The second largest freshwater lake in the world, Lake Victoria spills across three countries in East Africa, defining habitats and livelihoods from Uganda and Kenya deep into Tanzania. One of its greatest treasures lies in its southwestern reaches: Rubondo Island National Park, the largest island-based national park in Africa. Covering both the Rubondo archipelago and the surrounding waters, the park encompasses a staggering variety of habitats and wildlife—and one picture-perfect safari camp, set on the shores of its largest island.
Rubondo Island Camp invites you to experience a side of Tanzania that few have seen, where elephants splash in the shallows at the edge of subtropical forests, enormous Nile perch fill the lake depths, and elusive sitatunga dart among the papyrus swamps. With just eight hand-built chalets and a full menu of safari excursions to enjoy, the camp was designed to create the intimate wildlife experience this island deserves. Guests explore by boat, by foot, or by open-air vehicle with park rangers and naturalist guides, discovering the nuances of the park’s many habitats; then return to the waterfront lodge, where Lake Victoria stretches forth, sometimes still and orange with sunset, sometimes shimmering in the morning light.
While one doesn’t go to Rubondo Island National Park to track lions or leopards, the wildlife experience here is equally poignant—you are surrounded by the subtleties of a dazzling array of ecosystems. It is easy to get out and discover it all here, and best of all, there are very few other people vying for wildlife sightings. Birders and anglers find this place to be paradise, but so do travelers in search of an active wilderness experience full of breathtaking surprises.
One of its surprises is its wild chimpanzee population. Rubondo became a wildlife refuge in the 1960s, when scientists brought chimpanzees rescued from zoos and circuses around Europe to the island to reintroduce them to the wild. Giraffes and elephants were also introduced to Rubondo, as well as a number of other species native to Tanzania. Rubondo Island Camp and its parent company, Asilia Africa, are participating in the enormous task of getting the now-wild chimpanzees habituated to humans, supporting the efforts of Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA) and its researchers on site. While it’s still hard to spot these creatures in the wild, the camp has a small chimp research library with details of the habituation process, and members of the research team are often in camp and are likely to join guests for drinks or dinner.
Cruise to the mainland with a guide for a morning visit to Kasenda, a typical Tanzanian village on the shores of Lake Victoria. Take a stroll through the village with a local resident, meeting members of the community informally and learning about their everyday life. Stop by the vegetable gardens where the lodge sources much of its produce before returning to the island for lunch.
As the only permanent human presence on the island, the staff at Rubondo Island Camp is extremely conscious of the camp's impact on the sensitive ecology that surrounds it. Water conservation is of key importance, and a number of systems are in place to reduce the amount of water used, to harvest rainwater, and to reuse gray water where possible. Lake Victoria provides most of the property's water: it is pumped from the lake and then filtered before use. The lodge uses refillable stainless steel containers instead of plastic water bottles and natural cooling systems instead of air conditioning, and organic kitchen waste is composted. "Upcycled" goods are sold in the camp shop, made locally from items like bottle tops and recycled glass.
Through its parent company Asilia Africa, Rubondo contributes to numerous conservation initiatives: reducing deforestation and poaching, reintroducing native species, and encouraging sustainable fishing practices.
Since December 2009, all carbon footprints from Asilia’s camps and central operations are offset through a local community forestation program.
Outside Magazine Travel Awards—Best Lodge (Runner-up), 2013
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