Water Based Safaris
Long before the arrival of man, the great waterways of Africa were always vital lifelines for wildlife. Even now rivers and lakes still form essential routes that link places still beyond the reach of road or rail, key communication channels to remote communities little touched by the modern age and wilderness regions where nature still rules supreme.
Africa's rivers and lakes are never ignored. For the locals they're a ready source of drinking water and fish. On safari, they are valuable routes into the African bush, and any trip will take to the water if there's a boat available. A floating vessel is a comfortable, stable and peaceful platform to watch animals coming to the water to drink, bird species on the bank, and sunsets, ideally complemented by an ice-cold sundowner drink. Still-water highlights include Kenya's Rift Valley lakes, the endless waters of Lake Malawi, the canal systems of eastern Madagascar, the sub-tropical forest of South Africa's St. Lucia Wetlands and the spreading floods of the Okavango Delta. Top rivers include Tanzania's Rufiji, Botswana's Chobe and the Zambezi, as it threads between Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Generally water-borne excursions are simply an alternative to a traditional game-drive, though longer trips lasting days or weeks can also be arranged. The type of vessel used will reflect local traditions. In Botswana the usual boats are modeled on traditional mokoros, dug-out canoes now recreated in fiberglass but still pushed by a timber pole. Here guests sit on cut-down seats in the middle of the canoe, with propulsion supplied by your guide, standing in the back and pushing along with a pole. Silent and unobtrusive, these craft provide an unforgettable experience of the Okavango Delta in all its reflective beauty.
For longer, trips Zambia has the best options on the Zambezi and Kafue rivers. Here two-man Canadian-style canoes head out for days or weeks, using the current to drift slowly downstream. Sturdy and stable, these vessels are able to carry tents and camping equipment in waterproof drums, allowing you to camp out on islands and river beaches, enjoying a sundowner or two while the area's wildlife comes down to the water for their evening drinks. These longer safaris do require a certain level of agility but previous experience is not required: paddling is easy and you can learn how to steer along the way.
Adrenaline-packed alternatives focus on the Victoria Falls, where white-water rafts and boogie-boards ride the Zambezi rapids. Lesser-known rivers across Kenya and South Africa provide even wilder waters with challenging routes that can be explored in a Zodiac inflatable, with the chance to pass pods of hippo and crocodile sunning themselves on the banks along the way.