Uganda tour rerouted following kidnapping, ensuing traveler safety concerns

David Oliver

After the rescue of American Kimberly Sue Endicott and her tour guide, who were ambushed and kidnapped Tuesday in Uganda, tourists may be asking themselves: Is it safe to travel there?

For at least one travel agency, they're not willing to take the risk where the kidnapping took place.

"Following the abduction and rescue of an American tourist and local guide in Uganda’s Queen Elizabeth National Park on April 2, G Adventures has proactively taken the precaution of rerouting a scheduled tour in April to avoid the area," according to adventure travel company G Adventures. "Instead of exploring the park, guests will enjoy a guided lake cruise and safari drive in the Lake Mburo region, followed by a visit to the Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary in Lake Victoria."

The U.S. Department of State has Uganda at a level 2 travel advisory − last updated Dec. 17, 2018 − meaning travelers should "exercise increased caution."

"To give perspective to this rating, most European countries are only a level 2 as well," explained Kim Steiger, a certified travel specialist with Travel Leaders.  

The Department of State's highest travel warning is a level 4, or "do not travel."

The advisory for Uganda cautions travelers: "Violent crime, such as armed robbery, home invasion and sexual assault, is common, especially in larger cities including Kampala and Entebbe. Local police lack the resources to respond effectively to serious crime."

Rescue or ransom? American kidnapped in Uganda will meet U.S. ambassador Monday

The Minister of Tourism, Wildlife & Antiquities Prof. Ephraim Kamuntu told USA TODAY: "This incident, regrettable as it is, is an isolated incident. The country has been secure for the last three decades. An incident of this kind, we have not experienced in recent times."

The U.S. government offers several tips for safe travel in Uganda.

  • Keep your group of friends close in public
  • Have a copy of your passport and visa on hand
  • Don't leave food and drinks unattended (in particular at local clubs)

"I have clients that have, and continue to travel, to this part of the world without incident. It is important to always stay alert to your surroundings and to use reputable providers within the country," Steiger told USA TODAY.

Ugandan police spokesman Fred Enanga has stressed that Uganda is safe for tourists. 

"The operation to arrest the culprits is ongoing with the close coordination of our counterparts from the (Congo), whom we have been working with for the last five days," Enanga said. "We continue to appraise the kidnap and rescue operation to ensure such an occurrence does not happen again."

President Donald Trump, however, suggested on Twitter that the kidnappers must be arrested before tourists will be comfortable in the equatorial nation of 43 million people.

"Uganda must find the kidnappers of the American Tourist and guide before people will feel safe in going there," Trump tweeted Monday. "Bring them to justice openly and quickly!"

Endicott was scheduled to be turned over Monday to the U.S. ambassador to Uganda amid conflicting reports over whether a ransom was paid for her freedom.

Ugandan police said Endicott was released Sunday in good health and was safely in the hands of Ugandan security forces.

Wild Frontiers Uganda Safaris issued a statement thanking Ugandan and U.S. authorities for conducting the "negotiated handover." An official with the company told the Associated Press that an undisclosed ransom was paid.

Contributing: Jorge L. Ortiz, John Bacon and the Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Uganda tour rerouted following kidnapping, ensuing traveler safety concerns