6 reasons why Rubondo Island in Tanzania is unlike any island you’ve ever been on

Travellers with a sense of adventure and appreciation for destinations far from Tanzania’s well-worn tourist circuits will love this freshwater island paradise.
Written by Melanie du Toit
02 February 2021

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After changing into a national park during the late 1960s, Rubondo Island became a conservation success story thanks to the successful introduction of endangered wildlife such as chimpanzees and rhinoceros. Despite this, the destination remains relatively off the radar – even for the most ardent globetrotters – but we’ve unearthed multiple reasons why it deserves a visit.

Rubondo Map

 

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!

Hippos in the waters around Robundi Island
Rubondo Island’s marshy waters are favoured by several swamp-dwellers, like these hippos. Source | Asilia Africa

 

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.

The fly camp as Rubondo Island Camp
Spending a night out at a fly camp is just one of the incredible activities on offer at Rubondo Island Camp. Source | Asilia Africa

 

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.

Fly-fishing in the waters around Rubondo Island
Anglers are drawn to the area in the hopes of catching Nile perch and tilapia. Source | Asilia Africa

 

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…

Bush walk on Rubondo Island
Visitors can explore the island in a myriad of ways: via boat, while on a game drive, and on a walking safari. Source | Asilia Africa

 

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.

Robundo Island Camp image of a chimpanzee
The introduction of chimpanzees on Robundo Island has created a conservation success story. Source | Asilia Africa

 

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.

Elephant seen in the forests on Robundo Island
Rubondo’s elephants are drawn to the island’s dense forest and sweet grasses. Source | Asilia Africa

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.

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