Dumela (Hello in Botswana), welcome aboard the Zambezi Queen! The Zambezi Queen is a luxury safari cruise boat that sails on the Chobe River between Botswana & Namibia. The Chobe is a tributary of the mighty Zambezi. The ZQ sails out of Kasane, Botswana. The vessel slowly glides through the Chobe National Park and passengers enjoy amazing unobstructed views of the world’s largest concentration of Elephants.
There are ten cabins and four master suites onboard the vessel. Dining and cocktails are all inclusive and it’s easy to quickly make friends during your stay. I was the only American aboard the 2016 New Year’s Eve sailing. We enjoyed meeting guests from South Africa, Australia, Norway, Japan and France, including three couples on their Honeymoon. Once aboard we instantly fell in love with the panoramic views from our master suite. From our front deck we could see Elephants bathing in the Chobe. We could look out our side sliding glass door and see a hippo grazing along the riverfront.
Our South African Cruise Director would post the excursion options. Each morning you had the option of either tiger fishing, bird watching or a game cruise from a smaller vessel. These vessels could sail the smaller channels and take you right to the water’s edge for amazing pictures of the animals – we were literally 20 metres away from hippos, buffalos and elephants! During the heat of the day we would take lunch and rest in our cabins or the top deck lounge. Evenings gave us a chance for sunset game watching from the smaller tender boats.
One day we visited a Namibian village. The crew of the ZQ were mostly from the village and were happy to show us around. They were very talented craftsmen and we bought several wonderful wooden sculptures from the villagers. Another day we took a game drive through the Chobe Park and spotted our first lion. Giraffes, warthogs, zebra, impala and crocodiles were also on display. Hippos and elephants were everywhere!
We preferred the game cruises to the game drives. Animals gravitate to the river to drink and hunt so they were easier to locate by boat; plus, it’s not nearly as dusty or bumpy on the water. We were there in the African summer, so hats and sunscreen are a must. Mornings and evenings were about 75 degrees and would ramp up to 105 in the middle of the day. It was also important to wear light or khaki colored clothing and keep your feet and hands inside the boat (animals view boats and jeeps as a single large animal – if they spot brightly colored limbs hanging out they may realize food is inside and attack). The crocodiles are no joke. Our guide said for every croc you see there are a dozen hiding underneath the water. The hippos were beautiful, but they are dangerous, so we kept a respectful distance and tried to stay as quiet as possible while we took up-close pictures.
There were no TVs or radios in the room. Each night we would drift to sleep to the sounds of the river and the African stars. There were no phones or alarm clocks – the sun trickling around the edges of the curtains let us know each morning it was time to arise and explore. We did not miss the internet one bit – what a wonderful respite from reality. Our Namibian staff was fantastic! Each morning we’d have expresso from the top deck and scan the river banks for eagles and hippos. Dinners were top notch local cuisine – native fish, exotic vegetables & wildebeest fillet were some of our favorites. On New Year’s Eve they shared their heritage through a lively song and dance. Namibia was celebrating 25 years of independence from Germany that year and our crew broke out a Namibian Flag and sang their national anthem for us – it was quite a moving moment. After that we enjoyed a wonderful international New Year’s champagne toast and celebration!
Our four-night stay aboard the Zambezi Queen was the most memorable cruise of our life. We took a 17-hour flight from Atlanta to Johannesburg and followed that with a two-hour flight from Jo-burg to Kasane. The cruise was worth every minute of it and we can’t imagine a better way to have an intimate experience with the best nature and wildlife that Africa has to offer. Go Siame (Farewell), Zambezi Queen, we’ll always remember you!