Is Uganda Safe?

Is Uganda Safe?

John Gilman wrote:
My daughter has an opportunity to travel to Uganda with a group called Sozo Children. Are you familiar with the group? Is Uganda a safe country to visit? Thank you.

Dear John,
I am not familiar with the group.

As my blogs in the last several months have pointed out, I am cautious about travel to Uganda. I would not go there for a vacation, but that is not necessarily an indictment of going there for any other reason. Vacations are supposed to be worry-free and relaxing. I doubt that a mission anywhere in the world could be classified in that context.

It would also depend upon where she was scheduled to go. The areas in and around Kampala and Entebbe and the entire western part of the country I’d consider too unsafe or too close to the most recent ebola outbreaks to travel to right now.

Jim Heck

Bringing Handguns into Kenya

Bringing Handguns into Kenya

Pastor Jim wrote:
Jim, I travel to Kenya once a year for a month. I go into areas that are not safe, expecially in turkana, Kisumu, and Nairobi, ect.. Can an American get a permit to bring in a handgun and then leave with it?

Dear Jim,
Ever since Kenya banned hunting in 1978, it’s very difficult to enter the country with any kind of gun. Permission must be requested through the American embassy, and that is the first big obstacle. Even after the embassy requests the permit on your behalf, it is unlikely that it will be granted unless your profession is one that normally requires weapons (such as a policeman), or unless you are ultimately transiting to another country like Tanzania that allows hunting.

But much more than that, Jim, if you ever had to use your gun, you would probably end up in jail in Kenya, even if the use was in self defense. The gun laws in Kenya are extraordinarily strict. Use even in self-defense is limited. And the embassy would give you no support.

Kenya is in the midst of fighting terrorists, and any individual attempting to bring in a weapon for whatever reason is suspicious.

I travel often to Kenya. I have businesses there. I haven’t been to Kisumu for a while, but I do get into the Northern Frontier. I have never been armed.


You Can’t Befriend Somalia without Training

You Can’t Befriend Somalia without Training

Matthew Wrote:
Jim i want to begin providing aid in somalia, would you recomend Garissa a good
place to live and creat a relationship with somalians?

Matthew –

In your straight-forward email, I sense a dogged commitment and very high moral belief in what you’ve decided to do, so far be it from me to dissuade you. But that’s what I’ve been doing most of my life in Africa.

I have a forty-year view. Individual charity or “missions” are almost always bad. But there are thousands, probably tens of thousands of people exactly like yourself who are successfully helping Africa. They do it with proper training, first, and then by joining some of the outstanding organizations like the Red Cross or Medecins sans frontieres for health issues, or by joining NGOs like USAid or UN agencies. Those groups of people do Africa enormous, untold good.

Good individuals like yourself often help African individuals, but it’s like biofuels here where I live near Iowa. We spend more energy and other resources to make biofuels then we get out of them. Most individual charity work expends more money, human resources, intellectual effort than it produces good. Especially someone as clear-minded as yourself. You belong in the foreign service, not on an individual mission. You probably don’t even know the extent of your own talents, but a good organization will determine that and will maximize your individual effort.

Go back to my blog and navigate to “charity” on the right-hand panel and then read the thumbnails of a dozen blogs I’ve written that explain this more fully.

I’m not telling you not to go. I’m telling you to make a short turn first, to a good organization.

Jim Heck

Touring in Laikipia

Touring in Laikipia> asked:
When is the best time to see wildlife at Mt. Kenya vicinity? What is the cost of a safari there?

The “Mt. Kenya” area is usually known as “Laikipia” and is an area with abundant wildlife, but also great ranches and several densely populated cities. North of Mt. Kenya and a bit north of Liakipia is Samburu to the west and Shaba to the east, both at the beginning of the great northern frontier, and at this point there are few ranches or populated cities.

You can obtain much more information by googling Laikipia, Samburu or Shaba.

Everyone has their own preferences for when a given area is the best. For me it is just as the rains begin or end, which in this part of East Africa is mid-November through mid-December, March or June.

There is a huge variance in the cost of a safari. An overland camping safari in a big Bedford vehicle where you share the truck with up to 30 other people can cost as little as $100 per person day. Most lodge safaris cost around $400 per person per day. And boutique luxury camps can cost upwards of $800 per person per day.


Zambian Safari

Zambian Safari

Hi Jim,
Hope all is well with you!
Well, thanks to you and our amazing time in Kenya last year, we are officially addicted to Africa. So much so that we just bid and won on a 6 night safari in Zambia! Friends of ours started a charity several years ago to build schools in southern Africa (check out their site at They held a fundraiser last week and a subsequent online auction had the Zambia safari as a prize.
We are now sorting out the logistics and would love your help for the remainder of the trip if possible. I promise we will be back to Africa again and when we are, we’ll plan that safari in its entirety with you. For this trip, we will have 3 nights at Kapani Lodge (Norman Carr Safaris) and 3 nights at Luangwa River Camp (Robin Pope Safaris). Are you familiar with either? Either before or after the safari leg of our trip, we are thinking we’d like to visit Victoria Falls, but are interested to hear if you have other ideas or recommendations. We have to take the trip before mid-June. Between now and then, what do you think is the best time of year to go? Realistically, we couldn’t make it until January of next year so that leaves us with a window of January-June 2013.
Looking forward to hearing from you!

Jim’s reply below:

Katie –
Congratulations! And those two camps are outstanding, couldn’t be a better combination. In fact I’ll be in Nkwali with Robin Pope Safaris the end of February guiding a private safari. So that will reveal when I think a good time to go is.

The “high season” for Luangwa and for that matter all of southern Africa is July-October, their winter. But this most expensive and heavily booked time is not better for game viewing or anything else. It’s basically when northern hemisphere people travel. The highest of high season is Christmas. So as you make your decision don’t be put off by what seems to be heavily booked or what is more expensive.

As you can imagine Africa’s summer, its rainy season, is my preferred time. It’s when it’s most beautiful, everything is in bloom, when they day is the longest, when the animals foil and calve, basically everything peaks in summer time. The problem is that in southern Africa summer is deadly hot. That doesn’t bother me so much, but it does both many northerners. Go to either or our own NOAA and navigate to climate statistics for the exact figures but essentially it’s over 100F in Luangwa from about mid-November to mid-February. It then (in normal years but it’s been anything but normal recently) declines rapidly so that average highs are in the 90s from mid-Feb to mid-March and then upper eighties until mid-May. The rain shouldn’t deter anyone. It’s good. It may break one or two game drives, but it’s worth the gamble to see the veld in full bloom and the animals at their best. One caveat to that, too. The drier and colder it gets, the better is the viewing for cats. That’s logical. As fodder on the veld reduces, predation increases.

What should you add? VicFalls is a wonder. Your local air fare putting in Livingstone (VicFalls) to an itinerary that includes Mfuwe (Luangwa) will add $5-600. In a normal year, the falls are very hard to see from mid-Jan to the beginning of May because the flow is so strong and the mist so blinding. Other than that, I would just stick to Zambia. There are many wonderful additional camps in places like the Zambezi National Park and Kafue, some of my favorite. And if you have a minimum of 2 weeks on the ground and a bit bigger budget, I’d add a couple camps in Botswana. There would be replication here except for the Okavango Delta, which is so unique. Trouble again is that the local air fare between camps in Botswana and your very east Zambian destination is pretty high. Adding Botswana to the program will add about $12-1400 in air fare.

Hope this helps. Let me know if there’s anything else I can do for you.


Ethiopia Journey

Ethiopia Journey

Dear EM,

First of all, read carefully the British travel advice to the country at this site:

Then, note that Ethiopia is one of the strictest dictatorships in Africa. Police and military are all-powerful. Tourists who have failed to comply with local laws and police directives have been jailed.

The above two cautions understood, the popular game viewing areas in and around Gambela and Konso are probably not advised. But the great wilderness areas with some game in the Simien Mountains, which include some of Africa’s finest treks, should be fine.

The two weeks you have scheduled there are perfect for what is known as the “Historic Route”, the triangle that includes Bahar Dar, Gonder and Lalibela. There may even be enough time to include Axum. I consider Lalibela one of the greatest sites in Africa.

Because accommodations are very limited once you’re outside Addis, you won’t have any choices as to where to stay when traveling in the hinterland. For that reason I’d trust your journey with a local agent as opposed to a reseller in whatever country you’re coming from. You’ll save a lot of money and be closer to the source of planning. You can find a number of reputable local agents using the internet.

Jim Heck

On 6/27/2012 2:55 AM, EM Widmark wrote:
> EM Widmark wrote:
> Suggestions for 15-30 August 2012 in Ethiopia?

Wants to volunteer and travel in Africa

Wants to volunteer and travel in Africa

Stacy Candaria writes:


I am looking to travel to Africa in the next couple of months. I would like to
start in South Africa where I am keen on a volunteer program working with lion

After that i would like to find a volunteer program that has the most “hands on”
with Gorillas and Chimpanzees. If I cant get into a program I would at least
like to do a tour.

Could you advise me on Programs and Tours. I will also be on my own so safety is
obviously necessary.

Many Thanks,
Stacy Candelaria

Jim responds:
Stacy –

Thanks for your email. It’s my understanding right now that untrained volunteers will not be accepted for any primate research programs in east or central Africa. (There are no primate research programs elsewhere.) Click below to better understand why and also to get some advice regarding gorilla touring:

Volunteerism not always good

Paying to volunteer a bad thing

Good intentions gone awry

And regarding gorillas in particular:

Click here and click here

Volunteering for Mountain Gorillas

Volunteering for Mountain Gorillas

Valerie Fox wrote:
I want to see the Mountain gorillas in Rwanda. Ideally, I would like to volunteer Directly to help them, and see them more than just 1-2 days as is offered one most the tour trips. I am an RN and could volunteer in this capacity in order to stay longer and possibly have a chance to see gorillas more than once. When is best time to go? Who can I contact so I am not paying some tourist company thousands and not directly helping.

Valerie, thanks for your email and I hope you’ll soon find yourself in that wonderland! And please read my blog, today, which was motivated by your request.

I have promised my friends in Rwanda that I won’t refer any such requests unless you can guarantee a half year commitment. If you can, let me know, and then there will be a rigorous vetting process to see if your available experiences and credentials can be of some use.

And as my blog, today, explains, I personally believe that the greatest conservation act that has saved the mountain gorillas is simply the tourists going there.

It’s hard to give you a good “best time” answer, because the weather is changing so dramatically in East and Central Africa as a result of global warming. In the past, the heavy rain months of March-May were best avoided, but this year for example, March was dry and July was extremely wet. The fact is that in a highland rain forest it rains almost all the time, anyway, so anyone traveling there at any time must be prepared for rain. And other than that, note that 56 intrepid travelers go up every single day of the year!

When to go to Botswana

When to go to Botswana

Linda asks: We are going to Kalahari Plains for 2 nights and Okavanga Delta for 5. When is the best time to go? Is late April, early May too cold at night and early morning game drives? Were originally thinking end of Jan but concerned about

Dear Linda,

You have chosen the perfect time to go! Don’t change! Travelers often get discouraged by measuring “high” and “low” seasons, “dry” and “rainy” seasons, but both metrics are usually a bad way to help you plan your trip. To be sure they should be considered, but should be given far less of importance than normal. Let me explain.

“High” season and “low” season reflect rates that are market driven. It’s more expensive to go in the high season than low season, because more people want to go then and the demand is greater. But that hardly makes it the best time to go. Consider that the highest season throughout the year is the end of December, virtually everywhere, whether you are at the bottom of the world, the top of the world, or on the equator. So it has nothing to do with season or weather, just when people travel. So never get turned off by the fact you’re considering travel during a “low season”, which is exactly your case for your upcoming trip. Being able to travel in a low season means you’ll get better rates and encounter fewer crowds.

When tourism first began in Africa, it was very difficult to travel during any rainy season. This was because there were few tracks, and those that existed were poorly maintained, and because there were not really vehicles made for safari travel per se. So they did really badly in the mud. That changed more than 20 years ago, but the copying of old brochures into new ones didn’t. I actually prefer traveling during the rains practically everywhere in Africa, because the veld is fresher and less dusty, and the landscapes are far more beautiful. It is usually when there are the most baby animals, too, because nature organizes births during times of plenty. There are advantages to the dry season, too, in terms of animal viewing. The veld is more stressed, so predation is easier to encounter. But my personal preference is the “green season.”

As for your particular concern about temperatures, you’ve actually got it upside down! The hottest time in southern Africa (their summer) is from November – March, and the coldest time is (their winter) from May – August. During most of March and April in Botswana, day time temperatures will be in the eighties and night time lows in the lower sixties. So while I think January — your original date — would be fine, it will be quite hot, touching or exceeding 100 F. (Remember that the great site,, has fabulous historic weather data, even for places like Botswana, so that you can check out what the weather was like this year on the dates you plan to travel.) June, July and August in Botswana is freezing! Don’t wait until then if you’re worried about temperatures.

One caution. Global warming has increased the wetness of the world all over the planet. The Okavango Delta is flooding more than ever. Some camps were actually flooded out this March, so check carefully before booking. Ask the specific question, what happened to your camp this March?

So you’ve made the right choice! Don’t be dissuaded!


Don’t Try To Do This

Don’t Try To Do This

Karen wrote:
Flying from Boston into Jburg SA the 3rd week in Nov, want to spend few days in SA, week on safari in Serengeti & end in Zanibar (approx 2 weeks total). Specific suggestions what to see/do that time of year? 2 women, 1 college girl & 1 12 year old girl. Need help getting stared. Thanks!

Jim Answers
Karen –

This is a tough one for me to answer. From about the beginning of November through the middle of December, most of sub-Saharan Africa is dry, hot, dusty and at its worst time of the year for game viewing. So let’s start with the truth of the matter: you’re going at the wrong time for game viewing.

But maybe you have no choice. Maybe your “college girl” is going or coming, and so it makes best sense to do it, now.

But, please, forget the Serengeti. The Serengeti is my favorite place in the world, and you want to visit it at its darkest time of the year. Besides, I’ve often said that trying to combine East Africa and southern Africa is a real mistake. It’s a mistake to budget, time and context. Stick with southern Africa.

November is a great time for the whales in Cape Town. The beaches of Mozambique are just as good if not better and cheaper than Zanzibar’s at this time of the year. And if you must do game viewing, try to get on one of the (cheap and exciting) ranger-led walks in Kruger National Park, which I know your kids will really love.

Hope this helps! Sorry to be so discouraging, but the fact is that you’re starting with the wrong idea, and if you adjust it slightly you’re going to have a great experience!

Best Time in Kenya

Best Time in Kenya

Q. When is the best month(s) to go to Kenya for a safari? Would the short rains in Nov. hinder your viewing and getting around in a vehicle?

Roberta –

I feel the best months for Kenya are those which allow you to see the great migration in the Maasai Mara. That is normally August/September and October. The migration begins to return to Tanzania in November, so November is a marginal month hard to predict. As soon as it begins raining, the wildebeest high-tail it back to Tanzania. But as for November in particular, it’s hard to predict. It was only two years ago that the rains never started until January, so the wildebeest remained in the Mara a much longer time than normal.

But that was unusual, and for the time being, it seems like the weather has tracked back to normal cycles.

Rains per se should not be a reason not to go. In fact, my favorite time in Tanzania is during the beginning of the rains, because that’s the best time for the wildebeest migration, and the prettiest time on the veld, and the time when there are the most calves. (Caution: the rainy season in northern Tanzania is different from Kenya. There are no two distinct seasons of rain in northern Tanzania as in Kenya. There’s really only one: it begins towards the end of the year and continues through the first half of the year.)

Hope this helps!

South Africa Suggestions

South Africa Suggestions

From Amy Hartman:

Hi Jim-

I really enjoy the blog and following your travels.

You know me, always planning a year in advance, so we have plenty of time to talk about this. The dates have been set by school schedules and FF tickets. We fly into Cape Town, arriving on the morning of July 14 and depart Nairobi late evening on August 1, so we have 18 nights in country. The tentative plan would be to possibly rent a house for 5-6 nights in the south suburbs of Capetown or closer to Hermanus — whale watching, shark diving, penguins, Robbens Island, wine country etc. Head north to the wild coast (and warmer temps), possibly by Premier train (same route as Rovos and the Blue Train but 1/10 of the price!), and then head into Kenya — Joburg to Kisumu via Nairobi (?) to meet up with Lauren. Lauren has her own truck so we will self drive to wherever we go next from Kisumu. She spends her vacations in the Mara — not a bad option 🙂 but I would prefer to take advantage of the
second trip to East Africa by visiting an area where we have not been, so Uganda really looks to be an interesting option — Kibale v Kabarega and Murchison Falls.

All the Best,

A. from Jim:
Whales don’t really get going until the end of July, through November. Shark diving is best from Pt. Elizabeth, a 2- or 3-day drive from CPT or a 1- or 2-day drive from Hermanus, at the east edge of the Garden Route. Penguins, Robben Island and the wine country are all best done from Cape Town. So you’ll have to decide where to rent your house: Cape Town, Hermanus or Pt. Elizabeth, since they are mutually exclusive areas. Now if you decided to drive the Garden Route after Cape Town, you could then hit both Hermanus and Pt. Elizabeth.

The Wild Coast is even further east from Pt. Elizabeth, almost to Durban along the coast. The waters of the Indian Ocean do get warmer, but the temperatures on land compared to Cape Town get colder. There are some beautiful wildernesses, here, but they really are wild and best for self-catering drivers; not a lot of lodges, and the game is sparse compared to other parts of the country… There is no train service east from Cape Town further than Pt. Elizabeth, so if you were continuing east into the Wild Coast from there you’re only option is to drive. There are good bus services.

You must have a very old guide book. KabeLega is the name that Idi Amin gave to Queen Elizabeth National Park. It was rescinded when he was deposed in 1981… I don’t think I’d recommend you spend any time in Uganda at all, having just as you know returned from there. That’s because I doubt you’ll have enough time to do the chimps in the north all the way down to the gorillas in the south, with all the other things you want to do on this trip. That’s a minimum of 7 days, and more likely 8 or even 9 if you include Murchison Falls. Gorillas are better done in Rwanda, anyway, and that you can nip off in 3 days. So if you can concede doing chimps, then I’d concentrate on a 3-day gorilla trip in Rwanda… You simply will not be excited at all in the game areas of Uganda.

No to short Ndutu from Dar

No to short Ndutu from Dar

From Lee Chalfant,

Q. Jambo Jim!
A Tanzanian friend here in Seattle, Zainab will be visiting relatives in ar es Salaam in June. She and her husband want to take their two children to the Serengeti for just 2-3 days. The children are in elementary school. I sent her info on Ndutu Lodge. Do you have any better suggestion as well as an airline suggestion from there. They will be in Dar in the last 2 wks of June. When she lived there she never went on safari. Does Ndutu have guides of their own that you could recommend?

A. I think your friend’s ideas aren’t very good. Dar is a long, long way from the Serengeti, and the besides, this is the worst time of the year for the Serengeti, and while Ndutu Lodge is very reasonably priced at any time of the year, your friends will end up spending a mint to get there.

If they were going to dedicate a week on safari, then I think coming up north and visiting places like Tarangire (which will be at its prime, then, and which has a very reasonably priced lodge in Sopa), would be ideal. But for the short time they want to allocate, the flights, the transport — it all just makes it way too expensive for what they would achieve.

I think there are two better options for her. And in fact this would apply regardless of budget, but governed by the amount of time they want to give themselves for safari.

Go to The Selous, or to Mikumi.

The Selous will have great game at this time of the year, and it’s only 80 miles from Dar. You have to fly into it, but it still ends up being way less expensive for them than the northern circuit. Slightly less expensive, and not quite as good game, would be a road safari to the nearby (Dar) game park of Mikumi.

Hope this helps!



Ryan McCasky wrote:

Q. What do you know about south africa? worth seeing? I’m interested in Port Elizabeth up the coast to Durban. I heard there are quaint towns up the coast and that the area has the best of both worlds of Africa… coast, beautiful beaches on one side, and huge game reserves and animals on the other side. Obviously it looks like a huge area and distance between the two. but worth going? cheap? expensive? How’s the crime? Just wondering. a friend of mine wants to go to the area to swim with great whites. and then also to see the big 5. When you have time, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

A. I just watched a news report yesterday evening that said your city, Ryan, is now the murder capital of the world, with more than one homicide per day (468/month). That exceeds any rate in any South African city. Crime is very relative. I’m sure you know how to avoid getting bumped off in Chicago…

The coast east of Port Elizabeth to Durban is nicknamed the Wild Coast and has some of the most spectacular beach and country on the continent, and it reminds me very, very much of the coastline just north of San Francisco from Tomales Bay up to Mendocino. Mostly these are not good beaches for swimming, and the great whites are generally west, not east of Port Elizabeth. Much of the beach is rocky and cliff rock, so spectacular scenery but not good sand beaching. As for game, I know of only one game reserve, Kwando, that has any reputation in this area, and it pales in comparison to some of the other reserves much further east of Durban (Phinda, Hluhluwe and Umfolozi). It’s also very windy and in the hottest of times, cold. Just like San Fran. For more swimmable and sandy beaches you need to go further, east of Durban. Remember as for game, there is nothing you’re going to find anywhere in southern Africa that achieves a tenth of what we just saw in East Africa. And another rejoinder about “big game” in the south. Much of it is on private reserves that are hard to distinguish as such, but what that means is that all the animals have been trucked in, many are fed as in zoos and to some extent many are just like San Diego’s Wild Animal park. The way to tell in South Africa is to use the official South African site: