Uganda is one of Africa’s top destinations – and no wonder. The country is home to some of the world’s most iconic wildlife, and is renowned for it’s stunning scenery and breathtaking sunsets. But a trip to Uganda almost always involves visiting Kampala, and for many first-time travelers to Uganda there is one question that invariably crops up: “Is Kampala safe?“
Questions around safety are important when visiting any new country or city, and especially with capital cities that can often be hot spots for crime. That’s no different for Kampala, Uganda’s bustling capital of 1.5 million people.
So, how safe is Kampala safe for tourists? Is Kampala safe for female travelers, or LGBTQ tourists? Here’s our run down of what you need to know when visiting Kampala:
How safe is Kampala: Crime
Whilst Uganda is regarded by many as one of the safest destinations to visit in Africa, and many tourists will visit the country and encounter no problems, crime remains a problem in Kampala, and visitors should be vigilant.
Crime in Kampala against foreigners does tend to follow certain patterns however, and therefore there are several precautions that can be taken.
Never leave your bag unattended or unzipped. Kampala has become notorious for wallets, phones, and other valuables being stolen from bags and pockets by quick and nimble thieves, who operate in public spaces such as malls, hotels, restaurants and markets.
In a restaurant, keep your bag within eyesight, and if hanging a coat on the back of a chair, ensure valuables are out of pockets.
On public transport, some tourists have reported items missing from bags, or their bags being taken completely after they’ve stored them under the seat. A general rule, is that if you cant see your bag, it’s at risk.
Another crime issue in Kampala is theft by ‘snatch and grab‘. Thieves have been known to target bags of tourists by grabbing their bags whilst running quickly past their victim. These snatch and grabs are also done using a motorcycle – known locally as boda boda.
To avoid losing your possessions in this way, and any potential trauma from such a robbery, consider walking on sidewalks in the direction of traffic, rather than with it. Furthermore, keep your bags secure to your person, and keep valuables and cash to a minimum.
Violent robbery can also be an issue in Kampala, but such attacks are mainly carried out at night. Therefore it’s best to avoid walking alone at night, and try to avoid badly lit roads completely – even if walking in a group. It’s preferable to use a taxi at night, and ensure it’s a taxi that has been recommended by your hotel or guide.
Theft from hotels is not common in Kampala, but smaller hotels, and ones on the outskirts of the city tend to be more at risk.
There’s also been some limited reports of tourists being drugged in bars and restaurants. It’s important therefore to not accept food and drink from strangers.
Kampala safety at night?
Kampala has a bustling night scene, and has a variety of nightclubs, bars and restaurants that are well worth visiting. However issues around safety in Kampala are heightened at night, where violent robbery and attacks are far more likely to occur.
Avoid walking alone at night, and try and use a reputable taxi that has been recommended by your hotel or guide.
Avoid traveling on roads in the outskirts of Kampala at night. There’s been reports of organized gangs stopping vehicles and blocking roads at night in order to rob the inhabitants. Sexual violence has also been reported as part of these attacks.
How safe is Kampala for female travelers?
Whilst non-violent crimes carried out by opportunist thieves like pickpockets tend to target men and women alike, violent attacks in Kampala are known to sometimes involve sexual violence. As such, female travelers must be especially vigilant, particularly at night.
Walking around alone at night (or early in the morning) is to be avoided at all costs. If taking a taxi, use one recommended by a hotel or guide. If eating at a restaurant, ask the manger to phone a taxi for you, rather than hailing one from the street.
Is Kampala safe for LGBTQ travelers?
It is illegal to be LGBTQ in Uganda, and therefore LGBTQ travelers to Kampala and Uganda must be extremely careful.
Attacks against LGBTQ people are common in the country, and discrimination is widespread. In fact two separate Pew research polls carried out since 2000 in Uganda both saw 96% of respondents take a negative stance towards homosexuality.
Terrorism in Kampala
There remains a risk of terrorism attacks in Kampala, albeit it is not high.
A double suicide attack carried out in 2010 killed 76 people and showed the threat of Somalia-based terrorist group Al -Shabaab. With Uganda’s continuing involvement in AMISON’s mission in Somalia, that threat remains.
The wider region has seen terrorist attacks at large public gatherings, such as football matches and malls, so be vigilant. The Uganda Police Force regularly issue safety alerts, it’s worth keeping an eye on these.
How safe is Kampala to visit?
Uganda and Kampala has a reputation as being one of Africa’s safest destinations, but don’t be complacent. Crime remains a real issue in Kampala, and violent attacks are a possibility.
Whilst the vast majority of visits to Kampala go smoothly, make sure you take extra precautions, such as the ones detailed above, to protect yourself and your valuables.