If you are looking for somewhere to unwind, the Ssese Islands in Lake Victoria’s northwestern corner are the perfect retreat.
Ssese’s flourishing archipelago of 84 islands comprises white sandy beaches, clear waters, and tropical forests.
The islands are home to many primate species including colobus and vervet monkeys, sitatunga antelope and several rare birds.
The inhabited islands each have something unique to offer. From landscapes to activities, Ssese is very diverse.
Buggala is the largest and most developed island for tourism. Swimming is a popular activity here, especially at Mutambala beach. You can also hire bicycles or quad bikes to explore the island.
The privately-owned Banda Island is tranquil and serenely beautiful. Bring a good book, as the best thing to do here is read and soak up the sun.
If you do fancy venturing onto the lake, canoes can be hired, or you can gofishing for tilapia and Nile perch.
For animal lovers,Ngamba island, also known as chimp island, is a chimpanzee sanctuary, set up by the Jane Goodall Foundation.
Bulago Island is excellent for nature walks, the diverse terrain of rocky outcrops and woodlands means there are several trails to choose from and good opportunities to see uncommon birds and wildlife
Things to do
The clear cool water is perfect for a hot afternoon swim. Mutumbala beach on the Buggala Island is the most popular spot from which to swim, but it’s likely that your accommodation will also have designated areas for swimming.
In the Ssese Islands, there are no hippos, and crocodiles are extremely unusual. Be aware that Bilharzia, while very rare these days, is thought to be present in the lake so many choose to swim in the hotel pools instead.
Clear and cool waters are perfect for swimming.
Fishing in Uganda is becoming an increasingly popular excursion and the Ssese Islands are a fantastic fishing spot for tilapia and Lake Victoria’s largest fish, the Nile Perch.
For fishing on Lake Victoria, a UWA fishing permit is not required, but you must go with a licensed boat operator, registered by the Ministry of Fisheries. If you book with us, this will all be arranged for you.
Fishing equipment can be hired, or you can bring your own.
For those feeling adventurous, quad biking is a great way to get to know the islands.
The quad bike’s ability to cover all terrains means you can drive along the rocky cliff tops and sandy beaches, through the forest and stop by one of the local fishing villages for lunch and a chance to learn about the local culture.
Previous experience of quad biking is not required, and if you need, you can practice before heading onto more difficult terrain.
Hire a quad bike for the day and explore jinja on four wheels.
Places to Stay
The hotels and lodges within the Ssese Islands are comprised of budget and mid-range choices. There are no luxury options just yet.
However, the current choices will not leave you feeling disappointed. All the hotels and lodges offer uninterrupted views and access to the lake.
The mid-range options include bandas, cottages and self-contained rooms, while the budget accommodations include several campsites and a dormitory on Banda Island.
The Ssese Islands are an inland tropical paradise.
Mirembe Beach Resort
Mirembe(meaning peace in Luganda), is a beach-front resort with 30 private guest rooms and suites, which are perfectly secluded under the canopy of trees.
The resort is situated on Buggala Island near Kalangala. The rooms are basic, but stylish and Wi-Fi is included.
The restaurant serves a blend of local and international food and drinks, which can be enjoyed while sitting round the campfire or at a table directly overlooking the lake.
Mirembe also has a camping ground for those looking for a low-budget alternative. The campsite has access to the hotel’s facilities and amenities.
Brovad Sands Lodge
Located on Buggala Island, Brovad Sands Lodge is the closest to pure luxury you will get while staying in the Ssese Islands.
With beach front access, a spa, sauna and swimming pool, there are several ways to unwind.
For accommodation guests can choose between large suites, cottages or a family villa.
Free Wi-Fi, restaurant, lounge and bar and the many activities on offer has made Brovad Sands Lodge one of the most popular options in the Ssese Islands.
Ssese Island Beach Hotel
Situated in Lutoboka Bay, just five minutes from where the ferry docks from Entebbe, Ssese Island Beach Hotel is another great option for activities.
An on-site golf course, banana boating, quad biking, canoe rides, nature walks, and cultural visits will keep you busy, or opt to lounge all day by the cool waters on a sun bed.
There are several suites to choose from, which have views of the lake, forest or golf course. There is also a restaurant serving an à la carte menu, a bar and a campfire area.
How to get to the Ssese Islands
From Kampala or Entebbe to Kalangala Bay in the Ssese Islands, a large modern car ferry departs from Nakiwogo Dock, just south of Entebbe at 2pm every day.
The ferry returns to Nakiwogo Dock (Entebbe) from Kalangala Bay at 8am every day.
The journey is approximately three and a half hours. First and second class tickets are available. The only difference is that the first class is likely to be less busy.
A speed boat can be arranged to transport you to Bulago Island, and an airstrip is currently being built on the island.
Other Islands will be connected by lake taxis (large wooden boats) and private boats.
When to visit the Ssese Islands
The best time to visit the Ssese Islands is during the cooler dry seasons from late June to October.
During these months, there is a smaller chance of rain ruining planned activities, and wildlife viewing opportunities are better as the animals congregate around central water sources.
What are the top things to do in Entebbe town? Most Ugandans only go to Entebbe when visiting one of the beaches or on their way out of the country through the only international airport. This shouldn’t be the case because Entebbe town has so much to offer. Entebbe is one of the most naturally beautiful towns in Uganda. It is part of Wakiso District and is found 40 kilometers away from Kampala city. The town is surrounded by Lake Victoria, lush green vegetation and great landscapes giving it a cool temperature and natural charm.
Despite its small size, Entebbe is a key town in Uganda with important historical roles. Entebbe was the administrative capital of Uganda before the role was shifted to Kampala after independence. It is for this reason that the town is relatively well organized and built with great attractions considering its size. Entebbe still hosts the official state house, one of the largest UN logistics bases in the world, government offices and the only international airport.
For anyone visiting Uganda, Entebbe town is a place you must visit or explore in more detail if you have spare time. You can never be bored while in Entebbe. The town offers so many attractions that never bore even those who have lived there for decades. It is a town where you can spot amazing wildlife and visit some of the best beaches and hotels Uganda has to offer. Entebbe is arguably a better place to stay in than Kampala city or Mbarara town for those who want a clean town, cool temperature, clean air, a serene atmosphere and less crimes.
This article can be useful for those visiting Entebbe for the first time or those who have missed their flight and still have a day or two in the town with nothing to do. You might be interested in a similar article covering cultural tourism in Uganda as a country or car rental services in Entebbe. By the time you complete reading, you will have an idea of the best places to visit while in Entebbe. You will be surprised to find places you never knew existed.
We hope the article will help you know the popular places and plan accordingly. After finishing reading about Entebbe, you can also read our article about the tourist attractions in Mombasa Kenya. We have an amazing 1 day Kampala city tour package for those who want to visit the key landmarks in Uganda’s capital. If you are targeting Jinja, check out the Jinja tour package.
Let’s look at key some facts about Entebbe before discussing the major tourist attractions
Facts about Entebbe town
Entebbe is found on the northern section of Lake Victoria – the largest lake in Africa.
Entebbe has a population of about 70,000 people.
In the Luganda language, the word “e tebbe” means to sit on a chair. The town was named Entebbe because it was where the local Baganda chiefs sat to resolve legal cases.
Entebbe has Uganda’s largest and only international airport. Because of that, most visits to Uganda start and end in Entebbe.
Entebbe has the official residence and office of the head of state. It is therefore the main center of power
One of the Tarzan movies was shot at the Entebbe botanical gardens.
Entebbe is one of Uganda’s best birding destinations. The botanical gardens and Mabamba swamp are the first places a birder should check out while on a birding tour in Uganda.
Entebbe town has the oldest golf course in Uganda and East Africa. It was established as early as 1900.
Entebbe has some of the most amazing beaches in Uganda and the world when you factor in the amazing Ssese islands.
Entebbe became famous in July 1976 when a team of Israeli commandos stormed the airport and rescued over 100 hostages (mainly Jews) who had been kidnapped while on board an Air France jet. The Ugandan dictator Idi Amin supported the hijackers.
To reach Entebbe town from the airport, you will need to hire an airport taxi for about 20,000 Uganda Shilling. While in town, there are three modes of transport – by boda boda, special hire or public minibuses.
Getting decent accommodation in Entebbe for long term use is not easy and can be quiet expensive. This is partly because of the large UN personnel living and working in the town.
Best Things to do in Entebbe town
Visit Lake Victoria: Lake Victoria is the largest fresh water lake in Africa. It is also the second largest in the world after only Lake Baikal in Siberia. The lake is one of the leading tourist sites in Uganda and Entebbe is arguably the best place to explore it. Lake Victoria surrounds the town on almost all sides. There are several activities that can be done around the lake including swimming, fishing, boat cruises, canoeing, island hopping or simply relaxing by the lake shores.
Visit the beaches: As a town surrounded by water, Entebbe has arguably the best and most popular beaches in Uganda. Some of the beaches include white sand beach, Sports beach, Lido beach, Aero beach, Imperial resort beach and Spena beach among many others.
The hotels and resorts in Entebbe also have their own beaches like Anderita and Botanical beach hotels. On weekend, these beaches are full of revelers from Kampala and other nearby towns. Almost all the beaches have loud music playing in the background while some organize boat cruises on the lake in different shifts for revelers.
Swimming in these beaches is not 100% safe (because of the possibility of catching bilharzia) but it is a great way of mingling with the locals and seeing how they go about their daily lives.
Despite the obvious poverty, Ugandans love to enjoy life. Ugandan’s are very friendly and you will find this out while visiting one of the beaches. If you are afraid of swimming, you can just go and relax by the beach and swim in one of the high end hotels in town.
Visit the Entebbe Sailing Club or go for a sunset boat cruise: Entebbe has one of the oldest sailing clubs in Uganda. The club is busy over the weekend and you will spot several dhow looking boats floating out into the lake with a number of revelers. The Club organizes sporting competitions to reward the fastest boats.
Entebbe Sailing club is a perfect place to go with your friends or family for a truly amazing weekend. Sunset boat cruises are also organized with food and drinks starting from the Uganda Wildlife Educational Centre all the way to some of the Ssese Islands.
Visit Entebbe International Airport: Entebbe town is host to the only international airport in Uganda. The airport is built close to the shores of Lake Victoria and is about 25 miles away from Kampala city. Entebbe international airport is also host to one of the largest UN logistics bases in the world.
You can find several UN and other humanitarian aircraft stationed here and ready for missions in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya and South Sudan.
Visit the UN Base in Entebbe: As mentioned earlier, the United Nations uses the old Entebbe international airport for keeping some of their heavy military and humanitarian equipment before being taken for use in peacekeeping missions around Africa.
Visiting their offices is not easy without appointment. Security is tight because they have their own customs and immigration procedures. Easiest way to visit is to befriend one of their staff in the town bars or hangout places and request for a tour of the site. You might have interest in our article about the things to do in Dar es Salaam.
Visit the Entebbe Botanical Gardens: These gardens were founded around 1901. It is believed that one of the original Tarzan movies were filmed here. The gardens are a popular hangout place for locals and tourists who want a quiet place for relaxation and experiencing nature. In terms of biodiversity, it is one of the best within central Uganda.
The Entebbe Botanical gardens are considered important learning centers by academics within and outside Uganda. You can visit the center for plant identification and birding. Expect to also spot Colobus and Ververt monkeys. The gardens are also home to several species of birds and if you are a birder, this is the perfect place to start from.
If you are planning to visit the gardens, expect to find Guides at the entrance. There is an entrance fee but the Guides will ask for a separate fee. The Guides know all the tree, bird and animal species. They will take you to the different zones of the gardens ending with a visit to the beach on the shores of Lake Victoria.
The species of birds to look out for are African Open-billed Stork, Black headed Gonolek, Black-headed herons, Common Squacco, Grey headed gull, Hammerkop, Long tailed Cormorant, Orange weavers, Red- chested Sunbird, Swamp Flycatcher, Verreaux’s eagle owls, Yellow billed duck, Giant and Pied Kingfishers. It is recommended that you visit these gardens on week days to enjoy a more private tour.
Visit the Uganda Wildlife Education Center: Popularly known as Entebbe zoo, this facility has become one of the best educational centers for wildlife in the African continent. The center was opened in 1952 for rescued animals before later turning into a zoo. The Centre still helps rehabilitate animals rescued from poachers before their release back to the wild when possible. The Centre has an amazing collection of wildlife and beautiful scenery.
It is a quick place to go if you cannot visit Uganda’s national parks. Here you will see DeBraza monkeys, baboons, hyenas, pythons, lions, ostriches, antelopes, leopards, buffaloes and chimpanzee among many other creatures. Over 121 species of birds can be sported at the Centre including the African fish eagle, Hammerkops, sun birds, Giant Kingfishers and the Great Blue
Most of the animals are held in spacious areas which resemble their natural surroundings. You will not only see but learn how the animals communicate, play, eat and live together. The Centre strives to educate visitors about wildlife conservation and their importance to prosperity and the ecosystem. After seeing all the animals in the zoo for about 2 hours, you can go down to the beach and take a swim or relax with the family as you enjoy camel and donkey rides.
As already noted earlier, the Uganda Wildlife Education Center is one of the most visited places in Uganda and is a favorite learning place for schools and other educational institutions. The Centre receives generous funding from donors and institutions around the world enabling it to expand and put together an excellent team of caretakers.
Visiting the center costs $15 for international visitors and about 10,000 for Ugandans. For those interested in a more comprehensive visit, they can opt for the Keeper for a Day Experience, the behind the Scenes Tour and the Chimpanzee Close-up experience. Tour operators in Uganda can organize trips to the Entebbe zoo but at an extra cost. We have a new article about the things to see in Nairobi that you might find interesting.
The Reptile Sanctuary: Visiting the Uganda Reptiles Village is excellent for those who are fascinated with reptiles. The sanctuary takes care of all kinds of reptiles including crocodiles, turtles, tortoises, lizards, chameleons and snakes (vipers, cobras, mambas and puff adders).
Most of these reptiles where rescued and rehabilitated after being found in people’s homes and gardens. After the Centre receives a call from someone about spotting a reptile in their compound, they send staff to go and pick them up. When their numbers increase, some are released back into the wild.
The staff at the sanctuary will help educate you about these often misunderstood creatures. The Reptiles village is located a short drive away from the town. You stop at a small town called Abaita-ababiri as you head towards Kampala. From Abaita, you leave the main highway and follow the 4km dusty road to the Reptile village. Entrance to the Reptile sanctuary is 15,000 Uganda Shillings at the time of writing this article. The Entrance fee includes a Guide to take you around the site.
Visit the Uganda Virus Research Institute: If you are an academic spending time in Entebbe, a good place to visit is the Uganda Virus Research Institute. This is a government institute that was built to help in researching about communicable diseases among animals and humans. The Uganda Virus Research institute is a leading Centre for research in East African and has been responsible for some amazing findings in the area of communicable diseases. It houses some of the brightest minds in Uganda as well as international researchers from all over the world on short assignments.
Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary: This sanctuary is home to more than 40 orphaned chimpanzees that have been rescued from within and outside Uganda. The young chimps are brought at the Centre for rehabilitation and to start a new life in a beautifully forested island. Here they are looked after by some of the best caretakers and researchers. To reach the Ngamba island Chimpanzee Sanctuary, one would need to take a boat or public ferry to the island.
Once in the island you have an opportunity to observe the chimps feeding from an enclosure before retreating back to the large forest. Visitors to the island can also feed the chimps or volunteer for a while in the facility. There are flights arranged from Entebbe International Airport to the sanctuary at a cost.
State House Entebbe: Uganda has two main state house buildings. One in Entebbe and the other in Nakasero. Although visiting is only by invitation, you can still take a walk around the structure to admire the beautiful gardens. If you are lucky you will spot the presidential convoy entering and departing from the man gate.
Entebbe Golf Club: This 18 Hole Golf Course is the oldest in Uganda. It was founded as early as 1901 close to the shores of Lake Victoria. It is a large golf course that offers a unique feeling of privacy and serenity even on busy weekends.
This gold course remains green throughout the year because of the cool weather from the lake and good rains throughout the year. At the entrance, you may see a sign post stating that playing is for only members but tourists are allowed in at an affordable fee.
Golfing is now becoming very popular among the middle class in Uganda and has received wide media coverage. Because of that, you will meet some of Uganda’s top businessmen and the middle-class citizens playing side by side. You can learn a lot about Uganda, the politics and opportunities available while playing and hanging out at the club. Apart from the golf course, the club also has a basketball court, a cricket oval and a basketball court. Members can also play snooker, darts and badminton.
Visit Entebbe’s main Markets: The best way to learn about a new place and the local people is to visit the main markets. Entebbe has two main markets. One is close to the first shell petrol station from the Kampala side and the other is in Kitoro.
There are also smaller markets opened on specific days of the week such as the one close to Manyago. I shouldn’t forget to mention the Nakiwogo Market.
The Nakiwogo market is a beehive of activity and the best place to watch vendors sell off their products or offload goods from the different Ssese Islands. While in all Entebbe markets, you can buy Uganda’s tasty tropical fruits and foods from a kiosk. If you have nothing to buy, you can just choose a place to sit and observe the local Ugandans hustling to make ends meet. You might even get a chance to hear some of the most current gossip.
Explore Kitubulu Forest and Beach: This forest and beach are located just as you enter Entebbe town from Kampala and start getting a clear view of the lake. Kitubulu forest is perfect for nature walks that end at the beach or Lake shores. Entrance is free but be cautious while there. Avoid taking forest walks late in the evening or in the night. The beach is open to the public at no cost but security is non-existent hence you could be prone to pick pockets.
Visit Zika Forest: This is the forest where the Zika Virus was first discovered by scientists in 1947. This strain is different from the one that troubles certain parts of the world recently.
In fact, to be clear, there is no strain of the Zika Virus in the forest these days. A group of researchers are currently studying the insects trapped in the forest to come up with groundbreaking findings that will be of benefit to the world. Zika forest is a favorite for birders and those who just want to explore a tropical forest within reach. Expect to spot monkeys, birds and countless butterflies.
Nkumba University: Nkumba university is a private university founded in 1994. It started as an institution specializing in promoting business management but has now grown to also offer science based courses. Unlike many private universities in Uganda, it is not affiliated to any particular religious’/Christian organization. The University is built on Nkumbi Hill which is 10 kilometers away from the Entebbe airport in the District of Wakiso. The University compound spreads all the way to the shores of Lake Victoria.
Mabamba Swamp: Mabamba bay wetland is found along the shores of Lake Victoria. This extensive marshland covers an area of 16,498 hectares and consists of mainly of Miscunthus sp along the main bay and papyrus towards the clearer waters of Lake Victoria.
A narrow water channel extends inside the swamp allowing for birders to visit the inside by boat. The most popular bird species sighted here is the amazing shoebill stork. The Mabamba wetlands sanctuary is considered the best place to spot Shoebill storks in Uganda. These elusive birds are often found standing on drifting papyrus islands as they fed on insects and frogs. Apart from the Shoebill storks and other birds, swamp antelopes (Sitatunga) thrive on these swamps.
Sport Fishing on Lake Victoria: Uganda is home to the largest fresh water fish in Africa – the Nile Perch. Entebbe provides one of the best and most organized fishing areas in Uganda.
You can hire a boat and go out with your equipment for an adventure of a lifetime with the possibility of a big catch to show your buddies and fellow anglers. Some of the hotels and resorts can help you acquire fishing gear and a professional angler to take you to the best fishing spots while on a whole day sport fishing trip in Uganda.
Visit the Ssese Islands: The Ssese Islands are a collection of 84 Islands in Lake Victoria. Only 43 have constant human presence. All the islands offer pristine tropical vegetation with amazing wildlife. The Ssese Islands offer some of the best fishing spots in Uganda.
So prepare for a whole day of fun, fishing, swimming, canoeing, quad biking and even horseback riding in some of the islands. Visiting the Ssese Islands should be done in three days to experience the best of what the Islands have to offer.
Go shopping: Entebbe is a major shopping Centre with large supermarkets like Victoria shopping mall, Imperial Mall, Pearl Supermarket, Shoprite and many other smaller one built within the magnificent hotels and resorts. All these shopping malls have ATM Machines which accept Visa and MasterCard. The banks with branches in Entebbe town include Stanbic, Ecobank, Diamond Trust bank and Standard chartered.
The Entebbe Craft Village: This Craft village was built in 2002 and is believed to be one of the largest in Uganda. While visiting the craft village, you can buy wood carvings, bags, African fabrics, sandals, paintings, batiks, place mats, tableware, clothing’s, ornaments and jewelry. You can also buy the fabric and have it made and adjusted to your size if you are staying in town for a while.
Eat Out: If you want to taste some of Uganda’s local dishes as well as international ones, then you should check out 4 Points for their calming environment and Indian food.
They even have a pool table and bar that is frequented by Entebbe’s expert community. Gately Inn Entebbe is one good open-air restaurant with beautiful gardens and all kinds of international dishes. For the best pizza, visit Bologna or hotel Anderita. Other pizza points include Arthur’s Café, Goretti’s Pizza.
We can’t forget to mention Faze 3 for Indian and continental food. Faze 3 is built close to the airport and has some of the tastiest fried pork, chicken and tilapia.
Go Drinking and Clubbing: To find out about Entebbe’s night life and sample some of the local beer, you should start with 4 Turkeys Pub located along Kampala road. They have international beer brands in stock like Guinness and Heineken. Red Rooster Sports Bar is a favorite of UN Personnel and hence security is tight.
You will find a pool table and giant TV screens to watch your favorite sports teams over the weekend in all the bars. If the two are not to your taste, you can visit O’s Bar located close to the golf course with its indoor lounge and large television screens. Club Knight Riders is arguably the most popular dance club in Entebbe.