Wild Water: 5 of Africa's Best River Cruises

The African continent is home to a number of the biggest and wildest rivers in the world. These watery highways snake through beautifully unspoilt, striking landscapes punctuated by small fishing villages or historic sites that bear testament to the long interdependence between these rivers and centuries of colonial exploration and expansion.

Africa’s great rivers and the ecosystems along their banks also sustain a staggering array of iconic wildlife and birdlife, and game viewing on the water offers a particularly intimate, unadulterated and unobtrusive safari experience.

So from sipping sundowners on the mighty Zambezi to embarking on an intrepid adventure into the heart of the Congo Basin, here are five of the best ways to see Africa from the rivers that have long been its lifeblood.

Stay on a Photographic Houseboat on the Chobe River

Chobe National Park is Botswana’s flagship park and not without good cause. Famed for its vast elephant herds, it’s also got excellent big cat populations and rare species including the African wild dog; it’s an absolute paradise for birders too. For sightings of all of the above, floating on the Chobe River, a verdant oasis in this largely arid country, is generally the best place to be.

The Chobe River also serves as a wonderful backdrop for wildlife photography, whether you’re an eager amateur or a seasoned pro. In either case, a photographic safari aboard the Pangolin Voyager is an absolute must. This stylish three-story houseboat offers unparalleled access to some of the quieter sections of the river, where you’ll moor overnight, and has state-of-the-art photographic skiffs for morning and evening excursions.

Take a Pirogue into the Heart of the Congo Basin

This is certainly not an option for the fainthearted, but for the more adventurous, cruising along the immense Congo River in a traditional dugout canoe surrounded by unending swaths of impenetrable tropical rainforest is truly a once in a lifetime experience. So is seeing the uncannily human-like bonobo great apes that are found only in the Congo Basin.

Close relatives of chimpanzees, bonobos are critically endangered, but a conservation project called Amis des Bonobo du Congo (ABC) is looking to rehabilitate bonobos orphaned by poaching into a community reserve called Ekolo ya Bonobo. ABC can organise guided visits to their densely-forested reserve and explorations of the wider area, all of which are conducted on various tributaries of the Congo River. From your dugout canoe, you’ll be able to observe the first ever troop of bonobos to be successfully reintroduced into the wild. This is best organised as a group trip.

Sit Back for a Sunset Cruise on the Zambezi

The mighty Zambezi River, best known for the majestic Victoria Falls that mark the boundary between its upper and middle sections, is surely the best place on the continent for a leisurely sunset cruise after a day enjoying the countless activities in and around the Falls.

A number of luxurious boats, from catamarans to old steamers, depart every evening from various locations along the river bank. As you sip on a cold gin and tonic or cocktail and sample some delectable finger foods, you’ll likely see hippos and crocodiles bobbing at the surface of the river or elephants coming to drink at the water’s edge. While the wildlife can sometimes be unpredictable, an absolutely stellar sunset is always guaranteed.

See Egypt’s Pyramids from the Nile

Ancient pyramids, vibrant bazaars, historic temples and big blue skies are just a few of the highlights of a cruise along the Egyptian stretch of the famous Nile River, the longest river in the world. Egyptian tourism was hit hard in the aftermath of the Arab Spring in 2011, but since the start of 2017, there’s been an uptick in interest in the country’s longstanding cruise tradition, with a few new luxury options coming onto the scene.

The nine-day Alexander+Roberts itinerary aboard the upscale Oberoi Philae takes in iconic destinations including Luxor and the Valley of the Kings, whilst also incorporating on-land excursions in and around Cairo and the Great Pyramids, not to mention a camel ride across desert dunes. The Oberoi itself is big enough to have all the facilities of an on-land hotel, but at the same time, with a maximum capacity of 44 guests and private docking rights, it offers a more exclusive and intimate experience than most boats plying this popular route.

Experience the Rivers of West Africa

Starting from Dakar, the Western-most city in Africa and the capital of Senegal, the magical eight-day Rivers of West Africa itinerary from Variety Cruises combines conventional cruising with private yachting for an exciting voyage of discovery in this under-explored part of Africa. The itinerary takes in four pristine nature reserves along the waterways of Senegal and Gambia, as well as culturally-fascinating cities and traditional fishing villages.

You’ll travel aboard the sleek and stylish Harmony G, with various side excursions on motorised pirogues. The Harmony G has a swimming pool, a spacious sundeck and a classy dining room and bar. You’ll be accompanied on board by a resident Gambian river naturalist who’ll assist you in learning about this region’s fascinating flora and fauna, which includes turtles and dolphins as well as astonishing birdlife.

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