1. Cash in American Dollars
In Rwanda and Uganda, the dollar is king. Generally credit cards and travelers' checks are not accepted outside of major hotels in cities like Kigali and Kampala. ATM machines are available in these cities (only VISA ATM cards work in Rwanda) but you cannot count on working machines in the smaller towns near the national parks. It’s best to prepay for as much as you can in advance to avoid carrying huge amounts of cash but it’s best to have at least $50 per person per day in cash.
Here’s the vital thing to note: Whether you are changing dollars into the local currency or using dollars to buy things (most businesses have no problem taking dollars), your bills must clean, free of rips and other defects and be series 2006 or later. Local banks often refuse to take bills that don’t meet these standards, so even curio shops selling Coke and Fanta will insist you give them “good” money for your purchases. Have a mix of big and little bills. Bigger bills get better exchange rates but have some 1’s and 5’s handy, as no one ever seems to be able to give change in dollars.
2. Passport and Other Important Documents
It goes without saying that you need your passport to travel along with your plane tickets. But what should happen if you lose these items? I always have multiple copies of my passport and other essential documents (plane tickets, visas if you got one in advance, etc.) Copies go in each of my checked and carry-on bags and are stored in a USB flash drive on my key chain and attached to an email I sent to myself. If your original documents are lost, you have multiple back ups. This way you can, for example, have a new passport issued more quickly or print out a new plane ticket.
Always always pack your medication and medical equipment in your carry-on bag! Besides the most basic antibiotics and painkillers, most pharmacies in Uganda and Rwanda are not well stocked. Have all of your prescription medicines with you as well any over-the-counter medicines you take regularly such as Benadryl or Aspirin. I also always have a supply of antibiotics prescribed by my doctors on hand in case I get sick. I bring Cipro for major stomach infections and Amoxicillin to treat infected wounds.
4. Mobile Phone and Charger
It’s nice to think you might be able to escape from phones in Africa, but I at least can’t live without one, even on vacation. I like knowing I can always be reached in the event of an emergency and having the convenience of being able to make and change plans quickly. If you have a phone that allows you to roam while overseas that makes it easy, although expensive to make calls. I just purchase local SIM cards and credit. In both Rwanda and Uganda, SIM cards and credit can be purchased almost everywhere for just a few dollars. If you’d like to buy one, ask your tour or taxi driver help you buy one from a street vendor. Don’t forget your charger and adapter or the phone won’t help you much!
5. Medical Evacuation Insurance Cards
Volcanoes Safaris requires that all clients have travel insurance with medical and evacuation coverage. Many different options are available and your choices vary depending on your home country. As an American, I always buy separate medical evacuation coverage that guarantees me transport to any hospital of my choosing. Many traditional travel insurance packages that include medical evacuation coverage only promise transportation to the nearest “adequate” hospital, which is up to the company to define. As with my passport, I keep multiple copies of travel and medical evacuation insurance cards handy. Be sure to share you information with the tour company and friends or family members traveling with you.
Next blog I’ll suggest items to pack that, while non-essential, will make your trip much more comfortable!