Introduction to the Ssese Islands
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 go fishing 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.
Home to over 50 rescued and orphaned chimpanzees, Ngamba Island Chimp Sanctuary is now a primate’s paradise and an important conservation project thanks to the Jane Goodall Foundation.
Many of the chimpanzees were rescued from poachers and are unlikely to survive reintroduction to the wild.
Under the protection of the sanctuary, they now spend their time swinging from the rainforest trees that cover the island.
The sanctuary allows guests to spend quality time playing with and feeding the chimpanzees, a unique experience you won’t find anywhere else in Uganda.
The Ssese Islands are home to many primates including Vervet and Colobus Monkeys.
Crocodiles occasionally visit the more remote islands and hippos can be sighed near Buggala’s southwestern shore.
The elusive sitatunga love to hide in the marshy banks of the lake, and are best seen while taking an early evening canoe ride.
Despite their name, Blue monkeys are mainly olive or grey.
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.