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My Own Private Island: Tanzania's Lupita Island

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March 2, 2011 at 10:36 AM | by | ()

All this week, HotelChatter contributor Eric Rosen will be taking us on a guided tour of the globe’s most exclusive, luxurious, over-the-top vacation retreats in our new Private Islands Series. We’ll venture from the Bahamas to Fiji, from Africa’s crystalline Lake Tanganyika to the emerald waters of Cambodia, and everywhere in between. That is, everywhere you can be ruler of your own little island.

Today we travel to the pristine waters of Tanzania’s Lake Tanganyika, where we find the tiny jewel of Lupita Island, a glamping lodge run by Firelight Expeditions as part of its safari packages.

Planes, Boats and Helicopters

Guests arrive by flying to the airstrip at Kipili in southwestern Tanzania. They then take a speed boat or helicopter to Lupita, about 2.5 miles offshore from the village before alighting on the small 130-acre privately owned island.

Lupita has 11 open-air cottages, and two family cottages, each of which has two bedrooms and two bathrooms. All are perched high on the island’s hillside for the best views of the lake and surrounding countryside.

Feel the Breeze

Even the smallest rooms measure up at an impressive 1,800 square feet, and the two-bedroom family suites are 2,400 square feet. All have undulating thatched roofs made from local grasses, and the private lake-view side of each has a private open-air terrace or deck with a plunge pool or bathtub. The bathrooms are also exposed to the elements, but are quite private and have waterfall showers.

The décor, though rustic, is still sumptuous. The beautiful wooden beds are simply dressed with white linens, and the cottages have living-room areas with a variety of chairs and coffee tables, woven rugs, cute lamps, and little vanities and desks.

Lay of the Land

Lake Tanganyika is the world’s longest lake, at over 400 miles, has depths of over a mile, and holds 8% of the world’s freshwater. It’s also home to over 400 species of fish, so naturally there are tons of things to do on the lake during your stay at Lupita.

For the aquatically inclined, the lodge can arrange kayaking, canoeing, fishing, sailing, water skiing, scuba diving or snorkeling and sunset cruises. But if you prefer dry land, there are walking trails on the island, as well as bicycle visits to local villages and schools. Guests can take a strenuous one-hour hike to an adjoining island to visit a living replica of a traditional African fishing village, while a half-hour boat ride away is another village that holds a weekly market where the Lupita chefs purchase their fish and produce. This isn’t a tourist trap, though. Few, if any, outsiders other than Lupita’s guests visit.

If the hikes and water sports aren’t enough, guests can also stay fit in the small gym on the property, and then relax with the help of the in-house spa therapist, who is on-call to give guests massages, facials and pedicures.

Guests also have use of six-seater helicopters and either a Cessna 12-seater or a King Air B200 8-seater plane for air transfers and excursions to nearby sights like a picnic lunch at Kalmbo Falls, Africa’s second highest waterfall; or maybe a game-viewing flight in Katavi National Park.

Safari Sustenance

Like its cottages, the dining room at Lupita is open-air, and sits at the top of the highest point on the island. The menu is a rotating variety of fresh fish like grilled Nile perch and kuwe, as well as modern African cuisine with which the chefs play around from time to time, using local produce and spices. Though communal, dining here is still intimate since there are only 28 guests maximum, so whether you take the island over or come in smaller groups, chances are you’ll be sharing a meal with new friends.

Firelight Expeditions vacations are based on a stay at Lupita, but guests can also add on three-day visits to the company’s two luxury safari camps: Palahala Camp in the Katavi National Park,w hich can accommodate up to 16 people on the shores of a river with abundant wildlife including hippos; and Nkungwe Camp in the Mahale Mountains National Park, a rainforested area which is renowned for its wild chimpanzee population, as well as other monkeys and birdlife.

Rustication Rates

Rates for cottages at Lupita start at $585 per person based on double occupancy and go up to $975 per person in high season (December-February and June-October). Rates include accommodations, meals and house beverages including wine and spirits, though not certain activities such as scuba diving and spa treatments.

Want to take over the whole island? We did the math, and in low, or “green” season, that’ll run you about $16700 a night, while in high season, it’s closer to $27,250. Those outdoor bathtubs are totally worth it, though.

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