Rubondo Island National Park, Tanzania
Lying in the southwestern corner of Lake Victoria, the whole of Rubondo Island is given over to conservation. It is Africa’s largest island national park (26 kilometres long and varying from 3 to 10 kilometres wide). Over three-quarters of its 25 000 hectares are blanketed in untouched equatorial forest – an unusual protected habitat for Africa’s wildlife.
It’s a rare privilege to set foot on Rubondo. Bar a handful of park wardens, wildlife researchers and camp staff, the island is uninhabited by humans and has been set aside as a refuge for threatened chimpanzees, families of elephant and the shy sitatunga antelope. The surrounding waters of Lake Victoria are a crucial breeding ground for tilapia and the enormous Nile perch. This unique corner of Africa is a sanctuary to be enjoyed by only a handful of fortunate – and intrepid – travellers.
Snapshot of Rubondo Island
- Unique island wilderness experience & wild chimp refuge
- Outstanding birding in subtropical rainforest & Record-breaking catch-and-release fishing
- Unique opportunity to be part of the chimpanzee habituation experience
- Secluded, private island getaway
- Abundant birding and insect viewing
- Incredible scenery and experiences
Rubondo Island National Park is in the southwestern corner of Lake Victoria, the second largest lake in the world and the source of the White Nile. The national park compromises of 10 islands and covers 457km², just over half of this is land, with the rest made of water and an array of small islets. Rubondo Island Camp is the only accommodation in the entire park.
The Masa Hills in the far south of Rubondo are the island’s highest point (1 486m above sea level but just 350m above the level of the lake). Four volcanically formed hills linked by three isthmuses make up the island. Much of the land is covered by pristine mixed evergreen and semideciduous equatorial forest with a dense understorey of liana. Patches of grassland and some acacia woodland are dotted between the forests. Rocky areas and sandy beaches make up the eastern lakeshore, while the papyrus swamps on the western shore are a watery haven for the shy sitatunga antelope, a semi-aquatic animal that is a prized sighting.
From November to March, up to 40 species of wild orchid bloom in the forest, attracting a dazzling array of butterflies. And with over 300 resident and migratory bird species, the island is an ornithological paradise.
One of the most undisturbed ecosystems on the planet, Rubondo is a paradise for wildlife. Hundreds of species flourish here, having been rescued from difficult circumstances in other regions; over the years they have adapted to the forest. These include chimpanzee, elephant and giraffe. Bushbuck and suni forage undisturbed in the thick forest, while the sitatunga, a semi-aquatic antelope, can be spotted darting in and out of the papyrus swamps on the fringes of the lake.
In the 1960s, Professor Bernard Grzimek of the Frankfurt Zoological Society released 16 chimpanzees on the island and today Rubondo is their sanctuary. Visitors to Rubondo Island have the unique opportunity to experience the habituation process of one of man’s closest relatives.
The birdlife on the island is phenomenal: over 300 resident and migratory species have been recorded. A visit to nearby ‘Bird Island’ by boat will reveal cormorants, African darters, egrets and pied kingfisher, and the high-pitched screeches of the African grey parrot can be heard around the island.
And, of course, the waters of Lake Victoria that surround Rubondo on all sides yield yet more treasures. From wallowing hippos and crocodiles in the shallows to spot-necked otters playing in the waves and the iconic Nile Perch in the deeper waters, the waters host a remarkable abundance of marine life just waiting to be discovered…
Seasoned travellers will relish sightings that include:
- Sitatunga antelope
- Spot-necked otter
- Bush buck
- Chimpanzee (not guaranteed)
The fully protected island habitat ranges from open grasslands, dense woodland thickets and swampy lakeshore papyrus, ensuring that there is always some new to experience or record. Rubondo Island is also a crucial refuge for chimpanzee and an ambitious habituation project.
During a stay at Rubondo Island Camp in the middle of this protected island sanctuary you will have plenty of superb sightings and game-viewing opportunities.
Chimpanzee Habituation Experience
Home to a very special group of chimpanzees whose ancestors were brought here in the 1960s as part of an ambitious conservation project, today you can be part of the habituation process. Available for a limited time, this is a unique opportunity to join the habituation team as they accustom the chimps to the presence of humans and witness them up close in the wild.
Explore the island by canoe and boat
Discover the quiet and unexplored corners of Rubondo Island on an intrepid paddle safari by canoe to experience this remarkable wilderness area from the water.
Daily forest drives by boat and in open vehicles are conducted by Asilia’s expert wilderness guides. These excursions take in the breathtaking scenery, diverse vegetation and prolific bird and micro life.
Fish for Nile perch (catch and release)
Try to hook a magnificent Nile perch, Africa’s biggest and most sought-after freshwater species – a single specimen can weigh in excess of 200kg!
Guided walks through the pristine equatorial forest are tailored to each guest – walks can stretch from a one-hour stroll to full-day or multi-day hikes, incorporating a stay in the exclusive treehouse or a fly camp on the beach. With the wildlife at eye-level, this is far and away the best to experience the wonders of Rubondo Island.
With well over 300 endemic and migratory bird species, Rubondo Island is an ornithologist’s dream. December to March is best for spotting migratory birds, but with the varied habitat of the island, there is something new to record all year round.
Rubondo Island enjoys a pleasantly temperate climate year round, but the best time to visit is during the dry season from June to September. The forested areas are usually more humid than the lakeshore zones.
The rainy season from November to December is relatively short, although January and February can bring afternoon showers. The long rains occur from March to May, and Rubundo Island Camp – the only accommodation on the entire island – is closed from 1 April to 31 May. If you are planning on extensive walking safaris and exploring the island on foot, consider the effects of the rainy season, when run-off may make the trails difficult to navigate.
Enthusiastic birders will particularly enjoy the arrival of migrant species that arrive in December after the rains and usually stay until February.
Dry season: June to October
Rainy seasons: November to December (short rains); March to May (long rains)
Peak of wet season: April and May
Max. temp. range during the day: 25˚C – 32˚C / 77˚F – 90˚F
Min. temp. range during the evenings: 15˚C – 20˚C / 59˚F to 68˚F
Asilia Camps on Rubondo Island
Your positive impact on Rubondo Island
Protected since colonial times, when chimpanzees were first re-introduced, the descendants of this population are now being habituated so that you may see them. Tourism is essential to turning this rare corner of Africa into a viable conservation economy. Improving the economic prospects of local villagers will help ensure this species continues to thrive. Your visit makes all the difference.