Is Uganda safe? How to prepare for a safe trip to Uganda.
Uganda is an amazing country, landlocked, positively bristling with wildlife and with views which will bring out the pro photographer in anyone who can point and click. Given all the natural wonders Uganda AKA the Pearl of Africa can offer, it should be a popular tourist destination but many foreign visitors avoid the country because of reported issues with safety and security.
So, there’s a ton of excellent reasons to go – but is Uganda safe?
Let’s have a look at the issues most people worry about.
Health And Safety Considerations In Uganda
Listen, we love Uganda. It’s Explorer Chick founder Nicki’s favorite tour of all. As all places on this epically beautiful planet come with some health and safety considerations, so does Uganda.
So let’s just go right through these considerations so that you know how to PLAN PLAN PLAN for a memorable and ~safe~ trip to Uganda.
Safety and Security
The US Department of State offers a four stage guide to how safe each country of the world is with level 1 advising travelers to take normal precautions and level 4 firmly insisting people do not travel. Uganda is listed as level 3 on this list with official US government advice is for people to reconsider travel due to petty crime, serious crime and terrorist attacks. For those who don’t want to miss out on trekking gorillas, admiring wild hippo and taking selfies with spectacular tumbling waterfalls in shot, there are some simple precautions you can take to improve personal safety when they visit Uganda.
Larger cities are more prone to violent crime like armed robbery and sexual assault but wherever you are in Uganda stick with your travelling companions when out and about.
A few other ways to stay safe:
- don’t leave food or drink unattended
- avoid large public gatherings
- keep a low profile
- carry copies of your passport and travel documents, leaving the originals in a safe place (preferably an actual safe)
Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive alerts and make it easier to locate you in an emergency. Prepare a contingency plan for emergency situations and review the Traveler’s Checklist. Follow the Department of State on Facebook and Twitter for minute by minute updates. Travel with experienced guides following a program which maximizes safety while allowing you to see the best of what this beautiful country has to offer.
Diseases and Health
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a Level 2 Travel Health Notice about the Ebola outbreak in Uganda. However most tourists who travel to Uganda are there to visit Uganda’s National parks and safari destinations including gorilla trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park, wildlife safaris in Murchison Falls National Park and Queen Elizabeth National Park, or Chimpanzee trekking in Kibale Forest National Park and the Ebola virus disease hotspots are not in those areas.
Ebola is not airborne and if you avoid direct contact with sick people and blood and other bodily fluids from anyone even if they don’t appear sick. I don’t think it needs to be said to most tourists but just in case you have some weird holiday rituals, avoid dead bodies and don’t attend any funerals in Uganda.
Travelers should isolate immediately and seek medical care if they develop fever, muscle pain, sore throat, diarrhea, weakness, vomiting, stomach pain, or unexplained bleeding or bruising during or for up to 21 days after travel. Obviously a lot of common infections and illnesses have these symptoms but it is still best to get them checked out.
More common potential health issues to be aware of:
- Malaria. The risk is high at any time of year in Uganda. Visit your doctor leaving plenty of time before your trip to discuss what medication and dose of anti malaria meds would be right for you. You will have to start using this before you travel so dont leave it too late to sort it out.
- Bilharzia. Also known as Schistosomiasis this is caused by a parasite which lives in freshwater like ponds, lakes and rivers. Often symptomless at first those affected can develop a fever, an itchy red raised rash, upset stomach and muscle tummy and joint pain. The symptoms usually disappear after a few weeks but it’s important to get tested as the disease can cause long term issues.
- Yellow fever. Anyone aged over 1 year must be vaccinated against Yellow fever at least 10 days before travel before entering Uganda.
- HIV/AIDS The World Health Organization (WHO) recognises that the WHO Africa region has a significant proportion of the world’s new HIV infections – logged at 2/3 in 2018. However in Uganda those with HIV/AIDS are mostly sex workers, men who have sex with men, those who inject drugs and prisoners.
- Tap Water. In big cities like Kampala the water is treated and at that point is considered safe to drink by WHO standards. However, from the treatment plant out contaminated pipes and tanks can affect the quality. Only drink water from sealed bottles, carbonated drinks and hot drinks. Ask for drinks with no ice as the ice is often made with tap water which may be contaminated.
- Toilets. Most tourist hangouts in Uganda have western style flushing toilets However, avoid sitting on the seat in public toilets (any woman who has ever been to a music festival knows all about hovering) and wash hands thoroughly afterwards.
Drugs and alcohol in Uganda
Possession and use of illegal drugs in Uganda is banned with sentences of up to 25 years in prison. Airports have vigilant anti narcotics police units. There is a high incidence of needle sharing amongst drug users contributing to high levels of HIV, AIDS and other health conditions in the country. Just say no.
It is legal to purchase and drink alcohol in Uganda. There are a number of locally brewed beers available and the famous Ugandan Waragi gin which contains 40% alcohol! Watch out though-locals use the term Waragi to describe all types of distilled spirits but some may contain dangerous ingredients like methanol so it might be wise to stick to known brands.
Drinking and drug use can affect your perception and reaction times which can put you at serious risk of falling victim to an assault, robbery or attack. Get high on the views, not the drugs and booze.
Civil unrest in Uganda
You might have seen news stories about civil unrest in Uganda. Three decades after Museveni’s army marched into the capital city, Kampala to seize power an influx of refugees from south Sudan, dissatisfaction with the Ugandan government, uncertainty about the status of political parties and distrust of the Ugandan police force and security forces (which have been accused of being heavy handed, especially at protests, political rallies and other political events) have led to a fragile security situation in the country, especially in urban areas.
The recent reelection of President Yoweri Museveni in 2021 was controversial with reports of members of the local media being beaten by local police. It’s alleged that Uganda government officers ordered social media sites to be blocked in the run up to the election and shut down internet access across the country for 5 days before polling day.
Political rallies, protests and violent demonstrations can pop up anywhere unexpectedly so remain vigilant and take care to avoid these. If you find yourself caught up in a situation, leave quickly or stay locked in your accommodation until the danger passes. Make yourself familiar with the security procedures at your accommodation.
Some colors, red and yellow in particular, are associated with certain political parties in Uganda so be cautious about wearing these colors. Check your travel insurance covers situations caused by civil unrest.
If you are traveling to the National parks be sure to use registered tour operators. You should check with the Association of Uganda Tour Operators to make sure your provider is listed. There is a special tourism police unit which is deployed at popular tourist resorts and attractions employing security measures and as a counter terrorism measure.
Local Laws and Customs
Homosexuality is illegal and not tolerated with kissing or other PDA’s in public likely to result in arrest and imprisonment. Smoking is banned in all public places, workplaces, on transport and any outdoor areas within 50 meters of a public place. Electronic cigarettes and shisha are banned. .
Pack carefully! Even wearing military style clothing or a red beret will land you in hot water in Uganda. It is an offense for anyone, including children, to dress in military style clothing. This includes clothing with marks, insignia and accessories associated with the Ugandan military, camouflage clothing and red berets. The offense carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Also, don’t take photos of military, official or diplomatic sites, including Owen Falls Dam at the source of the Nile near Jinja. If you are taking photographs of people, ask their permission first.
Sad as it might be to see homeless children living on the streets in Uganda it is a crime to give them food, money or clothing. You could be fined or sent to prison if you are caught trying to help them.
Keep the 24/7 emergency phone number of the US embassy handy in case you are arrested. There is lots of useful information and advice on what help is available on the US Embassy in Uganda’s website.
Climate and weather
The temperature is pretty stable in Uganda all year round. The hottest months are January and February when the average daytime range is 24°C to 33°C (75°F to 91°F) with peaks of up to 40°C/104°F in the far north. The south has two wet seasons: from mid-September to November and March to May, but it can really rain at any time. The north has one continuous wet season from March to November.
The national parks in the south tend to be warmer than Kampala in the daytime but cooler at night. High altitude areas, including some of the gorilla parks, are usually considerably cooler.
The country can experience extreme weather triggering mud and landslides and floods. Check weather forecasts regularly and enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrolment Program (STEP) before you head overseas to make it easier to find you in an emergency.
For gorilla trekking you should pack long sleeves, thick socks and possibly even gardening gloves as some of that jungle can be spiky and stingy! Waterproofs might also come in handy.
Safety Tips for traveling in Uganda
Get travel and medical insurance for Uganda
I cannot stress this enough. You MUST get travel and medical insurance for travel to Uganda. U.S. Medicare/Medicaid does not apply overseas. And FYI, most care providers only accept cash payments.
The US government offers information on insurance providers for overseas coverage and recommends that you ensure your insurance covers medical evacuation as medical facilities in Uganda are limited and only equipped to handle minor medical emergencies. Surgical capabilities are inadequate, and blood supplies may be insufficient.
Outside Kampala, hospitals are scarce and offer only basic services. Travelers should carry their own supplies of prescription drugs and preventive medicines. A list of medical providers and details is available at the U.S. Embassy website.
Arriving at Entebbe International Airport
Most reputable tour operators and hotels/guest houses offer pick up services from Entebbe International Airport. Consider arranging a code word to be used on pick up so you are sure your driver is legit. Independent travelers can use taxis, public transport and hire cars from the airport but general wisdom advises if you are likely to be on the road in darkness, stay overnight in Entebbe.
How to Pay in Uganda
Like lots of tourist destinations it’s generally wise not to carry lots of cash whether that be Ugandan Shillings or foreign currency. The risk of robbery in Uganda is high. Bring no more than $500. The local currency is Uganda shillings but you can exchange dollars for shillings as you go.
Make sure your dollars are dated 2008 or later and are clean with no rips/tears – it will be easier to exchange them. I know – weird, but trust me on this. Traveler’s checks are rarely accepted in Uganda, even at exchange bureaus. Consider using a pin protected preloaded travel debit card – ATMs in Uganda generally work although they often run out of cash at weekends and most seem to prefer Visa to Mastercard according to previous tourists.
Stay Safe Travelling Around Uganda
You might wonder, is Uganda safe to tour? Unless you are a vampire and can turn into a bat it’s probably best to avoid traveling at night. Armed bandits have been known to create roadblocks, and poorly maintained vehicles and roads cause regular fatal road accidents. On the subject of road safety, be aware, local drivers often don’t use lights at night and it’s common to happen upon broken down vehicles abandoned on the road, and wandering livestock.
Travel arranged by a registered tourist provider in daylight is the safest way to travel, especially when accompanied by security personnel and tourism police officers trained to deter crime.
Because of increased numbers of Ebola cases, all but essential travel to Mubende district is inadvisable. In October the President of Uganda announced a curfew and travel restrictions to the Mubende and Kassanda districts in central Uganda. However the Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) has reiterated recently that Uganda is safe for all tourists despite the Ebola outbreak.
There were reports of terror attacks in and around Kampala in 2021 and other terrorism incidents from home-grown and cross border terror cells but these attacks did not appear to target foreigners.
So you are a proper badass, a true adventurer and still keen to witness the beauty and splendor of this magnificent country? Great! Here are the answers to a few more questions you might have.
Are vaccinations needed for Uganda?
Firstly, make sure your standard vaccines are up to date and get boosters if necessary. We are talking chicken pox, MMR, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio , shingles and Covid-19. Ask your doctor about additional vaccines which may include cholera, Hepatitis A and B, rabies, typhoid and yellow fever. Give your doctor details of your entire itinerary as some shots will only be required in certain areas of Uganda – you can check details on the CDC website. Ask for a doctor’s note describing all of your medical conditions in case of emergency.
Is Uganda safe for women travelers?
Some would argue that nowhere is fully safe for anyone. We’ve outlined the main issues with travel to Uganda but as long as you tour with approved operators, be vigilant about your surroundings, follow the advice of your guides and be respectful of local customs and laws it’s entirely possible you will visit the pearl of Africa and have the most amazing trip without ever experiencing any of the potential issues we’ve outlined.
Over half a million foreign tourists visited Uganda in 2021 obviously not deterred by safety and security issues and most of those travelers came home with only good memories and some great dinner party anecdotes. Be assured, when booking with Explorer Chick, safety is a top priority and has never presented as an issue.
Is Uganda safe for children?
Children will love safari adventures in Uganda and as long as you take sensible precautions including the ones we have outlined there’s no reason they won’t have a wonderful trip to this very child friendly destination, according to numerous safari tour operators.
Ready to Explore Uganda?
If you want to travel safely and see the very best this beautiful country has to offer, why not explore Uganda with Explorer Chick? Animal lovers will be blown away with the wildlife and anyone who can point and click is guaranteed to come away with captures which will make them the envy of their friends. Anyone can vacation in a sterile resort – why not see how wild Africa can give you a whole new perspective on life?
Meet the Writer
Afra is an award winning journalist who has enjoyed many adventures including swimming with sharks, crewing hot air balloons and canyoning. She started creating online content ten years ago, diversifying after years writing for print publications. She loves travel, great food, and her family. Not necessarily in that order.
Favorite outdoor adventure: Snorkeling in the warm waters off the coast of Cyprus
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