Attractions and Things to Do In Ssese Islands / Kalangala

There are many tourist activities that can be done in kalangala or Ssese Islands such as bird watching, swimming and a lot more.

Attractions And Things To Do In Ssese Islands / Kalangala For A Tour

Ssese islands are a collection of 84 islands all found in the northwestern shores of Lake Victoria and they are good for a honey moon tour and holiday. The islands are of different sizes like Bugala has a length of 40kms. The islands are composed of fishing islands, habituated chimpanzees and private property.  Most of the islands here are managed and controlled by the administration of Kalangala district whose headquarters are located in Bugala Island and Entebbe city also controls some of the Ssese islands. The islands were called Ssese because the place used to have a lot of tsetse flies in the past and these were causing sleeping sickness to human beings and Nagana to animals.

Bugala Island is the most visited island with developed buildings, many banks and mushrooms buildings even though the transport routes are not yet well developed. About 70,760 people living in Kalangala district, about 27,000 people live in Bugala Island. Other islands include Bubeke, Bubembe, Serinya, Buyova, Ngamba, Bugaba, Bukasa, Bufumira among others. All these islands have amazing white sand beaches, flowers, palm trees, lush forests, blue waters and rare forests. The Ssese islands are beautifull for photography and the give visitors a good atmosphere for relaxation away from the busy life of the city. One should spend some good time lying at one of the beaches or playing different games with local people at the island. The Ssese highlands are good for honeymooners who like privacy and a romantic area they offer. Fishing is the most done activity in Ssese islands. Visitors can pay a visit to some of the fishing areas and see how fishermen throw their nets from small canoes to motorboats. Birders will find Ssese islands a best place for sporting some different species of birds.

The residents of Ssese islands are super friendly, caring and helpful. The people here mainly use Lusese and Luganda languages. Lusese as a language is similar to Luganda and Lusoga. Lusese was the original language here but when the residents were forced out of the island because of tsetse flies many years ago, the came but when the original Lusese language was almost extinct. The people lining on Ssese islands live a simple life not like these other people who stay in the urban cities. Many people living on the islands are fishermen and women while others work in the palm oil plantations and other are animal keepers’ raring cattle, goats, pigs and chicken. There is a lot of prostitution here and the HIV spreading rate is very high on the highland more than anywhere in the country. Bear in mind that the Ssese islands were ignored by people for many years with very few people visiting them until of recent. Although the number of locals visiting the island has increased, the number of international tourists is still low to the amazing destination.

History and legends of Ssese islands.

According to scientists, these islands were formed 12,000 years back when the tectonic movements caused an elevation of two arms of the east African rift valley resulting into the formation of Lake Victoria and the islands. Ssese islands are among the few areas where the Baganda people go and practice ancient culture and traditions. The local people say the islands were formed with the formation of Buganda kingdom. They claim that the first Muganda called Kintu was living in these island.

Another group of people say that the Abassese people stayed in Ssese islands for about 500 years. They were not like humans and they had supernatural strength. The abases giants used to believe in spirits and they never prayed to our God, their God was called Mbirimu who was taking care of both animals and human beings. One day Mbirimu decided to take the body of the woman and the woman gave birth to twins (a boy and a python) in Bugala islands. The python was named Luwala. The boy twin built a shrine for the paython (brother) where people from the island and beyond would visit the place and seek his wise counsel and blessings. The brother to the python was the go-between and this made him the first traditional doctor (Emandwa) in the island.

After the death of the twin brother, many countless Emandwas have come up. Every Mandwa is chosen by the ancestors and spirits to concentrate all their life to Luwala. The Mandwa at the Ssese islands currently is not from the python spirit lineage because the real successor of Luwala was still young to take on the role. During wars between the Banyoro and the Baganda, the Baganda used to go and seek power from the Emandwas and they played a great part in the outcomes. One of the Emandwa gave a special stick called Damula to the Baganda and it was made from an enchanted tree in Bugala Island. That stick is still around and it’s given to every new king of Buganda. Bugala Island is there for known as the island of Luwala and many people visit the Emandwa each year to seek blessings, protection, wealth and fertility. The Baganda people in the past years used to go to the islands to pay respect to these ancestors and Mukasa the spirit of the lake.

The major Ssese islands

Ssese islands are divided into 2 groups. One is called Bugala and the other is called koome. Bugala group is found in the south west of Lake Victoria and it’s the largest group. The islands in this group include Serinya, Bubeke, Bukasa, Bufumbira, Bugaba, buyova and funve. The koome islands are found in koome islands and they include Luwaji, Koome and Damba. The following articles will discuss the large islands in details.

Bugala Island:

This island covers an area of 205 square kilometers making it the largest island on Ssese. Bugala Island is the 10th biggest island in the whole world. Without doubt, Bugala island is the most popular and visited island on Lake Victoria. The island is well developed with buildings, markets, roads making it the most suitable island for tourists to visit. In Bugala Island you find Kalangala town which manages most of the islands on Ssese with Entebbe town. To reach Bugala you need to board a ferry from Luku. Bugala highland has many hills around it which give you beautiful views of Lake Victoria, approaching the ferries and human activities around the highland.  Bugala Island has the biggest palm oil in the country which gives employment opportunities to the people who live at the highland. Bugala Island is good for bird watching and primate viewing. The common primate on the island is the vervet monkey but there are other monkeys, snakes, bushbucks and a few hippos in the southern end of the island. Bugala Island is a sanctuary to 3 endemic species that’s a rat and three types of butterflies. Because Bugala Island is now developed with towns, it has become a noisy place so for that that love a quiet place they should visit the neighboring islands such as Bukasa, Banda and Bulago.

Ngamba Island:

Ngamba Island covers an area of 100 acres. The island is famous because of chimpanzees. The island was turned into a chimpanzee sanctuary in 1998 and it’s a home of 50 orphaned and rescued chimpanzees now. Many visitors visit Ngamba sanctuary per month to see chimpanzees or and some volunteer as caretakers. Apart from endangered chimpanzees, Ngamba Island is a home to 150 bird species and creatures such as lizards. The key attractions at the island are the chimpanzees. Chimpanzees at the sanctuary are either orphans or they are rescued from poachers or animal traffickers. When the chimpanzees are new here they are first kept alone and this is done to avoid them from being bullied by adult chimpanzees. Visitors who visit Ngamba sanctuary have opportunities of seeing these chimpanzees feed, play and return from the forest but after paying a certain fee. The volunteers to Ngamba sanctuary take part in feeding the adults, cleaning where they sleep and helping orphans get used to life in the island.

Banda Island:

The island is owned by individual people but it’s open for tourists and travelers. The island is a quiet one unlike Bugala Island. To read the island you have to get a bot or canoe from Kasenyi landing site. For those that love luxury things they can hire speed boats. The island is good for camping so you can go with your camping equipment or you can hire them from people at the island. And those that are not comfortable with camps they can go and use standard cottages at the island.

Bugalo Island:

The island is one of the biggest island on Ssese. The highland covers an area of about 510 acres. The island has a lot of sandy beaches surrounded by so many cliffs and rocks which combine to give you a good look. Basing on its terrain and nature beauty, the island is good for nature walks and escaping away from the noisy city. The island got a hill and when you hike to the top of it you will have great views of Lake Victoria and other neighboring areas. Bugalo Island is a good birding area with both resident and migratory birds who are always in the area to eat the fish and the insects. Getting to Bugalo Island, you need to get a boat from Munyonyo and if you want to stay there for a night or more you can stay at pineapple bat lodge.

Main Tourism activities in Ssese islands

There are many tourist activities that can be done in kalangala or Ssese Islands such as bird watching, swimming and a lot more.

Bird watching:

These Ssese islands are sanctuaries to a number of birds. These birds live in the lush forests and swamps found on the island. When you visit Bugala, you will see birds such as African fish eagle, palm nut vultures, paradise flycatcher, robin cats, weaver birds, barbets, and brown throated wattle eye and horn bills.


Swimming is one of the most done activities while on any of Ssese islands. The best swimming area are found in Bugala and the most popular beach is called Mutumbala. Some of the beaches receive crocodiles once in a while but this should not scare you much especially when you are visiting the larger islands. The biggest risk of swimming in the waters of Lake Victoria is that there are higher chances of getting bilharzia but it’s very rare and it can be treated in a few days. If you fear crocodiles and you are afraid of getting bilharzia, you can swim from the hotel pools and you then go to the beach for relaxation and also get a cool breeze.

Sport fishing:

Sport fishing is one of the things you shouldn’t miss to do when you are on your safari to Uganda. The country is naturally blessed with rivers and lakes among which there is Lake Victoria the largest fresh water lake in Africa. Sport fishing in Ssese is always arranged in different fishing villages with the intention of getting the biggest fish (Nile perch). The main fish caught here is tilapia but the main goal of the activity is catching the Nile perch which is the largest fish in Lake Victoria. To participate in sport fishing you must possess a fishing permit. It’s advised to carry your won fishing gears although you can hire them from the islands a good price.

Wildlife viewing:

Ssese islands are habitats to vevert monkeys and colobus monkeys. The places are also homes to crocodiles but they come once in a while.  There are also hippos seen in the south western shores of Bugala Island. There are also large mammals and statungas which love the marshy shorelines. The islands have statungas that have larger horns that those ones sighted on any other wetlands elsewhere in Africa.

Village and nature walks:

Most of the Ssese islands are covered with green forests. You can walk through these forests as you admire the beautiful flowers and green plants. You can also go and visit any of the villages on Ssese islands to get to know how these people go about their daily lives.  The people of Ssese are still poor and backwards. Most fishermen on the island do fishing and when they sell the fish, they go and buy beer or even buy women and that is why the HIV rate on these islands is still high.

Playing beach games and cycling: after relaxing at the beach, having enough beautiful sights and enjoying the cool breeze, you can join a group of revelers or you can form teams and play football, volley ball or any other beach game. You can also hire bicycles at the beach and you go cycling around the beach with your friends.

Agricultural tours:

Agricultural tours are arranged to the largest palm oil trees in Uganda on Bugala islands and also on the pineapple gardens owned by BIDCO group of companies in Bugala. Although the plantations employ a number of local people, the conservationists say that agriculture has led to loss of forest cover and natural beauty.

Quad biking:

Quad biking is among the newly introduced tourism activities in Uganda. This activity involves use of quad bikes to move around the island as you enjoy the beauty of the area and cool breeze while having fun. Using quad bikes, you can tour around the beaches, fishing villages and forests. The quad bikes used in Bugala island are easy and they do not require one to be an expert to use the. Those who want to take part in the activity but don’t know how to use the bikes are first trained on how to ride then and it’s done at no cost. There is no age limit for people who use the quad bike so any one can use them but it will be better if you bike with your friends or family. Those who want to take park in quad biking at Bugala Island pay 70,000 UGX for an hour.

Cultural visit:

The islands are of the last strongholds of Buganda’s ancient cultural practices. For those interested in knowing Buganda traditional cultures and religions but brave enough, they can visit kihumuro cave which is 40 meters long with a wide entrance and a small exit. The name Kihumuro means “resting place” in Luganda. The Baganda believe that their gods and spirits still leave in these caves. The custodian and the assistants are always there smoking pipes as they pray to their gods such as Jajja Muwanga. If you visit the caves you must remove the shoes and be ready to follow the rules. Inside the caves you will find spears, bark cloth, seeds of coffee, baskets and skulls. The cave might appear scary but the Baganda people and other people round the country go and seek blessings for their carriers and business.

You can also visit Wanema’s shrine in Bubeke. It’s a shrine in a large grass-thatched hurt with a fence of reeds. Women are always in the shrines and they are always thee to ask you every question you want and even give you history and information about the shrine. You are not allowed to take pictures and you have other rules to follow in order not to offend the spirits. The sacrifices here are offered in form of money, cows, hens, goats and chicken. Christianity and Islamic religions are so far the main religions in the country but people still have shrines in their homes where people go silently because they fear the society to judge them as evil or backwards.

Visit the John Speke house:

John Speke became a famous British explorer after discovering the source of the Nile. John Speke reached Ssese islands as he was busy looking for the source of the Nile but unfortunately it was not there it was in Jinja where he found it. When he was at Ssese Island, he constructed a small building in 1863 in Lutoboka forest. John Speke abandoned this house when he discovered that the source of the Nile was in Jinja. John Speke’s house was abandoned for more than 100 and right in front of his house is a tree believed to be more than 100 years.

Visit the Nanziri waterfalls:

These waterfalls are found in Bukasa islands. They are found close to Wanema’s shrine and Nanziri cave. These areas are considered scary by the local people and when you are entering them you must remove the shoes and lower your voices in order not to annoy the spirits. While at Nanziri waterfalls, you will notice the remains of many sacrifices to Nanziri and other spirits like coffee beans, coins and coffee. People from many parts of Uganda come to this area to seek blessings in their businesses, seek protection, fertility and wealth. The fishermen around the islands also go to this place to seek blessing as the go for fishing.

Other activities: while on your tour on Ssese islands, you can take part in boat cruises, canoeing and horse riding.

How to reach Ssese islands / Getting to Ssese Islanda

To reach Ssese Island, you will need to use a ferry or speeding boat. There are three ferries at the moment going to and from Bugala Island. The first ferry starts from Nakiwogo in Entebbe to Kalangala at 8am and 2pm with the journey taking you 3 hours. The ferry from Kalangala lifts cars 20,000 UGX for the case of ugandans and 25000 UGX for the international travelers. The second ferry starts from Butakata near Masaka to Bugoma and this is done 4 times a day. But this ferry is not as good as that from Nakiwogo to Entebbe and Kalangala. The third option of reaching the Ssese islands is by hiring a private boat. These boats are very expensive but offer high quality services and are very comfortable. Private boats cost about USD 30 per person from Kampala to Ssese islands in Entebbe. Speed boats can also be arranged and they are more flexible because they can make you access remote areas

Hotels and lodges in Ssese islands

Ssese Island offers you mostly budget to mid-range services. The island has no 5-star hotels yet but there are luxury hotels and cottages. Bugala Island in particular has more hotels because it’s well developed. All hotel and lodges at the islands give you a beautiful view of the lake and the natural surroundings regardless of whether you they are budget or mid-range. Hotels at Ssese Island include the following

Brovad sands lodge:

Brovad sands lodge is the most famous accommodation facility in Ssese islands. The lodge is located on Bugala Island and it offers high quality services. The lodge has rooms that are self-contained with best beds and free Wi-Fi. Brovad sands lodge has a conference hall, bar, sauna, restaurant and a garden. The lodge also has well trained stuff who are friendly.

Ssese habitat resort:

This place was opened in 2008 and its one of the best resorts in Bugala island. The resort has self-contained rooms with TV. There resort has a camping area for those who loves camps and have their own tents and equipment. The resort has a restaurant and bar.

Hornbill camp:

This camp located on the eastern part of Kalangala bay. The area is quiet and it gives privacy to those who want to relax and enjoy the beautiful lake side. For those who love birding they will enjoy the place because there are a lot or birds sighted here.

Mirembe beach resort:

This resort was opened up in 2004 and it’s found in a forested area. The resort has both double and single rooms that are self-contained. They have a restaurant with local and international dishes as well as a bar. Mirembe beach cottages give you a clear view of the lake and neighboring islands. The resort also has camping sites but you need to come with camping equipment.

Ssese islands beach hotel:

This is a beautiful place where you can spend your evening from. The hotels has cottages that are self-contained with good beds and warm showers. The rooms here give you a clear view of the golf course, forest and Lake Victoria. The hotel has a bar with a pool table and restaurant that prepares local and international dishes.

Banda Island:

This is not a hotel but it’s a small island that offers camping opportunities, bandas and dormitories to large groups of people. They have tents that can be hired at a fee of 50,000UGX, the dorms at 60,000 UGX and the bandas at 130,000. This money comes with lunch. This facility is managed by individuals and it’s advised to call and book with the people before showing up to avoid disappointments.

Panorama camp:

The camp site has self-contained cottages with good toilets and warm showers with solar lights. They have a bar and a restaurant which has local and international food prepared by the best chefs. The cottages go for 100,000 to 150,000 UGX. For those who want to do camping and have their own camping gears, they can pay only 20,000 UGX.

Kingfisher camping site:

If you are using the ferry to go to Bugala Island, kingfisher camping site is the first accommodation you will see. The camping site give you camping equipment, the have good rooms and have a good restaurant with local dishes. The camping site has a volley al where you can go and join local people and have fun. The camping tents are rented at 30,000 UGX and those who come with their own pay 10,000 UGX

Packing list for a tour of Ssese islands

In order to have an unforgettable experience in Ssese islands you need to prepare yourself and go along with the following

Best clothes and shoes i.e. shorts, swimming costume, skirts, sunglasses and a hat, Vaseline, tooth brush, tooth paste, washing soap and a sponge. You should also move with an insect repellent.

A camera to take photos of the beautiful islands, birds, animals, trees, insects and for those who love birds they can move with binoculars.

A first aid kit and personal medications which can help you in case you get allergies or any pain.

You can also carry your identification documents, banks cards because you can access money using MoneyGram and western union in Bugala island or you can withdraw money with your cards on ATM machines in Kalangala.

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