The best way not to visit a National Park in Uganda is to talk to the Ugandan Wildlife Authority.
They will make a reservation for you and instruct you to pay at the gate using credit card or cash.
So you take an 8 hour bus ride from Kampala, switch into a minivan for another hour and then arrive at a small village of a half dozen concrete structures.
Here you spend the night before taking a 30 minute bodaboda ride to the park gate. You'll do this at 7am.
At this point the people at the park will tell you about the new National Park entry process, now in its second day of operation. It requires you to go about 45 minutes to pay for a custom designed UWA credit card and then come back and swipe the card to validate your payment.
Luckily your bodaboda driver has departed so you can decline this idiocy.
Because it's a new plan and your chimp hike starts in about ten minutes they'll offer to take the cash from you and send one of their own to get the special credit card.
So you plonk your credit card down and you find out that their credit card machines are only designed to work with their custom credit cards and not any others. Although they say that any old credit card will work in the future… which would make their custom one pointless.
Now you don't have enough cash on you and the nearest ATM is an hour away.
Thankfully you'll be travelling with an incredibly kind and generous Swede called Arön who lends you the cash, so much so he can't do his walk (he ends up doing a cheaper, local walk that he claims to enjoys more).
You'll be late to the chimp hike. But that's okay because you'll stay longer and end up getting a much better view of the chimps than those who did they proper thing and booked through a tour company.
Well done you!
So, you've learnt from above and now it's time to visit the gorillas. You've called up the UWA people again and you’ve talked to the guy who owns the lodge near the national park. You buy the magic cards at the gate.
So you go up into the hills to a lodge that is two and a half hours from the nearest town of any size. You take a forty-five minute bodaboda trip to the gate; two days early this time. You take 3 million Ugandan shillings on cash. You should have taken it in a small linen bag with a dollar sign on the side.
You find that there is even less infrastructure than the previous national park. No cards, no facilities. Not even a reception.
You find a guy who is the accounts manager and he happens to be around today. His advice is to travel to Kasane which is 2.5 hours away or to Kampala which is now 15-20 hours away. You’ve not been in Kampala for almost two weeks now and this was now the closest you’ve come to the town of Kasane.
And you don't have a car.
The trick is that Uganda expects you to know what you're doing and ideally you should be in a tour. The gorillas and the chimps require booking a specific day. When you travel independently and go where the wind takes you, you don't know when you'll be somewhere. When you do know, it’s easy to call them up and book. The unreasonably hard part is buying the magic card.
To put it into perspective. If you're at a park doing a hike and you decide to do another hike tomorrow, you have to leave the park and go find the few locations in the country where you can buy a magic card, buy the card and then come back to have it validated.
So you plonked our 3 million shillings onto the table and said: find a way to get the pass without you needing to go anywhere or you’ll the the cash to Rwanda. He’ll took the cash, give you a receipt, you’ll take a photo of him and he said come back in two days.
You came back and all is sorted and you get to see the gorillas. They are ace.