Guidebooks for the world’s dark places? – Lee Ridley reviews the Bradt Travelguide to Uganda.
Bradt Travelguides target the extreme adventure-travellers’ market and in doing so set themselves a hefty challenge. By the very nature of the places that their target audience prefer, researching and producing a comprehensive guidebook of any worth, in these far-flung and often troubled corners of the globe, is no small feat. But from what I’ve seen of the Bradt Travelguides so far, not only are they doing it, but doing it very well indeed.
One thing that distinguishes Bradt Travelguides from some of their counterparts is that the less-travelled destinations still warrant their own full-volume guidebook, rather than just a short chapter in a multiple country-one book approach. Africa is an excellent example of this, where Bradt produce 28 individual guides, covering unusual destinations such as Eritrea, Benin, Sudan and Rwanda. This is a very welcome approach for those who intend to travel in specific, localised areas. Obviously, for those who are planning an extended trip taking in multiple countries, carrying a separate guidebook for each border crossing is out of the question, so, to cover all eventualities, an all-in-one is also available in the form of the Bradt Africa Overland Travelguide.
For anybody intending to spend time in Uganda, the Bradt Travelguide to Uganda (Author – Philip Briggs) is an essential item, not only for planning tours, accommodation, transport etc., but also as a compendium for well-researched and well-written background information on all aspects of the country’s history and culture. The book is well laid out and specific information is easy to locate among the pages, although the maps are decidedly sparse and could be much better. A few more photo pages wouldn’t go amiss, too.
It’s fair to say that with Uganda’s current problems in the north, 99% of tourists are likely to stay in the south of the country, only heading north for the Kidepo and Murchison Falls National Parks, and although Philip Briggs covers these national parks, and getting to them, in appropriate detail; by his own admission, he is no stranger to the north and so could easily have provided more information on the towns of Lira, Apac, Gulu, Kitgum, Arua etc. Notwithstanding the dangers posed by the Lord’s Resistance Army, a substantial number of photographers and reporters travel in these areas and would greatly benefit from a reliable guidebook with accurate and up-to-date information on bus routes, journey times, accommodation etc.
When it comes to Uganda, Briggs obviously knows his subject well and has included numerous information boxes and ‘asides’ throughout the book that enable the reader to build up a very useful knowledge of the country, its past and its culture. Furthermore, information on the relatively inaccessible parts of the country, such as the Ruwenzoris, is covered by first-hand accounts from people that have made the journey and have the cuts and bruises to show for it, making this guidebook more than just a directory of hotels, restaurants and bus timetables – Making it a book you can actually enjoy reading on those long bus rides.
Things change in Africa at an alarming rate, and it would be an impossible task to keep all information up-to-date at all times. Ferry services are suspended; hotels close down; new hotels open, and ferry services recommence etc. But Briggs has achieved an impressive level of accuracy that can only be found by doing the research and treading the streets. Inevitably, I found parts of the guidebook to contain invalid phone numbers, although perhaps it would be a harsh call to pull Briggs up for these minor discrepancies.
All things considered, I found the Bradt Travelguide to Uganda to be well balanced, useful, informative and highly readable. This book deserves a place on any kit list belonging to someone who plans to explore this vibrant corner of darkest Africa.
Author – Lee Ridley