- How safe is Uganda?
Uganda is very safe. Idi Amin remains the country’s most famous resident but the reality is that he fled the country permanently in 1979 – this is more than can be said of his legacy. The NRM (National Resistance Movement) took power under President Yoweri Museveni in 1986 they have brought peace and stability to most of the country. Until very recently, the LRA (Lords Resistance Army) have abducted children and conducted a brutal civil war in the extreme north of Uganda. However, at the time of writing; there is a ‘cessation of hostilities agreement’ in place and there is real hope that finally two decades of brutality. However, despite the tragedy in Northern Uganda tourist areas are well away from here and travel throughout most of the country is very safe.
In 2001, we moved to Uganda from New Zealand with our young family with the intention of staying for 6-months. Uganda welcomed us with open arms and our reception has been even warmer because of the kids. Ugandans absolutely love children as they demonstrate with their own substantial broods. Children have a special place in Ugandan society and this makes it a wonderful place to travel with children. Despite having first visited the country of 15-years before, I had never considered bringing my family here. We now feel safer living in Uganda than in most of the western cities we have lived.
- What is the best time of year to visit?
It is summer year-round in Uganda . The country straddles the equator which means there is no winter and no summer and you can come at any time of the year. Temperatures in most parts of the country vary between 25°C and 30° C (77°F and 86°F) dropping only by about 5° overnight. Traditionally May and November are the wettest months in the country where morning cloud build-ups are followed by torrential rain and spectacular thunder and lightening shows. 99% of Ugandans do not own raincoats because the storms are usually of short duration and they simply wait until the storms pass. Even during the wet-season, Uganda is still a wonderful place to visit and rafting in the Nile is a year-round attraction.
However, if climbing the Rwenzori mountains, it is worth taking note of the climbing seasons as inclement weather in the mountains can obscure the peaks for weeks at a time. Chimpanzee and Gorilla tracking are also year-round activities but game viewing on the savannah is best when the grass is drier or shorter and as a result the game is more visible (Jan – Apr) and (Jul to Sep).
Peak tourist seasons in Uganda are July and August so best to avoid this time if possible. Accommodation and trekking permits for the primates are at a premium during this time.
- What is there to do in Uganda?
Uganda is not a well-known destination and has traditionally been reserved for the discerning traveller. It is popular with returning visitors to Africa who were disappointed with the tourist crowds in the better known game parks in other countries. The country is home to the Victorian Source of the Nile and what is probably the best whitewater rafting in the world. Chimpanzee and Mountain Gorilla tracking are popular activities but many National Parks boast excellent big game viewing as well. For the more adventurous, climbing the Mountains of the Moon (Rwenzori Mountains) are an incredible experience.
There is something to suit all age groups (family rafting is popular) and all budgets and it is among the best holiday destinations I have ever visited.
- What money should I bring to Uganda?
It is best to bring large denominations of $US, Euros, £ Sterling or travellers cheques. Foreign currency is not widely accepted outside of Kampala except in National Parks but there are plenty of forex (foreign exchange) bureaus in Kampala and changing money is easy. Please note that travellers cheques and small denominations of foreign currency will attract exchange rates 10-20% lower than cash. $US notes older than the year 2000 are often NOT ACCEPTED so ensure your bills are clean, in good order and recent!
- Should I have travel or medical insurance?
Yes. Travel insurance should specify cover for whitewater rafting.
- Do I need a Visa for Uganda
Most nationalities need visas which are available at the airport on arrival for $US30. Check with your local Uganda High Commission or Embassy.
- What is the food like?
Uganda grows just about anything! We have wonderful organically-grown fruit and vegetables. Fresh pineapples, papayas, watermelons and some of the largest avocados you can imagine combine well with fresh fish, wonderful beef and matoke (cooked green bananas). The Adrift lunch has a world-wide reputation; served on an island mid-stream in the Nile it is a good sample of what Uganda can offer.
- Are there good internet and phone links in Uganda?
Mobile phones have very good coverage in Uganda and it is easy to SMS internationally. SIM cards can be purchased easily for a ‘pay-as-you-go’ service. There is no broadband service in Uganda but internet cafes in Kampala do have quite a good service and several cafes offer a wi-fi service. Electrical supplies are erratic but when the come it is 240V with British plugs.
- I would like to go rafting, but I am a bit scared. Is it safe?
Rafting is an adventure sport so there is an inherent element of risk, however, we have spent over 25-years rafting rivers around the world minimising that risk. We could not have done better than nature in designing the perfect river for rafting. The Nile rapids are very big and extremely exciting but the volume of water in the Nile means most rapids are very deep which minimises the chances of encounters with rocks or obstructions in the river. The rapids also dump into long, calm pools which means recovery after each rapid is easy. The Nile is one of safest rivers in the world for whitewater rafting. Over the last decade, Adrift have carried over 30,000 people safely down the river.
- What is a safety kayaker?
Every one of our trips is accompanied by our safety kayakers. These are expert whitewater kayakers who run every rapid ahead of the rafts and wait in the pools downstream to support swimmers. If a raft overturns or someone falls overboard and gets separated from the raft, their role is reassure the swimmers and help them back to the rafts. You will get a better understanding of how this works in the comprehensive safety briefings we give before each trip.
- How big is the Nile and what is the best time go rafting?
The volume of the Victoria Nile is controlled by the dams (Owen Falls and Kiira) which regulate the level of the world’s second largest lake. Releases are usually between 650 and 1500 cumecs (cubic metres per second) or 23,000 to 53,000 cfs (cubic feet per second) year-round. By way of comparison, the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River in the US most often carries between 10,000 and 15,000 cfs.
Lake Victoria is now at critically low levels somewhere near 2.5 metres below it’s mean so flows in the river for the past year have been nearer the low end of the scale. This makes some rapids more dramatic and exciting and others less challenging. However, regardless of the time of the year there is always plenty of water in the Nile.
- Do I need to book in advance?
We highly recommend booking in advance as Adrift trips often run to capacity. An advance booking will guarantee you a place on the raft.
- What about crocodiles?
The crocodile and hippo population in the section of river we raft was decimated several decades ago, initially under a directive from the Ministry of Fisheries. Many local villagers swim, wash and launder their clothes in this section of river so crocodiles are very unwelcome. However, you can expect to see many birds, some of which are threatened species. Sightings of mammals include river otters, Nile monitors, Red-tailed and Vervet monkeys and many different varieties of fish.
- What if it rains?
On whitewater rafting trips you will be getting wet anyway! Tropical downpours tend to only to last a short time and the rain is far from cold. We carry spray-jackets with us for cooler days and you can always jump in the river (26°C or 79°F) to keep warm. Local rains have a negligible effect on the river level and the Victoria Nile does not flood in the section we raft.
- I wear contact lenses. Will this be a problem?
This should not stop you enjoying a rafting experience. We advise people not to sit near the front of the boat and to wear sunglasses (with retainers) to reduce the chances of the lenses being washed overboard.
- What qualifications do the Adrift guides have?
There is no formal raft qualification required to raft on the Nile, but international guides are always qualified offshore and hold current first aid and swift water rescue qualifications. Our standards equal or exceed many used elsewhere in the world and we believe there is no substitute for experience. Our river crew is among the most experienced and professional to be found anywhere.
- Is previous rafting experience necessary?
No. The vast majority of people who come rafting with us have never rafted before. We give a comprehensive safety briefing before each trip and extensive on-water training for the whitewater rafting trip. Many people come to us having rafted elsewhere in the world. The previous experience usually pales to insignificance.
- Can I take my camera rafting?
We strongly recommend you leave your camera at home. Some of the most picturesque moments are when you will need to be paddling the hardest and we don’t have the ability to carry cameras on the rafts. Leave the photography to our professionals who perch mid-stream on rocks in the river or hang from the branches of trees to capture the incredible images of you in action.