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“Dear Pandemic, I am Visiting Uganda… “

Dear Pandemic, I am Visiting Uganda

For reasons such as study, work or joining family, one may leave Uganda to settle in another country. However, every once in a while, home does call you back and that call can be hard to ignore even though there is a difficulty brought by the pandemic. So, how do you travel back to the refreshing air of a place so familiar when movement has become so stifled?

Andrew Mugasha* left Uganda about 9 years ago to settle in the United States of America. After that lengthy absence, he returned to Uganda in 2021 for a short visit.

“I came back to visit family and to explore parts of the country that I had not seen before” Andrew told us in an interview.

You too may have your own reason for coming to Uganda, but here are a few things you can learn from Andrew to have a smooth, memorable travel and stay here.

Planning

To make that journey, Andrew didn’t just wake up and hop onto a plane the next day. There were a number of considerations to make; the length of the journey, multiple stop overs in other countries, the expenditure on arrival at home and most importantly, the pandemic. This required Andrew to have an intricate plan for everything to be seamless.

“I had to consider the time of the year I wanted to travel, the people available to visit and spend time with and how much time I could get off work. I made a list of places to visit in Uganda after weighing costs like accommodation, food and transport” Andrew adds.

It is also a good idea to consult from friends in Uganda before travelling so that your budget is befitting. Finally, Andrew advises that it is important to check with your physician so that you can align with the medical requirements of your stops as you travel.

Pick an activity that will keep you busy on the journey. This could be a couple of books, or movies, or music on your device. Ensure that you have these ahead of time. Then you can get your plane ticket, pack and wait for take-off.

COVID 19 Guidelines

Andrew had already been vaccinated before his trip, so you too may consider getting vaccinated ahead of time, because you will need the vaccination card on arrival at Entebbe International Airport. On top of that, most of the airlines have strict travel requirements such as a COVID test that was taken less than 72 hours before travel date, and some other security checks like sharing address information for countries like Belgium.

Remember to mask up all through your journey. You can get creative with your mask you know? Add Graffiti, or wear an Ankara-print one. Either way, just have your mask and sanitizer on hand.

Entebbe Airport Checklist

On top of your Visa, Passport and Vaccination card, endeavor to have a yellow fever vaccination card. Andrew says that the time he visited, this wasn’t asked for but he had it nonetheless. It probably was ignored because COVID had the airport security unsettled, but it would be terrible to be asked for it and you don’t have it. So, get the yellow fever vaccine and have your card with you as well.

Uganda’s Rich Tourism Basket

“I visited Western Uganda-Kasese, Fortportal and Mbarara. There was a lot to see like Mabeere Ga Nyinamwiru, Kazinga Channel and crater lakes. As a Ugandan I was amazed at the progress the country has made and what it has to offer for tourists” Andrew notes.

True to this, Uganda really has a wide range of things to see and experience. From cuisine to culture, historical sites, physical features and infrastructure, your visit will be memorable.

Glaring Criticism

Due to the pandemic, the government of Uganda limited resident Ugandans from moving inter-district. This meant that they couldn’t consume the tourism sector, yet those who traveled from abroad could. Andrew thinks this was largely unfair, because the resident market has a lot of potential for tourism benefit. That limitation caused dullness and negative economic impact as different stakeholders had to rely on foreign customers.

“At Kazinga Channel, the tour guide told us we were the first group he guided in over 2 months, while the visitors’ book at the safari lodge where we slept hadn’t been signed in 3 months” Andrew remarks. This could have been combated by allowing resident Ugandans to tour their country with strict observance of SOPs, so that you don’t create a divide where foreigners enjoy the country more than the residents.

For a non-resident of Uganda, this may not affect you. Andrew advises that once you are here, you “be patient because some people who are key to your visit lack a sense of urgency. Be present, ask questions, account for all sorts of miscellaneous things happening, and enjoy yourself. Uganda is truly the pearl of Africa”

*Names have been altered to keep the source anonymous

Chimpanzee tracking at Kyambura Gorge

A SAFARI AT QUEEN ELIZABETH NATIONAL PARK

Uganda is richly blessed with stunning tourist attractions adversely spread out throughout the country. Among these tourist attractions are national parks. Queen Elizabeth National park is not only one of the most popular tourist attractions in Africa but also the most visited national park in Uganda. It is an ideal destination for all nature and wildlife lovers but has experiences for all its visitors nonetheless. No wonder, it is popularly referred to as the “medley of wonders”.

Queen Elizabeth national park was founded in 1952 as Kazinga National Park and renamed two years later, to commemorate a visit by Queen Elizabeth II.  This name contributed to its popularity, alongside its stunning beauty and the fact that it is accessible by both those traveling by road or air. It is located in southwestern Uganda and lies astride the Equator with monuments on both sides of the road making latitude 00. It is in the Albertine region along with Kyambura and Kigezi wildlife reserve, which brings together the most diverse ecosystem in Africa.

Set against the backdrop of the jagged Rwenzori Mountains, the park’s magnificent views include dozens of enormous craters carved dramatically into rolling green hills, panoramic views of the Kazinga Channel with its banks lined with hippos, buffalo and elephants, and the endless Ishasha plains, whose fig trees hide lions ready to pounce on herds of unsuspecting Uganda kobs. The rich bio-diversity of the crater lakes, forest, savannah, woodland, and acacia and numerous animal, plant, and bird species lying on an area of 1978km2 make Queen Elizabeth National Park a popular tourist destination.

The park is home to over 95 mammal species, which are the main attraction of the visitors to the park. It has four of the ‘Big Five’ namely Elephant, Leopard, Lion and Buffalo. It is home to thousands of hippos that populate the water shores of Kazinga Channel, which connects Lake George to Lake Edward – known to have the largest herd of hippos. The park is an open Savannah spread with acacia and euphorbia trees that provide a habitat for leopards, elephants, lions, Uganda kobs, Topi, hyenas, and big herds of buffaloes, large families of banded mongoose, warthogs, bushbucks and waterbucks.

The wildlife in Queen Elizabeth National Park supports a wide range of safaris activities like game drives, boat safaris, nature walks and so many other experiences as shown below.

Game drives in Queen Elizabeth National Park

Early morning or evenings are the best times to go game viewing mainly because the sun is not as hot and the cats prefer to hunt during these periods. The game drives in Queen Elizabeth national park happen mainly in the Kasenyi area, which has the largest Kob mating ground. The area is famous for big cats because of the high population of Uganda Kobs which they prey on. Look out for herds of buffaloes and elephants as they graze through eh Savannah. The game drives are in custom-made vehicles for safari where each occupant has access to a window seat and open roof.

 Game drives in Queen Elizabeth National Park

Boat safaris at Kazinga Channel

The Kazinga Channel is a 32-kilometre-long freshwater channel that links Lake Edward to its smaller neighbour, Lake George. The lakes are named after Queen Victoria’s son, King Edward VII, and his own successor, King George V. The wide channel is a key feature of Queen Elizabeth National Park and a popular area for wildlife tourism. The channel is home to a wide range of animals and birds, including one of the world’s largest concentrations of hippos (around 2,000) and countless Nile crocodiles. You can also expect to see elephants, buffaloes, and over 100 species of water bird, including the African Skimmer.

The Kazinga Channel provides travellers with a fantastic game and bird viewing experience because it is an oasis for many of the fascinating species that inhabit the park. And taking a boat tour along it, gives visitors the chance to cruise just meters from hundreds of enormous hippos and buffalos while elephants linger on the shoreline.

Boat safaris at Kazinga Channel

 

Chimpanzee tracking at Kyambura Gorge

Kyambura Gorge is situated in the far east of Queen Elizabeth National Park. The park hosts the Kyambura gorge which is an ‘underground’ forest 100m below the Kichwaba escarpment. It is home to ten primate species including the famed chimpanzees, olive baboons, black-and-white colobus monkeys, etc.  Kyambura Gorge is nicknamed ‘the valley of the apes’.

Chimpanzee tracking is a popular wildlife activity in Uganda which allows you to step into the world of the chimps. The treks last for around three hours and include a maximum of one hour with the chimps in their natural habitat. You can expect to see them from a safe distance of 8-10 metres. Only a few chimps inhabit the gorge and therefore chances of seeing them are about 60%. The sights and sounds of the forest however, generate suspense and make a sighting even more rewarding. Therefore, in order to enjoy the experience of chimpanzee tracking, one has to book in advance from the park headquarters. Important to note is that though the chances of sighting the chimpanzees are not high, the experience of tracking through the forest is amazing as you have many other sightings of beautiful birds and other primates.

Chimpanzee tracking at Kyambura Gorge

Bird watching in Queen Elizabeth

Queen Elizabeth national park is a birdwatchers haven with over 600 bird species and is an important Birding Area (IBA) according to Birding International. It has the highest number of birds found in any protected area in East Africa. The park has diverse habitat for birds from Savannah, numerous crater lakes, forests and woodland. For the best birding in Queen Elizabeth National Park, some of the best birding hot spots include Kazinga Channel, Kasenyi Area, Mweya Peninsula, Maramagambo Forest, Ishasha Sector, Lake Kikorongo, Katunguru Bridge area and Katwe Area. Generally, every corner of the park is a great bird watching area. The bird species to look out for include, African mourning dove, Swamp flycatcher, Grey headed kingfisher, pin-tailed whydah, slender-tailed nightjar and collared pratincole. Look out for the flamingos at the salt lakes of Katwe and Bunyampaka. And since the birds are relatively easy to spot, you can expect great photo shots as you explore the park and its environment.

Other activities that offer spectacular safaris experiences are nature and forest walks alongside community walks and cultural experiences. Nature and forest walks are often done with a ranger guide for purposes of safety. They are available at the Mweya peninsular where you have a great birding and views across Kazinga channel and Lake Edward. In Ishasha, you have an opportunity to walk along Ishasha River where you have an opportunity to get close to the Hippos with your ranger guide. Maramagambo forest is another site with the famous bat cave and several bird species.

In addition to the amazing wildlife, Queen Elizabeth has a rich cultural history with a lot of fishing villages adjacent to the park. Visitors have opportunities engaging with local communities and enjoying the stories, music and dance Or engage in the daily activities of the locals like harvesting and cooking a quick vegetable meal and making crafts. Kikorongo Women’s Community Project offers cultural performances of dance, drama, music and fire-making, basket weaving, paper beads. However, one needs to book before visiting because the women are not at this project daily but many will be in their farms where they spend most of their time.

Queen Elizabeth National Park offers a wide range of exciting safaris experiences that leave every visitor refreshed and rejuvenated. It is undoubtedly an ideal tourist destination when one visits Uganda.

For an amazing safaris experience at Queen Elizabeth NP, contact us on info@swanairtravel.com or +256776515014 or visit swanairtravel.com

Skydiving in Diani

DIANI, THE ULTIMATE PARADISE

Diani beach is located along the Kenyan coast, about 19 kilometers south of Mombasa. The stunning beach is about 10 kilometers long, with a beautiful 12 mile stretch of sand and shallow waters near the shore. It is bordered by the stunning Indian Ocean, delicate silky white sands, warm turquoise waters, lavish greenery with palm-lined streets, and the shinning emerald blue that emerges from the crystal-clear waters. Diani Beach is undoubtedly stunning and therefore one of the most prominent tourist destinations in Kenya. It is known for its coral reefs, black and white colobus monkeys, and for the closely located Shimba Hills National Reserve, which looks out over the Indian ocean. In addition, Diani has an airstrip that makes it easily accessible using direct flights from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport or Wilson Airport in Nairobi. It is also a little more than an hour’s drive from Mombasa and a 4 – 5hour train ride on the recently operational Nairobi-Mombasa Standard Gauge Railway making road and railway transport possible alternatives. Noteworthy is the fact that Diani beach has for five consecutive years been awarded as Africa’s leading beach destination!                                          

Fasten your seatbelt and let’s explore Diani Beach–everything that comes to mind when you think of a tropical paradise. In this article, we will look at some of the activities and experiences, that make Diani the ultimate paradise.

 

1. Skydiving in Diani

Skydiving is one of the most fun and enjoyable activities to do on the planet. While skydiving, endorphins, adrenaline, and serotonin, known as the feel-good chemicals, are produced by the brain essentially making people feel very happy. Skydiving at Diani is a popular attraction for people all over the world and the ever-clear skies make the sport extremely enjoyable.

Every March and November, Skydive Diani organizes the weekly boogies festivals during which, tourists get a chance to enjoy advanced skydiving antiques and an exclusive training session. To make your experience even more exhilarating, Skydive Diani offers the off-planes package, where divers jump from an airplane, of course with the help of a guide.

Skydiving in Diani
A group skydiving in Diani

2.  Scuba Diving, Snorkeling, and Boat Trips in Diani Beach

Boat trips, Snorkeling, and scuba diving are all exciting ways to enjoy the richness and diversity of marine life hosted in the Indian Ocean. The key difference between scuba diving and snorkeling is how deep you go into the water. While scuba diving and snorkeling, you get the opportunity to explore the world underwater and therefore, stand a chance to interact with marine animals like green sea turtles, hawksbill sea turtles, killer whales, humpback whales, and many more. 

Scuba diving in Diani
A scuba diver in Diana

3. Visiting Chale Island

Right at the heart of Msambweni bay, 12 km south of Diani Beach, lies Chale Island. It has a spectacular white sand beach and is beautifully fringed by coral reefs, making it a haven for tourists seeking a more romantic treat. From its adequately equipped water sports center to fascinating boat excursions, Chale Island ultimately has something to offer to everyone. While on your visit to Chale Island, you can participate in activities like boat snorkeling, beach snorkeling, kayaking, local catamaran sailing, game fishing and so much more.  

In the middle of the Island, lies Maisha Poa spa and you can agree with me that nothing beats a professional massage over some soothing music, after a long day on the beach. Here, all the energies of the tidal lake, coral caves, ancient mangroves and gentle breeze cumulate, offering you the right atmosphere to facilitate relaxation. 

About 20km south of the Island, lies Wasini Marine reserve which is endowed with several marine animals. And on the western side of Chale Island, lies Gazi, a local village that is most popular for fishing. Here, you can sample some of the authentically cooked fish and other marine animals as you enjoy the view of the big coconut plantation and mangrove swamps. An excursion to this village is enough to feel the traditional setting of the Kenyan society. 

Chale Island

4. Relax at the Spas in Diani

Diani Beach is the home to award-winning spas that offer the most relaxing spa and massage experience. Some also provide henna paintings, which is the traditional way of enhancing beauty in women among the locals. A perfect example of a world-class spa at Diani Beach is the Uzuri SPA Diani, which offers treatments with both European and African products to suit both men and women. Uzuri Spa and Fitness is located at the Leopard Beach resort. Just like its name suggests, uzuri (goodness), this spa is a sanctuary for people who want to enjoy tranquillity and experience body, mind and soul rejuvenation at its best. 

Some of the facilities at the spa include the Afya Gym ( a state of the art) a fully equipped workout facility alongside an aerobics and yoga pavilion, as part of their workout department. If you need a break from the ordinary salty water, you can unwind on their steam bath, sauna, and outdoor Jacuzzi. There is also a health bar, which is close to the pool and offers different fresh juices, healthy salads, light meals, and smoothies. What a way to end your day!

Diani Spas 

5. A Visit to Shimba Hills National Reserve

Diani is home to East Africa’s second-largest coastal forest, Shimba hills. The National reserve is only 45 minutes from Diani Beach, making it worth the visit during your stay in Diani. It presents a different kind of experience with a beautiful view of local villages, wildlife and so much more, hence a much needed break from all the water activities at Diani Beach. Shimba Hills National Reserve is famous for being a home to animals such as elephants, sable antelopes, Genets, leopards, civet cats, waterbucks, hyenas, buffalos, bush pigs, bushbuks, white Columbus and coastal black, bush duiker and so many others. It harbors reptiles such as Pythons, Lizards, Cobras, and Geckos and is also home to more than 111 bird species including the African Hawk, Ostrich Eagle, Quail, Sunbird, Crowned, Hornbill, Honey Guide, and Uluguru.

Shimba Hills National Reserve
Elephants in Shimba Hills National Reserve

 

There are several other activities, including but not limited to: playing golf, visiting forty thieves beach bar and bistro, visiting the Diani Beach art gallery, touring the Kongo mosque and touring fort jesus, a combination of which makes Diani the ultimate paradise. It is perfect for both relaxation and adventure, making it an ideal tourism destination for all in need of a beautiful escape or get away. 

In case you’re wondering where to travel to next, Diani beach is definitely ideal and worth the consideration. Book your trip to Diani Beach with Swanair Travel and Safaris, to experience all the above and more, by simply visiting www.swanairtravel.com or reaching out through info@swanairtravel.com and +256776515014. With Swanair Travel and Safaris, planning your travel will not only be easy and quick, but also, in accordance with your personal wishes. You will undoubtedly be able to experience your most deserved memorable get away, at a subsidized cost and without breaking a sweat. Let’s travel and explore Kenya together!

covid19 mask -swanair

UPDATED COVID-19 HEALTH MEASURES FOR ENTEBBE INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT (16/SEP/2021)

The Government of the Republic of Uganda has issued the following directives effective 16th September 2021 until further notice, on COVID-19 health measures at Entebbe International Airport:

1. All travelers whose body temperature is NOT above 37.5°C (99.5°F), do not have a persistent cough, difficulty in breathing or other flu-like symptoms; have negative COVID-19 Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test certificate carried out within 72 hours from the time of sample collection shall be allowed to enter or depart Uganda in compliance with categorization in 3 below:

i. Entebbe International Airport Port Health shall approve for arrival or departure a negative PCR COVID-19 test certificate undertaken within 72 hours from the time of sample collection. This excludes transit time at the terminal building.

ii. For travelers presenting with COVID-19 signs and symptoms or other infectious diseases will be subjected to secondary screening and will be taken for further management. If found to have an infectious disease, they will be taken for further management at the infectious disease hospital.

iii.Travelers without a negative COVID-19 PCR test certificate undertaken within 72 hours from the time of sample collection will not be allowed into Uganda.

iv.Travelers departing EIA are required to know, understand, and interpret COVID-19 requirements of the country they are travelling to.

v.Travelers who have had COVID-19 vaccination and hold a certificate must still present a negative COVID-19 PCR test certificate taken within 72 hours from the time of sample collection to boarding aircraft. This is because the vaccine is not 100% protective and it also takes several days/weeks to begin protection.

vi.Individuals who test positive to COVID-19 test shall be treated according to the Ministry of Health protocol for COVID-19

2. All crew who want to enter Uganda shall have a valid negative COVID-19 PCR test after every 14 days.

3.

i. All arriving passengers from category 2 will be subjected to a COVID-19 PCR test on arrival in Uganda in addition to the negative COVID-19 PCR test certificate taken within 72 hours from the time of sample collection to first embarkation.

ii. Affected countries include;

a. Category 1- None

b. Category 2- India, United States of America, United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Turkey, South Africa, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and South Sudan.

c. Category 3 – All countries not in Category 2. These will not be subject to COVID-19 PCR test.

iii. Individuals from Category 2 countries (except India) who have received full COVID-19 vaccination and have no signs of COVID-19 will be exempted from the PCR tests. Travelers from India shall be subjected to mandatory PCR testing upon arrival irrespective of vaccination status.

4. A travelling child 3 years and below, accompanied by parents holding a negative COVID-19 PCR test is exempted from a negative COVID-19 PCR test certificate.

5. Passengers travelling out of the country will be required to have a negative COVID-19 PCR test Certificate taken within 72 hours from the time of sample collection. They will abide by the travel and health (including COVID-19) related requirements of the destination country.

6. Passengers arriving in the curfew time, and/or from districts beyond Kampala with a valid air ticket and boarding Pass shall be allowed to proceed to their hotels and/or residences.

7. Passengers departing in the curfew time, and or from districts beyond Kampala with a valid air ticket shall be allowed to proceed to their destination airport by presentation of the passenger ticket to the authorities as evidence of going to the airport.

8. Drivers should have evidence that they have come from the airport (such as airport parking ticket or passenger ticket) to drop or pick up passengers.

9. Air transportation of human remains into the country is allowed if the following conditions are fulfilled:

i. Medical Certificate of Cause of Death;

ii. Post-mortem report or Comprehensive Medical Report from the attending doctor/health facility;

iii. Embalming certificate (including embalming certificate for death due to COVID-19);

iv. Copy of passport/identification document of the deceased (The original passport/ travel document/ identification document to be presented to immigration authorities);

v. Import license/ import authorization from the Director General of Health Services;

vi. Appropriate packaging- wrapped in a waterproof body bag then placed in a zinc lined coffin and an outer metal or wooden box;

vii. The document will be verified by port health and the casket on arrival shall be decontaminated by port health;

viii.The burial of bodies of COVID-19 victims will be conducted following the existing procedures for scientific burials.

10. To bring human remains in the country clearance MUST be received from Ministries of Health and Foreign Affairs.

11. Violation of human remain transportation procedure herein will attract a penalty as equivalent to that stated in Uganda AIP and COVID-19 Standard Operating Procedures (Revised Edition)

AIP SUP 18/21 is hereby superseded