forest Reserve on the way into Murchison, and there are plenty of other places too, but the easiest bit of rain forest to visit using public transport is Mabira, along the main Kampala - Jinja road. Get off at Najembe village and the visitors centre is about 10 mins walk from the road. There are a couple of places to stay and you can arrange guided forest walks at the centre.
Avoid the overland trucks at Bunyonyi by staying on one of the islands, we stayed at Byoona Amagara over xmas and the only man-made noise was from the staff playing drums and dancing on the lawn on xmas day - great fun! (And a very nice place to stay too).
Nov 18, 2012 3:39 AM
9We are the slowest travelers I know (just back from a 1 year trip that stretched to 3 years ...) and I never advocate rushing but sometimes the distance isn't that much greater going in a straight line rather than a loop. Having said that if you want to do Bunyoni and the gorillas you are going right to the far end of Uganda so it won't be an entirely linear journey anyway ...
I agree you can't hope to travel "around" both in 24 days.
So lets say you flew to Entebbe. You could head west for gorillas and lake, then up to Murchison via crater lakes back to Kampala. You can chimp trek if you want on the journey between Murchison and Kampala. Ditto rhino tracking. On to Jinja and rafting if that is your thing. Cross the border into western Kenya from where you could see visit Lakes Bogoria/Baringo, Nakuru (which I wouldn't necessarily recommend if you are going to Masai Mara), Naivasha (incl Hells Gate) and Masai Mara en route to Nairobi.
Or of course the other way round flying into Nairobi which does have the advantage that you can organise your MM trip out of Nairobi and would also allow you to get to Kampala to organise the gorillas which some time in hand so you can be more flexible on dates.
Nov 18, 2012 4:40 PM
10Ric, kaz and Mike, thank you all for your many posts, they really helped me planning my trip.
I have about 5 weeks in total - 1 week in Rwanda incl. gorilla trek, 5 days around Kisoro and Lake B. (Byoona Amagara, of course) ;), and I'll do a Murchison trip with Red Chilli. My flight home is from Zanzibar, so I'm planning to spend the last week on the beach.
Usually I don't like to book much in advance, because you never know if you want to leave after 1 night or rather stay 1 week. But with Christmas and New Year's, I found some places already booked out or close to being booked out, so I decided to make an itinerary this time (I'll never go in peak season again, I swear). ;)
After returning from Murchison I have about 10 more days to spend. And like the OP I have to decide whether I will spend more time in Uganda or go to Kenya/Tanzania.
First I thought it would be nice to spend Christmas in Kampala, but from what I've read so far, I hope the city is not deserted, since everyone seems to leave to visit their families!? I will stay in a backpacker hostel, so I hope there will be some other guests around ...
Once in Kampala, I could try to get a chimp permit and go to Fort Portal for a couple of days. That would be awesome, but it will be around Christmas time, so I'm afraid that busses and accomodation (budget hostels) might be more than packed or not available?
Ngamba Island and Walter's boda-boda tour are also on my whishlist, and Jinja would be another option.
I also considered to hop off at Kaniyo Pabidi on the way back from the Murchison tour (for a chimp trek), and get back to Kampala by myself, but then I would miss the Ziwa Rhinos (unfortunately nobody has booked the tour including both rhinos AND chimps).
I could go to Jiinja over New Year's, but not sure either if that's a good idea when I'm not rafting (I like horse back riding and quad biking though)? Actually, I didn't find much valuable information online about where to spend New Year's eve. Any recommendations would be appreciated.
The other option would be heading to Nairobi or Arusha after Christmas and trying to hop on a safari tour. I've sent some enquiries to tour operators to join a camping safari (to Masai Mara or Serengeti/Ngorongoro), but they don't seem to have any pre-booked safaris so far. So I would not know until I arrive there if I can join a group safari or not.
If there wasn't New Year's inbetween, I would just go and see what I feel like when I'm there, but really afraid that the options will shrink the closer we get to the date.
I know that I have to decide myself ;), but your thoughts are more than welcome. Maybe I have overlooked something that's worth considering?
Thank you guys!
Nov 19, 2012 12:23 AM
11Hey itchy, that sounds like some bad luck. I really hate overlanders, its weird and the staff are terrible, it usually takes about 3 hours to get food even if you are the only guests, which is very common even though its huge. I always stay at crater bay cottages which is across the lake, the next accommodation along actually but separated from view in a way by trees. It is much smaller, and cleaner and tidier, the rooms are terrible, like cells, but they cost 10k USH a night (about £2.20) and the menu is exactly the same as overlanders. You will also be the only guest no doubt but because its much smaller, it feels like you are alone in your back garden rather than a massive resort. I must say i hated Boonya Amagara. I reckon if you just arrived and had never stayed anywhere else in Africa it would be cool, but i found it to be just full of pretentious 'saving africa' types and people with brades playing drums all day. Perhaps as a resident these things annoy me more than they would other people, but i visited as a backpacker and even though there was a huge storm, i rode my canoe back 3 hours to the mainland rather than stay the night. Its really isolated as well and the swimming is much worse, even dangerous as the island is surrounded by very thick reed beds. not for me that one, but i can see why it gets a lot of visitors if that's what you are here for
on the renting cars, most come with mechanical support so if anything goes wrong you can call and come and get rescued, which isn't much use in the middle of nowhere. however it is so cheap to fix any issues that you won't really be stuck unless you literally crash it in the middle of a game park. i have never had a problem with a car out here that couldn't be fixed at a local Shell garage for under £5. You dont need any sort of license to drive in Ug, of you cross a border then maybe you will, i am not sure. I have been riding motorbikes out here for a year and have never taken a motorbike lesson in my life. when i have driven cars, i have my UK license with me but i have never been asked for it, it would be worth brining your local license but an international one is not needed, there are no rules here anyway that people listen to.
trips with red chili to murchison are about $350 for 3 days, i think they are a bit expensive. you can drive yourself for $65 a day (split between 2) in a vehicle with Road Trip Uganda that includes camping equipment, stove, tables, chairs, maps etc) and then stay for $5 a night in the national parks camp, or red chili's own accommodation. Park fees are $35 a day, so for a three day trip where you have a/c and are not stuck in a bus with 20 other people, where you can go at your own pace and where you can take your time and get closer to the game, it works out cheaper to hire the car i think, and its a much more enjoyable experience. I think a lot of people dont realize it is so cheap to hire a car here, bear in mind also that that car seats 4 and you can really save. if you are prepared to do the red chili trip, then just go to red chili (watch your belongings like a hawk) and find 2 people who were going to take their trip anyway, and share it with them.
you dont need to book an expensive safari to see either country in its entirety, remember its 10000000000 times easier to organize and find out all of this sort of information when you are actually on the ground, so dont worry if things seem difficult. work out what you want to see, explore an overview of how you want to get between each place (car, bus, walk, etc) and then if you ask the first person you meet on your arrival who you get somewhere, 8/10 times they will know
Nov 19, 2012 1:30 AM
It was Crater Bay we stayed at, I recognise the name. The place was just fine (but we could still hear the music from the first place...).
I don't agree with you that car problems are necessarily easy/cheap to fix though. We had various car troubles there - parts were fairly expensive and workmanship very poor in one case (propshaft they fitted came off the next day at 80kmph which could have killed us). Eventually we found a good mechanic thank goodness.
And we were stopped by the police - friendly enough but they did want to check documents. We were driving a foreign registered car so maybe that's why. I would always recommend getting an international licence if possible as it only costs a few quid and can avoid any issues.
Nov 19, 2012 3:46 AM
13yeah i have only ever driven UG registered cars here. I think on a foreign plate then you are more at risk of being asked for your 'papers' but 99.9% of traffic police would have no idea what these papers even are, you could show them your travel insurance and you would be ok. If i ever get stopped for no reason or they are blatantly after a bribe, i just drive off. I never stop on the motorbike, even when summoned to as its not worth the hassle and on that you can easily just disappear.
I guess that's the lottery with cars, but the roads are so terrifying that you would just so likely be in an accident on a bus with a drunk and tired driver, than in your own car when you can plod along at 50mph if you want to. its the endless debate that i have here too.I almost always take the bus because i cant justify spending $65 just to get me from A-B, if i was touring the country though, i would pick a car (even though i did not when i was backpacking here)
Dec 2, 2012 5:19 AM
14Just like to defend Red Chilli here as I think the "watch your belongings like a hawk" comment is unfair. I used to be one of the managers at Red Chilli in Kampala (2008-2011) and we had no more or no less problems with theft than any other establishment of a similar nature. With lots of people coming and going things are going to happen every now again but to make a sweeping statement implying that Red Chilli is a hotbed of theft is very unfair.
Also, the Murchison Falls trips are very good value for money. You fogot to mention the additional costs someone organising their own trips would incur - fuel (approx $130), ranger fee ($20), park entry for vehicle (approx $13), ferry crossings (approx $10 per day), fee for entry to top of Murchison Falls ($10 per person), boat cruise ($30 per person), rhino tracking at Ziwa, if choosing trip including this option ($35 per person).
I take your point that travelling in your own vehicle at your own pace is a nicer experience (but the Red Chilli vehicles only take 8 people, not the 20 you mentioned) but if someone is new to a country it can be a lot easier to go on an organised trip rather than run around trying to book car hire, accommodation etc yourself.
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