When you picture going on safari, you probably think about driving in an open safari vehicle through the wide open spaces of the African bush, or watching the sunset over the arid landscape from the deck of your bush camp. But for something completely different that makes for a truly unforgettable bush experience, you may want to consider going on a river safari.
Here are 9 reasons to go:
1. Great game viewing. Rivers are essential to sustaining life in the bush, and their oasis of greenery amid the dry bush attracts high concentrations of wildlife in search of water. For you as a river safari game viewer, that means incredible game viewing up close and personal, with the Big 5 and more. Depending on the season, you may be lucky enough to see newborn impala, wildebeest and zebra drinking from the river. Predator sightings are also more frequent near the water, so you may have a better chance of seeing lions, rare packs of wild dogs and elusive leopards stalk their prey.
A river safari where you float down the river in your houseboat (or tender boat if you're on a day expedition) with the engine turned off makes for a really tranquil game view experience.
2. A unique perspective. Watching game from the water instead of land gives you unique (and often much closer up) views of the game descending there to drink and play. Being so close to the animals who stay in one place as they drink makes for fantastic photographic opportunities too.
3. Year-round sightings. During the dry winter months when the inland watering holes dry up, vast numbers of animals descend on the river to drink. If you’re on a river safari, this means a front row seat for game viewing. You’ll also be much more likely to see year-round riverine wildlife such as crocodiles and hippos.
4. Great for elephant viewings. Elephants love water and can often be seen swimming and frolicking in the river – sometimes in huge herds. On a river safari, you’re in the perfect position to see elephants of all ages, whether it’s newborns taking their first dip or older males asserting their dominance among each other.
5. It’s tranquil. A river safari where you float down the river in your houseboat (or tender boat if you’re on a day expedition) with the engine turned off makes for a really tranquil game viewing experience. And, the quieter you are, the less disturbance there is, which means it’s more likely you’ll be able to hear and spot the incredibly varied game and birdlife that surrounds you.
6. A more relaxed holiday. A traditional land-based safari typically means a very early morning start, as you head off on game drives before the sun rises for the best chance of spotting game. On a river safari, you’ll enjoy a later start, as animals come down to the water after sunrise. If you’re truly looking to relax and recharge while you’re in the bush, this is a major bonus!
7. A more personal experience. Because a river safari is relatively unusual, there’s minimal congestion on the river compared with a land-based safari, where you could be surrounded by a dozen other vehicles gathered around a sighting. This makes it that much more exclusive and personal as far as safari experiences go. A river safari is highly relaxing and personal, with excellent game viewing opportunities. Companies like the Zambezi Queen Collection offer incredible houseboat safaris. With only a small number of guests per boat, staying on one of their three Chobe Princesses is like being on your very own houseboat. The entire boat can also be booked exclusively, giving you your very own private villa on the water.
8. It’s fishing heaven. If you’re on a river such as the Chobe in Botswana, this means world-class fishing opportunities right on your doorstep. Depending on when you go, you can try your hand at catching tigerfish, bream, African pike, tilapia, catfish or upper Zambezi yellowfish from the comfort of your water-based accommodation.
9. Great birdwatching. While spotting big game is undoubtedly the highlight of going on safari, birdwatching in the bush is hugely rewarding too. Being on a river safari means you’re close to the huge amount of bird species that live on and near rivers – and, during the wet season, huge migrations mean the bird population increases even further. You’ll be in for a treat when it comes to spotting water-based birds, whether it’s fish eagles, storks or ibises.
Content and images: the Zambezi Queen Collection
Jozini Tiger Lodge owns and operates two luxury houseboats in South Africa for water safaris which offer an incredible holiday experience that no land-viewing safari can compete with. It's safe and hassle-free on the Jozini Dam situated in a game reserve protected area.
With a limited number of guests per boat, staying on one of their two houseboats (Shayamanzi & Shayamanzi II) is like being on your very own houseboat, with the entire boat being like a villa on the water.