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Introducing Ssese Islands

If you’re looking for a place to slow it right down, Ssese’s lush archipelago of 84 islands along Lake Victoria’s northwestern shore boasts some stunning white-sand beaches. The early 1990s saw their popularity peak, but the suspension of the ferry service largely took them off the muzungu map until 2006 when a ferry began running from Entebbe. At the time of research, the new ferry company EarthWise commenced a service from Port Bell in Kampala – which is likely to reaffirm the Ssese’s’ rightful place on the tourist radar.

Early in the 20th century, sleeping sickness hit the islands (Ssese = Tsetse), which saw most of the original Bassese inhabitants flee. People slowly drifted back beginning about a decade and a half later, but it wasn’t until the 1980s that serious settlement took place again. There are very few Bassese anymore and their Lussese language has all but died.

The lack of settlement left the islands largely unspoiled, though things have changed dramatically in the recent past. Massive scars of deforestation are visible on many of the islands, especially Buggala, and overfishing is another issue.

There’s not much to do on Ssese other than grab a good book and relax. There are canoes for hire, but swimming is unadvisable due to risks of bilharzia, while some outlaying islands have the occasional hippo and crocodile. Most guesthouses on the beach have nightly bonfires, which is a great way to relax with a few drinks after enjoying one of Ssese’s famous sunsets.

Few people venture far beyond Buggala Island’s Lutoboka Bay, where the ferry lands and almost all accommodation sits, but if you make a little effort there are some good exploration opportunities. The biggest islands, including Buggala, Bufumira and Bukasa, are hilly and many spots afford beautiful views across to other islands, most of which are still ringed by virgin rainforest.