Choosing your Uganda Tour and Safari guide. what to bear in mind for hosted tours

The Experience of a guest / tourist is modeled from many aspects of the safari, these all rotate around the 7P’s, Place (accommodation & destination), Price, Promotion, Product (Safari package inclusive of excursions) Physical evidence (how the product looks like, how its packaged, what do the cars look like, the size and ambience of the room etc..) and People (the Staff). 50% of this experience is derived from the interaction with a Safari guide who spends over 80% of his time with you on the trip.

Peter Uwarugira, a guide with A Step In To Nature Tours poses for a picture

If you’re planning a hosted, guided or even a tailored trip to Uganda through a tour company, chances are that you may have little control over who exactly the company allocates to take you around. There are loads of tour guides who’ve made remarkable tours and then there are those that didn’t make the trip pleasant at all, from my interactions with tourists and also operators there are some problems we have experienced with different guides:

  • There have been guides who walked away from the safari and left tourists stranded
  • There are guides who fabricate “facts’ and make up stories
  • There are guides who spend half the trip complaining about their boss and how little they’re paid
  • There are guides who’ll spend half the time bad mouthing their government and how it’s poorly run
  • There are guides who cant express themselves. They seem to know but can’t explain

But that’s not a reason to worry. Each company will endeavor to provide a good guide, but I think “good is relative” depending on your particular interests, having a say in choosing the right guide might help, lets look at some of the issues to take care of before you land on a guide that screws up your whole trip and make you wish you’d considered visiting Mars instead.

What’s the purpose of your travel? Well, this seems like an easy thing “I want to visit a new place – Duh!!.” But have you thought that Uganda is actually a Place with Many places within, this means that you will be taken to many places of contrast and would really appreciate a guide who knows about all the places in which you will traverse. When corresponding with your tour specialist, make sure to ask if the guides they have in place are actually well equipped with general knowledge about the areas. Sincerely, you don’t want to pay XYZ amount of money to be told. “That is a Lion! Behind it is a big tree.” As though you skipped all basic elementary classes.

Guided Photography Tours. A female guide leads a photographer to the Top of Murchison Falls.

What are your particular interests? Yes, you may want to visit a new place, but you certainly have particular things you want to do. Probably these interests are the reason behind your intention to visit Uganda. Interests could be Birding, Photography, Wildlife, Hiking the Rwenzori, Nature, Cultural tours, religious tours, adventures, gorilla trekking, or just about anything the tour specialty will suggest. This means that you have to pay more attention to the guide that will be allocated to take you around. Ask your tour planners, is the guide a field specialty guide? (Could be a Birding Guide for birders) Has he done this before? Does he have a profile you can look at (many specialist guides are affiliated to Guides Associations like USAGA- Uganda Safari Guides Association) Did any previous guest review him/her? Certain activities like hiking the Rwenzoris or tracking gorillas have resident guides who are stationed in these areas, ideally your safari guide will bring you to the destination and hand you over to the resident guide for the excursion.

USAGA members, the leading Safari guides association in Uganda pose for a group photo.

Will you need services of a translator? There’s a common saying here, “English is not our mother tongue.” Whatever that means! If you share the same thought, you might want to speak with your planner ahead of time to organize a translator. Frankly speaking, there are a few guides here who are able to communicate in more than 1 international language. So your planner has to scout for a translator before hand, it is common to find French, Spanish, German and Kiswahili speaking guides. A bit difficult to find Chinese, Japanese, or Russian speaking guides. This would mean that your operator would have to hire both an interpreter and a driver guide! My dear you’ll end up paying twice for hailing from a country where your language isn’t commonly spoken in other regions. Did you watch the viral video of the Tanzania guide who misinterpreted whatever the guest was saying, ideally she said “Tanzania is a beautiful country, please come visit.” The guide translated for his fellow Tanzania as “The tourist has said stop begging, plant flowers and eat them!” Like Seriously???

Is the guide going to be allocated to you a freelance guide, is he affiliated with any Tourism associations? You’ll basically need to know whom the guide is going to be accountable to. I took a trip once outside Uganda and our guide who also doubled as the owner of the company spat on the vehicle that tried to overtake us, it was shocking as I expected some basic etiquette, unfortunately I couldn’t tell his boss about it because he was the boss. Many Freelance guides belong to guides associations like USAGA, its safer to choose a guide who is affiliated as they normally have a code of conduct they follow. It may cost you slightly more to hire these chaps but it’s worth it.

A Uganda Wildlife Authority ranger guide briefs guests before tracking gorillas in Buhoma. Bwindi

Is the Guide a Driver Guide? It’s always cost effective to have a guide who doubles as a driver. Many guides can actually drive and they hold valid driving license with defensive driving skills. a multipurpose guide also comes in handy when you run in to interesting  scenarios while on the trip.

Mukasa Balckie, a proffesional safari guide with Wild Discoveries Safaris helps rescue a kob

How much do they earn averagely per day. When you buy a package, its not enough to sit back and relax and wait for things to happen, knowing ideally a rough estimate of what your guide earns helps you mentally judge how he is going to perform. Guides normally earn somewhere between $30-$50 per day, specialist guides earn slightly more, some as much as $100 per day! There take home determines how they will perform on a trip, a guide who is paid too little, even when they have an idea that you paid a hefty fee may lose concentration, more likely they can abandon the trip and opt for another with a better offering.

Whilst it might help that your tour planner will do all the work, its also good practice to speak to people who have done this before, friends, family colleagues, they may know a particular guide who made their trip awesome! If you don’t have anyone to ask, then ask Trip Advisor. Online travel forums like trip advisor usually have loads to of reviews on everything about a safari including the accommodation choices, tour operator, the destination and the guides! It’s a good platform to learn who your peers are proud of and who they aren’t.

Guma Alex, a professional safari guide tries to entertain on-lookers during a safari

Now that you know what to look out for when choosing your next Uganda Tour guide. I hope you’ll enjoy your next trip to the pearl of Africa. I’ll be happy to answer questions about choosing a guide for your Uganda safari. Karibu!!!!

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