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Paul Shio

5 Reasons Why This River-Cruise Safari Is the Best Way to See Southern Africa

SmarterTravel

As I began to research my itinerary for CroisiEurope’s Southern Africa river cruise, I was giddy going through the photos on the website of the lodge, riverboat, and animals that we were going to see. An African safari vacation is a top bucket-list trip for many people, but if you haven’t been on this type of vacation before, it can be daunting to plan and execute. That’s where joining a group trip comes in—and this one is a little more unique than your ordinary group safari.

CroisiEurope’s Southern Africa cruise itinerary covers four countries in nine days—Namibia, South Africa, Botswana, and Zimbabwe. With visions of zebras, Victoria Falls, the Zambezi River, and more playing in my head, I eagerly began prepping a packing and to-do list for this trip.

And then my traveler mindset kicked in … “four countries in nine days, how is this going to work?!” Not only did it work, but this trip’s thoughtfully curated itinerary went above and beyond my expectations. It’s the ideal bucket-list trip to Africa, whether it’s your first time to the continent or your tenth.

The Most Bang for Your Buck

Paul Shio

With rates starting at $7,100 per person, you might think this all-inclusive trip is expensive, but in reality, it’s not. Bear with me; the value of this once-in-a-lifetime vacation can’t be beat, especially considering what’s included.

Keep in mind, many four- and five- star safari lodges start at $400 per night, with many accommodations even hitting the $1,000 per night mark. On the CroisiEurope Southern Africa trip, not only is every meal included, but port fees, drinks, travel assistance insurance, onboard activities, national park entrance fees, daily excursions, game-drives, internal flights, and service tips are also part of the trip price. It’s also worth noting that the majority of the nights on the trip are spent exclusively with the CroisiEurope group (which is capped at 16 travelers) at either the private lodge, called Cascades, or aboard a brand-new floating lodge, the African Dream.

For a comparison point, according to the Discover Africa Group, a four-star group safari trip that visits four countries in nine days during mid-season on average costs over $8,000 per person, and over $9,500 per person in high season.

The Perfect Mix of Culture and Leisure

Paul Shio

Whether it’s meeting local villagers on Namibia’s Impalila Island or staring up at the Milky Way on the sun deck of the African Dream, the itinerary provides the ideal balance of education and relaxation.

The first day of the trip includes a visit to the township of Soweto and the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, which is an eye-opening primer to post-apartheid South Africa and the time period’s effects on the continent. With this important cultural foundation, travelers head to the Chobe River the following day via a commercial flight into Kasane, Botswana.

The Chobe River and Chobe National Park sit at the intersection of four countries—Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. The Chobe River flows in to the Zambezi River—Africa’s fourth-largest river—and is home to an abundance of wildlife, including one-quarter of the entire continent’s elephant population.

For a few days, Cascades Lodge, located on a private island in Namibia is the group’s home base for game-drives, water safaris, and more. The island is located across from Impalila’s community of 46 villages, and CroisiEurope provides electricity and water to all the inhabitants, including its employees as well as other locals, in exchange for use of the land.

After three nights at the lodge, guests are transported by private charter plane to the largest manmade lake in the world. Lake Kariba in Zimbabwe was created from the damming of the Zambezi River and is CroisiEurope guests’ home for three nights aboard a riverboat.

The final leg of the itinerary is visiting world-famous Victoria Falls, which guests are transported to once again by private plane. The final day includes one night at a luxury safari hotel, as well as a guided tour of the national park and an option to go on a helicopter ride (at an additional cost).

Throughout the trip, guests are given opportunities to discover each country through activities like a village tour, guest talks on the boat, a visit with an elder from Impalila Island, and game-drives in two different national parks.

Each day’s itinerary includes at least one or two activities, with downtime to enjoy the gorgeous lodge and relax on the boat while on Lake Kariba.

Top-Notch Amenities and Cuisine

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CroisiEurope is a France-based tour company, mostly known for its European river cruises. But this trip itinerary is a new venture and, at the time of writing, is only in its second season. The cuisine is French-inspired and the chefs on board the boat and at the lodge are trained by award-winning chefs from South Africa. Each morning there’s a breakfast buffet and three-course lunches and dinners are served at the lodge and onboard the boat; dietary restrictions can be accommodated. I felt there was a good variety with the food, a mix of meat and fresh seafood, and the chef even created a dish with a bream fish that I caught myself fishing on the lake.

At both the lodge and onboard the African Dream, your room is spacious, with amenities like adapters, hairdryers, and toiletries (including bug spray) all included. At the lodge, each guest has his or her own private bungalow, complete with a wrap-around-deck, swing, outdoor shower, and plunge pool.

 

The riverboat built by CroisiEurope also exceeded my expectations. It has only been sailing for one year, so the entire ship was modern, clean, spacious, and constructed with today’s traveler in mind. The boat consisted of one level of cabins, a dining area, lounge area, sun deck, bar, and small pool. Onboard, everything is truly all-inclusive, including drinks. 

Avoiding the Crowds

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When I deplaned in Johannesburg, the person behind me asked where I was headed next. I answered “Chobe National Park,” and he said: “Enjoy the wild frontier.” At the time I wasn’t exactly sure what he meant, but after hearing comparisons between Chobe and some of the more famous parks, like Krueger, it became clear that Chobe had fewer vehicles on the roads and the wildlife was more hidden, making for a more exciting game drive.

Between the two national parks on the trip itinerary, Chobe National Park and Matusadona National Park (which includes a game-drive from the riverboat in Lake Kariba), you have the chance to see lions, elephants, zebras, leopards, cheetahs, giraffes, water buffalo, hippos, crocodiles, impala, waterbuck, greater kudu, sable, warthogs, baboons, and birds like the African Fish Eagle and Lilac-Breasted Roller. On my trip I was lucky enough to see all of the above—only missing out on spotting a leopard or cheetah.

Since most of the trip is at the private lodge or aboard the African Dream, you aren’t traveling with any other groups and get a much more catered and exclusive experience than you would with most other African safari vacations.

Everything’s Included

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While this means you don’t have to worry about paying for almost anything on your trip while you’re there, it also means you don’t have to think about planning while you’re on your African safari vacation. Everything is taken care of with the CroisiEurope guides, and this allows you to truly relax and enjoy the animals, culture, and sights that you traveled so far to see.

More from SmarterTravel:

Ashley Rossi traveled on CroisiEurope’s Southern Africa tour courtesy of CroisiEurope. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram for travel tips, destination ideas, and off the beaten path spots.

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