Africa River Cruises on the Chobe and Zambezi.
By Ted Scull.
African geography is not well understood for a whole host of reasons.
It is off the map for most people until some news event comes splashing across the screen — a new Ebola outbreak, seemingly endless warfare in obscure lands, continuing slaughter of elephants, and on and on. And yes, Egypt is part of Africa, but most people associate it with the Middle East and the Mediterranean world.
What most people do associate with Africa is wildlife. Thus, the major draw of Africa for most travel aficionados are the many threatened wildlife species.
Wildlife Viewing from a Cruise & a Lodge
If thinking of Africa and rivers or lakes in the same sentence, the pickings generally center on the Nile and Lake Nassar, an integral component of any trip to ancient and modern Egypt. However, Africa does come up occasionally on cruise itineraries that call at ports along the East African or South African coasts, but few venture very far inland.
Further, it’s rarer still, to tie an African river or lake with game viewing from a small overnight cruise vessel.
QuirkyCruise was started to inform those who like offbeat travel and cruises in small ships.
And so we’re glad to tell you about a handful of river cruises that can be easily combined with land stays in south-central Africa.
The Chobe & Zambezi Rivers
The Chobe and Zambezi rivers are the only locations that combine game viewing and small-ship cruising. It’s an awesome combo that gets you up close to a splendid adjoining game park and a natural wonder too — Victoria Falls.
All of this comes together in south-central Africa, roughly where Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe meet.
At one point, the Chobe joins the Zambezi and forms the northern boundary of Chobe National Park. Its waters plunge off a plateau via Victoria Falls.
The lake is Kariba, created in 1955 when a dam was built across the Zambezi. It’s long at 125 miles and relatively narrow, forming a section of the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe.
I have arrived in this wondrous region by train from the east and south and via a self-drive safari itinerary from Namibia. We, as with most travelers, stayed within the northwest corner of Zimbabwe, the extreme eastern strip of Namibia and the northern tip of Botswana.
It’s a compact area offering what you have come for without long and often bumpy drives and multiple flights.
River Cruise … Plus
When a river cruise is included in a tour package, it’s normally part of a larger itinerary that includes much of what’s written just above. However, you can also include a short river cruise in your own private plans. Consider it a game lodge on the water.
The extreme pleasures I have gotten out of game viewing have not come from checking off a list of animals to be seen before moving on to fulfill the still missing, rather the pleasure comes from finding or being shown a location where the wildlife comes near to you.
Some safari lodges dig waterholes to attract game and that can be both exciting and convenient. But, one part is missing, it’s not viewing animals in truly natural surroundings.
The Evening Scene on the Chobe River
Consider this alternative, sitting on the deck of a small vessel at dusk just off the riverbank watching the cloudless sky change colors, and maybe hearing the sounds of insects beginning their sundown routine. Nobody is talking, perhaps just whispering.
Flocks of birds sweep about in unison for some time before alighting on open ground. Little fish chased by unseen bigger fish break the river’s surface. Fish eagles may dive bomb targets just beneath the surface.
Then in the bush land ashore, you see large shapes moving toward the river. One by one elephant adults and their offspring work their way toward the nightly drink and maybe splash about or even take a swim. You can see close up the mutual affection they exhibit, or adult impatience.
It’s all happening right before your eyes and ever-changing. The longer you stay, and the less attention you pay to taking photos, the more interaction and individual personalities you absorb. Then the stars shine as if never seen before and not to end the show, you fantasize lying on a soft mattress and gently tune out.
Daytime Game Watching
During the day, visitors travel in small boats along the river while the guides know where game may be seen. Watch giraffes, munching on the vegetation, reaching higher and higher to get what they want. And when it comes to drinking, spreading long legs apart, and looking slightly awkward when leaning over to take that first mouthful.
By hanging about, you see both their graceful and not-so movements.
Grunting warthogs and various species of gazelle mingle with the elephants and giraffes as the larger animals provide protection against lions and leopards. Both are elusive creatures, but the better guides know their routines, especially those of the lions.
Later hippos lounge in the waters, sometimes only their eyes and ears above the surface. And another similar sight will be nearly submerged crocodiles that may also be basking on the riverbank.
Who Goes There?
Following are a few options for short 2- or 3-night cruises inserted into longer land-based itineraries.
Moving eastward, there are 3-night cruise options located on Lake Kariba, a dammed section of the Zambezi River east of Victoria Falls. Besides the vast waters, cruise a connecting river and sail into a deep gorge.
Some species of game, mostly the non-swimmers, were moved to the adjacent Matsudona National Park. The birds and animals seen roughly match those along the Chobe River such as the African Sea Eagle, Yellow-billed Stork, and Black Heron.
The three-deck African Dream, completed in 2018, takes 16 passengers in eight double cabins with private facilities, along with a lounge bar, dining room and top viewing deck.
The cruise may be combined with a game lodge and a Victoria Falls stay.
Two small-ship companies covered in QuirkyCruise offer cruise-tour packages incorporating the African Dream:
- CroisiEurope charters the African Dream for a series of cruise-tours — there is more info on the CroisiEurope site.
- Vantage World Travel offers cruise-tour options that include a few days aboard the African Dream as well. Here’s more info on their site.
Surf Chobe.com for information on the Chobe Princess. It’s actually the name for three similar vessels (identified with a number), each with four or five cabins. The larger Zambezi Queen has 14 cabins.
All accommodations are outside with private facilities. The large expanses of glass in the dining area and lounge keep you in touch with your surroundings. There’s even a hot tub.
Chobe.com also describes the lodges available in adjacent Chobe National Park for land-based game viewing. Some face the river and others have inland park locations.
Combine a cruise and lodge stay to maximize the experience.
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