Experiencing an African safari is a worldly experience that not many get. Even fewer of us will ever experience some of Africa’s most iconic wildlife from the comfort of a luxury riverboat. National Habitat Adventures has a stellar reputation for giving travelers the riverboat adventure of a lifetime, accompanied by some of the most highly-trained, experienced naturalist guides in Africa. 

Nat Hab’s Southern Africa Riverboat Safari is a rare opportunity to embark on a private voyage; you and 13 other travelers will get uninterrupted access to the islands, inlets, and inland wildlife realms of Zimbabwe’s vast Lake Kariba. Southern Africa’s wildlife and wild places represent some of Earth’s most diverse, treasured, and awe-inspiring ecosystems. This 11-day journey will take you across three countries (Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe) and four national parks, including the Eden of Africa, and you’ll have access to a myriad of wildlife, such as hippos, crocodiles, elephants, and dozens of bird species. 

An Elegant Cruise on Southern Africa’s Lake Kariba

The history of Lake Kariba brims with historical mythology. It is described by locals as a spiritually powerful body of water and is revered by the locals of Zambia and Zimbabwe. 

aerial view of southern african river boat cruise zambeze african dream

© Justin Sullivan

Cruising Lake Kariba will open you up to Africa at its best. Lake Kariba is the world’s largest artificial lake, with a long history for South Africans and conservationists. This UNESCO World Heritage Site sits 810 miles upstream from the Indian Ocean. It is situated along the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe, with many towns and settlements around it, including Kariba, Binga Village and Mlibizi in Zimbabwe and Siavonga and Sinazongwe on the Zambian side. Lake Kariba covers 2,300 square miles and is fed by the Zambezi River, which originates in Zambia and flows through Mozambique to the Indian Ocean. 

The Zambezi River flows 1,700 miles through southwestern Africa through deep gorges, across floodplains, and over one of the world’s largest waterfalls. In the early 1950s, the decision was made to flood the Kariba Gorge to create Lake Kariba, officially making it the world’s largest artificial lake. This transformation has impacted the region’s locals, ecosystems, economic opportunities and many wildlife species. The dam represents a troubling colonial history and a once-hopeful leap into the future

zambeze river southern africa birdlife

© Court Whelan

Before the lake could be formed, vegetation was burned, leaving a thick layer of fertile soil as the lake’s bed. This foundation has helped produce the rich ecology that allows this lake to teem with life. The lake, so large it resembles an inland ocean, includes several islands, including Maaze Island, SampaKaruma, Fothergill, Mashape Island, Chete Island, Sekula, Spurwing, Snake Island, Antelope Island and Bed Island Chikanka. Drowned trees extend from the water’s calm surface. Lake Kariba is the site of some of Africa’s best game viewing opportunities. 

hippos zambeze river southern africa

© Court Whelan

Wildlife of Lake Kariba

Panoramic windows throughout the Zimbabwean Dream and a sundeck offer a 360-degree panorama of Lake Kariba and its wildlife. Your journey will be filled with breathtaking views, stunning sunsets, and close encounters with the abundant wildlife around the lake. This stable water source draws in animals during the dry season, and many don’t need to venture from the shoreline for food.

The shoreline floodplains provide food for herbivores, which fall prey to predators such as lions and leopards. The lake provides the ideal habitat for the Nile crocodile and hippos, which travelers regularly see. You’ll have uninterrupted access to healthy populations of waterbirds, including fish eagles, cormorants, and pied kingfishers. Herds of elephants have been known to saunter down to the banks for a drink of water, and many will be accessible for close observations, providing opportunities for wildlife photography. 

river boat cruise travelers search for elephants from boat deckzambeze river southern africa

© Court Whelan

Exploration of Four Diverse National Parks

The highlight of Nat Hab’s Southern Africa Riverboat Safari is that the fun doesn’t end on the shores of Lake Kariba. This trip includes visits to four diverse national parks, celebrated wildlife havens that, along with important rivers, sustain a cornucopia of southern African wildlife. You won’t find another itinerary offering this much variety in a safari destination that features exceptional wildlife but very few crowds.

zebras at sunset zambeze river southern africa

© Court Whelan

Hwange National Park

Our itinerary includes a quick flight that will take the group to Hwange National Park. As Zimbabwe’s largest national park, it is renowned for its huge herds of elephants and buffalo and its healthy predator populations. Game drives, bush walks, and a viewing platform at camp offer both thrilling and relaxing opportunities for wildlife viewing at close range.

Matusadona National Park

While on this riverboat safari, you’ll also visit Matusadona National Park, a remote area of untouched wooded hills and lakeshore on the southern shore of Lake Kariba. The park is home to elephants, Cape buffalo, impala, waterbuck, side-striped jackal, and much more. Cruising on the Zimbabwean Dream means opportunities to see lions—though elusive. 

lion mother and cub walking beside safari truck southern africa

© Court Whelan

Two prides inhabit the park, about 40 in total, and they are adept hunters, even occasionally killing crocodiles. Bird lovers will appreciate the frequent sightings of the Egyptian goose, marabou stork, saddle-billed stork, Goliath heron, African skimmer, and the coveted African fish eagle.

Mana Pools and Chobe National Parks

Depending on the route you select, you will either visit Mana Pools National Park, a secluded wildlife haven on the Lower Zambezi floodplains, or Chobe National Park in Botswana. In the Chobe region, you’ll spend time cruising the Chobe River’s channels and inlets by motorboat in search of hippos, crocodiles, and myriad bird species that frequent this area. You’ll transfer to land to explore Chobe National Park, known as the ‘Land of The Giants’ since it currently supports the largest surviving elephant population in the world. An estimated 120,000 elephants are in the park, covering parts of northern Botswana and northwestern Zimbabwe.

botswana southern africa wild dogs painted dogs african wild dogs traipsing through the floodplains

© David Luck

Victoria Falls

This riverboat safari expedition is rounded out with a visit to one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, Victoria Falls. Victoria Falls is located approximately halfway along the mighty Zambezi River. When the water reaches this point, the river plummets over a knife-edge cliff into a narrow chasm below, creating the world’s biggest curtain of falling water. You’ll explore the rain forest trails and witness the plumes of mist that hover around the waterfall as it roars over the edge. The clouds of mist can be seen rising off the falls from more than 12 miles away, a phenomenon that gives the falls its original name, Mosi-oa-Tunya, which translates to “The Smoke that Thunders.”

the smoke that thunders victoria falls soouthern africa zambezi river

Staying Aboard the Zimbabwean Dream

The 108-foot ship is designed with both comfort and stunning views in mind. The sundeck is adorned with panoramic windows that ensure travelers never miss a minute of the passing scenery. The upper deck, located at the rear of the boat, has a shaded area with a Jacuzzi plunge pool for relaxation. On the main deck are eight air-conditioned cabin suites with comfortable twin beds, en suite bathrooms, and modern amenities.

African-Dream-Zambeze river boat cruise interior luxury lounge space with panoramic windows

© Alexandre Sattler

Adding a touch of luxury, two cabins have private balconies on either side of the bow. You’ll enjoy your meals at the ship’s stylish and casual restaurant, which cooks up creative international cuisine. Overall, the ship’s design seamlessly combines comfort, style, and awe-inspiring views, ensuring that travelers can fully immerse themselves in the magnificent habitats of Southern Africa.  This private riverboat safari is the ideal trip for a peaceful, relaxing holiday where you can experience the tranquil waters of Lake Kariba in comfort. Spend free time sunbathing, reading, fishing, and enjoying the scenic views from the boat deck.

southern african river boat cruise zambeze african dream woman traveler enjoying wine on the deck

© Court Whelan