The islands occupy the northwestern corner of Lake Victoria, the second-largest freshwater lake in the world. The largest island in the archipelago is called Bugala Island. Its largest town, called Kalangala serves as the headquarters of the district that carries the same name (Kalangala District). Kalangala is located approximately 51 kilometres (32 mi), across water, southwest of Entebbe, in Wakiso District, on the Ugandan mainland. The coordinates of the district are:0° 26′ 0.00″S, 32° 15′ 0.00″E (Latitude:-0.4333; Longitude:32.2500).
The islands lie in two main groups. The south west can be referred to as the Bugala Group, after Bugala Island, the largest in the archipelago. The northeastern group can be referred to as the Koome Group, after Koome Island, the largest in that group. The two groups are separated by the Koome Channel.
Other islands in the Bugala Group include: Bubeke, Bubembe, Bufumira, Bugaba, Bukasa, Buyova, Funve and Serinya. The main islands in the Koome Group include: Damba, Koome and Luwaji.
The Sesse Islands are inhabited by the Bantu speaking Bassese tribe, closely related to the Baganda and the Basoga, and speaking a similar, though distinct language. Prior to the arrival of Europeans, the islands were one of the most important spiritual centers of the region. About 43 (50%) of the islands are inhabited. The islands vary in size from less than 10,000 square metres (2.5 acres), to over 40 kilometres (25 mi) in length for the largest island, Bugala Island.
Henry Morton Stanley described the inhabitants as “the principal canoe builders and the greater number of the sailors of Mtesa’s empire.”:168
The most popular route that the islands can be accessed is through Nakiwogo near Entebbe by MV Kalangala as the main gateway to the archipelagos. Transfer between Nakiwogo and Bugala Island is usually 3½ hours.
From Bukakata: From the western part of Uganda, a free car ferry links Bukakata mainland located 36km east of Masaka with Luku on Bugala Islands about 50 minutes sailing. The ferry sails either directions every few hours from early morning to late afternoon. The morning trips on Sunday are not available.
From Kasenyi landing site: To get to Banda Island, there are small wooden boats departing from Kasenyi, a fishing village 7km off Entebbe-Kampala road; turn off is 5km outside Entebbe.
On Bugala island there are shared taxis that run from Kalangala to Luku.
The principal industry in the Ssese Islands is fishing for the huge Nile Perch, with much of the catch being exported. Overfishing is a huge concern on these and other islands in Lake Victoria. Other industries include agriculture, forestry and tourism.
Livestock farming is practiced on the islands. It is estimated that 3,000 cattle, 250,000 poultry (chicken and ducks), 1,235 goats and 7,000 pigs are kept on the islands.
BIDCO, a private palm oil processor based in Jinja District, on the mainland, owns a 15,000 acres (6,100 ha) palm oil plantation on the islands. In addition, outgrower farmers grow palm oil on contract with BIDCO and sell their produce to the processor. In 2010, the palm oil plant began generating 1.5MW of electricity through the burning of bagasse and some of the oil. The power supplies the oil processing plant and the excess is sold to Kalangala, the largest town on the islands.
Logging is another economic activity that is practiced on the Ssese Islands.
Flora and fauna
The islands are also home to a variety of animals including primates, which are not easily accessible on the mainland. This has led to the evolution of a nascent but growing tourism industry on the islands. Infrastructure is still rudimentary but is slowly improving.