Vegetarian or Vegan Traveling in Uganda

Vegetarian and vegan diets are not common in Uganda. And most tourists who go there aren’t either. The lodges can cater to vegetarians and vegans but just know that the meals won’t be as many options as for non-vegetarian guests. Some lodges might even seem like they just “threw” something together. And you might have to remind the staff about your diet a few times.

{Uganda Tourism Standards and What To Expect}

While we were booking our trip to Uganda, our tour company told us that tourism standards in Uganda aren’t as established there compared to its East neighbors and Southern African countries. But they didn’t really specify what that meant and I think I understand now that I’ve gone through the experience.

This is part of the wonderful world of traveling the globe and different experiences are part of the charm. But it’s also helpful to know this kind of stuff ahead of time and I would appreciated having this info before my trip and so I hope you find it helpful and useful to keep in mind during your trip!

First, you have to initiate and ask for what you want vs. anticipatory service. This is very different than luxury experiences in the United States and many other countries. I think this is what set Baker’s Lodge apart from all of the other lodges we experienced in Uganda. They were definitely more on top of this than others.

The Ugandan people (all those we met) are very kind and nice. The lodge staff are eager to please and they are acutely aware that their best marketing channels as throughout Uganda guides and lodge managers asked us to go home and tell our friends and family about Uganda and their businesses specifically.

Second, you have to be very specific and very literal with the staff. I had an incident at Engagi Lodge where I wrote down the breakfast orders for my husband and I. I wrote “no pineapple” and thought it was understood that I was placing the order for my husband AND I since I was talking to the manager as well as writing it down. But things got lost in translation – I’m assuming the manager just handed the morning staff the paper without talking to them because the next day they gave us one package with pineapple and one without.

Third, staff are not trained on how to deal with customer issues, questions, complaints. I noticed at all of the lodges, they train the staff to check in and ask you how your meal is etc. – normal server thing to do. But there was a break down if you didn’t like something or wanted something more, something changed. They’re mostly expecting you to say, “everything’s great”. And if you said anything other than that, like “well my soup is a bit salty” or whatever they aren’t trained to handle that. The staff member would get this surprised/scared/nervous expression, kind of get flustered and then either just walk away or defer to a manager. And I’m talking about normal occurrences where the guests were very polite and kind in what they were asking for. We never saw anyone getting upset.

It’s important to understand that there’s a lot of competition for employment in these lodges and tourism in general. And many Ugandans are impoverished. So anything that wasn’t satisfactory makes lodge staff (non-managers) nervous as I think there’s a constant fear for their jobs.

{Vegetarian and Vegan Diets Aren’t Common in Uganda}

Most of the tourists that travel to Uganda are not vegetarian either making vegetarians and vegans “special cases”. Recognizing this, one of the reasons we booked our trip through a company that specializes in luxury safaris was because we thought they’d work with lodges that could accommodate our dietary needs.

And they did…for the most part and in varying degrees. There were a few incidents:

The thing I didn’t like was that non of the three lodges we stayed at were prepared for us. Despite giving the tour company all of our dietary needs, when we arrived at each lodge none of them had a clue about our diet. The implication was that they all needed 1-2 meals to get their bearings.

When you’re paying anywhere from $500-650 per night, I expected the lodges to be prepared when we arrived.

{How Meals Work in Uganda}

3 meals per day. The way food and beverage work at luxury lodges in Uganda is there’s 3 set meals – breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And they’re served in set windows of time. For example dinner was from 6:30p,-9:30pm. No snacks are served in-between meals..that are included in your fee.

This was a very different experience than my previous African safaris in other countries. In Uganda you can order snacks in-between meals but you’d pay extra, whereas when I went on safari in Zimbabwe for example, there were hors d’oeuvres and snacks in-between each meal which were already built into the per person pricing that we pre-paid.

This is important to note because often we were pretty hungry by the time it was time to sit down for a meal at the lodge. The portions were small at some lodges but since they were 3-4 course meals, we never left the table hungry, but I think that because everyday was so active with hiking, trekking etc. we were burning a lot of energy.

We packed a bunch of Clif bars and were really glad that we did!

Beverages are extra. Another thing that was a surprise when we arrived at each lodge was that aside from coffee and tea, we had to pay extra for beverages. And alcohol is not cheap in Uganda. One cocktail cost at least $10USD.

{Setting Expectations Vegetarian and Vegan Guests to Set Their Expectations}

I hope this article helps vegetarian and vegan guests to set their expectations when traveling to Uganda. I wish someone had done the same for me, as I purposely worked with a luxury tour company thinking that through them the food situation would be better ad perhaps it was, but there were still some issues.

That said I think that vegetarians and vegans should definitely put Uganda on their travel bucket list. This East African country is dubbed the “Pearl of Africa” for a reason. Uganda has it all – land safari, river safari, gorillas, and chimps! The country has stunning scenery, a world renowned history (that hits home with me personally) and it’s relatively untouched in tourism compared to its neighbors – Tanzania and Kenya, giving the country and its people an incredible charm.

{Historic Ties With Uganda}

My father-in-law, his brothers and all of their families were born and raised in Uganda. In 1972, Ugandan President Idi Amin, ordered the expulsion of all South Asians from Uganda citing their disloyalty and giving the country back to ethnic Ugandans. Their businesses, bank accounts, farms, properties — everything they owned of about 80,000 South Asians was ceased and redistributed. About 23,000 were Ugandan citizens (including my FIL and his family) and were allowed to stay, but due to the strong anti-South Asian climate, many voluntarily decided to leave.

Given 90 days to leave Uganda, the vast majority fled to the UK as well as Canada, India and Kenya, in that order.  It’s an important history and it was interesting to talk with locals as well as expats living in Uganda and hearing their stories and experiences around this dark history.

My in-laws remember Uganda fondly. When I told them about our trip they both commented on how beautiful it is. But neither of them have been back to visit, nor have any of their friends who left as refugees as well.


{Back to the Vegetarian and Vegan Food Scene in Uganda}

When I show you pictures of the meals we ate, you might think I’m too hard to please as the meal presentation was artistic by highly trained chefs. The context though is that we paid a lot for a luxury experience and all of the lodges were informed about our diet beforehand. But none of them were prepared for us. We were served whatever they came up with in the moment.

And that resulted in things like only being able to only eat bread and fruit for breakfast, whereas all of the other guests had lots of options. And being served only fruit for dessert where other guests had delicious cakes. And also no recognition on the part of the lodges that that wasn’t fair – nor right. We paid just as much as other guests and were given less value.

{The Lodges Are Integral To Your Overall Experience}

So much about an African holiday revolves around where you stay, more so compared to traveling to major cities and other places around the world. Your lodge is your anchor on an African holiday. You’ll eat all your meals there. Most of your downtime is spent at the lodge so it’s important to stay at a place you’ll like and can cater to your needs.

In Africa most lodges (not hotels) are set up like camp grounds where there’s a main/central lodge and individual, detached cabins/bungalows/rooms – whatever you want to call them. So you walk to/from your room to the main lodge for meals.

Naturally, the nicer the lodge the better the views and more exclusivity you’ll find.

{Baker’s Lodge Murchison Falls}

Our best food and lodging experience by far in Uganda was at Baker’s Lodge in Murchison Falls. This gorgeous luxury lodge sits on the River Nile. We enjoyed all of our meals on the river bank or on the lodge terrace watching the resident hippos. It was an incredible experience to stay there. The lodge is absolutely stunning and really a gem in the country and the world. The staff is incredibly kind, welcoming, and friendly.

The meals at Baker’s Lodge were 4 courses, delicious and artfully presented as you can see in the images below. They used fresh vegetables and fruits in all of our meals. For breakfast we ate bread and fruit with tea, coffee, and juice. They had non-vegetarian and egg dishes as well for non-vegetarians and non-vegans.

Most of the meals we had at Baker’s were vegan except for the French onion soup. But they tell you what’s on the menu beforehand and you can alter things a bit. For instance my husband doesn’t like French onion soup so they made him an alternate soup instead.

We really appreciated the packed meals at Baker’s Lodge. They put together professionally packed boxed lunches.

Packed meal at Baker’s Lodge, Murchison Falls, Uganda

Each bungalow is equipped with everything you’d need throughout your stay. We spent 3 nights there. In those days we did a Nile River cruise, Delta cruise, hiked to the top of Murchison Falls, a river safari, and a land safari. Our days were action packed and we loved every minute of it!

{Kyuninga Lodge, Fort Portal, Uganda}

Kyuninga Lodge is a luxury lodge that sits on a crater lake. The meals were ok here. We found portions small and the food very simple. This was the most expensive of the 3 lodges we stayed at. They didn’t seem to have a lot of experience with vegetarian guests compared to Baker’s Lodge.

We learned that Ugandans have adopted Indian chapati into their diet. Our first night at Kynuniga we were pleasantly surprised to have chapati with sabzi (vegetables) and Indian inspired rice. That was my favorite meal at Kyuninga.

At Kyuninga, I ordered a cocktail and a fly drowned in it. I’d barely drunk any of it. As we left the bar to head back to our room, the barman saw I’d left my drink and asked me if I wanted it. I told him that a fly flew in, and he gave me a half baked, “sorry”. But he didn’t offer to replenish the drink and they still charged me for it. I don’t blame him though. He was a very young guy and it was obvious that he was either new at Kyuninga or in training. It’s more of an issue with their management, not training their staff to handle situations like this.

Had I said something or asked him to replenish it or not charge me, I think they probably would have.

{Sharing Dietary Restrictions With Your Tour Operator}

One thing to understand about booking your African safari with a third party tour operator is that that’s exactly what they are — a third party.  Their primary role is lead generation to all the lodges and tours and customer service with clients. They don’t own any of the lodges, they don’t actually do any of the tours.

Lesson Learned. Looking back, had I known better I would have booked my entire trip through Wild Frontiers. They have a very high standard for excellence and they own lodges and they are the tour operator. My trip was comprised of an amalgam of tour companies. It would have been better if the entire thing had been through one company for service and experience continuity.

The reason this is important is because after I returned I contacted the tour company to tell them about our experience with food. And you know what their response was? They said that they informed the lodges about our diet and the lodges acknowledged that they received the info, therefore their (tour operator’s) obligation had been fulfilled. They added that our expectations were too high and that tourism is not as established in Uganda. They don’t care about the actual customer experience.

{Most Important Travel Tip for
Vegetarians and Vegans in Uganda}

Even though you will tell your tour operator your dietary restrictions email your accommodations directly too. And email them a few times. When you book a trip to Africa, most people are booking at least 6 months in advance – at least 6 months. In the hospitality world that’s forever.

Start emailing your lodges a month in advance, then again two weeks later and again 1-2 days before you arrive. It’s not obnoxious to do this. Think about how many times you need reminders or need to hear info before it sinks in.

Don’t only rely on your tour operator and assume that everything will be taken care of. I’ve shared my real life stories below.

{On Night 3 Out of Four Lodge
“Forgot” We Are Vegetarian}

Our lodge in Bwindi, Engagi Lodge was our worst food and overall experience during our two week trip to Uganda. That was unfortunate because that was also the place where we stayed longest. We stayed at Engagi Lodge about an hour away from Kihihi airstrip.

On night 2 of 4, we weren’t served dinner as their entire staff literally forgot that we are vegetarian. All of the lodge guests decided to dine together, at one table and the manager announced the menu for the evening – none of it was vegetarian. So afterwards I pulled the manager to the side and asked him what they were serving us and reminded him that we’re vegetarian and he looked surprised and worried.

I was dumbfounded! We’d been eating 3 meals a day there for the last 2 days, working with the same staff everyday and it was like he was hearing this for the first time! He said he’d talk to the chef and we were literally served avocado slices with mustard sauce splatted all over it. I’m not kidding – at $550 per night that’s what they served us.

And while everyone else had decadent chocolate cake for dessert they gave us fruit slices.

To add insult to injury there was no apology. And even worse no recognition that they needed to do better – that they’d ignored guests.

{Experiences Being Vegetarian in Uganda}


From that point on, I literally had to have a conversation with the management prior to every.single.meal to make sure we’d even have food. And they kept asking me what they should make!


Since we had to leave very early in the morning to go gorilla trekking, they packed breakfast for us. The night before, you give the staff your breakfast order. I wrote down and verbally told the manager, no eggs. And what did we discover inside the bags the next day? Boiled eggs.


They were careless. Because they didn’t know what to make for us they just slapped something together. They packed slices of pineapple in aluminum foil. Naturally the juices leaked out creating a sticky, wet mess of the brown paper bags they were packed in and everything else inside of it. For the kind of money we paid, I expected professionalism.

{Paid for PRIVATE Cruise But They Still Gave Us Non-Vegetarian Food!}

On our first night in Uganda, we paid for a private Nile River cruise. It was about three hours and was supposed to include cocktails and snacks. Three out of four snacks were non-vegetarian on our PRIVATE cruise. Again it’s not like the tour company hadn’t been informed ahead of time. It was frustrating because we paid for a service that we didn’t get. And all of the involved parties blame each other, and no one apologizes to you.

{My Uganda Itinerary}

Entebbe – 1 night (quick stay after late night flight arrival)
Murchison Falls – 3 nights
Fort Portal – 2 nights (Kasese airstrip)
Bwindi – 4 nights (I did two gorilla treks + day trip to Ishasha; Kihihi airstrip)

I flew to each destination instead of driving which would have taken 6-9 hours per location. Uganda has one domestic airline called Aerolink. The planes fit around 20 people. There’s a strict 15kg per person luggage limit. And they do not allow hard shell bags. Most people travel with backpacks and duffels.

Entebbe-Africa-Uganda-Airport-International-travel-domestic-small


Enjoy your trip to Uganda! I hope it finds you with a satisfied and belly full of great vegetarian and vegan food! Keep adding those stamps to your PassportPages!

FacebookProfile-logo

If you enjoy our articles then follow us, tag us, comment and share!

Instagram
Facebook
Pinterest
Twitter

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s