Uganda’s Ssese Islands
Uganda’s Ssese islands are mainly one of the many captivating and fascinating islands of Uganda, located in the northwestern corner of Lake Victoria. It is also the second-largest freshwater lake in the world and the largest lake in Africa shared by Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. In fact, they are an archipelago of eighty-four islands on Lake Victoria with the largest being Bugala island which accounts for more than half the archipelago’s land area. Besides that, the islands are coterminous with the Kalangala district in the southern central Uganda, which does not have any territory on mainland Uganda.
Kalangala is the largest town and serves as the headquarters of the district; located approximately 51 kilometers across water, southwest of Entebbe in Wakiso district on the Ugandan mainland. Ssese islands lies in two main groups and these include Bugala group in the southwest and the Koome group in the northeastern part and was named after Koome island. However, these two groups are separated by the Koome channel. These two groups have got other islands; the Bugala group has got the Bubeke, Bubembe, Bugaba, Buyova, Bufumira, Bukasa, Serinya and Funve while the Koome group has got Luwaji and Damba islands.
About Ssese Islands
Generally, the islands are primarily inhabited by the Bantu speaking Bassese group, closely related to the Basoga and the Baganda. Before the arrival of the Europeans, the island served as a cardinal spiritual center in the region. When Henry Morton Stanley visited, he described the inhabitants as the principal canoe builders. The locals in this area speak both English and Luganda but outside of the Kalangala bay area, the locals don’t speak English and this is because the biggest number of these people is not educated.
Additionally, Ssese is among the world’s hidden best islands with clear waters, whispering palms trees, golden sandy beaches, fascinating plants, trees, flowers, wildlife. It has also got birds, scenic views, tropical forests and cultures with of course friendly and hospitable people. Furthermore, these islands are the perfect holiday spot for a gateway with the all-year-round perfect weather to the equation of beautiful sandy beaches. In addition to this, you will enjoy that fantastic sunrise and sunset. The major economic activity carried out in Ssese is fishing which is majorly done at Lake Victoria. Basically the most common fish species to be caught here are the Tilapia and Nile perch. Other economic activities carried out here include water transportation of people to the mainland by use of boats and charcoal production due to the vast number of trees that is found on the island.
Historically, very little is known about the earliest inhabitants of Ssese but some oral traditions, associated with the creation of Buganda claim its founder Kintu hailed from the islands or at least arrived in Buganda via them. In other words, the Baganda reverse Ssese as the islands of the gods. In the pre-colonial times, it was customary for the kings of Buganda to visit the islands and pay tribute to the several balubaale whose main shrines are situated there. These include shrines to Musisi (spirit of earthquakes) and Wanema (physical handicaps) on Bukasa island as well as the shrine of Mukasa (spirit of the lake) on Bubembe. Today, there are few Bassese people in this area and their Lussese language has almost disappeared. Because of the lack of settlement, the islands were largely unspoiled but things have changed drastically in the recent years.
Flora and Fauna
Ssese islands have a tropical forest which is a home to variety of animals including primates and the sitatunga antelopes. The most common large terrestrial mammal is the vervet monkey which is often seen in the vicinity of Lutoboka and Kalangala. Bushbucks and the black and white colobus are also present though seldom observed. However, water and forest birds are also prolific such as the hornbills, barbets, turacos, flycatchers, robin chats. Brown-throated wattle-eye, paradise flycatcher, African fish eagle, palm-nut vultures to mention but a few. Having the above birds on the island makes it truly a bird watchers paradise and has led to the growth of tourism in the area.
Other small Islands on Lake Victoria
Bugala is the most developed and largest inhabited islands in Ssese and it is the most visited as well. It is the only island which is accessible from the mainland by use of a ferry and it is also where the main town Ssese is found. Surrounded by beaches and the pristine rainforests, Bugala island is the best destination for tourists and locals who come from the city centre on weekends. The most popular activity here is swimming especially at Mutambala beach but you can also hire bicycles or quad bikes to explore the island.
Banda island is privately-owned by individual people but also open for tourists and travelers. In addition, the island is good for camping so, you can go with your camping equipment. And for those that are not comfortable with camps, they can go and use the standard cottages at the island.
This is among the largest islands with an area of over 510 acres. The sandy beaches are surrounded by several cliffs and protruding rocks which all combine to give it a unique look. More over, the island is a perfect destination for nature walks to see uncommon birds and wildlife. From one of the hills on the island, you will be rewarded with amazing views of Lake Victoria. The island is a birder’s paradise with both resident and migratory birds convening to feast on the abundant fish.
Koome Island is found in the northeastern part of Lake Victoria and its approximately 63 kilometers away from Kalangala. The largest town on Koome island is known as Bugombe. A number of activities are carried out here which include nature walks, beach volley ball etc. However the main activities carried out by the locals here are fishing, agriculture and animal rearing.
What to do at Ssese Island
Sport fishing is one of the ways in which you can entertain yourself while here. However, before taking part in this activity, you will first obtain a fishing permit from the authorities. There are a lot of fish species that you will encounter but the most famous one is the Nile perch. You will need fishing gears and incase you do not have, you can still hire at an affordable price. Whatever you catch, you can cook your catch or get a chef to help you out. But still you can decide to put back your catch into water if not interested into taking it.
The sand beaches are the best places to enjoy this recreational activity. Tourists can go swimming and sun bathing at any of the Ssese beaches. The most popular swimming area in Bugala is the beach in Mutambala. Some of the Ssese islands receive crocodiles occasionally from other parts of the lake but these shouldn’t trouble you.
As mentioned above, Ssese island is a paradise to the bird lovers and it has both migratory and residential birds. Nevertheless, the birds live in the lush forests and swamps found on the island. On your visit to Bugala, you will come across a number of birds. These include palm nut vultures, fish eagle, robin chats, waver birds, barbets to mention but a few.
Chilling at the beach
Relaxing on the Ssese beaches should be a must do on your bucket list since the beaches are great for this. During the night hours, the beaches get hyped and glow with bonfires and beach parties.
Quad bikes are a quick and enjoyable means of traversing the island in a record of time. These bikes are only hired out by a few resorts in Bugala island at a negotiable fee. If you are to tour the island while quad biking, ensure that you have packed lunch.
The Island is gifted with tropical forest covers with beautiful green plants and flowers best for nature walks. They also offer a remarkable experience as you encounter with plenty of primates, mammals and several species of birds. There is also a golden opportunity of visiting the locals that reside along the islands to interact with them.
Boat cruise on Lake Victoria
Having a boat cruise on Africa’s largest lake is a thrilling and one of the most famous activity. Enjoy the beautiful warm weather and feel the cool winds blowing on your face. Observe the scenery and lush islands and all the different bird species you come across while cruising along the shores.
How to get to Ssese island
From Entebbe international Airport or Kampala City, it will take you 15 minutes’ drive from kitoro town to Nakiwogo landing site. Here, you will find the MV Ferry Kalangala that heads to Ssese islands. The ferry will take about 4 hours to reach the island where you will find your booked residence’s employees waiting to pick you up.