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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

ugandlisht 6 - traveling. traveling.


This week I'm traveling back to the US on holiday, so I figured I'd give some pointers related to traveling in and out of Uganda.

1. Visa.
Unless you are coming to Uganda long-term for work, I'd suggest getting a travel visa at the airport - it's $50 and a lot easier than dealing with the back-and-forth of sending out your passport and photos to the Ugandan Embassy in DC.

2. Money.
MasterCard really is not accepted in Uganda, so try not to bring it. If you must, I've heard Crane Bank works. Other ATMs are strictly VISA. With that said, Uganda is still a cash economy. With the exception of fancy-schmancy hotels, credit cards are not accepted. Best bet is to bring USD to get your travel visa and then hit up the Barclay's ATM right outside international arrivals at the airport to take out some cash. If you bring USD, make sure they are 2000 or later date - there's no one in Uganda that will buy 1996-series bills. And bring $50 and $100 denominations, otherwise you get jacked on the exchange rate. The forex at Grand Imperial Hotel in town is the best place to exchange, but all major banks (Barclay's being my personal favorite) will buy your USD.

3. Special Hire.
That's what we call taxis in Uganda. If you say "taxi," Ugandans will think you're referring to matatus, which are the little minibuses that serve as public transit in the country. There are tons of drivers waiting for fares at the airport. The airport fare is typically 60,000 (about $30) to get anywhere in Kampala. Entebbe is about an hour from Kampala.

4. Duty-Free.
If you're en route to your travel destination via an EU airport, forget about all the duty-free liquids at the Entebbe Airport. They'll confiscate them at the EU airport and you'll have to buy your booze all over again. Stupid rule, but it's a rule.

5. Caffeine and wireless.
Good African Coffee opened up a shop inside the airport (finally! something besides Crane Cafeteria!), so now getting to the airport the suggested 3 hours before your flight is not nearly as painful. They have awesome espresso drinks and muffins, and Uganda Telecom hotspot, so surf away while you wait to board. As a side note, EBB is really stepping it up a notch. I can't believe the continual improvements at the airport - every trip it gets better.

6. Time.
Give yourself at least 1.5 hours to get from downtown Kampala to the airport. You never know what kind of jam you're going to run into getting through town or on Entebbe Road.

7. Airlines.
I always fly KLM, because I love Schipol Airport. I used to fly Emirates, but the 10-hour layover at Dubai Airport was NOT worth the comfy cabin, air freshener and good food. There's just something about the Dutch that make that Uganda-America or America-Uganda transition just right. And they have plentiful wireless, delicious coffee, and typically play jazz Muzak, so it makes me really nostalgic for America. Haven't tried Brussels Air yet, but they and British Airways also fly from the US to Uganda. And apparently you can now do a direct DC-Addis and then Addis-EBB on Ethiopian Airways. I'm sticking with KLM and my World Perks.

I'm ready for a holiday!

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