Uganda is not Germany or the United States where public transportation is meant to be prompt and efficient. Most of the common modes are run privately, on their own schedule, and with the aim of maximizing fares whenever possible. What follows is a brief guide on common methods of ground transportation in Uganda which are available to the traveler.
Boda bodas are privately owned Japanese motorcycles with room for two passengers, and are very popular for short trips through towns and cities. There is some risk involved, and accidents are common, since a passenger is subject to the driver’s ability to handle bad traffic and worse roads. The advantages to taking boda bodas are express service due to complete neglect of traffic, service to particular locations, and a thrilling ride.
If you are unfamiliar with your route, try to ask someone (not a boda driver) about how much the ride to your destination ought to cost, and aim to bargain for that. Boda drivers have an easy time overcharging confused muzungus (whities) for trips. Before hiring a boda, establish a price with the driver ahead of time, and do not let the driver try and guilt you into paying more after your trip has started. Appeals of “it is very far away,” or “you tip me” are bogus attempts at trying to squeeze you for extra schillings and should not be heeded. While these trips are fast and convenient, they can become expensive if you take many trips in a day.
Taking Matatus in the city is a confusing affair, but it can be very cost effective if you can figure out how to get where you are going. It seems like Matatus, privately owned minivans, can be found traveling on prescribed routes between ‘taxi parks’ where they gather strategically to take on more fares, and pick up/drop off passengers along the way for 500 shillings (~$0.20) a head, or perhaps more for longer trips. Matatus can be slow simply due to bad traffic and constant stopping, despite the aggressive tendencies of their drivers. They are typically packed to the brim and not entirely comfortable. Often intercity matatus can be hired for long cross country rides to other towns, but your baggage will be strapped casually to the roof and you will be stuffed in with too many others to be comfortable for the duration of the trip traveling at breakneck speed, so you may feel better with a
Busses are also common for intercity travel, and cost roughly the same as intercity Matatus. You can bring your belongings (incl. goats and chickens) on board, or store them in the fair security of cargo hatches along the sides or back of the vehicle. Waiting to embark is an annoying side effect of bus rides, as drivers refuse to leave until the bus is quite full (more money!). Intercity buses are fairly quick, not stopping save for fuel or to invite dealers of grilled chicken kebabs or bottled sodas to thrust their wares through your open window. A three hour bus ride to another town may run for 10,000 schillings ($4).
Hitchhiking is surprisingly easy in Uganda. Standing on the side of a road which heads out of town affords many opportunities to flag down big trucks or private cars. The cabins of large trucks are vastly more comfortable than the more traditional options of transit, and the drivers tend to be very friendly. It seems like foreigners are the only ones who think to hitch, and really it may only work for them, since driving around a muzungu seems to be something of a novelty. I have not been asked for favors or money by drivers, but an offering of snacks and candy seems to be well received.
Now you have some clue as to get around Uganda and much of east Africa. Hold on. The ride will be fast and hard.