A hippo greets safari-goers on a boat cruise near Victoria Falls. Photo courtesy Stanley Safari Lodge, Livingstone, Zambia.

The Best Boating Safaris in Africa

Get eye-to-eye with a hippo, watch zebras enjoy a refreshing drink, and see elephants swim across deep channels. Take a boat cruise on your African safari to see wildlife in a whole new way.

Boat cruises in Africa can be short excursions that last a few hours, or multiple nights of living in luxury in a houseboat, river cruise ship, or yacht. For day outings, options vary from smaller motorboats to larger day-cruise boats with an open floor and moveable seating that allows you to get up and change positions for the best vantage point.

Boat cruises on inland rivers and lakes provide excellent viewing of animal antics, without any trees or tall grasses to get in the way. You’ll enjoy the happy murmurs of hippos as they wallow in the mud, and your heart will swell with delight as you watch a baby elephant’s clumsy but adorable efforts to use its trunk for drinking. On the coast, the animals you’ll spot will be different, but just as fascinating. You may see dolphins cut through the waves or barracudas swim in the clear waters beneath your boat.

Below, we offer a few our favorite places to go on boat cruises in Africa, whether they be short outings or multi-day adventures.

People on a boat look at elephants on the Chobe Riverfront

A day cruise skirts the shores of Chobe River. Photo by Brian Chiu.


From motorboats to fully equipped houseboats and small river cruise ships, these Botswana destinations offer multiple ways to explore the wilds.

Chobe River

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.

Okavango Delta

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 incredible natural area, which has been names a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

Dhow cruises are one option for exploring Kenya’s Watamu Marine Park and Reserve. Photo by Make It Kenya.


Lake Baringo

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.

Watamu Marine National Park

Located about 90 miles north of Mombasa in the Indian Ocean, Watamu Marine National Park and Reserve is home to 150 species of hard and soft coral, 600 species of fish, and many fascinating invertebrates and molluscs. Whale sharks, manta rays, octopuses, and turtles are among the bigger attractions.

Visitors can sleep out on the waters in a traditional dhow sailboat outfitted with comfortable cabins. During the day, explore underwater with a dive or snorkel, or sail ashore to see the fascinating land plants and wildlife that depend on the ocean for their survival.

bottlenose dolphin cresting out of blue water in bazaruto archipelago

Bottlenose dolphins are among the animals you may see during a boat cruise in the Bazaruto Archipelago. Photo by Mike.


Bazaruto Archipelago

The Bazaruto Archipelago is an enchanting collection of small islands off the coast of southern Mozambique. Whether you are staying on the coast or on one of the archipelago’s larger islands, a cruise in a traditional dhow sailboat is an excellent way to explore this 500-square-mile marine park. You may see bottlenose dolphins, dugongs, or humpback whales from deck. And you will love stepping off to visit pristine beaches or snorkel among the islands’ coral reefs.

Gorongosa National Park

Located at the southernmost end of the Great Rift Valley, Gorongosa is fed by rivers that flow from nearby mountains and plateaus. Its Lake Urema is home to hippos and crocodiles. The lake attracts an enormous variety of migrating birds at the end of the rainy season, when it expands to as much as 200 square miles.

a small group of people take a boat cruise on a river in Africa

A guest enjoys an intimate photography cruise at Hakusembe River Lodge on the Okavango River in northern Namibia.


Caprivi Strip and Okavango River

Namibia is famous for its deserts, but the northern border has many areas that are rich with water. The greatest concentration of rivers is in the Caprivi Strip, a narrow panhandle that protrudes from the northeastern corner of Namibia. The Okavango River starts to the west of Caprivi and then across is, and is well worth visiting along any section. Caprivi is also home to sections of the Zambezi River, Cuando (Kwando) River, and Chobe River. One of our favorite experiences here is a three-night river cruise that explores the Chobe River and its wildlife.

Walvis Bay

Walvis Bay’s name comes from the Dutch word for “whale.” 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 on your day cruise 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.

Crocodiles are among the many animals you might see on a cruise in Akagera National Park. Photo by Abhishek Singh.


Akagera National Park

Rwandan’s Akagera National Park is home to ten lakes. At thirty square miles, the largest is papyrus-fringed Lake Ihema in the park’s southern half. With one of the largest concentrations of hippos in East Africa, Lake Ihema is delightful to explore. Lake Shakani and Lake Rwanyakazinga are also excellent choices for boat cruises and, while smaller, are still good places to view hippos.

On the lakes, you can also spot crocodiles and a variety of birds, such as the shoebill stork, papyrus gonolek, jacana, malachite kingfisher, African fish eagle, fan-tailed widow bird, African darter, hamerkop, and open-billed stork.

You have the option of a morning or evening cruise. Morning cruises are best for seeing herbivores such as zebras and antelope grazing on shore. If you are keen on seeing carnivores like leopards and hyenas, an evening outing is your best bet.


Sainte Anne Marine National Park

Seychelles was the first country to create a marine park in the Indian Ocean. Explore Sainte Anne Marine National Park on a catamaran or a glass-bottomed boat that allows you to watch the marine life below.

Hippos are a common sight at iSimangaliso Wetland Park in South Africa. Photo by Ossewa.

South Africa

iSimangaliso Wetland Park

iSimangaliso Wetland Park contains southern Africa’s largest estuarine system and is a World Heritage Site. It covers hundreds miles of Indian Ocean coast in South Africa. Spend a few hours or a few days exploring it by boat.

The most popular area of iSimangaliso for boat cruises is Lake St. Lucia, near the southern of the park. Close encounters with hippos and crocodiles are a main attraction. But other animals abound, as well. Birds are particularly abundant, including fish eagles, kingfishers, and goliath herons.

a dhow sailboat off coast of Zanzibar with sunset in background

Enjoy a traditional sunset cruise off the coast of Zanzibar. Photo by Drouyn Cambridge.


Mafia Archipelago

Nestled in the Indian Ocean close to 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.

Selous Game Reserve

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 such game 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.


Zanzibar is a paradisical collection of islands off the coast of Tanzania’s mainland. Here, you can sleep on a luxuriously appointed dhow sailboat or yacht while traveling between islands. Or you can stay on one of the main islands—Unjuga or Pemba—and enjoy boating excursions during the day or sailing on a dhow at sunset.

Changuu Island—also known as Prison Island or Quarantine Island—serves as a refuge for Aldabra giant tortoises, making it a popular stop on half-day or day-long cruises from the archipelago’s two largest islands.

On the southwestern coast of Unjuga, 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.

Safari goers take a boat cruise to Murchison Falls in Uganda. Photo by Uganda Wildlife Authority.


Kazinga Channel, Queen Elizabeth National Park

A safari cruise along the Kazinga Channel is one of the most popular activities in Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda. Elephants, buffalos, waterbucks and Ugandan kobs love to cool off on the banks. Large breeding pods of hippos are also fairly easy to find. 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.

The Nile River, Murchison Falls National Park

Cruise down the Nile toward Murchison Falls to see hippos, crocodiles, and a breathtaking variety of waterbirds. And then there’s the scenery! Gorgeous papyrus swamps give way to forests as you approach the falls. The views of Murchison Falls from the boat are spectacular.

Want a close encounter with a hippo? Take a boat safari. Photo taken in South Luangwa National Park in Zambia.

Zambia and Zimbabwe

Lake Kariba

Situated between Zambia and Zimbabwe, about 100 miles downstream from Victoria Falls, Lake Kariba is home to hippos, crocodiles, and dazzling fish. On the shore, you may see elephants, lions, cheetahs, leopards, Cape buffalos, and antelope. Bird life here is also prolific.

In addition to enjoying day cruises here, you can stay overnight on a river cruise ship such as the Zimbabwean Dream, with well-appointed cabins, jacuzzi, and fine dining.

South Luangwa National Park

This park along the Luangwa River in Zambia has some of the highest concentrations of wildlife in Africa. Animals gather along the riverbanks and the many lagoons in the park. On a boat ride, you are sure to see a myriad of animals, such as Thornicroft’s giraffes, elephants, Cape buffaloes, and hippos galore.

Victoria Falls

When visiting Victoria Falls on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe, 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!

View of the Chobe River from the lounge area of the Zambezi Queen, a river cruise boat that travels in Namibia’s Caprivi Strip.

Plan your dream safari

Boat cruises are just one of the many ways to experience Africa. Check out the many other activities you can enjoy on safari.

Ready to explore your options for a safari? Ujuzi can help you plan your trip on both water and land. Contact us to make your travel dreams come true.


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