Upper Zambezi canoe
Canoeing down the Upper Zambezi is a cool occupation on hot days, and the best way to explore the upper river, its islands and channels. Zimbabwe's Zambezi National Park stretches all along the western shore providing ample opportunity for game viewing, while lodges, farms, villages and bush dot the Zambian side as you head downstream to the upper reaches of the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park. The silence of canoes makes them ideal for floating up to antelope drinking, elephants feeding, or crocodiles basking. Birdlife is prolific – you may hear the cry of the African fish eagle or see pied kingfishers hover and dive. Hippos provide the excitement, and are treated with respect and given lots of space.
There is a variety of options available, from half-day to full-day excursions, combo canoeing and game drives, and even overnight camping trips. You'll find any of them generally relaxing, although paddling becomes a bit more strenuous if it's windy. All canoe trips must be accompanied by a licensed river guide. Canoes range from two-seater open-decked kayaks to inflatable 'crocodiles'.
There are some sections of choppy water if you'd like a little more excitement, though it's possible to avoid most of these easily if you wish. Trips concentrating on these are sometimes sold as white-water kayaking – which shouldn't be confused with the white-water rafting or tandem kayaking beneath the Falls, mentioned below. For those who'd like the experience but don't want to paddle, SafPar and Bundu also run guided 'float' trips on the Upper Zambezi. Participants can paddle when they feel like it or simply float downstream on a raft.
No prior canoeing experience is necessary, and once you are used to the water, the better guides will encourage you to concentrate on the wildlife. Lunch is typically served on an island. Trips on the Zambian side have long been run by Makora Quest and Chundukwa Adventure Trails – both are owner-operated and run by very experienced guides.
Newer and larger entrants on the Zambian side include Bundu Adventures and Safari Par Excellence, both of whom also run float trips using rafts as well. SafPar also offers an Elephant Encounter trip combining a half-day canoeing safari, riverside brunch and an opportunity to interact with their elephants used for elephant-back safaris. Both offer a River & Rhino combo, combining a half-day's canoeing (or floating) followed by lunch and a drive in the game park for US$85.
Rates: US$80 for a half day or US$85 for a full day with lunch. SafPar also operates overnight trips with the evening spent under the stars on an island for US$140