Get eye-to-eye with a hippo, come close to wading buffalos without worrying they might charge, and watch elephants swim across deep channels. Take a boat cruise on your African safari to see wildlife in a whole new way.
A Few Places to Enjoy Boat Cruises in Africa
Chobe River, Botswana
The Chobe River fosters a unique ecosystem with one of the densest wildlife concentrations in Africa. The Serondela area of Chobe National Park—near Botswana’s borders with Namibia, Zaire, and Zimbabwe—is a wonderful place to explore the Chobe riverfront. This is one of the few places in the world where it is common to spot hippos on land during the day. Elephants are also plentiful and enjoy coming down to the water for a drink and a bath. A relaxed boat cruise provides the best vantage point for viewing these impressive animals.
Changuu Island, Zanzibar, Tanzania
Changuu Island—also known as Prison Island or Quarantine Island—is a tiny spot of land in the Indian Ocean off the coast of East Africa. It serves as a refuge for Aldabra giant tortoises, making it a popular stop on half-day or day-long cruises from Zanzibar Island.
iSimangaliso Wetland Park, South Africa
iSimangaliso Wetland Park is Africa’s largest estuarine system and an internationally recognized World Heritage Site. Spend a few hours or a few days exploring it by boat. Formerly known as Greater Saint Lucia Wetland Park, iSimangilaso is a must-see when visiting South Africa. Close encounters with hippos and crocodiles are a main attraction. But other animals abound, as well. Birds are particularly plentiful, including fish eagles, kingfishers and goliath herons.
Kazinga Channel, Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda
A safari cruise along the Kazinga Channel is one of the most popular activities in Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda. It provides an amazing chance to sit back, relax, and enjoy the fresh river breeze while observing a huge number of animals. Elephants, buffalos, waterbucks and Ugandan kobs love to cool off on the banks. Large breeding pods of hippos are also fairly easy to find. With luck, you might see a giant forest hog, leopard, or a pride of lions. As you approach Lake Edward, keep your eyes open for fascinating shorebirds like water thick-knees, yellow-billed storks, plovers, pink-backed pelicans, and white-bellied cormorants.
Lake Baringo, Kenya
Cone-shaped islands make a boat cruise in Lake Baringo, Kenya, particularly scenic. Float between them to see hippos at rest. Then glide along their shores to view shorebirds in their breeding grounds. Typical sightings include fish eagles, Verreaux’s eagles, darters, cormorants and a large colony of goliath herons.
Lake Naivasha, Kenya
Lake Naivasha in Kenya is famous for its fantastic bird life, including flamingos, pelicans, and cormorants. Your boat cruise will take you to Crescent Island, a sanctuary free of predators where you can walk to freely to enjoy a more intimate view of nature. From the top of Crescent Island’s central hill, you’ll enjoy a 360-degree view of the lake. On your way back to shore, you might find yourself nearly eye-to-eye with the lake’s hippos or a low-flying fish eagle.
Mafia Archipelago, Tanzania
Nestled in the Indian Ocean off Tanzania‘s mainland, the Mafia island chain is ideally situated for boat travel. Take a boat to Chloe Island to view Arabian ruins from the oldest settlement in the archipelago. Or go to Juani, where you’ll find the ruins of the legendary ancient city of Kua. From August through November, take a whale-watching cruise in search of humpbacks.
Menai Bay Conservation Area, Zanzibar, Tanzania
On the southwestern coast of Zanzibar’s main island, Menai Bay Conservation Area is the archipelago’s largest protected marine area. You’ll enjoy looking for dolphins and marvel at the many birds that can be spotted here.
Murchison Falls National Park on the Nile, Uganda
Cruising down the Nile is the best way to observe animals drinking at the water’s edge. Uganda‘s portion of the Nile supports one of the largest concentrations of hippos and crocodiles in Africa. The Nile Delta is also home to a dazzling variety of waterbirds and papyrus swamps filled with wildlife. And then there’s the scenery! The views of Murchison Falls as you approach by boat are spectacular.
Okavango Delta, Botswana
The Okavango Delta in Botswana is an enormous wetland spanning thousands of square miles. It is an oasis in an arid land, attracting an unparalleled variety of wildlife. Cruise through its numerous seasonal lagoons and channels, and you are sure to encounter one stunning creature after the next. Leopards, blue wildebeest, giraffes, Thomson’s gazelles, white rhinos, and aardwolves are just a few of the animals that find respite in the Okavango Delta.
Selous Game Reserve, Tanzania
Tanzania’s Selous Game Reserve is the largest protected wildlife area in Africa. A cruise on its Lake Tagalala is an exciting chance to see game such as waterbuck, reedbuck, and bushbuck along the shores. Or sail down the Rufigi River, where crocodiles, hippos, and an array of grazing antelope can be seen.
Stone Town, Zanzibar, Tanzania
Leave the hubbub of Zanzibar’s famous city behind to enjoy a cruise on a traditional dhow sailboat. Explore tranquil Indian Ocean waters in true romance, taking in the marvelous colors of a Zanzibar sunset.
Victoria Falls, Zambia & Zimbabwe
When visiting Victoria Falls, a sunset cruise along the Zambezi River is a superb way to relax. Enjoy appetizers, local spirits, and good conversation amid beautiful scenery. You will see many birds and are likely to spot hippos, crocodiles, and even elephants!
Walvis Bay, Namibia
Walvis Bay’s name comes from the Dutch word for “whale.” And if you visit in the right season, that’s what you’re likely to see on this patch of Namibia‘s coast. Dolphins and Cape fur seals are here year-round, providing a memorable experience on the water even when whales have migrated elsewhere. Enjoy sparkling wine and fresh oysters as you look out for Heaviside’s and bottlenose dolphins. In season, you might encounter humpback whales, southern right whales, or leatherback turtles. You’re also likely to see pelicans, flamingos and many other sea birds.