Cruising the Zambezi River
The impressive Zambezi River, which translates as ‘Great River’ in the local Tonga dialect, is Africa’s fourth-largest waterway and flows an astonishing 2,000 kilometres through six spectacular countries. Emerging in the Mwinilunga District in northwest Zambia, the Zambezi courses majestically through Zambia, Angola, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique, where it empties into the Indian Ocean. The Zambezi’s waters cascade down magnificent waterfalls at different points along the river, including at the mighty Victoria Falls – Zambia’s sparkling showpiece. This magnificent waterway is also drenched in spirituality as the local Tsonga people believe that it is the residence of Nyami Nyami, the guardian and god of the River Valley. Legend has it that the construction of the massive Kariba Dam gave rise to the wrath of Nyami Nyami and his wife, who used their divine powers to cause regular floods and deaths in the area. A wildlife hotspot, the Zambezi River runs through countless reserves and national parks which are home to exotic creatures including lions, elephants, buffalos, leopards, hippos and zebras. Zambezi river cruises tend to navigate their way solely through Zambia, Botswana and Zimbabwe, frequenting both the upper and lower sections of the river.
Why choose Zambezi river cruises
The pristine Zambezi River evokes feelings of awe and mystery, immersing cruisers in the colourful heartlands of Africa and revealing a sumptuous world of vibrant culture and natural beauty. A luxury Zambezi river cruise brings travellers up close to diverse wildlife and luscious vegetation, creating an intimate and truly authentic experience. Vessels such as the African Queen and African Princess cruise along the peaceful waters at sunset, offering stunning views of the African evening skies. There is also the option of embarking on a breakfast or lunchtime cruise, for example onboard the MV Makumbi or MV Mambushi, and boats such as the Zambezi Explorer are decked out in luxury furnishings and provide a first-class service. The Zambezi is dotted with a number of river lodges from which many cruise boats leave. Travellers can stay overnight at a lodge such as the David Livingstone Safari Lodge & Spa at Victoria Falls or the Masumu River Lodge in Binga, before hopping aboard a peaceful excursion up the beautiful Zambezi River.
Find your ideal Zambezi river cruise
Zambezi river cruises: Countries of the Zambezi River
The vast majority of the Zambezi River flows through the friendly nation of Zambia, which takes its name from the enormous waterway. Zambia is situated in central Africa and is landlocked by eight neighbouring countries. This hospitable country is synonymous with extraordinary natural landscapes, an abundance of rich wildlife and serene rural villages. Zambia is the proud owner of the glorious Victoria Falls, one of the world’s largest collections of waterfalls, which gush down jagged rock faces at the country’s border with Zimbabwe and is definitely a must-see on any Zambezi river cruise.
Zimbabwe is largely made up of tropical grasslands called savanna and has a high concentration of diverse wildlife. It is home to the exquisite Hwange National Park which stretches along the Bulawayo-Victoria Falls railway line towards the Botswana border. Here, you can find anything from elephants, giraffes and hippopotamuses to mamba snakes, eagles and baboons. There is a melting pot of cultures that co-exist in Zimbabwe, the largest ethnic group being the Shona people. This vibrant country entices curious visitors with its enchanting scenery, unique traditions and complex history. Immerse yourself on a Zambezi river cruise in Zimbabwe.
Botswana forms a semi-triangular shape in the centre of southern Africa and is landlocked by Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa. It is blessed with vast expanses of unspoiled natural land where elephants, lions and leopards roam freely, and gentle streams run within fossil river valleys. The famous Kalahari Desert sweeps across Botswana, from the salt plains of Makgadikgadi to the conservation area of Kgalagadi in the south. Botswana is also a nation steeped in spiritual values and rituals, where you can learn about the fascinating lifestyles of the country’s rural tribes on a Zambezi cruise.
Zambezi river cruises: Ports of the Zambezi River
The laid-back town of Livingstone is situated on the Zambian side of the otherworldly Victoria Falls. It is the perfect base from which to explore this roaring natural phenomenon from countless different perspectives. Feel like you’re on top of the world while walking along Knife Edge Bridge which is located at the precipice of the falls, offering astonishing views of the main gorge. For those seeking a more exhilarating experience, jump on a helicopter and hold on tight as it swoops wildly above the gorge revealing breathtaking aerial views of the Falls. Daredevils on a Zambezi river cruise will rejoice at the opportunity to make the hair-raising trip to Devil’s Pool on Livingstone Island. Here, brave travellers can bathe in the world’s scariest infinity pool at the very edge of Victoria Falls before following an extensive tour of the island; it is an experience you will never forget. Located just below the Falls you’ll find the marvellous Batoka Gorge. If you still haven’t quite satisfied your thirst for adventure on your luxury Zambezi river cruise, Batoka is the prime location for trying out nail-biting activities such as ziplining 120 kilometres across the canyon or hurtling down the steep cliffside towards the Zambezi river from the Gorge Swing on the Victoria Falls Bridge and Zim Zam bridges above. Other thrilling activities around Victoria Falls include hiking down to Boiling Point and taking a dip underneath the Falls and quadbiking around the town of Livingstone.
Mosi-Oa-Tunya and Victoria Falls National Parks
Nestled between Livingstone town and the Zambezi River is the Mosi-Oa-Tunya National Park. This small wildlife sanctuary is the only area in Zambia inhabited by the white rhino, protected from poachers by armed guards under the Department of National Parks and Wildlife. Mosi-Oa-Tunya translates to ‘The Smoke Which Thunders’ and was christened as such because it lies in the shadow of the thundering Victoria Falls. Despite its small size, Mosi-Oa-Tunya is teeming with magnificent animals. Visitors can climb into an off-road truck and rattle through the park on a half-day safari spotting rhinos, elephants, zebras, giraffes, wildebeest, buffalos, hippos and crocodiles. One of the park’s main draws is its fabulous open-air Elephant Café from where travellers can relax in the shade with a cool drink or warm meal while a heard of rescued elephants stroll peacefully outside, a must-do on a Zambezi river cruise.
The Victoria Falls National Park sprawls out on the Zimbabwean side of the imposing waterfalls. Stroll through the cobblestone pathways of dense, steamy rainforest and look out for lions, waterbucks, monkeys and antelopes. There are leafy clearings at scattered points across the park from where you can experience striking views of the Falls. Check this destination off your bucket list while on your Zambezi river cruise.
The MV Zambezi Adventurer recently launched a new cruising vessel that ventures into Lake Kariba in Zimbabwe and glides up to the town of Binga. The shimmering Lake Kariba is situated on the south bank of the Zambezi River and has risen in prominence over the last few years owing to the construction of the great Kariba Dam. These waters are extremely biodiverse thanks to the area’s fertile soils and various species of fish, crocodile and hippo inhabit its silky depths. Tranquil lake cruises on board the MV Matusadona involve moorings at the scenic Sanyati Gorge, the isolated outcrop of Elephant Point, where you can spot elephants and rhinos at Rhino Safari Camp, and visit the heavenly islands of Tashinga and Partridge. From the Kariba Lake on your Zambezi river cruise, you can also hop on to one of the smaller tender boats and explore the channels that lead into Matusadona National Park which is home to lions, leopard and buffalo.
On the south-eastern end of Lake Kariba sits the charming fishing village of Binga. The town is largely inhabited by the Tonga people who previously lived in settlements along the Zambezi River. Binga offers cruisers a fascinating insight into the traditional cultures and riverside lifestyles of the Tonga who sustain themselves via their thriving handicraft industry. At every turn you will see stalls selling baskets, beads, drums and hand-carved pieces of furniture. Cultural tours of this gentle little village are available, during which cruisers on a Zambezi cruise can visit the town’s museum which documents the history of the crafts industry in Binga and you can even interact with the village’s sociable residents.
The Chobe National Park
The four great African nations of Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe meet at the confluence of the Chobe River and Zambezi. Resting within the border of Botswana you’ll find the enormous Chobe National Park. Here, you will feel as if you have been transported into a wildlife paradise as you glide along the Chobe River, through the marshy floodplains and verdant grasslands of the Savuti Marsh and the spindly leakwood trees of the Savuti Channel: this is where Africa’s largest population of elephants congregates to drink, and swathes of buffalo graze grassy patches along the banks. The list of wildlife here is endless and boat trips along the waterways of the Chobe National Park allow visitors to come within tantalising distance of stunning beasts such as crocodiles and hippos. Make sure your camera is charged for this epic adventure as you will undoubtedly return with some exceptional snaps from Zambezi river cruise.
Lower Zambezi Valley
As the Zambezi River winds eastward from Victoria Falls and the Batoka Gorge, it widens to become the Lower Zambezi Valley. This watery wonderland is a critical source of life for the hundreds of wild creatures who drink from the river and laze about in the dazzling African sun. On your Zambezi river cruise expect to see hippos, buffalos, impala, waterbucks, zebras, leopards, lions, wild dogs and countless more as you cruise around oxbow-shaped lagoons and along sandy riverbanks. If you’re keen to stretch your legs away from the water, exercise your calves on the long hike to the idyllic Chongwe Falls. Climb up rocky slopes and down to the gigantic pool at the base of the Falls and watch out for the crocodiles that lurk in the emerald-coloured waters. On the southern banks of the lower Zambezi, you will find the biodiverse paradise that is Mana Pools National Park. This is one of the most remote areas along the Zambezi and as a result there is an extremely high concentration of wild animals. Elephants relax in the shade beneath beautiful acacia trees and hippos wallow in the park’s four large lakewater pools.
Zambezi river cruises: Best things to do on the Zambezi River
Embark on a sunset cruise
Sunset cruises are a fantastic way to see the wonders of the Zambezi River in the glow of the honey-hued evening light. The Zambezi Royal, River Song, Zambezi Explorer, Ra Ilkane and River Safaris’ Victoria and Darter vessels offer sunset cruises with a range of amenities. Passengers are able to dine on board, enjoying delicious food while watching the bustling wildlife that surrounds them. A Zambezi sunset river cruise is a once in a lifetime experience that shouldn't be missed!
Go white-water rafting
The Zambezi river is resplendent with whitewater rapids, particularly around the Victoria Falls area. These rapids range from grade I to grade V and have been christened with fear-inducing nicknames such as the Devil’s Toilet Bowl and the Gnashing Jaws of Death. Rafting companies can be found all around Victoria Falls, including Bundu Adventures, Wild Horizons and Zambezi Rafting. Daredevils will love these opportunities off of their Zambezi cruise.
Enjoy a canoe safari
Get up close and personal with the Zambezi’s majestic river life by embarking on a canoe safari. Via canoe you can reach the more remote areas of the river and glide alongside large land mammals that can be found along its banks. Committed canoeists can even camp in tents alongside the river while on multi-day canoe excursions.
The Zambezi River is bursting with a multitude of species of fish and a common activity on board a river cruise boat is to try out some fly-fishing. The Upper Zambezi is renowned for its swarms of tigerfish who flourish in the river’s fresh waters. Tigerfish are a real prize catch and can weigh up to 15 kilograms. In the Lower Zambezi and around Lake Kariba you will be able to fish off of your Zambezi cruise for giant Vundu catfish. These shy creatures habitually lurk at the bottom of the river.
Experience the Kuomboka festival
Zambia’s lively Kuomboka festival is the nation’s most famous traditional ceremony and takes places at the end of the rainy season when the upper Zambezi River plains flood. The colourful Lozi people migrate from these plains to higher land in long black and white striped wooden canoes – the Nalikwanda. A vast model elephant is placed onboard, alongside Lintunga paddlers wearing a headdress consisting of a scarlet beret with a piece of lion’s mane and a long skirt made from animal skins. The day before the procession, you will hear the loud beats of the Maoma drums which signal that the procession is about to begin. Don't miss this amazing experience on a Zambezi river cruise!