In Africa, celebrations are special like taking a birthday cruise on the Zambezi Queen. When I turned 25 last year on the road it was nothing special. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a bad day, but spending it in a lifeless tourist town in Turkey was not ideal.
Our food options boiled down to two restaurants in town, and since we had seen the famous cotton castle the day before there was nothing more to do in town. So, we spent the day holed away in our hotel room.
The Zambezi Queen
However, my 26th birthday in Africa was set to be once in a lifetime event. A birthday taking place in one of the best national parks in Africa from a five-star houseboat.
The Zambezi Queen is a one of kind floating five-star hotel. She isn’t built for speed or distance, but for comfort, style, and luxury. All while offering her guests sweeping views of the Chobe flood plain and the wildlife that ensues.
For four nights we spent our time cruising up and down the Chobe River taking in the sights of the incredible birdlife, flood plains, and varying wildlife.
Arriving On Board The Zambezi Queen
We arrived on board the Zambezi Queen as she floated from her mooring point on the Chobe River. The Queen is serviced by small tender boats that deliver guest to the full team giving an African song and dance welcome.
After our introduction to the Queen, we made our way to the top level. The top floor includes a massive lounge, decks, and dining area. A quick safety briefing and some welcome drinks later we headed down to our rooms before lunch.
The Rooms on The Zambezi Quen
All of the rooms on the Zambezi Queen have personal balconies offering neverending views of the Chobe River. We got lucky and were given the forward room. The front rooms house a balcony that encompasses the room giving tremendous views at water level.
It makes for beautiful mornings and evenings as you feel connected to the sounds of the lapping Chobe River. The room itself was spacious for being on a boat and having A/C during the African summer was a lifesaver.
The large glass doors opened the whole room up, allowing us to soak up the ambiance of the African river.
Cruising on the Zambezi Queen
Staying directly on the Chobe river is one of the unique experiences to have in Africa. Our first evening on the Queen we cruised a few kilometers up and down the river taking in the wildlife from all sides.
Most notably a large herd of African Buffalo that are known for living on Sedudu Island. Sedudu Island is the infamous island situated between Botswana and Namibia. After territorial dispute at The Hague in the Netherlands, it was decided that the island belongs to Botswana in 1999.
It’s worth noting that the Queen is more of a houseboat, not a cruise ship. Her very shallow hull makes it so she can only navigate a few kilometers up and down the Chobe River. However, her fleet of tender boats allows for visitors to explore the smaller channels of the Chobe flood plain at speed.
With beer and wine inclusive onboard we grabbed ourselves some sundowners and took in the views from the top deck. We hung out with the other guests talking about our journeys in Africa and enjoying the pool on the front deck. The views from up top were absolutely fantastic.
As we moved along the banks of the Chobe river plain we saw Red Lechwe, Hippos, Crocodiles, and Fish Eagles. It became a regular occurrence to hear the call of a fish eagle while on the Chobe. A call we’re still very fond of and miss every day we don’t hear. (Listen to it here).
Experiences To Have on The Zambezi Queen
While onboard the Zambezi Queen Collection we were able to try out several activities on the Chobe River. With a river full of wildlife and a world-renowned game park on the banks, there was no shortage of things to do.
When it comes to Southern Africa, fishing on any number of the many rivers and lakes is a must. I’d heard of the legendary tigerfish and knew to catch one was something I wanted to do.
The tigerfish is more or less the meanest looking trout you’ve ever seen. The fish themselves are one of the biggest predators in African lakes and rivers, asides from crocodiles. They have massive teeth and have taken many an angler’s fingers.
The tigerfish found in these rivers are known for the fight they put up and their tendency to jump out of the water a tactic that they also implore in hunting. So, that splash you hear on the water’s edge is likely a tigerfish on the hunt. I think I’d make my father proud to tell him that we went fishing on my birthday (Hi Dad)! However, I managed to only catch a cool photo and watch Natasha reel in the fish…
During our fishing journey, we managed to slip into the Ichingo Chobe River Lodge for lunch. Ichingo caters to those looking to go fishing on the nearby Zambezi and Chobe Rivers. We had a delicious fish meal and watched the birds dart between the rapids surrounding the island. Much to our delight we also spotted a plethora of unique and rare birds.
Game Drives come in a different variety while onboard the queen. Many travelers to Africa get the chance to experience viewing the great wildlife spectacle from the back of a game viewer; however, to see them by boat is unique.
There are a number of places in Africa in which you can experience animals from this unique angle. However, the Chobe River is arguably one of the best for game viewing. The river is bountiful – seeing fish eagles, hippos, crocodiles, and elephants became common practice
It is incredible to watch a large herd of elephants descend from the bush to come to take a bath and drink the water. If you are looking to see elephants bath and have fun in a river then the Chobe River may just be your calling. The park is known for its massive elephant population that often frequent the banks of the river.
I know you’re wondering, and yes the game in Chobe extends to predators. We spotted lions twice. On one occasion we were fortunate enough to see four cubs that were only a couple of weeks old walking with their mothers who then proceeded to catch a warthog. Sorry, Pumba! Lions and warthogs don’t get along like Disney may lead us to believe.
Chobe National Park
The Chobe National Park was Botswana’s first national park. It is the third-largest park in the country and is roughly 11,700 km2 large. The area that covers the national park is limited in scope to the area as a whole. The surrounding of the park are both unfenced and declared non-hunting zones creating a free movement for the animals. If you’re looking to spot the big five then look no further than the Chobe National Park.
In combination with the Savuti area, Khwai, Linyanti, Okavango Delta, Various Concessions, and Moremi National Park it makes for a massive swath of land that is entirely wild.
This massive swath of land has lead to large animal populations such as elephants. It is estimated that there are close to 120,000 elephants in the park. The region is also home to one of Africa’s rarest predators, the African wild dog. Although we were not lucky enough to see them it is said that Northern Botswana is the place to catch a glimpse. Chobe National Park is one of the best places to go on safari in Southern Africa.
You don’t have to experience the Chobe from the Zambezi Queen Collection or the Chobe Water Villas. You always check out a multi-destination tour that goes to more than one place in Botswana.
Climate and Weather
There are two seasons in the Chobe area, a dry season and rainy season. We visited the Chobe just a week after the first rains and landscape flourished. We came across hundreds of young animals. Mothers have the ability to delay their birth to the start of the rainy season in order to give their young the best chance possible for survival.
Tasha’s favorite was the baby impala we saw that were a matter of hours old, others only days.
We’ve admitted it once or twice before, but we really like birding. It’s something that those with limited safari experience would laugh at, but after seeing the hundredth elephant of the day you want to find something new. Birding has another quality to it.
Instead of quickly identifying game, which we can do now after six months in Africa, it requires spotting and identifying the small animal. Don’t tell our safari guides we already know the difference between a Red Lechwe, Impala, Springbok, Waterbuck, and Bushbuck, it might break their hearts.
To spot an African Skimmer or watch a Pied Kingfisher catch their lunch is fascinating on the Chobe River. We continue to get great enjoyment from watching the characteristics of the wide diversity of birds in Africa.
Guests are given the option to see local life on the Chobe River. There are numerous villages on both the Botswana and Namibia side of the Chobe. We stopped at one on the Namibian side and had great fun with the kids there!
It’s all perplexing and a sobering reminder of what life is like off the boat. Pun intended. After a tour of the village, the villagers gathered in a boma to put on a show off their traditional music for us. The kids get really into it!
We’d recommend going on at least one or two village tours while in Africa and forming your own opinion. It’s a large debate for us. On the one hand, it is interesting, but it feels a bit like treating the villagers as if they were some sight to been seen.
On the other hand, it provides income, employment, and often services to communities that are extremely poor and disenfranchised. A number of the Zambezi Queen staff and guides even come from the local villages.
Special Occasions on Zambezi Queen
I did not seem to be in the minority about celebrating an event while on board the Zambezi Queen. None the less I was the only one celebrating a birthday. It turned out to be a wonderful day shared with warm people from all around the world. With such a unique and incredible experience, the Queen no doubts see their fair share of celebrations.
I find it hard that anyone could manage to complain about a birthday where you wake up to views of the Chobe River, spend the days in search of African wildlife along river banks, and finish with a lovely meal.
Oh, they even had WiFi on the ship. So, I was able to make a phone call home to the family on my birthday while enjoying a nice wine from the house selection.
From the Zambezi Queen to the Chobe Princess
The Zambezi Queen Collection is a fleet of houseboats and a fishing lodge in the middle of four countries. If the Queen is a floating hotel, the Princesses are floating beach houses. Everything is a little more laid back and personal.
We arrived on board the Princess Three, and instantly fell in love with the more laid back feeling. The princesses are smaller size which gives them the advantage of parking right along the Chobe National Park.
Our room onboard the princess was on her bow. The flat front of the boat provided us a lovely deck extending out of the water. While the mooring location right across from the aptly named “Elephant Bay” made for entertaining evenings and mornings.
The first morning on the Princess I stepped out onto our deck and gazed out across the calm morning river. A fish eagle perched on the banks from the previous night took off in flight in my direction. Seconds later he dipped into the water and snatched a fish from the river, landing on the bank meters in front of me.
It is and was one of the most magical moments I have had in Africa. A moment that will stay with me for life.
The days onboard the Princess was spent much the same as the Queen while our downtime was spent wandering around the deck and reading barefoot.
Stationed right on the Chobe National Park made for a special dusk time. While the various day trip boats rush off the water before the sun sets guests on the Chobe Princess are left alone on the bank of the river. We watched Elephants playing one evening and the young lion cubs another in complete solitude.
Nights are spent on the top deck enjoying sundowners and dining at the communal table. Drinks and dinner are social affairs, it’s a theme to be enjoyed at lodges throughout Africa.
After, full days in the sun on the Chobe river and the festivities surrounding my birthday we had no issue getting a great night sleep. The environment on the Chobe River is soothing and made for a wonderful night’s sleep.
The day of our departure was one we were not looking forward to. Staying for four nights on the Chobe River was incredible. It is the experiences such as these that bring out the true magic of Africa.
Video of Zambezi Collection
Our river safaris were spent on the Chobe River with the Zambezi Queen. We had no idea just how incredible and large the animal population of the Chobe River was until much later. Spotting fish eagles, hearing the grunt of a hippo, and seeing hundreds of elephants spoils visitors to the Chobe area. It wasn’t until much later during our trip through Africa did we realize just how incredible the whole wildlife spectacle really is on the Chobe.
Book A Stay on The Zambezi Queen
Traditionally if you wanted to book a safari you’d have to go to a travel agent and have them book your safari for you. They made suggestions for camps and lodges then presented you with a large bill. Most of the industry still operates in this fashion.
However, Timbuktu is a new platform that allows you to select the lodges you’d like and see the pricing per day that way you can select the best itinerary for yourself. They will then contact the lodges and help you through booking your safari. With experts on staff, they can also provide suggestions and arrange the little details much like a travel agent.
Tips for Spending Time on African Rivers
- We recommend taking anti-malarial medicine, dependent on the time of year. Six nights on the Chobe river with a minimal amount of insect repellant I walked away two bites. However, I always say to err on the side of caution.
- Sun protection is an absolute necessity. The African sun bouncing off the waters of the Chobe river can give you a serious burn and is dangerous. Remember topack a hat, sunglasses, and plenty of sunblock
- Protect your electronics! Given the time of year humidity can feel like stepping into a sauna, now imagine your electronics in this long term. We store rice sachets with our electronics now after they started acting up. Can’t find a sachet? Fill a sock with rice!plenty of sunblock.
- You will need passport space for crossing between borders. Although, Namibia and Botswana are only small stamps in our passports they still eat up space.
- Bring a pair of binoculars. They’re a necessity when birding and make for a much more enjoyable game viewing experience.
Thank you to Zambezi Queen Collection for sponsoring our stay! As always, all opinions remain our own.
What to Pack For Botswana?
Overland Tour in Africa
Traveling Africa on your own can be daunting to many travelers. However, there is no need to fear with overland tour companies who will show the ropes and a great time. You can check out some of them here to compare the different companies and possibly score a discount.
Travel Water Bottle
Plastic pollution is a problem in Africa so it’s best not to contribute to the problem buying plastic water bottles everywhere. The tap water in Tanzania is generally not safe to drink, but a water purifier, like the Grayl waterbottle, works well!
However, we also love filtered water bottles in areas we’re uncertain of the water supply. Read more about favorite water bottle for travel in our post.
Chances are you’ll want a camera for your trip to Africa. Our favorite pocket-sized point and shoot camera for quick trips are the Sony RX100V. It takes fantastic photos and video and is the size of your palm.
For more professional photographs we use our Fuji XT-3, and LOVE IT.
Lightweight pants that are made from synthetic material are tremendous to have in your pack. It’s what we wear most days when traveling around Africa as they’re comfortable, antibacterial, and protect our legs from mosquitos (malaria).
We recommend neutral colored pants as they’re great at hiding dirt and can match most shirt colors. What’s great is they’re useful beyond Africa as they are a travel staple and we pack a pair everywhere we travel.
I like two pairs, one pair is made by prAna and rolls into capris and the other are convertible pants. For men, prAna makes the Stretch Zion Pant, a tremendous pair of hiking pants for a reasonable price.
If you’re wondering what necessities to bring to Africa then sturdy shoes are perhaps the most important thing you will need before you get to Africa.
I cannot stress a good pair of shoes enough because if you land anywhere outside of South Africa a quality pair of hiking shoes will be hard to come by. If you plan to walk around a lot get thick rubber soled shoes as acacia thorns are prone to stab through thin shoes. Cameron learned the hard way one day when he pulled a thorn out of his foot that went straight through his thin rubber sandals.
I love my buff. I usually wear it for keeping my hair back, but it’s also served its purpose as a scarf and wet rag too. Buffs last for years and aren’t only helpful in Africa. I actually wear mine every day when I’m snowboarding in the mountains. It’s been one of my top travel accessory investments ever!
Skin cancer is for real! Don’t forget your SPF when traveling around Africa. We recommend ordering some online before leaving the house as you will need it underneath the sun in the summer.
We highly recommend getting an eco friendly sun cream that does not contain harmful chemicals.
Make sure to protect your eyes from the sun. There are a lot of options for sunglasses and everyone should own at least a pair. It’s best to make sure they do have UV protection for the health of your eyes.
We made our first investment in quality polarized sunglasses with a pair of SMITH Optics Lowdown 2. Truthfully, not everyone needs to invest $150 in a pair of sunglasses, but they do make a huge difference from the crappy $10 ones.
Most hotels will provide you with a towel, but they often aren’t suitable or allowed on the beaches. I like to travel with a microfiber towel because they are light and fold up small, and they also don’t cling on to sand our dirt. Here are a few of our favorite travel towels.
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