1. It’s no typical island – Rubondo is not surrounded by the sea
Rubondo Island is found in the vast watery expanse that is Lake Victoria, whose murky origins spurred countless expeditions to locate the source of the Nile. Keen anglers head to the region to cast a line for Lake Victoria’s Nile perch, one of the continent’s largest freshwater fish species, and its rich schools of tilapia. You can explore the park in a myriad of ways: via boat or canoe, on foot when setting out on a walking safari across Rubondo’s 25,000 hectares of landscape, or on a traditional game drive. Enjoying a gentle cruise up the channels of the Rufiji River is a highlight – but keep an eye out for the area’s resident hippos!
2. It’s still off the beaten track…
So much so, there’s only one place to stay! As far as islands go, Rubondo is far from the well-worn tourist paths of Tanzania’s usual safari and island-hopping circuit. While other African islands such as Mauritius, Madagascar and Seychelles are regular tourist haunts, this Tanzanian island remains pretty much off the radar – especially in comparison to its Indian Ocean cousin, Zanzibar. If you’re looking for accommodation in the national park itself, you’ll only find one option: Rubondo Island Camp. This eco-friendly boutique lodge has just eight rooms, one fly camp, and specialised stargazing tents offering prolific views of the twinkling night sky.
3. Rubondo is Africa’s largest island national park
Rubondo Island itself measures just 237 square kilometres in size, and acts as a buffer for 11 small islets. Together, this area forms the Rubondo Island National Park, located in the southern reaches of Lake Victoria. The islands are dotted with dense equatorial forest, and smatterings of open grassland (favoured by the area’s resident giraffe), that are surrounded by the papyrus swamps and waterways of Africa’s second-largest lake.
4. A whopping 80% of the island is forested
The island has been uninhabited since the 1960s, after the resident fishermen of the Zinzi tribe were relocated to neighbouring islands when Rubondo became a national park. Today, it is visited only by fishermen, eager bird watchers, and the odd tourist, while the only ‘permanent’ human residents are park rangers, researchers studying the area’s protected wildlife, and visitors to Rubondo Island Camp. As a result, Rubondo’s natural environment has been allowed to develop unhindered with existing fauna flourishing and new wildlife having been introduced to great success. Speaking of which…
5. The island is home to a thriving chimpanzee population
In the late 1960s, 17 chimpanzees were introduced over the course of four years. Today, the chimpanzee population numbers are stable at around 40 based on current estimates. One of the most interesting facts about Robundo’s chimpanzees is that none of the original chimps underwent any sort of pre-release training, despite the fact that, although wild-born and hailing from West Africa, many of the original group had spent time in circuses abroad or captive in European zoos. Rubondo’s chimpanzees are currently undergoing a habituation process led by park rangers, and while sightings are still not guaranteed when trekking to chimpanzees, there are hopes that visitors will be able to regularly see the troops in the near future.
6. Rubondo is a haven for a plethora of other wildlife species
The other fauna on Rubondo consist of an eclectic mix ranging from the swamp-dwelling sitatunga antelope and significant herds of elephant to the shy rhino, crocodile, and colobus monkey. The island is also a birding paradise that draws twitchers to admire its African grey parrots, kingfishers, storks and egrets – with its skies also acting as a hunting ground for the highest density of fish eagle in the world.
Are you just about ready to head to Rubondo yourself? This destination can be reached by boat or via a plane that lands at Rubondo airstrip, and it is a superb destination to add to a safari or Indian Ocean island itinerary (think Ngorongoro Crater and Zanzibar). Click below to start discussing your post-lockdown Tanzanian itinerary.