When you think of an African safari, you might imagine roaming across rolling savannahs and lush green hills in a trusty Land Rover… But there is another way to see and experience this great continent: by water! From floating along Botswana’s waterways in a mokoro, wrestling one of Africa’s most fearsome fish in Zambia, and discovering the source of the Nile in Uganda, there are a myriad of water-based adventures right at your fingertips. Read on to find out what we think are the best African water safaris out there…
Float through Botswana’s waterways
Starting with a classic, how could we not include a mokoro trip through Botswana’s Okavango Delta? Arguably the most iconic of all African water safari experiences, you can hardly visit the area without hopping into one of these traditional boats and floating along the Delta channels. This is the way to add a twist to a classic safari experience: from the water you will almost certainly spot the quintessential safari animals (everything from lion and hippo to hyena), but also a variety of smaller creatures, most notably the local bird life. Our writer Paul took an epic adventure in a mokoro last year, camping out under the stars and listening to the wildlife chattering away around him – read about his trip here.
Spot a myriad of wildlife along the Elephant Coast
South Africa has such an abundance of wildlife and so many scenic spots that it’s sometimes hard to know where to visit. The Elephant Coast can sometimes be overlooked in favour of the ever-popular Cape Town, Kruger and Garden Route, but if you want to enjoy a water safari in the country, it could be your best choice. If hippos are on your must-see list, there are few better places to visit than the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. Here, you can cruise the water in search of the gigantic beasts and watch them wallow in their natural habitat. Then, venture along the coastline and you’ll find an entirely different type of watery safari: the coast is also known as one of the best diving and snorkelling spots in Africa and its coral reefs are home to over 1,200 species of fish. Expect to swim alongside manta ray, tiger rockcod, potato bass and even the famous gentle giants of the sea, whale sharks.
Wrestle with river monsters in the Lower Zambezi
If game fishing is your thing, then the Lower Zambezi might already be on your radar. Weighing in at up to a massive 15kg, the famous tiger fish attract keen anglers from all around the world. It’s not just the size of these river monsters that make them such a cherished prize and they’re also known for their fearsome nature and razor sharp teeth. Catching (and releasing) one of these formidable beasts is no walk in the park! It’s not just these behemoths that draw visitors to the area, however, the Lower Zambezi National Park has an abundance of wildlife. If you visit (and we hope you do!) you can also enjoy a canoeing water safari down the Zambezi river, keeping your eyes peeled for elephant, buffalo, zebra, hippo, crocodile and maybe even a big cat or two.
Zambia is one of our favourite African destinations for a reason and whilst you’re here, you might as well see it all. Travel the length and breadth of the country with our ‘Zambia’s Classic Safari Destinations’ trip.
Hop from island to island in Mozambique
Just because we’re talking water safaris, it doesn’t mean it has to be all about the wildlife. Why not enjoy a little tropical R&R lazing on a traditional dhow boat, sailing from island to island in The Quirimbas? Don’t limit yourself to just one powdery-sand-turquoise-water beach either – instead, float from one onto another in what (we think) might be one of the most stunning Robinson Crusoe-esque destinations going. You’ll travel with a professional team who will man the boat (when you stop at each haven, they’ll get to work setting up camp and transforming your chosen spot into an island paradise) so you really can just sit back and relax as you float along.
Plan your own tailor-made sailing trip through paradise with our ‘Quirimbas Mobile Dhow Safari’.
Discover the source of the Nile in Uganda
Mention the Nile and most people will automatically think of Egypt, but have you ever wondered where that mighty river actually starts? Well, wonder no longer! In 1862, British explorer John Hanning Speke proclaimed the source of the Nile to be in the very unassuming Ugandan town of Jinja – and he was indeed correct. Though the town might be small, it has become the self-proclaimed adventure capital of East Africa and you won’t find yourself short of aqueous pastimes here. Daredevils can tumble down white water rapids on a raft or hurl themselves from great heights on a bungee rope but for something a little more sedate, take a gentle horse ride along the Nile’s banks.
Our ‘Discover the source of the Nile’ trip is the perfect way to explore this area. Not only will you get a chance to put your derring-do to the test, but it will also take you further afield to one of the world’s most powerful waterfalls, Murchison Falls. Here you can watch in awe as the Nile squeezes through a seven-metre gap in the Albertine Rift Escarpment creating a roaring cascade. Thrilling!
Come face to face with an apex predator in South Africa
Many water safaris offer a prime opportunity to some of the continent’s greatest land mammals like big cats, elephant and giraffe, but what if you could get up close and personal with one of the greatest predators in the seven seas, the great white shark? Made famous by Spielberg’s ‘Jaws’, we think these mighty creatures have received a bad rep over the years. Visiting South Africa? Take a trip off the country’s southern coast with a team of experts and learn more about this majestic fish. You can watch them from the boat, or, if you’re feeling really brave, get in the water (in a cage of course!) and have a look at them up close.
Tap into Tanzania’s wildlife in the Selous
Now we’re ending with a more traditional water safari and drifting through Tanzania’s Selous Game Reserve by boat. This watery wonderland is a game-spotting heaven as a result of its incredibly diverse landscapes and right at the heart of it is the Rufiji river, the life-force of the Selous and the scene of one of the best water safaris in Africa. Here, you’ll follow the river as it meanders through vast valleys and floodplains, spotting zebra, buffalo, crocodile and even the famous Selous lion as you go – although you’ll have to crane your neck to see the giraffe! Make sure to pack your boat with a cool box and as the sun sets over this African paradise, crack open a drink and enjoy the views.
Our ‘Off-the-beaten-track in Southern Tanzania’ trip is our favourite way to explore this special country, water safaris and all.