Moving around Uganda using public transportation isn’t encouraged for the casual traveller. It can be an overwhelming experience, with major issues including overcrowded buses, an absence of rest stops during long journeys and inconsistent compliance with road safety rules governing speed and the roadworthiness of public transport vehicles. Knowing what to expect, however, and a few simple tips could make all the difference.
Independent travel using public transportation means first confronting busy roads populated by 4×4 vehicles, cars, minibuses, motorcycles, bicycles and public buses.
Choices of public transport include the ‘Matatus’, 14-seater minibuses with predetermined routes, often identified by their white exterior and blue stripes; ‘Boda Boda’ cycles, which can be bicycles or motorcycles and take travellers to their specified destinations; and large public buses that transport 70+ passengers and are often used for travel to and from Kampala and between larger towns and neighbouring countries.
Taxis for private hire called ‘special hires’ offer a way to bypass public transport, and many drivers act as informal country guides, happy to share their country or cultural knowledge with tourists.
There is often intense touting for passengers, especially from minibus conductors and drivers of Boda Boda cycles. Shara Johnson, in her article ’12 Tips for Surviving Public Transportation in a Developing Country’, describes the experience as “walking through a forest of hands”, and advises travellers to hold their luggage close and check for seats in minibuses before purchasing tickets.
When it comes to Uganda gorilla trekking, no buses take you directly to the headquarters of Bwindi’s National Park. If gorilla trekking is your main reason for travelling to Uganda, it makes sense to stay in accommodation nearby.
It is not uncommon for minibuses to carry more than double the number of passengers that they are licensed for. Whether on a large public bus or a minivan, expect to share the space with a variety of market crops and to offer your lap to a seatless child. You also need to be prepared to muscle your way down crowded aisles of passengers when you get to your destination. You should try to carry a minimal amount of luggage that can comfortably fit on your lap, and adjust your food and water intake so you won’t need the bathroom for many hours.« Back