Home > Africa > Meeting the “locals” on the Zambezi

Meeting the “locals” on the Zambezi

Some of the Zambezi's "local" residents.

Whether you are a “first timer” to Africa, a back-packer, on a family vacation or on honeymoon, Victoria Falls caters for just about everyone. While elderly couples sip Afternoon Tea at Victoria Falls Hotel, families mingle at the Boma Restaurant, safari lovers hop around Mwange and Chobe national parks and adventure-junkies can enjoy white water rafting, helicopter and micro-light flights over the Falls and bungee jumping.

The Zambezi river cruise is well worth doing, regardless of your adrenalin-level. We go with a smaller local travel company which charges just USD 15 per person (bigger ones like Wild Horizons charge double the price) for a two-hour river cruise with drinks and canapés, transfer to and from the hotel and, if you’re lucky, a close-up encounter with hippos thrown in. All in all, in a place where the average tourist excursion will set you back at least USD 50, this is a bargain! The boat operators are creative with their cruises – you can choose a breakfast and sunrise, lunch, afternoon or sunset cruise so basically, they run all day.

The mighty Zambezi is the fourth-longest river in Africa, running an impressive 3,540 kilometers from Zambia up to Angola before it empties into the Indian Ocean in Mozambique. Besides an amazing supply of African birdlife, the Zambezi is home to many a crocodile and hippo.

We set off on our peculiar looking flat-bottomed river boat and within minutes have spotted the first crocodiles and a family of 12 hippos. Now, forget the idea of hippos being cute and cuddly, these grumpy buggers kill more people in Africa each year than any lion or crocodile. Usually, you’ll just spot their bulging eyes and massive jaws as they surface for air or if they’re hungry, you’ll see them standing on the banks with their massive a***s facing you on the banks. This time, however, we are treated to both views. Half the hippos bathe in the water, keeping a wary eye on us and opening their mouths to roar every so often in case we forget who’s the boss of the Zambezi. Hippos are highly territorial so stay out of their space, otherwise they won’t be impressed. One guy even reverses back into the bank to do his business, too lazy to get out. Several clamber ungracefully out of the water to munch on the grass close by before plunging his two-tonne frame back into the water again. It’s a rare sight to see them getting in and out of the water and we watch them spellbound for half an hour.

Zambezi river cruise: a tourist trap but well worth doing.

In case the hippos haven’t already realized we’re there, our on-board drummer and singer turns up the live music, probably to distract us from the rain which has started falling (it’s the rainy season but it’s still warm) but which we hardly notice.

Heading into our mooring slot, instead of us spotting the local wildlife, a smart Zambezi crocodile has spotted us and thinking he might get lucky if one of us is drunk enough to fall overboard, starts swimming at a marathon pace in our direction. Crocodiles like to “ambush” their prey in the water and can live for long periods without eating due to their slow metabolism. So, as long as we stay on the boat and he stays in the water, we’re not part of the food chain. Still, I wouldn’t fancy wandering around the banks after the sun sets.

  1. Thomas
    February 12, 2011 at 3:10 pm

    Fantastic Article! We are all waiting for the “African-Bush” ones to come up online! Congratulation!

    • February 12, 2011 at 3:14 pm

      Stay tuned … next week more about Zimbabwe, Victoria Falls, Botswana and the Okavango Delta!

  2. Jen
    February 12, 2011 at 3:13 pm

    Hey Al, Brilliant stories! Wish you would have had live postings while you where there! Btw, Cape Town is really a joke, I agree. Winelands are Fantastic.

    • February 12, 2011 at 3:18 pm

      Would be great to write “live” from the action but, unfortunately, there are only 24 hours a day and I need to focus on the experiences to write about it later. (And besides, we had no internet access or laptop-battery-recharging facilities at most the places we stayed in the bush!! Very relaxing!) Cape Town is Cape Town, highly over-rated in my opinion – the best parts lie outside the city – the Wine Lands, the coastline, the Whale Coast route, the Garden Route …

  3. Neville
    February 14, 2011 at 9:04 pm

    A great article on the Zambesi. Must have been exciting “Meeting the Locals”! Terrific one can get so close to them; Yes, your advice to stay in the boat very appropriate !.

  4. Marilyn
    May 31, 2012 at 12:14 pm

    Really interesting article. Wonder if you can give me the name of the river cruise company as we will be there in a couple of weeks. Many thanks

    • June 3, 2012 at 3:58 pm

      Hi Marilyn, to be honest, I don’t remember the name of the river cruise company, and in Zimbabwe, they tend to change name and go out of business very quickly. All the main hotels organize the river cruises and they are really well worth doing, and all are well organized!

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