Canoeing Safari on the Lower Zambezi | Zambia Travel Guide

Sunset canoeing at Chiawa CampSunset canoeing at Chiawa Camp

One of the finest ways to see magnificent African wildlife is on a canoeing safari on the Lower Zambezi River. You'll paddle downstream on a relaxing adventure and get really close to the water's edge, where Elephant, Buffalo, Hippo and Crocodile share their domain with you.

The Zambezi Valley, which lies east of Victoria Falls, is wonderfully scenic and quite unforgettable. Canoeing down the river in a 2-man canoe provides an intimate and personal encounter with nature. With just the swish of your paddle and the sounds of birds in the air, you'll feel a deep sense of peace and oneness in this remote corner of Africa.

Zambezi Valley Images

The Zambezi River forms a natural border between Zambia and Zimbabwe and carves a path through beautiful countryside. Characterised by gorges and fertile floodplains, the river is flanked by the Lower Zambezi National Park on one side and the Mana Pools (a World Heritage Site) on the other.

This is a pristine wilderness area, rich in wildlife and where you can witness stunning sunsets at the end of a fabulous day on the river. Canoe safaris on the Lower Zambezi River take place in 3 sections over a stretch of about 230km (143 miles). Along the way you'll be able to leave the main river and venture up smaller, remote channels where plenty of game and birdlife can be seen.

The middle section is considered to be the most spectacular from a game watching point of view. The river is home to plenty of Hippo, Crocodile and fish species, while at the water's edge you could see big Elephant herds (in the hundreds), Buffalo and Waterbuck. The land supports plentiful game including Wild Dog, Lion and also Leopard.

Birdlife is prolific anytime in the Lower Zambezi with many excellent sightings, particularly in the second half of the year and in the summer months when Central African migrants arrive. Birds to spot include Meyers's Parrots, Narina Trogon, Trumpeter Hornbill and Lilian's Lovebirds. Of course you'll also hear the haunting cry of the Fish Eagle.

The Experience

Canoe Safari operators run a variety of trips which are usually between 3 to 6 days long - some also offer taster trips where you can spend a day on the river in between other activities. Canoe Safaris combine especially well with walking safaris, Elephant-Back Rides and guided game drives.

Canoeing on the Zambezi is an easy going experience and very enjoyable as you make your way downstream, and generally no experience is needed. There are safety briefings and instructions at the start of each trip and these adventures are led by professional river guides.

Some canoe trips stopover at bush camps along the way and baggage is transferred, while other safaris offer participatory adventures where all necessary gear is carried on board and everyone helps around camp which is set up at suitable sites along the route. Depending on the length of the canoe safari, a certain amount of kilometres need to be covered each day.

Because of the heat in the Zambezi Valley especially in the summer months, everyone rises early. After a snack and warm drink you'll set off on the river, stopping later for breakfast. At about midday there will be a lunch break in the shade and maybe time for a siesta before the last leg of the day. You'll reach the campsite in the early evening in time for snacks, drinks and then supper.

When to Go

Some operators run canoe safaris in the peak season between April and October (the dry season which includes winter), while others run river trips all year round to take advantage of each seasons gifts.

Game viewing is usually at its best between June and November, because water becomes scarce inland and animals congregate at the river. May, June and July are the coolest months and the nights can be cold.

The hottest month in the valley is October in the build up to the rains. November to March is the rainy season, with generally short downpours followed by sunshine. This is the best time of the year for bird watching as migrants species arrive and many birds set about nesting and breeding.

Getting There

Read up on how to get to Lower Zambezi and where to stay
African Safaris Guide to South and East Africa
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