Reviews of Rubondo Island Camp
They do not necessarily represent the views of Expert Africa.
Being welcomed at the airstrip by Habibu bearing champagne was a very good start to our stay on the island! The road to the camp is extremely rough and bumpy but leafy and attractive. On arriving at camp we were met by Derick, together with the resident sitatunga and Bella and her daughter, the semi-tame bushbucks who roam the grounds.
Rooms here are spacious and simply furnished. You have everything you need but it is a little minimalist. Jane was not convinced about storing clothes in the bathroom. Beds are comfy, showers hot and towels fluffy. The tin roofs are now thatch so no need to worry about rain noise! There is also a new tree-house where guests can spend a night. This looked lovely but would have been a bit risky as the rains were starting.
The main area is lovely, with plenty of space and comfy chairs to sit in. Loved the light shades made from old wine bottles. Lucas and Ester provided bar and waiting services and were excellent. Afternoon drinks appeared at the pool as if by magic!
Your guide shares dinner with you on your first evening and we found Habibu very good company. The next night we were served drinks on the beach and then dinner by the pool. The food at all meals was excellent (particularly the Nile perch which Martin had caught on our morning boat trip!!). We were surprised and impressed when, having discovered neither of us likes nuts after they were offered as canapes, alternative nibbles appeared a few minutes later.
The birding here is excellent and we saw lots both on the water and on an afternoon drive/walk. At this time of year forest walks were not being stressed but it is clear both the chimps and elephants can be very hard to see. Contrary to what we had read there are still giraffe on the island but it is a full day trip to get to the area where they live. We concentrated our activities on boat trips, where, as well as catching the aforementioned fish (at 15kg, bigger than the one caught by Robson Green on his TV programme) we saw lots of birds, crocs and even a few hippos.
The rains were just starting and the staff were, justifiably, wary of the weather; our first trip was delayed until a storm had passed and on our second day (post fish!) we got caught in a storm which blew up out of nowhere. The trip back to camp was rough and somewhat scary but our skipper knew exactly what he was doing and we arrived back safely, though very wet! Cue hot showers all round! It’s a good thing neither of us suffers from seasickness!
Rubondo Island - a camp with a difference.
This is a camp with a difference! Rubondo island is a national park on an island in Lake Victoria. Other than some park rangers, you are the only people on the island. It is essentially a piece of rain forest, and radically different from places such as the Serengeti.
The owners (Asilia) have obviously made a major investment here. The cabins and public areas are all new and excellent, and the location on a small sandy bay facing the sunrise is also great.
However, this is not a safari camp. There is wildlife on the island, but you are most likely to see bushbuck and sitatunga, and some birds. There is also walking, and some good fun fishing to be had for Nile perch. The history of the Park is unusual - Google it to find out more.
We think it made a good final stop for the holiday, for two or maybe three days. Given a choice between Rubondo and Zanzibar I would choose Rubondo every time.
Unique Rubondo Island
Our Rubondo Island stay was quite magical. I have been trying hard to find ways to describe to friends and family what was so special about it, and I feel it comes down to feeling more completely immersed in an ecology than I've ever experienced. So many things contributed to this. Partly it is the camp itself, in particular the exceptional design of the eating and sitting areas, which seem to place you in both forest and lake, without intruding on either. Partly it is the variety of activities available, including walks, boat trips, kayaking and drives, all of them first-rate. Crucially it was the quality of guiding: in over 50 years of safaris in 12 African countries, Habibu is the finest guide I have ever met; the simplest question produced an intricately woven warp and weft of explanation, with a breadth and depth of understanding, a gentle passion for every living thing, and a supreme ability to place even the smallest organism in a rich and fully realised ecological context - quite extraordinary. We all fell completely under his spell, and left with a hugely enhanced appreciation of the infinite interactions of the island's life, in particular aspects we have tended to overlook, notably the botany and butterflies.
Every aspect of our stay was wonderful, despite a couple of days being rain-affected. We felt exceptionally well looked after, and the food and service were marvellous. The level of personalised care was really special, responding to our interests and wishes with real attention to detail.
Asilia seems to present Rubondo as an experience best suited to the end of an extended trip, an alternative to a couple of days on a Zanzibar beach to recover from a relentless safari timetable. I question whether this does Rubondo justice. For example, on one of our walks we had a vivid forest elephant encounter, spending an hour in close proximity to a single male, unable to see him but tracking him, hearing his growling and crashing, finding increasingly fresh dung, and all the while being very quiet and very careful not to come upon him suddenly. When we eventually saw him in a clearing from a platform, just for a couple of minutes, it felt a real achievement. If this had been after seeing lots of elephants in the Serengeti, it might have felt less special - as it was, it was the supreme elephant experience of our trip. We chose to start our holiday with Rubondo, and we feel strongly that it was the right decision, partly because we arrived in Tanzania from a very stressful week, and were pleased to start with a more unwinding kind of holiday, and partly because Rubondo wildlife is a subtler and less full-on experience than the Serengeti, and could unfairly feel second-best in second place.
I knew in advance that I personally would enjoy Rubondo because of being interested in its exceptional birdlife, but my love of our time there was very definitely shared by my less bird-enthusiastic family. We all felt strongly that we had a uniquely enriching experience in which we were allowed to get a feeling for a fascinating wildlife stronghold in an unusually close, unintrusive and profound way. Rubondo will stay with us for a very long time.
What a beautiful island! Forest walks with the chimpanzee researcher and trackers were fascinating - we got to learn all about their habits, nests, diet etc and my daughter actually saw chimps on a later walk she did but which I - sadly - didn't attend! It's not easy to spot them but Rubondo isn't just about the chimps - it has great birdlife and fishing (not our scene, but others would love it) and other wildlife too - we particularly loved Bella, the resident bushbuck.
In terms of the activities and facilities, it's a bit difficult to comment because we went before the camp was officially open and it wasn't completely finished (we did know this beforehand), so the swimming pool and reception area were still incomplete. However, the lounge and bar/dining area had stunning views across Lake Victoria and were extremely relaxing, the food was superb and the rooms well-equipped and beautifully located.
Some of the roads were also inaccessible (meaning we couldn't get to the area where the giraffes frequent) but were being repaired in time for the opening in June. Our grades therefore relate to the activities and facilities which were up and running at the time of our stay.