What to Pack for Rwanda, Uganda and the DRC?

Article from the series: Frequently Asked Questions about Rwanda, Uganda and DR Congo

This is a question that sounds just about right to open our new theme, Frequently Asked Questions

First, let us deal with the most obvious sub-question: To track mountain gorillas, you will have to pack good hiking shoes, long trousers and long sleeved shirts which will protect you against stinging plants. You should also bring rain gear, a hat, packed lunch and water.

However, if you are spending more time in the Gorilla Highlands region, comprising Rwanda, western Uganda and eastern DRC — and that is exactly what we are encouraging you to do — here is a more complete list:

  • sleeping bag
    For are a camper or a hiker, a sleeping bag is a good thing to have. Local accommodation options otherwise all have sheets and blankets.
  • sunscreen
    If you can find sunscreen here, it will be expensive. Little local demand, you know …
  • insect repellent
    Good insect repellents can be costly here, so it is advisable to bring them with you (containing at least 26% DEET). Make sure that you apply them on your ankles especially, that is where mosquitos are most likely to bite.
  • personal hygiene items
    But be aware that you can buy everything you may need locally too.
  • trekking shoes
    It is wise to have a pair of good trekking shoes with you, due to frequent rain and the resulting mud.
  • lightweight shoes
    Lightweight shoes are useful for your everyday walks. Sandals/open shoes are handy but not considered appropriate for every occasion (some types are perceived as poor people’s footwear).
    If you are wearing open toed shoes, wash your feet thoroughly at the end of the day. Little skin-boring ticks called jiggers are common and can be found particularly in dust and dirt. They are not dangerous but will irritate and need to be removed by an experienced person.
  • rain jacket
    You know where the expression “rainforest” comes from?
  • skirt
    A long skirt is a lady’s best friend if you fancy going to church (to hear wonderful singing at least) or for any other respectable occasion.
  • long trousers
    Bring at least two pairs of trousers, made of light materials.
  • shorts 
    Shorts are acceptable on men — but that is schoolboy fashion in the eyes of locals.
  • money belt
    Few things can be paid for in foreign currency. If you use pounds or euros at home, come with them and convert them into local currency in Kampala. American dollars are tricky: nothing printed before 2009 or dirty or torn in any way will be accepted and notes smaller than USD 50 will fetch a lousy rate. If you arrive with small dollar notes, use them to pay for park entries or activities.
  • first aid pack
    Pack some plasters and bandages (easily restocked), contact lens fluid if you use it, some tablets to help in case of pain, fever, diarrhoea, allergy … But rest assured: this is a very healthy environment and traveller’s health issues are not common.
  • binoculars
    There are hundreds of bird species around.
  • small backpack
    A day pack will be handy in many circumstances. A rust-proof lock can protect the backpack from (uncommon) petty theft and be used on lockers as well.
  • batteries 
    Spare batteries for any gadget are a potent investment as electricity is not always available.
  • torch
    Power cuts are a reality (less so in Rwanda) and away from towns, light will be scarce.
  • T-shirts
    T-shirts with long and short sleeves are very useful. Avoid white as it is difficult to keep such clothes clean — unless you ask a local to do it for you. Our people’s laundry skills are impressive.
  • shirts
    A shirt’s collar will protect your neck if you have sensitive skin. You can buy nice second-hand clothes very cheaply at local markets.
  • swimsuit
    You will be in the area with lakes that are safe for swimming, a luxury in Africa. Take advantage!
  • hat, safari clothes
    Great for looking like a tourist! In your home country, do you often dress for camping when you go grocery shopping?
  • socks, underwear
    Socks and underwear in plentiful supply will make your trip more comfortable. Remember, it is not always sunny and hot here, so they might take longer to dry.
  • yellow fever certificate 
    Although officially required and an essential part of your visa application, the yellow fever certificate is hardly ever checked on the borders of Rwanda and Uganda — but it is a must when crossing into the Democratic Republic of Congo. For other recommended vaccinations consult your nearest health service provider, preferably months in advance (some vaccines must be received early or more than once).
  • credit/debit card
    More and more services can be paid for with plastic money. Debit cards are very useful for withdrawing cash from ATMs and exchange rates are decent. You can get money from any card but a VISA/MasterCard debit card seems to be the best option. Having both cards also makes a lot of sense, as some banks only take VISA.
    If you don’t have it yet, it is wise to arrange an Internet banking solution before your departure.
  • photocopies of passport and flight data
    Don’t carry photocopies next to the original please …
  • phone
    An unlocked mobile phone has joined travellers’ standard gear and almost every Ugandan and Rwandan has one as well. Don’t mess about with roaming, you can cheaply buy a SIM card from one of the local mobile phone providers. You may want to have a good VPN app — for accessing Facebook in Uganda and for getting to Ugandan websites or Medium.com while in Rwanda.
  • photo camera cable (click here for photography-focused advice)
    While computer services are widely available, not all machines here have card readers. It is a good idea to occasionally back up your photos onto a flash disk.
  • electricity adapter
    Uganda uses the British three-hole socket with electricity at 240 volts, Rwanda the European two-hole one. However, if you come to Uganda with the European double plug and don’t mind a little inconvenience, pushing down into the upper hole with a non-metallic stick will remove any need for adapters.
  • tablet
    Purchasing a data connection card is not difficult and most areas have decent coverage.
  • warm sweater
    A sweater for Africa?! Oh yes! Our weather can easily become cold, rainy and “late-autumn” like.

    featured photo by Marcus Westberg