Five questions about Canoeing Safaris

If you've ever considered a canoeing safari here are a handful of common questions answered:

Where can I canoe in Africa?

The Lower Zambezi National Park in Zambia and the Mana Pools National Park on the opposite bank of the Zambezi River in Zimbabwe are the birthplace of the canoe safari and remain the best places to experience this genre, although it is possible elsewhere including above the Victoria Falls and in parts of the Kafue National Park

What might I see from a canoe?

Venturing out in a canoe offers a completely different safari perspective from being in a vehicle or walking. Moving near-silently down a large African river it’s incredible how much you can see, most mammals are drawn to drink at some stage of every day and so by definition you are travelling through the heart of the wilderness. You are very likely to have close encounters (in a good way) with elephant, buffalo and hippo on the Zambezi and there is a fair chance of seeing lion, and even occasionally leopard, lying in the bank. The only caveat is that you are travelling with the current and so the opportunity to stop, turn-around or go back in of course limited.

Birdlife naturally abounds and photographic, or purely viewing, opportunities for some of the most colorful waterbirds, bee-eaters and kingfishers are simply second-to-none. Historically there has never been any hunting from a canoe - in fact if anything there has been habituation as fishermen are attracted to pods of hippo due to the high numbers of fish (feeding off their droppings) around them - and so the reaction of much of the game is quite different from being on foot, where they have been hard-wired to associate that profile with danger.

Is it safe?

Taking yourself in to the natural habitat of hippos and crocodiles, two of Africa's most feared animals - may seem counter-intuitive but is perhaps not as foolhardy as it appears, and here's why:

1/. canoeing is only offered on large wide rivers where there is room to navigate around hippos and left alone with ample room to submerge they are not typically aggressive

2/. crocodiles do not appear to treat people in a canoe as a food-source and are rather somewhat fearful of them - fortunately

3/. you are always accompanied by a guide (or guides) who know the stretch of river well

4/. large stable canadian style canoes are used, not dug-out canoes (aka mokoros) or small technical kayaks.

Do I need to have experience?

No, you do need to be 14 or over in most places. You will be fully briefed about what to do and accompanied by a guide, the less experienced will invariably take the front position in the boat where steering ability is less important. It is also important to note that nowhere is canoeing obligatory and so if you, or any member of your party decide you would rather not canoe then you can walk, drive or boat.

Is it physically tough?

Not particularly - you are moving with the current and so the paddling you do is more for steering that locomotion. Canoe safaris started out as multi-day affairs where the deprivations increased as the days went by and the ice you started out with inevitably melted and it still has something of this hard-core reputation. While multi-day adventures are still available it is much more common to do really rewarding full or half day excursions from a really comfortable camp that you'll be based in. It can however be hot and there is not much shade.

Top tip

A hat, sunglasses, lots of sunscreen and kikoi to fend off the sun

Posted by: Rod Tether

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