Canoers paddle on the Zambezi River in Lower Zambezi National Park in Zambia. Photo courtesy of Anabezi Camp.

Our Favorite Places to Canoe & Kayak in Africa

Paddle through gentle waves as African penguins swim beside you. Watch colorful fish dart through shallow coastal waters. Watch elephants and zebras wade on a river’s edge, undisturbed by your quiet, self-powered craft.

Canoeing and kayaking offer incomparable encounters with African wildlife. Paddling can be a morning or afternoon activity that adds variety to your safari, or you can take a multi-day canoe or kayak trip—paddle by day, and stop at night to rest at a lodge or supported campsite.

If you’ve never paddle before but want to try, you can hire a guide to do the steering while you get used to the motions of paddling and enjoy the surrounding scenery.

Here, we offer some of our favorite canoeing and kayaking spots in Africa to inspire your travel planning. We’ve grouped them by country, in alphabetical order from Botswana to Zimbabwe. Whether you’re an experienced paddler or a newbie, traveling by water is an incomparable way to see Africa!

Explore the Botswana’s Okavango Delta in a mokoro canoe. Photo by Philip Milne.


Chobe National Park

Throughout the year, canoeing along the Chobe River in Chobe National Park is an ideal way to view birds such as lilac-breasted rollers, pied kingfishers, and tawny eagles. As the waters recede in the dry season of July through September, they expose small islands and peninsulas that offer close-up views of land mammals such as zebras and red lechwe antelopes. Difficulty level: Beginner and up.

Okavango Delta

The Okavango Delta is a water-rich paradise in the middle of the Kalahari Desert. Covering 5,800 square miles, it is filled with lagoons and canals that beg to be explored. You can paddle a canoe or kayak in the Delta, or hire a guide to steer you through in a mokoro, in Botswana‘s traditional dugout canoe. Trips can be for just a few hours, or you can hire a guide for a multi-day trip through the Delta. Difficulty level: Beginner and up.

Paddling is a wonderful way to explore the mangroves on Kenya’s coast. Photo by The Sands Kenya.


Diani Beach

Located outside of Mombasa in Kwale County, Diani Beach is among the most popular resort areas in Kenya. Its shallow waters are calm and make for easy paddling. In addition to the beach, you’ll also want to explore the local mangroves. Difficulty level: Beginner and up.

Ewaso Ng’iro River

The Ewaso River winds through Shaba and Samburu National Reserves in central Kenya. The dry season brings calm waters and ideal paddling conditions, giving canoers and kayakers a peaceful journey through stunning savanna and desert scenery. Difficulty level: Intermediate and up.

Tana River Delta

The Tana River Delta in Kenya is one of the most peaceful and breathtaking locations on the East African coast. Combining beach, river, and bush, this estuary provides a winter home to migratory birds from throughout African and Asia. Kayaking and canoeing through the Tana River Delta introduces you to incredible wildlife and inspiring scenery. Difficulty level: Beginner and up.

In Mozambique, a dhow can take you to different islands where you can try your kayaking skills. Photo by Travel Local.


Mozambique Island (Ilha de Moçambique)

The coastal waters around Mozambique‘s most famous island are ideal for kayaking. Calm beaches and shallow lagoons offer incredible views of colorful fish and coral. Find birds, mangrove crabs, and other wildlife with the help of your guide. Difficulty level: Beginner and up.

Bazaruto Archipelago

The Bazaruto Archipelago is an enchanting collection of small islands off the coast of southern Mozambique. Designated as a marine national park, it is known for its populations of bottlenose dolphins and dugongs—or sea cows—which you may see as they break through the waves for a breath of fresh air. Paddle the islands’ inlets and small lakes to discover a treasure trove of bird life. Difficulty level: Beginner and up.

Gorongosa National Park

The Pungwe River originates in the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe, flowing down to feed the lush wilderness of Gorongosa National Park. As you float along the Pungwe, you will see birds and other animals dart about reed stands, forests, and sandy beaches on the banks. Difficulty level: Beginner and up.

Young adult paddles yellow kayak in turquoise waters with tree-covered island in background

Enjoy kayaking in the clear Indian Ocean waters that surround Seychelles.


Sainte Anne Marine National Park

Seychelles offers amazing sea kayaking thanks to peaceful Indian Ocean waters away from major storm belts. The pinnacle of Seychelles sea kayaking can be found at Sainte Anne Marine National Park. Peer through clear waters to see colorful corals and tropical fishes, then take in the breathtaking blues of sea and sky. Difficulty level: Beginner and up.

Person kayaking in shallow waters and looking at a colony of African penguins on the beach

Kayaks offer the best seat in the house for viewing African penguins at Boulder’s Beach, South Africa.

South Africa

iSimangaliso Wetland Park

Paddle Africa’s largest estuarine system! Lake Sibaya in iSimangaliso Wetland Park (formerly Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park) is the largest freshwater lake in South Africa. You can spot a wide variety of birds here, and the clarity of the water means you should be able to see some fascinating fish, as well! Further north, Kosi Bay is also great for paddling. Explore its mangroves, see traditional Tsongan fish corrals, and spot interesting wildlife. Difficulty level: Beginner and up.

Simon’s Town

A large colony of African penguins make their home on Boulders Beach in Simon’s Town, a village near Cape Town. These endangered birds have unique adaptations that help them thrive in a warm climate. Spot penguins in underwater flight and encounter Cape fur seals as you paddle out past the harbor. Skim along piers full of sunbathing cormorants. Then stop at a beach to examine mollusks and crabs that populate the tidal area. Difficulty level: Beginner and up.

Storms River Gorge

Located near South Africa‘s southern tip, the rocky outcrops of Storms River Gorge are filled with caves that can be explored as part of a kayak tour. The trip will bring you through shallow pools and deep riverine forest. The scenery of this park is truly stunning. Plant lovers will be amazed at the diversity of trees and flowers in this part of the world. Difficulty level: Beginner and up.

People in canoes on lake shore look at giraffes staning in tall grass

Canoeing in Arusha National Park is a unique way to see wildlife in Tanzania.


Arusha National Park

The Momella Lakes in Tanzania are famous for their flamingos. Glide past beautiful shorebirds as Cape buffalos, giraffes, and waterbucks graze on land. The scenery is also impressive—you can view both Mount Meru and Kilimanjaro from your canoe. Difficulty level: Beginner and up.

Mahale Mountains National Park

Mahale Mountains National Park is a famous chimpanzee tracking destination. It is also home to the world’s largest and longest lake: Lake Tanganyika. About 250 species of fish live in the lake, and most are found nowhere else in the world! You can spot many of them through the clear waters.

A kayak is also an excellent vantage point for birdwatching. Waterbirds and shorebirds are plentiful, and many songbirds nest near the shore—230 bird species in all! Difficulty level: Beginner and up.

Two people on a kayak ride turbulent waves of the nile river near jinja

The whitecaps of the Nile River offer challenging kayaking for the adventurous at heart. Photo by Venture Uganda Travel.


Nile River Basin

The Uganda portion of the world-famous Nile River can’t be beat for heart-thumping adventure. Freestyle kayakers flock here from around the world to ride the rapids. Whitewater rafting is a popular option as well. Difficulty level: Intermediate and up.

Canoers paddle on the Zambezi River in Zimbabwe. Photo by David Nunn.

Zambia and Zimbabwe

Zambezi River

Victoria Falls is known for its rushing waters. But the Zambezi River that feeds the falls has many calmer areas, especially in the dry season. Exploring these backwaters will help you see this mighty river and its spectacular wildlife in a whole new way. Among the most scenic places to paddle the river is Mana Pools National Park in Zimbabwe, about three-hundred miles downriver of the falls. Here, you can also canoe the shallow pools that cover the floodplains each rainy season. Difficulty level: Beginner and up.

Kafue River

The Kafue River in Zambia‘s Kafue National Park is a natural route of exploration for seeing shorebirds, hippos, crocodiles, and the many animals that drink and wade in the shallows—particularly elephants and Cape buffalos. Difficulty level: Beginner and up.

3 kayakers paddle down a river in South Africa

Kayakers explore Storms River Gorge in the Tsitsikamma section of Garden Route National Park, South Africa.

Ready to Plan Your Adventure?

This article covered only a few of the many excellent places for canoeing and kayaking in Africa. If you are interested in canoeing and kayaking on your safari, contact Ujuzi to help you plan your perfect trip!

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