Activated carbon prepared from bottle gourd has been used as adsorbent for removal of leather dye (Direct Black 38) from aqueous solution. The activated carbon obtained showed a mesoporous texture, with surface area of 556.16 m2 g−1, and a surface free of organic functional groups. The initial dye concentration, contact time and pH significantly influenced the adsorption capacity. In the acid region (pH 2.5) the adsorption of dye was more favorable. The adsorption equilibrium was attained after 60 min. Equilibrium data were analyzed by the Langmuir, Freundlich, Dubinin–Radushkevich and Temkin isotherm models. The equilibrium data were best described by the Langmuir isotherm, with maximum adsorption capacity of 94.9 mg g−1. Adsorption kinetic data were fitted using the pseudo-first-order, pseudo-second-order, Elovich and intraparticle diffusion models. The adsorption kinetic was best described by the second-order kinetic equation. The adsorption process was controlled by both external mass transfer and intraparticle diffusion. Activated carbon prepared from bottle gourd was shown to be a promising material for adsorption of Direct Black 38 from aqueous solution.