Uganda has prospered in recent years and this has significantly increased the number of vehicles on the road. The most dramatic increase has been seen in the number of mini bus taxis (matatus) on the roads. For those driving there own vehicle they are a menace and danger but for the backpacker they are a life line providing rapid access to all major urban areas of the country and even some back country locations. There is no such thing as a free ride as just about every vehicle on the road is a commercial business in some way or another.
Crossing the Nile at Masindi Port
Public transport can be broken down into several categories for those that will need to consider using it.
Visitors intending to visit outlying areas of the country would be unwise to consider using a self-drive rental vehicle. Rental vehicles including a driver can be arranged through any of the backpacker’s hostels in Kampala. The following Kampala based car rental companies are reputable and rent 4 wheel drives, cars and minibuses with drivers.
International Public Buses:
Akamba Bus Company: (Tel. 041 250412) run several daily services from Kampala to Nairobi. There are 2 levels of service the ‘Royal Akamba’ and ‘Akamba Executive’. Fares Ush 20,000/35,000-. Both services are very reliable and considered safe. Buses depart Kamapla at 0700 and a second Executive services leaves at 15.00 hrs. The Nairobi departure point in River Rd is not a safe location and great care should be maintained. At the Akamba depot in Kampala the bus is met by a wall of accommodation touts.
Takrim Bus Services: (Tel. 041 349411) Market Street, Nakesero operate KLA-NBO at 16.00hrs daily.
Tawfig Bus Services: (Tel. 041 250742) operate KLA-NBO daily at 0700 and 15.00hrs. Fare Ush 14,000-
Scandinavia Express Bus Company: run a daily bus from Kampala to Dar Es Salaam via Nairobi, Arusha and Moshi. With new Scania buses imported from Brazil only in Jan 2003 this is probably the most comfortable you can expect to be when travelling by bus in East Africa.
If you plan to alight the bus with any of these bus operators ensure the bus crew is aware of your final destination so your baggage can be stowed accordingly. Baggage holds are sealed by customs and the crew so ensure you will be able to get access to your bag should you not be travelling to the buses final destination.
Domestic Public Buses:
These 70 seater buses ply between the larger towns in Uganda to and from Kampala. There are many bus operators but usually only one operator on a particular route. Examples of which are Horizon Coach which runs to Kabale/Kisoro, Gateway to Tororo/Soroti/Moroto, and Nile Coach to Arua/West Nile Province. Other operators are SB Safe Journey, and Gaso Coach.
The bus park is between the old and new taxi parks in Kampala. From outlying regions buses pick up just about anywhere in town and will circle the town touting for passengers. Buses depart Kampala in the mornings with often several departures for you to consider on major routes. You will need to buy a ticket from the bus company booth in the Kampala bus park but do this only on the day of departure. Check the day before though to ascertain the time of departure. Buses tend to depart however when full. Away from Kampala only purchase your ticket when on the bus.
‘Up Country’ Public Bus
Bus drivers seem to be possessed by the devil and drive at horrifically fast speeds. The journey will frighten even the hardiest of travelers. It is dangerous but accidents are rare. When accidents do happen and when with another vehicle it is that which usually come off worse, usually devastatingly worse.
The Uganda Post Bus:
All buses leave from in front of the main Post Office on Kampala Rd at 08.00am Mon to Sat. Get there by 07.00am to buy your ticket (there is no pre-booking to use the Post Bus Service) . These services are reliable and very safe. Routes covered from Kampala include Kabale via Mbarara, Fort Portal via Mubende, Kasese via Mbarara and Bushenyi, Hoima via Masindi, Soroti via Jinja and Mbale . Naturally services back to Kampala from outlying regions are covered and enquiries should be made at the corresponding Post Office. To see Post Bus fares from Kampala visit the Bus time table and fares page on this site.
Mini Bus Taxi (Matatu):
Matatus are the people’s transport. They go everywhere and where they don’t go the pick-up truck does. Matutus are shared 14 seater, usually white Toyota mini buses with a checkered blue band painted horizontally around the body. Fares are reasonable but more expensive than using the public bus over a similar distance. They are fast, numerous, dangerous and away from Kampala heavily overloaded. The police control passenger numbers very effectively around Kampala. However up country finding yourself as one of 20 plus inside the vehicle would not be uncommon.
Mini Bus Taxi
Sit at the back for best security. Most accidents are head on. Matatus have two speeds stopped and flat out. It’s alarming but an environment that is part and parcel of being an adventure tourist.
Ask fellow passengers what the fare should be. The conductor collects passengers fares in the vehicle. It is usual to pay only when your journey is nearly complete. To stop the vehicle shout to the driver ‘STAGE’. Getting out of the vehicle is a game of musical chairs and no-one appears to mind the inconvenience.
Pick Up Truck:
When the roads are just too rough for the Matatus or passenger traffic insignificant this is the domain of the Pick up truck. To be found on routes in rural locations where transportation is a means of getting produce to market. Such vehicles are never full and that is not an exaggeration. Loaded with produce, people, and animals pick ups are slow but a great way to meet people. The comfort is at it’s lowest, bad weather a pain and dust from on coming vehicles all part of the experience.
Where buses stop ‘Pick Up’ trucks take over
Motor Bike Taxi (Boda-boda):
In some towns like Kabale and Mbale bodaboda’s are still of the bicycle variety. Motorbikes are more common elsewhere in Uganda. This form of transport is popular and found everywhere. The name originated from when persons traveling between the border posts of Malaba and Busia would take a bicycle taxi. The bicycle owners would shout out boda-boda (border border) to potential customers.
In Kampala motorbike taxis are very dangerous due mainly to the ignorance of drivers of 4-wheeled vehicles. Consider a boda-boda for journeys of short distances and usually on side roads to the main roads. Bodaboda ranks are to be found at Matatu passenger drop points. Fares are cheap but make sure you know what your going to pay before setting off. The words ‘POLE POLE’ will slow your driver down if you feel uncomfortable about the speed. Helmets are not worn and the service not policed.
Special Hire Taxis:
A Special Hire vehicle can be anything you want to contract from a saloon taxi to truck. You will have to negotiate hard on the price and as to whether the driver can pick up other passengers or not. Just about any vehicle whether private, police, government and sometimes even an NGO vehicle can be contracted discreetly as a ‘Special Hire’.