Cruising in Africa can take the form a month long public ferry down the Congo River or a luxury felucca up the Nile. Lovely old ferries still ply the Zambezi, Chobe and Senegal rivers, offering travelers a wonderful alternative to long days on dusty roads. Needless to say, cruising in Africa is adventurous and fun. I've put together a list of African cruises that I highly recommend. They suit all travel styles and budgets, and avoid Somali pirates and forced costume parties.
For more on traditional cruise liners in Africa see -- Cruising to Africa.
Recommended African Cruises
- Floating Luxury Safari on the Zambezi Queen
Hop on board the ultra luxurious and modern Zambezi Queen and enjoy a lovely cruise on the Chobe River which marks the border between Nambia and Botswana. This area is home to a huge population of wildlife and they all come down to the river to drink at some point during the day. You get the perfect seat to watch elephant, buffalo, giraffe, lion and many more. There's a lounge and a pool to cool off during the heat of the day. The food and wine is superb and included in the ticket. A great option if you're on a romantic holiday.
Duration of Cruise: 2-3 Days
How to Book: Directly on the web site or through a tour operator
Starting Cost: $950pp for two nights all-inclusive
Cruise Reviews: BBC Travel Feature on the Zambezi Queen
Budget Alternative: A cruise on Lake Tanganyika on the boat that inspired the African Queen
- Dhow Safari in Mozambique's Quirimbas Archipelago
The Quirimbas Archipelago in northern Mozambique offers up some of most stunning islands in the Indian Ocean. A traditional dhow is your sailing vessel on this adventure and camps are set up every night on a different island. A good family experience if the kids love snorkeling. The trip starts at the Ibo Island Lodge. Ibo island gives you a fascinating taste of the heady cultural mix of Portuguese, Arab and African influences found in this unique part of Africa.
How to Book: Directly with Mozambique Dhow Safaris
Starting Cost Per Person: One week for a group of 2: US$1795 per person sharing
Alternative Dhow Options: You can take a dhow trip all along the East African coast, from Lamu in Kenya down to Mozambique's Bazaruto Archipelago.
- Senegal River Cruise
The Senegal River forms the border between Senegal and Mauritania and for half a century the "Bou El Mogdad" has steadily sailed these waters. Every week this lovely old-fashioned ferry has plied its 1,0000 km route between Saint Louis, the old capital of French West Africa, and Podor on the edge of the Sahara desert. The six day cruise takes you past old French forts, Tukolor, Wolof and Maure villages, and the amazing Parc d'Oiseaux de Djoudj, filled with birdlife. This is not a luxury cruise, but the boat is comfortable with 28 cabins and two restaurants. Be prepared to share the boat with lots of French tourists.
How to Book: Through a tour operator like FromHere2Timbuktu
Starting Cost Per Person: 8 Day trip €1550.00
Alternative River Cruises: A day on the River Gambia offers a nice, shorter alternative to the Senegal River Cruise. Or try a few days cruise on the Safari Queen.
Check out: this slideshow of a trip on the Bou el Mogdad.
- Cruise the Niger River to Timbuktu
It's odd that one of the most enigmatic destinations in Africa is located in the world's largest desert and you can reach it by boat. A regular COMANAV ferry runs from Koulikoro (35km's from Mali's capital, Bamako), to Timbuktu in Mali. It has comfortable cabins and would be my personal preference. However, when the water runs low, the ferry stops its service short of Timbuktu. The ferry schedule is also very flexible. A private or shared pinasse from Mopti is the best alternative. The trip from Mopti to Timbuktu usually takes 3 days and you camp along the river bank at night.
- Nile Cruise on the Royal Cleopatra
With over 200 Nile cruises to choose from, all following a similar itinerary, it's not easy to narrow down the perfect option. But the Royal Cleopatra is an excellent bet if you have the budget. It's a traditional sailboat called a dahabeeya, commonly used by Victorian travelers. The Royal Cleopatra can be rented privately and sleeps up to 8 people. Because the vessel is smaller than a cruise ship you can dock at more sights and enjoy being the only tourist. (More on Nile cruises)
How to Book: Through a tour operator, often comes as part of an Egypt tour package.
Starting Cost: A 5 day sail can start at $2500pp (depends on number of people).
Budget travelers check out: A felucca cruise. Feluccas have been used over the centuries by Nubians plying their trade up and down the Nile. The basic sailboat has few facilities on board, and you sleep on the open deck.
- Lake Malawi Cruise on the Ilala II
Lake Malawi is a beautiful fresh water lake that takes up about a third of Malawi in southern Africa. The Ilala is a large ferry that crosses the lake every week (about a 300 mile trip). There are 5 double cabins in first class with exclusive use of the top deck, and the captain' cabin (with AC -- if you're lucky you can book it). The Ilala makes regular stops for passengers and freight along the way, including the lovely Likoma island. You can get off at any point, or sail the whole route back to the starting point of Monkey Bay. This is not a luxury cruise and you'll be sharing the boat with hundreds of passengers and freight, but it's a classic African adventure.
How to Book: Through a travel operator or buy a ticket at point of departure. The Ilala does not always sail to schedule, so be flexible. More info...
Starting Cost: Budget for around $20 -$40 per day for a 1st class cabin.
Alternative Cruise: Budget sailing tour on Lake Malawi and Liwonde National Park.
More Recommended River Boat Trips in Africa
- Congo River Cruise
- Canoeing the Zambezi River (Zambia, Zimbabwe)
- Canoeing/Rafting on the Orange River (Namibia, South Africa)
- White Nile River rafting (Uganda)
- Yapei Queen on Lake Volta (Ghana)
- Omo River trip (Ethiopia)