From massive cruise liners edging up Africa’s east and west coasts to refurbished traditional boats, there is an ever growing flotilla of vessels plying the continent’s waters. Think riverboats on the Nile that hark back to Agatha Christie, romantic dhows coursing around Zanzibar and Lamu, or your own luxurious safari boat surrounded by teeming wildlife as you bob on a Botswana waterway. Here are 9 ways to see Africa by water.

cruise ships

1. For its cruise ships, the Mediterranean Shipping Company lists ports of call in South Africa, Namibia and Mozambique as part of its Southern African itineraries. Most of the trips sail out of Durban, where MSC is setting up a more permanent base, a sign of cruise companies’ increasing interest in Africa. Several other companies increasingly use Cape Town as a port of call. In 2021, Crystal Cruises is offering a 14-day cruise from Mombasa to Cape Town.

msc cruise ship cape town travel
Photo: Facebook

Stay on-board safari boats

Probably the most boated wildlife area, thanks to its network of waterways, is Botswana’s Chobe National Park. Most of the boats take their name after the African Queen, famously made into a movie with Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn in 1950. But these boats are way more luxurious than the little skip that made its treacherous way through Africa for the classic movie.

2. The Pangolin Voyager Houseboat has five en suite cabins.

3. The Zambezi Queen Collection, owned by Mantis Hotels, has the ultra-luxurious Chobe Princess and the Zambezi Queen.

chobe national park pangolin houseboat
Pangolin Voyager Houseboat.
chobe princess botswana national park riverboat travel
On the Chobe Princess.
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A game-viewing launch from the Zambezi Queen.

4. CroisiEurope’s African Dream has 8 cabins.

african dream riverboat chobe national park botswana
Dinner on the African Dream.

Day Trips

5. For day trips near the Victoria Falls, try the African Queen Cruise Company. The triple-deck 70-foot catamaran African Queen iand the slightly smaller African Princess both offer various tours of the Zambezi River.

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The African Queen.

6. Various boat trips are available in Malawi – although not as regularly as the ones on the Zambezi River – and the country’s tourism body says one should check out options on Lake Malawi, the Shire River, Lake Chilwa and Elephant Marsh. Lake Tanganyika and Lake Victoria, though vast, still have few boat trips that are well publicised.

East African Dhow

7. The gorgeously repurposed Tusatiri dhow of the Enasoit collection, which can take 10 people on an exclusive basis, has sailed as far south from Kenya as Mozambique but is mostly based in Lamu, which it says is perfect for sailing and lolling in the water. In this kind of luxury, who wouldn’t want to!

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The Tusatiri dhow in all its glory.

enasoit tusatiri dhow lamu kenya travel boat enasoit tusatiri dhow lamu kenya travel boatNumerous tour operators offer dhow cruises, but mostly on a daylong basis.

Nile Cruises

8. One of those trips on everyone’s bucket list, especially those who have read or seen Agatha Christie’s famous Hercule Poirot novel set on a Nile steamer. Many of the vessels running the route are called dahabiyas. One of the best companies that run the route from Luxor for the 5 days down the Nile to Aswan is Nour et Nil, which has four dahabiyas.

nour et nil dahabiya nile riverboat travel
On one of Nour et Nil’s Nile boats.

9. Then there is the Steam Ship Sudan. With 5 suites and 18 cabins, this is where you will find the Agatha Christie Suite. So start exploring!

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Two views of the Sudan Steamer.

sudan steam ship riverboat nile egypt travel

sudan steam ship riverboat nile egypt travel
The Agatha Christie Suite on the Sudan Steamer.