River cruises have been a popular way to explore Europe from a different angle for quite some time, but it's not something people necessarily associate with an Africa vacation. However, river cruises are gaining popularity on the continent as an "out-of-the-box" way to experience a safari.
The Zambezi Queen Collection, a member of the Mantis Collection of luxury hotels, ecolodges, waterways and impact experiences, says it has seen a promising increase in demand from the U.S. market. The collection comprises boutique houseboats, including the Zambezi Queen, which accommodates 28 passengers, and the Chobe Princess, a trio of ships that can accommodate up to 10 passengers and can be booked for exclusive use.
The Zambezi Queen offers a true hotel experience on the Chobe River in Botswana, with amazing views over the Caprivi Strip on one side and Chobe National Park on the other. This luxury vessel has three floors with 14 cabins on the first and second floors that are spacious and modern, with comfortable beds and spa-like bathrooms.
The Zambezi Queen Collection includes three Chobe Princess ships. They can accommodate up to 10 passengers and can be booked for exclusive use. Photo Credit: Zambezi Queen Collection
Onboard, flexibility is key. Travelers can relax in the hot
tub or bird-watch from their suite balcony and enjoy the wildlife coming
to them. Or they can venture out in a smaller boat to get even closer
to the wildlife. They could even try their luck during a fishing trip.
The Chobe Princess follows a similar itinerary as the Zambezi Queen but offers an even more exclusive experience.
The Zambezi Queen Collection actually includes three Chobe Princess vessels. Two of the Chobe Princess houseboats have four cabins each: three standard and one superior Cabin. The third Princess is larger, with five cabins: three standard and two superior cabins, one with a front balcony and the other located on the upper (top) deck.
With only a small number of guests per boat, the Chobe Princess is like being on your very own houseboat. The entire boat can also be booked exclusively, giving travelers their very own private villa on the water.
Cruising on the Chobe River
The houseboats can navigate up to about 15 miles of the Chobe River along one of the most game-dense areas on the continent, giving travelers an entirely different view of the landscape, birdlife and
wildlife than they would experience on a traditional land safari. The banks of Chobe National Park boast one of the most impressive
populations of elephants in Africa and is also home to
many buffaloes, leopards and lions, various antelopes and abundant birdlife.
"Chenku, the first port of call aboard the Zambezi Queen, is a popular grazing area for elephant, buffalo and several species of antelope, making it a sensational spot for game-viewing" says Kate Powell, general manager of marketing, sales and reservations for the Zambezi Queen Collection.
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Travelers will also have the chance to spot over 450 diverse bird species living in a mix of terrains against a dramatic African backdrop. Bird-watchers are rewarded with sightings of African skimmers, rock pratincoles and the African finfoot as well as pied kingfishers and the striking carmine bee-eater.
New perspective on photo safaris
For shutterbugs, a custom-designed photographic safari boat provides a water's edge vantage point to view animals drinking from the river. "You'll be able to snap the sunrise from your houseboat balcony or capture herds of thirsty elephants as they flock around the river's edge," said Powell. "Passengers also have access to a photographic safari boat to help get that perfect shot. The boats accommodate six guests in individual photographic seats, custom-designed to give you greater stability and 360-degree views for a wider range of subject matter. Plus there's a mounting for resting SLR cameras of all types."
The lounge on the 28-passenger Zambezi Queen. Sailings offer views of the Caprivi Strip on one side and Chobe National Park on the other. Photo Credit: Zambezi Queen Collection
Among the rewarding shore excursions is the Ichingo Chobe River Lodge on the Namibian side of the river. This tented lodge is nestled on the secluded Impalila Island, where visitors will find one of Africa's most ancient baobab trees, otherwise known as the "Tree of Life." This remarkable baobab dates back 2,000 years, and those who dare climb to the top -- yes, you can indeed climb it! -- would be able to see the junction of four countries: Namibia, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Prices are $647 per person, per night for the Zambezi Queen and $462 per person per night for the Chobe Princess.