Activities to do in Ssese Islands : The Ssese Islands are a group (archipelago) of 84 small islands that lie in the northwestern part of Lake Victoria in Uganda. The Islands are part of Kalangala district, which lies in the southern central part of the country. The largest island in the archipelago is called Bugala Island and is where Kalangala town is located. Bugala is the most developed, populated and is home to the Kalangala district administrative offices. The other islands like Ngamba, Serinya, Bugaba, Bubeke, Bukasa and Bufumira have fewer settlers or have been bought as private property. Ngamba is also one of the famous islands that make up the Ssese archipelago in which half of the island is covered by forest and has been turned into a chimpanzee sanctuary.
Other than Bugala and Ngamba, there is also Banda Island and Bulago Island. Banda Island has been turned into a resort for tourists interested in a private retreat where they can go for nature walks, birding, primates a reptile viewing. The waters in Banda island are excellent for swimming and boat riding. Bulago Island meanwhile is located east of Entebbe international airport. It is one of the most famous and biggest islands within the Ssese Archipelago with a surface area of about 510 acres. The Island looks like a human neck when viewed from above hence the name Bulago (meaning neck in Luganda). Bulago is a very beautiful island and is excellent for photography, nature walks and adventure. Many lodges and resorts have been built in the island to allow tourists enjoy it natural beauty and privacy. Below are some of the activities tourists enjoy at Ssesse islands.
The Ssese Islands are one of the best places for birding watching in Uganda. The Ssese Islands are naturally suited to host birds because of the rain forest, water, fish and secluded swamps.
Almost all types of birds can be found on the islands. There are also migratory and resident species that are unique to the islands. Those interested in bird watching should not forget to carry a good binocular when visiting the islands. Birders have a chance of spotting the African green broadbill, egrets, sparrows, marabou stocks, crested cranes, shoebill storks, the great blue turaco and much more, Activities to do in Ssese Islands.
Visit Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary
Chimpanzees are one of the most interesting and enthralling animals to watch in the wild. They have very unique social behaviors that leave visitors awestruck and engaged. Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary is one of the best places to see chimps in Uganda. The chimpanzees at Ngamba Islands are all orphans that rescued from poachers, pet traders or after losing their parents. Once brought to the Centre, the orphaned chimpanzees are given a new home and given proper care. The Ngamba Island Chimpanzee project was started in 1998 by Jane Goodall Institute and the Uganda Wildlife Authority. Visitors pay a certain amount to be a caretaker for a day, volunteer or watch the chimps feed.
Lake Victoria is home to over 270 species of fish. Some are endemic to the areas but the most sought after are the Nile perch and Tilapia. These fish species are some of the most delicious in world. It is believed that before the introduction of the Nile Perch, the lake had over 1,000 species. Sport fishing is very popular and the huge Nile Perch is often the target. The great thing about fishing in Lake Victoria and its islands is that one is allowed to eat the fish. The fish can be fried to be taken with chips and a cold beer.
Most of the Ssese Islands are covered with tropical rain forests and swamps. These forests and swamps are ideal habitat for different wildlife species including small primates, antelopes, sitatunga, hippos and crocodiles. The main primates found on the islands are the red tailed monkeys, vervet monkeys and colobus monkeys. Sitatungas are mostly found in the swampy areas. Hippos and crocodiles are very rare but come from other parts of the lake.
The Ssese islands are surrounded by the fresh waters of Lake Victoria making it an ideal place for swimming. Fresh in a sense that the waters have no salt and are less contaminated. The most notable places to go for a swim are the Bulago islands and Mutumbala beach at Bugala Island. However, swimming is not completely safe in all the islands. Some of the islands have crocodiles and hippos that can endanger one’s life. As we noted earlier, there is a chance of being infected with bilharzia though this is very rare these days. It is why some resorts or accommodation facilities have built swimming pools as an option for their visitors.
Community and Nature Walks
Many of the Ssese islands are blessed with serene and unspoiled environments. Walking through one of the forests in the islands is soothing and relieving. The islands also have exciting communities with interesting social activities to discover. If you are scared of the canoes and boats, you can simply visit the fishing villages and watch as the fishermen go out and return with their daily catches.
Boat rides, canoeing and horse riding
The Ssese Islands are surrounded by fresh waters that are excellent for boat riding, canoeing and horseback riding. These activities are arranged by the hotels and resorts within the islands at a cost. One can also hire a boat or canoe from one of the fishermen but we don’t recommend it for the sake of your safety. There are also a few lodges that organize horse riding to discover the beautiful interiors of your Island of choice, Activities to do in Ssese Islands
Cycling and Beach games
Bikes are excellent for touring new places. Most of the hotels in Bugala Island rent out bikes to guests at a cost. If you are a resident in Kampala, you can move with your own to avoid getting one you don’t like. With a bike, you can have a more comprehensive tour of the Island and get to places you would not reach by car. If biking is not your interest, you can simply go to the beach and join other revelers to play soccer or volley ball in the sand.
Different large scale farming projects are being implemented in some of the Islands. Bugala island has been earmarked for large scale palm tree, sunflower and pineapple plantations managed by BIDCO. Visitors to the island can take a tour of one of these large gardens to learn how everything is done from planting, processing to the final product, Activities to do in Ssese Islands.
If you thought using a bicycle was an exciting way of touring the Ssese islands, then you haven’t tried Quad bikes. Quad bikes are a quick and enjoyable means of traversing the island in record time. Quad bikes are only hired out by a few resorts in Bugala island.
They charge about $25 for a tour of the island and its worth every penny. You can use the bikes to reach all the different parts of the island including the landing sites, fishing villages, forests and beaches. If you are using it to tour the island of Bugala, ensure that you have packed lunch so that you don’t get hungry.
The Ssese Islands are one of the few places where people still believe in ancient traditional religion. If you are interested in knowing how the people of Buganda kingdom communicated with their gods, then visiting the Kihumiro cave is highly recommended. This famous cave is where some of the local folks go to seek out help, prosperity and protection from their gods. The cave is a very mystical and strange place to find yourself in. You will find people smoking pipes, speaking in weird sounds as they call out spirits/gods. The shrine is considered sacred and everyone is required to remain silent and remove their shoes.
The other traditional or cultural spot is Wanema’s shrine in Bubeke Island. This large historical hut is built in traditional design with a roof made of grass and walls made of soil. The shrine has so much history and you will learn about it from the female caretakers. While at the shrine, a visitor has to respect the traditional norms by giving out sacrifices in form of money, goats and chicken. One also has to remove his/her shoes and avoid taking any pictures of the shrine. You don’t want to annoy the spirits in the shrine by taking photos.
Visit the John Speke House
In 1863, John Speke put up shelter in Lutoboka forest on the Ssese islands. John Speke was a British explorer who discovered the source of the Nile River. As he searched for the source of the Nile, Speke came as far as the Ssese Islands where he constructed a bay in Lutoboka forest. The shelter has remained there to this day and remains intact, Activities to do in Ssese Islands.
Visit the Nanziri waterfalls
These scintillating waterfalls were named Nanziri in honor of the god of the waterfall. They are nestled between Nanziri cave and Wanema’s shrine. It is also a sacred place for many of the local people who worship from the waterfall. The remains of sacrifices to the gods can be seen all over the place including pieces of meat, cowrie shells, bark cloths and coffee beans. The waterfall god is normally sought by fishermen for blessings, wealth and protection before going out fishing. If successful in their fishing expedition, they come back to the shrine to thank the gods. The waterfalls are also s source of medicine to cure common ailments.
How to get there
The only way to reach any of the Ssese islands is by water. The government provides three ferries to Kalangala town (Capital of Bugala Island). The ferries include MV Kalangala, Bukakata Ferry and MV Ssese. From Kalangala, MV Kalangala starts its journey at around 8:00am and reaches Nakiwogo in Entebbe by 11am. It gets back to Kalangala from Nakiwogo at 2:00pm. Each journey takes 3 hours and costs 10,000 Shillings for the economy class and 14,000 shillings for the luxury class. There is a bar and restaurant on the ferry where one can buy drinks and snacks. It’s carrying capacity is 100 people, their luggage and a maximum of 8 cars. MV Kalangala is the largest water vessel going to the Ssese Islands and is one of the few transport mediums that live on time. Given its strict timetable, it is very possible to miss-out on MV Kalangala if you arrive even a minute late. In this case, you could use locally made boats to Kalangala but these are not so safe and hiring them is it at your own risk, Activities to do in Ssese Islands.
The second ferry begins its route from Bukakata in Masaka to Bugoma. This is not as punctual and pronounced as the MV Kalangala because fewer people use it. The other option for travelers to reach the Ssese islands is by sailing with exclusive boats, which are costly but faster. They carry fewer people but with higher quality services compared to the public ferry. These private boats are owned by businessmen or resorts in Entebbe and Ssese islands.