River (booze) cruises
Floating on the Upper Zambezi with a glass in one hand, and a pair of binoculars in the other, is still a pleasant way to watch the sun go down, even if nowadays the river is full of booze-cruise boats operating round the clock (you can choose from breakfast, lunch, sunset or dinner cruises!), and sometimes all congregating close together. On the Zambian side, surely the most elegant and leisurely way to experience the river is aboard the African Queen, an old-style double-decker riverboat complete with gleaming brass that cruises regally upriver from its dock on the aptly named Royal Mile. (The name is derived directly from royalty, in fact, for it was from here that George VI and his entourage took a launch on to the river during their visit in 1947.) In the rarified atmosphere on board, guests sip cocktails or soft drinks to the rhythmic accompaniment of xylophones, or marimba, sounding the vessel's imminent departure. As the boat makes her stately way upstream, you take a gentle look around the Zambezi's islands, surrounded by national parks on both sides of the river. You may well spot the odd hippo, crocodile, or elephant – or even, if you're very lucky, a white rhino – not to mention numerous birds. Such luxury doesn't come cheap, but the price is inclusive of drinks and a substantial finger buffet and is good value. Lunches and dinners are also of a high standard, giving a memorable and unique dining experience.
Smaller craft ply the same route, of course, On the Zambian side, these are organised by Victoria Falls River Safaris, Safari Par Excellence, Bwaato Adventures, Gwembe Safaris and Taonga Safaris, the last three the most popular with backpackers, boasting all you can drink. (SafPar and Bwaato also have offices on the Zimbabwean side.) These used to be strictly at sundown, and the drinks were free. Now, sadly, booze cruise boats operate round the clock and they are often less generous – with drinks bought from a bar on board. However, you can still take a gentle look around the Zambezi's islands, surrounded by national parks on both sides of the river. You may even spot the odd hippo, crocodile, or elephant. And away from the crowded waters near the Falls, Wild Side Tours & Safaris offers a more serene alternative, 25km upstream. Here you can cruise in solitude, taking in the scenery, prolific birdlife and wildlife along the banks of the Zambezi National Park. Hippos, elephants and crocodiles are commonly seen as well as waterbuck, bushbuck and even buffalo. Victoria Falls River Safaris operate several propeller-free aluminium safari boats in and around the Falls and on the Upper Zambezi for game viewing, also with small groups (up to eight people per boat). Choose from three 21/2-hour cruises daily (morning and sunset cruises for US$55, and lunch cruise at US$60).
On the Zambian side these are organised by Safari Par Excellence, Bwaato Adventures and Taonga Safaris.
In Zimbabwe, boats leave from several different jetties and there is also a range of trips to choose from – from upmarket cruises to more basic ones. On both sides, book in advance, either direct or through one of the agents in town, who can advise what will best suit you, and will also arrange for you to be picked up about half an hour before the cruise.
Rates: African Queen US$44 per person breakfast, 2-hour lunch or sunset cruise, including drinks and canapés. Wild Side US$35 per person for sunset or coffee cruise including drinks and snacks. Others US$20–40 per person