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10 Mistakes people make when they visit Kampala

Kampala Sunrise

Mistakes people make when they visit Kampala, Uganda

Kampala, like Imperial Rome, was built on seven hills which gently undulate with the fortunes of “Kampalans”. So, across its cityscape, the good and the bad mix the way black and white join to create Polka Dots.

That said, Kampala city is full of surprises. So each day presents its own little surprises, pleasant or rude. Still, in order for you to not be blindsided by these surprises, we shall forearm you with the necessary information you will need to bend the law of unintended consequences to your designs.

This we shall do by letting you know about the 10 Mistakes people make when they visit Kampala:


1. Not preparing for the crowds and noise

Taxis drive like racing chariots in Ancient Rome and leave fire trails in their wake. While the rest of the traffic is trapped in gridlock as motorists are sounding their horns and commercial motorbikes slaloming through this shambles. You take a deep breath, look left and right as you prepare to cross the road then, suddenly, a throng of pedestrians side-swipe or shove you to the curb. Appalled, you find yourself as a third wheel in their weal or woes as much of this rushing sea of persons is barking into their phones to turn earshot into an earshoot-out. As this happens, swarms of taxi touts and market vendors give you even more of an earful with their summons and spiels. And the street preachers add to this audible fragrance by standing at busy junctions and screeching the gospel according to scripture and, sometimes, according to themselves. And that’s when the realization hits you right between the eyes: Kampala is noisy!


2. Not preparing for the traffic jam

You’re an impatient driver, so you try to get into the lane that’s moving only for it to become the one stationary lane! And that’s not all, the driver in front of you seems to be that young lady in the movie Final Destination who foresees a deadly highway accident while sitting on the on ramp and so refuses to move her vehicle, keeping the drivers and passengers behind her safe from the disaster she has foreseen! So you have to wait until she decides if she should or shouldn’t start driving, so you can face your denouement. Will she do so? That depends on whether the commercial motorcyclist and his kind are going to stop clogging every possible means towards getting out the jam. Yes, it’s bumper to bumper and this can go on for hours. So come with a book, and some popcorn.


3. Pickpockets

Legendary comedian Rodney Dangerfield once joked, “If it weren’t for pickpockets, I’d have no sex life at all.” In this vein, downtown Kampalans get a lot of ‘action’ since there are pickpockets downtown at every turn, or in Dangerfield’s world, at every turn-on. To keep your belongings doubly safe, you should only travel with a copy of your passport and leave the original at wherever you may call home while you are here. When travelling downtown, carry your backpacks over your chest like in a game of poker. Again, keep your mobile phone and money in your backpack or side pocket not back pockets. When stuck in traffic jam,mind your personal belongings like cell phones and tablets. These guys only need a few seconds to snatch them through downed windows so keep your windows up.


4. Muzungu prices

As a foreigner (muzungu) in Uganda, you will notices prices going up as soon as you step into the store or shop. Not because you’re a walking price tag with the words ‘Mark Up’ written on you. But because many local retailers see most tourists as rich persons who supposedly rode into Uganda on a silver spoon. Many people, you shall notice, will call you “investor.” Be wary of these, and realize that people smile in the initials of the word CREAM (Cash Rules Everything Around Me). So don’t be afraid to haggle down the quoted price, they will probably abide by what you claim you have in your pocket since they most likely will have started the negotiations at much higher rates!


5. Carry some cash

Uganda is a cash economy even though ATMs are widely available in the city center. A considerable number of restaurants and most local shops still don’t accept credit cards. So instead of the American Express advertising tagline, “Don’t leave home without them,” with respect to travelers cheques and the like, use the same logic for cash. Always ensure that you are as liquid as Lake Victoria whenever you choose to make a splash by purchasing anything nice.


6. Current foreign currency notes

If you are going to carry any foreign currency, The Euro, Pound Sterling and other foreign currency notes can be readily exchanged at our Fore Bureaus. The Dollar bills have to be newer than 2006 and in good condition (no ink markings). If you come with old dollar bills and they are accepted, you might get unfriendly conversion rates. Most decent hotels in and around Kampala provide money exchange services.


7. Skipping helmets

Kampala is the hub of the commercial motorcyclist known as “Boda Boda.” These guys ride like the wind and, sometimes, when the wind is not fast enough: they ride even faster! Believing that going too far is not far enough, Boda Boda riders are notorious for road-rage and indiscipline. On the flipside, they are very good at navigating traffic jams. And can get you to that crucial meeting bang on time. These boda Bodas are pretty easy to flag down, as they are more than likely on the hunt for you, rather than the other way around. There are literally tens of thousands of boda bodas zipping around Kampala, a compact city of about 1.6 million people. Many of these riders lack understanding of traffic rules so it is always advisable to wear a helmet when riding one. Some Boda Boda companies like SafeBoda provide helmets for each customer and can be reached through their App. If you are here on an extended visit, you should also carry your own helmet. It’s allowed.


8. Timekeeping for Appointments and Events

Have you ever heard of African time? Well, that’s the way Ugandans distinguish their time from the rest of the world’s time, including the rest of Africa. The people of Kampala have many positive virtues like friendliness but no one has never accused them of time-keeping. In Kampala, events never start on time and anyone keeping an appointment with you will show up late unless, of course, you are called Death. But even funeral services are known to start late due to the lengthy speeches thereat. It is thus wise to treat a Ugandan’s 10:00 am as 11:00 am, lest you show up for an early morning meeting with only you, yourself and thee in attendance.


9. Skipping the Night Life

Kampala is a city that never sleeps. In Uganda, the party doesn’t end….it continues. Indeed, Kampalans close more bars than daybreak does. So Nightclubs, discothèques and even wedding receptions go on from sunup to sundown with some of the most colorful and charming people carousing like they were enemies of sleep. And with such larger-than-life persons partying till their dancing shoes are worn out, why not join them to add to the life of the party? As you get into the groove, you might hear the most popular club banger in town as Ugandan rapper Big Trill exhorts you to Parte after parte (Party After Party).


10. Items bought downtown

Kampala has a number of upscale shopping centers which stock the best in fashions alongside bookshops which supply international bestsellers. However, when it comes to books, the better bargain maybe found downtown where you are likely to find Winner of both the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize, Oscar Wilde, by renowned biographer Richard Ellmann for a fraction of a dollar. And, when it comes to attire, you are likely to scare up fashionable designs at a bargain.

We hope you enjoyed another great Uganda / Kampala travel tip by Nile Basin Safaris, the best way to tour East Africa. We organise small group and private tours in Kampala city , Uganda and the rest of East Africa. Come lets show you our East Africa.

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