Kalangala, Uganda

Photo: Brovad Sands Lodge
Photo: Brovad Sands Lodge

You came to Uganda to see the big five: buffalo, elephants, leopards, lions, and rhinos. A rare mountain gorilla sighting turned out to be an added bonus. You’ve seen towering mountains, rushing waterfalls, and the longest river in the world. Now you’re about to end your trip to the “pearl of Africa” at Lake Victoria. It has a surprise waiting for you.

Lake Victoria—which borders Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania—is both the largest lake on the continent and the second-largest freshwater lake in the world. You expected to see more fascinating animals (thinking primates this time), fishing communities, and maybe a few small beaches. But you didn’t realize the lake is also home to gorgeous islands.

The Ssese Islands are located in the northwest corner of the lake. The 84 islands, about half of which are inhabited, are considered the “jewel of Lake Victoria.” The islands were an important spiritual center long before the Europeans arrived in the late-19th century. Life hasn’t changed all that much for the Bassese tribes who live here. The Bantu-speaking people are still master canoe builders. They fish for huge Nile perch and tilapia, farm cattle and poultry, and harvest palm oil. Tourists have only recently begun to visit this beautiful area.

Photo: Faintsmoke (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Faintsmoke (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
From Entebbe, board a ferry bound for Bugala Island. The largest island in the archipelago lies 32 miles southwest of the mainland. You arrive in Kalangala, the island’s largest town, to find friendly, welcoming people. A white-sand beach is bordered by dark green vegetation and wildflowers on one side; calm, bay-like waves roll to shore on the other. A few hotels look like adult summer camps. While halfway down the beach, you find Brovad Sands Lodge’s cottages.

Brovad Sands Lodge offers an upgrade from the surrounding glamping tents without losing its sense of place. You’re welcomed into the main cottage, an open-air lounge, with freshly squeezed fruit juice. Local artwork is displayed everywhere. Overflowing gardens are starting to creep inside. Bright orange weavers dart between the trees. Playful vervet monkeys aren’t far behind. While your thatched cottage has a heavy wooden door, a locally made rug, and a bathtub with a view of the water. The surprises keep coming in Uganda.

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