8 Reasons Why You Should Explore Africa on a River Cruise
Updated: Apr 18
Africa. It conjures visions of graceful acacia trees set against fiery red sunsets, endless herds of elephant, antelope, and zebra, and the cacophony of sounds one hears as darkness marks the end of a heart-pounding day of safari and exploration. You might think of experiencing Africa from the air, on two feet, or rumbling along on four wheels, but have you ever thought of experiencing it from its mighty rivers? Water is life, and in Africa, life begins on the banks of rivers like the Chobe. There are numerous benefits to exploring Africa on a river cruise, and if you need convincing, here are a few things to consider.
1. Combining Cruising & Safari Camp Stays
If you’ve taken a river cruise in Europe, you’re familiar with how it works. You unpack once, you spend your days cruising, exploring historic ports of call, and then you step back on board your floating boutique hotel. However, in Africa, you don’t want to miss out on that iconic luxury tented camp or safari lodge experience. So if you love the idea of spending one night floating to sleep under starry skies, and the next, enjoying a fresh cup of coffee, watching a family of elephants saunter up to the drinking pan next to your safari lodge, a river cruise gives you the full African experience.
2. Front Row Floating Seat for Sunset
There is nowhere else on earth where the sunsets are so mesmerizing. Sitting in a cozy chair, after a day of dusty exploring, enjoying a frosty beer or crisp glass of wine, watching as hues of red, orange and gold set the sky ablaze is the perfect way to end your day.
3. Enjoy Local & Freshly Caught Cuisine
River cruises are famous for their 5-star cuisine and intimate dining experiences. Cruising the Chobe means you get to enjoy local favorites like grilled fresh tilapia and bream, two delicious whitefish you can expect to find on most menus around Southern Africa. The food is reflective of the mosaic of ethnic groups living in the region. Flavorful curries, fresh vegetables, legumes and fruits, and of course, a traditional ‘braai’ (South African roast or BBQ).
4. Up Close (and Thrilling!) River Encounters
One misconception about river cruising in Africa is that you’re missing out on safaris and exciting animal encounters. The Chobe River, an offshoot of Angola’s Cuando River, is teeming with yawning and frolicking hippos and the best way to see them is from the comfort (and safety) of a river cruise. You can find these boisterous, noisy giants lumbering onto the river banks en masse near sunset, so keep your eyes peeled for the parade.
5. Bird Viewing is Better on the River
There is plenty of birdlife to be spotted from land, but along the river banks is where all of the action is happening. There are nearly 1000 species of bird in the Southern Africa region, most of which gather, migrate, feed and drink in or near the river. There are times the flocks are so abundant you won’t even need binoculars. Look to the skies and the shores for Striped Kingfishers, the critically endangered Secretary Bird, the overly chatty African Hoopoe, and the beautiful Trogon.
6. You Still Take Land Safaris
If you’re worried you’ll miss out on the thrill of coming face to face with a herd of elephants or pride of passing lions, don’t be. River cruising in Africa is a full sensory, all-out adventure, which includes climbing into that open-top 4x4 and driving those rutted roads in search of a sleeping leopard and graceful giraffe.
7. Absolute Luxury on the Water
If your first trip to Africa was an overland experience, you likely have many fond memories. Sleeping in a tent, in the middle of a national park, is visceral and exciting. But it doesn’t always make for the best sleep experience. Not to mention you don’t get to enjoy the same level of service, diversity in cuisine and of course, accommodations so comfortable you may just want to slide your balcony door open and safari from your bed.
8. Makes the Most Out of Your Time in Africa
Traveling Africa by vehicle is a must, but not necessarily for multi-day trips. Land-only safaris take up a great deal of your time getting to and from your lodge or camp, whereas a river cruise maximizes the time you have both on the river, and on land. You still have the benefit of adding on nights at your embarkation and disembarkation point, which means you get to cover more ground geographically.
Stepping on board a luxurious African river cruise will not take anything away from your African experience. If anything, it will open up your eyes to new landscapes, you’ll have the privilege of witnessing more displays of wildlife in all of its splendor and you’ll get to experience all of it from the comforts of a floating boutique hotel.