When our plane stopped at the end of a private runway at the entrance of Rusinga Island Lodge, I cheered. Throughout my travels in Kenya, getting to other glamping destinations required, in many cases, arduous and bumpy hour-long drives. After an ease-filled entry to Rusinga, I felt myself slip into island mode as I received a fresh towel and a cool tropical juice.
Rusinga Island Lodge fronts Lake Victoria, the second largest fresh water lake in the world. I felt surprised to come across a lush paradise enshrouded in a thick canopy of trees and low-hanging vines in a country often characterized by desert. With balmy air, the sound of waves, and expansive views of water in all directions, you would think you were on a beach in Thailand, making this off-the-radar location feel exotic. Local Kenyans like to say that if you’re looking for a less-crowded alternative to Mombasa, this is definitely the place to go.
At the lodge, a line of rustic tiki huts with thatched roofs looks out upon the lake. Inside each rustic cottage, white linen-covered beds are draped in mosquito netting and christened with white bathrobes upon arrival. The vaulted, straw ceilings invite a touch of the outdoors as do stone accents that continue into the bathroom. An indoor rainfall shower spouts over a dark rock outcropping and the sink is ensconced in driftwood. Each room is endeared with its own hand-carved, wooden key in the shape of a fish donning the name of an animal endemic to the island — I had the Pelican Room.
When I arrived at the lodge, the friendly staff took my lunch order, so I could retreat to my room to rest, refresh, then resurface. I came to find my first course of a three-course meal waiting for me to indulge. Lunch is typically served outside on the lawn unless a sporadic tropical rain shower cools the afternoon air. It was beautiful to watch the rain from the main dining room while I sipped delicious homemade soup and waited for the clouds to clear for afternoon activities.
For those wanting to hit the lake, Rusinga Island Lodge offers a variety of water sports like kayaking, fishing, and jet skiing. The lodge specializes in local experiences to help visitors see and understand the island community firsthand.
Along with a guide, we took an easy walk to Mwangaza Kay, an orphanage run by a local widower Jane Akoth Odipo who began housing and educating abandoned children. At the orphanage, the children performed songs and recited poems for us before having free time to play together.
From the orphanage, we strolled to Litare Fishing Village where we learned about the livelihood of families who team up to catch Nile Perch and Tilapia. Our guide gave us a detailed account of the lives of island fishermen, and we got to see how they construct buoys to fish at nighttime. As the sun set, we took a boat out on the water. With reggae music blasting, we opened a bottle of white wine and watched the sun go down as the fishermen cast their nets.
We began the next day on the water, cruising out to the smaller uninhabited satellite islands to observe bird species before setting off for Takamiri Island. After anchoring the boat along the pristine white sands, we scampered straight from the beach to the bar at Takamiri Island Lodge for mojitos in the thatched bungalow. With crystal blue waters and beautiful beaches, the island was the ideal place to lounge in the sunshine and go for a refreshing swim. By sunset, we returned to Rusinga Island Lodge to watch the sun disappear on the horizon at the end of the property’s wooden dock.
After spending many rugged days in the dusty, arid environment of Northern Kenya, escaping to Rusinga at the end of my trip was the perfect way to relax and refresh. It definitely left me thinking, though, that there’s still so much more in Kenya for me to discover.