Ah, boat safaris. We couldn’t think of a lovelier way to go on safari. After the dust and chaos of a game drive, floating gently downstream watching the wildlife as it comes to water seems like another world. Sitting low in the water you’ll hear the splutter of hippos as they come to surface, the splash as a surprised croc slithers into the water, and cry of the fish eagle overhead.
Motor boat safaris
More often than not boat safaris are done on a small motor boat which does the hard work for you, while you lie back and admire the view. These are offered by almost all of the luxury camps in Tanzania’s Selous Game Reserve, and we’d certainly recommend this as an afternoon’s activity, ending with a sundowner on the water. We’ve sampled boat safaris at most of the Selous camps (well, someone has to), so if you want to know the best stretch of river, just ask.
You’ll also find motorised boat safaris on offer in Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park during the green season when the water’s high enough, and in certain parts of the Kafue. As the Zambezi River flows throughout the year, there are also some fantastic boat safaris from Zambia’s Lower Zambezi National Park, and at Mana Pools in Zimbabwe, just the other side of the river. If you’re visiting South Africa, we also loved the boating (and birding) in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park and this slots in nicely as part of a longer trip to KwaZulu Natal.
If you want to flex your muscles a little more than being merely a passenger, then canoe safaris are possible in a number of African national parks. You’re closer to the wildlife here, so make sure to listen to your guide’s instructions carefully, and steer clear of hippos- they’re very territorial and ending up in water is not to be recommended!
We particularly enjoyed canoeing in Zambia’s Lower Zambezi National Park, where if you are something of a fair-weather paddler, you can drive upstream from your camp, and paddle back downstream. We managed to get within a few yards of a pair of snoozing lions without disturbing their slumbers. More challenging are multi-day paddles, moving downstream from camp to camp each day, with stops on deserted islands for lunch, or a wander amongst the wildlife on the river bank. There are several fantastic operators that arrange this type of trip in Zambia and Zimbabwe- just ask and we’ll put you right.
In this section we must also make a special mention of mokoro safaris. These are (in our opinion) by far and away the finest way to explore Botswana’s Okavango Delta, lying gently back as you’re poled along through the waterways. Not all camps offer mokoro trips, though most do, and generally it’s a seasonal activity that depends on water levels. When we organise your trip, just let us know if this is something you want to do, and we’ll endeavour to put you in the right place.
Boat Safari in style
It’d be impossible to mention boat safaris without mentioning the grand old lady of the Zambezi, the Zambezi Queen. This large river boat plies the waters of the Chobe River (between Botswana and Namibia) for 2 or 3 night trips. This is very much a floating hotel: when you wake up each morning you’ll open your curtains onto a view over the river, and there’s a small plunge pool on deck for when it all gets too hot.
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