Introduction to river cruising: Africa

African landscapes don’t particularly scream river cruising. With arid desert plains and desolate scenery, it may not be the first place you consider when looking to sail.

But why not? The Nile River is the longest river in the world, passing Egyptian history and wildlife and Botswana’s Chobe River is abundant with villages and safaris for you to enjoy.

Cruise lines such as AmaWaterways, Riviera, Scenic and Viking offer sailings along these rivers, allowing guests to unveil the hidden secrets and depths of the African river banks.

What to expect on an African river cruise?

Sunset in Botswana, Africa

An African river cruise offers dazzling sunsets, wandering wildlife and vast open space as far as the eye can see. Along the Chobe enjoy sampling African wines, exploring the surroundings on a safari and witnessing romantic settings at dusk as the sun sets on the horizon.

The Nile offers an intricate story of Ancient Egypt, with tours to nearby landmarks and sandy landscapes shadowed by historic sites, with stops in Cairo, Aswan and Luxor.

Passing through these rivers there are a few caveats, such as multiple border crossings which charge fees and recommendations to take anti-malaria tablets. However, a river cruise along the African landscapes offers you incomparable insight into this country with only a few port stops, very little river traffic and the perfect place to relax and watch the world go by.

Where can you sail on an African river cruise?

Chobe River

Elephants along the Chobe riverbanks

Originating in Liambezi Lake the Chobe sets course east to join the Zambezi River before branching out and flowing into the Indian Ocean.

The river predominantly flows through Botswana, before bordering Zimbabwe, Namibia, Zambia. Many river cruises along the Chobe are paired with a stay in Cape Town or Johannesburg, before setting sail along the river.

Nile River

Aswan, Egypt - Ancient Egypt

The Nile begins south of the Equator, flowing through north-eastern Africa toward the Mediterranean Sea. Initially formed of three principal streams, the Blue Nile, White Nile and Atbara, the Nile becomes the main star from central Sudan to northern Egypt.

During this stretch is where the majority of river cruises sail, with ports of call including Aswan, Luxor and Cairo.

What to look out for on an African river cruise?

Temples galore

Luxor, Egypt - Temple

Specifically along the Nile the riverbanks are rich in history and religious landmarks, including several temples which are ideal for exploring and learning more of the Ancient Egyptian civilisation.

Stop in Luxor and you can visit the Karnak Temple where carved pillars and painted ceilings tell stories with natural symbolism. Another major temple includes the Luxor Temple, with a grand entrance guarded by two seated figures of Rameses II.

Situated between Luxor and Aswan, the Temple of Edfu is one of the best-preserved temples in Egypt, complete with antechambers and halls to explore. A little closer to Aswan is the Kom Ombo – a double temple which is devoted to both Horus and Sobek.

Up-close markets and far-away landscapes

Along the Nile, river cruises often sail to Cairo where the Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx stand proud as icons of Ancient Egypt, with trips exploring the marvels and mythology of Egypt.

The other side of the Nile is home to the Khan al-Khalili Bazaar where it may be loud and crowded but is also home to colourful and exciting market stalls. From trinkets to spices this souk is perfect for walking the winding alleys and losing yourself in the labyrinth of a 14th-century landmark.

Wandering wildlife and welcoming locals

Elephant safari - Africa

The Chobe National Park is possibly the highlight of a river cruise along the Chobe River, offering elephants, giraffes, lions and zebras as they wander along one of the best natural wildlife areas of Botswana.

Visit local villages where you can meet native Xwe Bushmen or travel to the waterways of Okavango via mokoro – a traditional canoe-like vessel perfect for game-viewing safaris. You can even explore Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, nicknamed the ‘smoke that thunders’. Your trip here is such to offer an unforgettable experience.

Which ships sail on the African rivers?

Chobe River cruises

AmaWaterways offers sailings along the Chobe aboard the Zambezi Queen, a beautiful ship specifically designed for safari river cruises on the Chobe, with a sophisticated layout to maximise animal sightings.

CroisiEurope also offers sailings along the Chobe with the African Dream, offering an up-close and personal experience at one with African nature and the surroundings.

Forked roller bird - African wildlife

Nile River cruises

The Nile River is also popular with Riviera Travel, Viking and Uniworld all offering their own sailings along the riverbanks.

Riviera Travel’s MS Darakum features just 52 cabins, with a lower draft designed in order to navigate the full length of the Nile River. The ship offers extensive open deck space, with facilities including a plunge pool, wine tastings and evening music entertainment.

Viking’s African cruise ship, Viking Ra, is the newest and most upscale ship in Egypt, offering all-suite, state-of-the-art design with Scandinavian finishes effortlessly blended with local influences.

Uniworld’s River Tosca is another ship exclusive to the Nile River, offering 82 passengers a relaxing and comfortable setting to enjoy while exploring Africa. Settle on the sun deck with shaded cabanas and a swimming pool, perfect for a quick dip.

Set sail to African plains with an unforgettable river cruise

Giraffes on safari, African wildlife

Book yourself a river cruise along the Chobe or Nile rivers and look forward to capturing the Big Five on camera, meeting local tribes and incomparable landscapes each day you sail.

Call our Cruise Concierge team on 0800 197 0854 for award-winning advice and assistance with your booking.

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About Emma Smith

Emma has more than seven years' experience as a writer and has been in the travel industry for nearly five years. She loves learning about new places and cruise ships coming to market, as well as discovering fun and exciting activities to do while you sail. She has cruised with Princess Cruises, Cunard, Celebrity Cruises, Virgin Voyages, Avalon Waterways and Royal Caribbean and is looking to get something in her diary for 2024! Her favourite things to see on a ship include excellent entertainment, a delicious cocktail menu and extraordinary dining venues.

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