I can comfortably claim that it is safe to travel to Uganda for a safari trip. But that’s travel advisory based on my citizenry and experience travelling with foreigners within the national borders for more than fifteen years.

In this post, I reveal some of the considerations that bring me to that judgment, giving you bits of history, security concerns, crime, health, and woman travel advisory. Read on and make your own judgment on whether to start planning your safari trip to Uganda.

Safety & Security

Uganda has been an acceptably safe travel destination ever since Museveni’s government took power in 1986. The most significant threat to life and limb comes not from banditry or political instability but rather from the malaria parasite, the novel coronavirus, and motor accidents. 

Nevertheless, as the fatal attack by DRC rebels on tourists driving through Ishasha in 2019 fiercely demonstrated, some of  Uganda’s border areas, in particular DRC, are bound to suffer intermittent security problems. 

Uganda’s national security advisory for travellers

The only part of Uganda that ever greatly suffered from genuine internal instability lies northwest of Murchison Falls (West Nile), an area that traditionally sees few tourists and has few compelling attractions in the first place. For most of 20 years until 2010, the north had been plagued by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) — a notorious rebel group that was flushed into the Congo jungles after a decade of gunshots despicable human atrocities. 

In addition to the direct political and social consequences attached to this ended LRA turmoil, banditry was rife. Several attacks on buses and other vehicles took place north of the Nile Bridge at Karuma Falls. Despite the fact, the rebellion is considered to be long over and northern Uganda safe for travel. 

For a while now, Murchison Falls is also considered safe, security travel advisory notices having been lifted by the British high commission and the US embassy in Uganda. The northeast also remains safe after the Uganda government made deals with armed Karamojong cattle rustlers that terrorized the region. 

The problems afflicting the DRC have also frequently spilled over into neighbouring parts of Uganda. The most sustained instance of this overflow was the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) emergence in the mid-1990s. This small and somewhat mysterious ‘rebel’ army — thought to consist solely of Congolese thugs — was responsible for several brutal attacks in the Rwenzori border area, including the massacre of 60 students at the Kichwamba Technical School near Fort Portal in June 1998. 

The activities of the ADF forced the closure of the Rwenzori and Semliki national parks in 1997 before Ugandan government troops managed to drive the ADF back into the DRC, and there have been no subsequent incidents of concern. Semliki National Park reopened in 1999, as did the Rwenzoris in July 2002, and it can be assumed that they would close again at the first hint of trouble.

In August 1998, four travelers were abducted in the DRC after crossing there from Uganda — one older woman was released, but the other three are missing, presumed dead — an incident that, at the time, seemed to have little bearing on security in Uganda. Six months later, tragedy struck closer to home, when the park headquarters at Bwindi was attacked by an army of exiled Rwandan rebels, killing two rangers and eight tourists

If, as seems probable, the attack aimed to destabilize Uganda’s tourism industry, then it could not have been better calculated, given that the mountain gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest had done more than anything to help Uganda overcome a negative international image generated by the barbarities of the Amin and Obote regimes. 

The lesson has been learned from the March 1999 incidence. Today, Bwindi Impenetrable is considered a safe travel destination by almost everybody involved in Uganda tourism (armed rangers literally escort all visitors on all walks) as it is at all national tourism sites close to Uganda’s western border. 

Uganda Travel advisory: Intense Boarder Security—Defense Forces Patrolling South Western Boarder to keep out intruders and protect tourists | Photo APF
Intense Boarder Security—Defense Forces Patrolling South Western Boarder to keep out intruders and protect tourists | Photo APF

There seems little cause for serious concern regarding security along Uganda’s established tourist circuits for over twenty years. Indeed, I would regard Uganda to be safer overall than Kenya or South Africa, both of which suffer from very high armed crime rates. 

Equally, I’m a travel writer, not a political sage. As such, I’d regard it to be irresponsible to state categorically that the Bwindi incident was a one-off event or that nothing of the sort could ever happen again. Even after reading these Uganda travel advisory notes, the decision to visit Uganda, and the responsibility, rests on the individual traveler. 

Additionally, I would recommend you stay safe, keep your ear to the ground, read the local media updates, and avoid visiting known trouble spots. Fortunately, the authorities are unlikely to allow tourists to visit reserves and national parks where there is a security problem.

Uganda authorities, are unlikely—under any circumstance—to allow tourists to visit reserves and national parks where there is a security problem.

Bribery and Bureaucracy in Uganda: Uganda Travel advisory

How can a traveller handle bribery and bureaucracy in Uganda?

For all you read about the subject, bribery is not a problem for travelers in Uganda. It is often made out to be. The most often asked travelers for bribes are those with private transport; even they only have a major problem at some borders and traffic police in some countries (notably Mozambique and Kenya). 

If you are traveling on public transport or as part of a tour, or even if you are driving within Uganda, I don’t think you need to question bribery seriously thought. 

There is a tendency for media to portray African bureaucrats as difficult and inefficient in their dealings with tourists. As a rule, this reputation says more about Western prejudices than it does about Uganda. Sure, you come across the odd unhelpful official, but then such is the nature of the beast everywhere in the world. The vast majority of officials in the African countries are courteous and helpful in their dealings with tourists, often to an almost embarrassing degree. 

In Uganda, you’ll encounter nothing but friendliness from almost every government official you have dealings with, whether they were border officials, policemen, or national park staff. This, I can assure you, is far more than most African visitors to the west will experience from officialdom. 

A factor in determining the response you receive from Ugandan officials will be your own attitude. If you walk into every official encounter with an aggressive, paranoid approach, you are quite likely to kindle the feeling held by many Ugandans that Bazungu (meaning Whites, which also is an elegant local way of saying ‘superior men’) are arrogant and off-hand in their dealings with other races. Instead, try to be friendly and patient, accept that the person to whom you are talking does not speak English as a first language and may thus have difficulty following everything you say. 

To you, Uganda will remain a safe travel destination if you treat Ugandans with respect rather than disdain, and they’ll, in return, tend to treat you in the same way. 

Uganda Travel advisory on Theft & Crime

Uganda travel advisory on theft & crime

Uganda is widely and rightly regarded as one of the most crime-free countries in Africa, certainly as far as visitors need to be concerned.

Muggings are comparatively rare, even in Kampala, the largest city. Comparatively, Nairobi is way up ahead in this game. Even petty theft, such as pickpocketing and bag snatching, is relatively unusual, though it does happen from time to time. 

Walking around large towns at night is also supposedly safe, though it would be tempting fate to wander alone along unlit streets. On the basis that it is preferable to err on the side of caution, here are a few tips that apply to travel anywhere in Uganda as well as any country in east and southern Africa: 

  • Most casual thieves operate in busy markets and bus stations. Keep a close watch on your possessions in such places, avoid having valuables or large amounts of money lost in your daypack or pocket, and try to adopt the new financial tech of ATMs, Credit Cards, Mobile Money, and pay your accommodation and fees online. 
  • Keep all your valuables and the bulk of your money in a hidden money belt, i.e., if you chose to travel the old-school way of carrying bricks of cash. Never show this money belt in public. Keep your credit card (move with one) and any spare cash you need elsewhere on your person; I feel that a button-up pocket on the front of your shirt is the most secure place as money cannot be snatched from it without the thief coming into your view. It is also advisable to keep a small amount of hard currency (ideally cash) hidden away in your luggage so that should you lose your money belt or credit card, you have something to fall back on. 
  • Alternatively, technology has made travelling with money fancy: learn from your travel operator how you can use your credit card or mobile wallet or the impressively growing African invention called Mobile Money. All these transaction types don’t involve you carrying any cash. Most Safari Lodges in Uganda accept payments online, find out and pay before you arrive for your Uganda safari trip.
  • Where the choice exists between carrying valuables on your person or leaving them in a locked room, I would tend to favor the latter option (the hundreds of thefts I’ve heard about on Africa safari happened from a locked hotel room, and mostly in Nairobi where just about anything is possible). Obviously, you should use your judgment on this and be sure the room is absolutely secure.
  • Leave any jewelry of financial or sentimental value back at home. Please don’t bring it back to its origin; it may decide to stay!
Money Belt, effective old way of carrying money when you travel which is apparently common with travelers in the technology world of Mobile Money. Get yourself one.
Money Belt, effective old way of carrying money when you travel which is apparently common with travelers in the technology world of Mobile Money. Get yourself one.

How to carry money and valuables around Uganda on a Trip

It is advisable to carry all your hard currency, passport, and other important documentation in a money belt. The ideal money belt for Uganda is one that can be hidden beneath your clothing. 

External money belts may be fashionable, but wearing one in Africa is as good as telling thieves that all your valuables are there for the taking. Use a belt made of cotton or another natural fabric, bearing in mind that such fabrics tend to soak up a lot of sweat, so you will need to wrap plastic around everything inside. 

The best insurance against complete disaster should you be robbed is to keep things well documented. If you carry a photocopy of your passport’s main page, you will be issued with a new one more promptly. Besides, note down details of your bank, credit card (if you have one), travel insurance policy, and camera equipment (including serial numbers), as well as your travelers’ cheque numbers and a record of which ones you have cashed, and the international refund-assistance telephone number and local agent. 

If all this information fits on one piece of paper, you can keep photocopies on you and with a friend at home. 

Travel advisory for women travelers on a Uganda trip

Travel advisory for women travelers on a Uganda trip 

Women generally regard sub-equatorial Africa as one of the safest places in the world to travel alone. Uganda, in particular, poses few if any risks specific to female travelers. 

It is reasonable to expect a fair bit of flirting and the odd direct proposition, especially if you mingle with Ugandans in bars. Still, a firm no’ should be enough to defuse any potential situation. And, to be fair to Ugandan men, you can expect the same sort of thing in any country, and for that matter, from many male travelers. 

Ugandan women tend to dress conservatively. It will not increase the amount of hassle you receive if you avoid wearing clothes that, however unfairly, may be perceived to be provocative, and it may even go some way to decreasing it. 

More mundanely, tampons are not readily available in smaller towns. However, you can easily locate them and most likely sanitary pads in Kampala, Entebbe, and Jinja, and in-game lodge and hotel gift shops. When travelling in out-of-the-way places, carry enough sanitary products to see you through to the next time you’ll be in a large city, bearing in mind that travelling in the tropics can sometimes cause heavier or more regular periods than normal. Sanitary pads are available in most towns of any size.

If you still have questions about Uganda travel advisory for women, send us an email (travel@destinationuganda.com), you’ll get great answers to help you plan your trip.

Q&As

Is it safe to travel to Uganda?


Uganda has been an acceptably safe travel destination ever since Museveni’s government took power in 1986. The most significant threat to life and limb comes not from banditry or political instability but rather from the malaria parasite, the novel coronavirus, and motor accidents. 

Is it safe to visit Bwindi Impenetrable forest?


The lesson has been learned from the March 1999 incidence that let two rangers and four tourists dead at rebels’ hands. Today, Bwindi Impenetrable is considered a safe travel destination by almost everybody involved in Uganda tourism (armed rangers literally escort all visitors on all walks) as it is at all national tourism sites close to Uganda’s western border.

Is it safe to visit Uganda’s national parks?


There seems little cause for serious concern regarding security along Uganda’s established tourist circuits for over twenty years. Indeed, I would regard Uganda to be safer overall than Kenya or South Africa, both of which suffer from very high armed crime rates. 

Which parts of Uganda are unsafe to visit?


The only part of Uganda that ever greatly suffered from genuine internal instability lies northwest of Murchison Falls (West Nile), an area that traditionally sees few tourists and has few compelling attractions in the first place. For most of 20 years until 2010, the north had been plagued by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) — a notorious rebel group that was flushed into the Congo jungles after a decade of gunshots despicable human atrocities. Despite the fact, the rebellion is considered to be long over and northern Uganda safe for travel. 

Are women travelers safe in Uganda?


Women generally regard sub-equatorial Africa as one of the safest places in the world to travel alone. Uganda, in particular, poses few if any risks specific to female travelers. It is reasonable to expect a fair bit of flirting and the odd direct proposition, especially if you mingle with Ugandans in bars. Still, a firm no’ should be enough to defuse any potential situation.

Are there muggings and petty theft in Uganda?


Uganda is widely and rightly regarded as one of the most crime-free countries in Africa, certainly as far as visitors need to be concerned. Muggings are comparatively rare, even in Kampala, the largest city. Comparatively, Nairobi is way up ahead in this game. Even petty theft, such as pickpocketing and bag snatching, is relatively unusual, though it does happen from time to time. 

Is is safe to travel to Uganda during COVID?


Uganda, compared to many other African destinations, has dealt well with Coronavirus. If you’re traveling away from the cities into Uganda’s wildlife parks, it’s quite safe to take that trip. Although, you will be required to have a negative PCR COVID-19 test certificate issued 72 hours before your entry or exit. It is also mandatory to wear a face musk in Uganda, so remember to carry some sanitizer for disinfection. Read the following Uganda travel procedures and Coronavirus entry requirements for in-depth information. See Uganda COVID updates.

Onward,

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