By East African standards, Uganda major roads are generally in good condition. Surfaced roads radiate out from Kampala, running east to Jinja, Busia, Mbarara Tororo, Mbale and Soroti, south to Entebbe, southwest to Masaka, northwest to Gayaza and Kayunga (and on Jinja). As a rule, however, Uganda, unsurfaced roads tend to be very variable from one season to the next, with conditions likely to be most tricky during the rains and least so towards the end of the dry season. Even in this generalization, an isolated downpour can do major damage to a road that was in perfectly good condition a day earlier, while the arrival of a grader can transform a potholed 4x4 track into a road navigable by any salon car.
Driving in Uganda is interesting, a bit more challenging than other East Africa and Southern Africa countries. You definitely need to be a defensive driver.
I've driven thousands of miles in Uganda without incidents. Just drive defensively when busses and minibus-taxis are around as their drivers are crazy. These are now the main hazard on Ugandan roads aside from unexpected potholes. Minibus-taxi drivers in particular have long been given to overtaking on blind corners, and speed limits are universally ignored except when enforced by road conditions.
As a big threat as minibus-taxis these days are the spanking new coaches that bully their way along trunk routes at up to 120km/h. You will be overtaken by big buses carrying over 70 passengers travelling at excessive speeds, oncoming traffic appears to be heading straight at you. People pass in curves, on a hillside and each day one reads of accidents that result in loss of lives and sometimes in great numbers. Keep an eye in the rear-view (driving) mirror and if necessary pull of the road in advance to let the closing loony past. Other than them you won't see much traffic outside of Kampala, except on the road to Jinja and the Kenyan border.
The best thing however is to hire a car and a driver, and not just any but a well maintained vehicle and a safe driver that follows the rules. – not easy to find either one of those. We hire only the best driver guides who have been to almost every corner of east Africa and know the twists and turns of every safari destination, - and feel a concern for the wellbeing of our client. FYI, Uganda has the second highest level of accident rate in Africa behind Ethiopia. Driving at night can drive you mad. Ugandans have this habit of driving without lights. The reality is you can buy a license here. I am not meant to mention this to you but it’s the reality. Get a car and driver then have him take you to any destination! You self-drive, buy all the road maps and drive to your destination but how will you be when you get there?? If the car breaks down in the middle of the journey, are going to drop it on the roadside and find another one? Simply hire a vehicle and a driver and enjoy your trip to Africa.
I say come experience it. You will meet lots of very friendly and helpful people. If you are unfortunate enough to have a puncture remember to get out of the way of the rush of local people wanting to help change the wheel for you.
Drivers in Uganda are very aggressive and keep you on the edge of your seat. Though I've mainly been around Kampala, so of course driving in the city is much more intense than in the rural areas.
If you do plan to drive definitely have someone go with you for the first few drives, as driving on the left side, and amidst tons of minibus taxi's and motor scooters is crazy.
Overall the people are welcoming and helpful if you do happen to need help.
If you hire a decent car you probably won't have any breakdown problems, fuel is available all around the country and there might be an occasional roadblock (two regulars are Owen Falls Dam, Jinja, and a customs one on the way to the southwest) - you will probably be waved straight through but they might ask what you have in the back. On one occasion I was asked that and said 'luggage' but the policeman thought I'd said 'rubbish' and said what have you got that for? Cue much hilarity among my passengers. No one will try and solicit a bribe from you, unlike some other countries.
Fuel is expensive in Uganda – the equivalent of around US$1.4 per litre for petro and slightly less for diesel. If you are arriving overland its worth stocking up before you enter the country. (You might consider reading more about paying for fuel if hiring car & driver in Uganda; go here) While driving in Uganda the following documentation is required at all times: the vehicle registration book (a photocopy is acceptable; ensure it’s a recent one with the most recent vehicle licence entry recoded on the back page); a minimum statutory Third Party Insurance Coverage Certificate - sticker and a driving licence - but all vehicles we hire out for self-drive have full insurance. Your own domestic licence is acceptable for up to three months. Vehicle tax was abolished few years ago.
I agree with visitors and other foreign drivers that Ugandan drivers are very aggressive in Kampala, but you pretty much won't see any traffic outside of the city, except the crazy bus and minibus drivers that you can easily avoid.
Bearing the above in mind, a coasting speed of 80k/h in the open road would be comfortable without being over cautious, and its not a bad idea to slow down and cover the brake in the face of oncoming traffic. In urban situations, particularly downtown Kampala, right of way essentially belongs to he who is prepared to force the issue – a considered blend of defensive driving tempered by outright assertiveness is required to get through safely without becoming bogged down in traffic.
In town especially Kampala, you are just centimeters from other vehicles, traffic laws exist but to be ignored. People pass on any side of you, boda-bodas (motorbike taxis) bob all around you. If you are a visitor, you are simply not equipped to handle a vehicle in traffic where anything goes and where the biggest vehicle wins. For visitors, self drive is a test of nerves....tom
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