Visiting Africa can be an exciting—if somewhat daunting—proposition, with 50-plus nations full of wondrous wildlife, transporting landscapes, and fascinating culture. A hassle-free cruise is an excellent way to sample the continent by exploring Africa’s lengthy coastlines and numerous isles. While northern African cruises on the Nile and the Mediterranean have always been popular, the cruises listed here offer a more off-the-path exploration throughout the rest of the African continent. Just be forewarned: Africa cruising options are largely the domain of luxury cruise lines—as such, the privilege of joining many of these sailings doesn’t come cheap.—Elissa Garay
Set out to explore a lesser-known slice of Africa aboard the 28-passenger Zambezi Queen, a plush vessel outfitted with floor-to-ceiling windows, airy staterooms with private balconies, and an outdoor pool deck that doubles as a perch for wildlife viewing. River cruise line AmaWaterways runs a series of nine-night “cruisetours” here between March and November, combining a four-night safari-themed cruise on the Chobe River in Botswana, with a three-night land-based stay in Cape Town, as well as two nights on the ground in Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe (there’s an optional two-night extension to Johannesburg, too). On the cruise, look out for excursion highlights like a full-day 4×4 safari in Botswana’s Chobe National Park, while back on land, guests will have a chance to take the cable car up to Cape Town’s Table Mountain, visit South Africa’s scenic Cape Winelands wine region, and go on a guided walk through Victoria Falls National Park.
South Africa, Namibia & Mozambique
Plan ahead for holidays to truly remember aboard luxury Crystal Cruises’ 922-passenger Crystal Symphony. This epic 16-night journey in December 2017 will take in the best of South Africa (at Cape Town, Richards Bay, Durban, East London, and Port Elizabeth), along with stops in Mozambique (at Maputo) and Namibia (at Walvis Bay and Lüderitz). Excursion highlights include a cable car ride atop Cape Town’s Table Mountain, or a helicopter tour above South Africa’s soaring Drakensberg mountains.
Botswana, Namibia, & Zimbabwe
Riverboat operator CroisiEurope will introduce its first African cruise itinerary in fall 2017, aboard a new (yet-to-be-named) luxury vessel that will navigate shallow sections of the Chobe and Zambezi rivers in Botswana, Namibia, and Zimbabwe. On board, just 16 passengers can enjoy eight balcony-trimmed deluxe cabins, as well as a panoramic restaurant, lounge, and rooftop patio. CroisiEurope’s eight-night cruise-and-land itineraries will pair five nights aboard the riverboat, with an additional three nights in one of two new CroisiEurope-owned luxury lodges in Namibia (the base for an excursion to Victoria Falls). While itinerary specifics are still trickling through, the cruise route will emphasize wildlife viewing and cultural immersion, and will kick off from the line’s newly built pier along an offshoot of the Zambezi River (in Namibia), before continuing along the Chobe River with stops in varying sections of the African bush.
Chances are you’ve already fantasized about the beaches of the Seychelles, whose pristine, palm-fringed shores have graced the covers of glossy travel magazines. A cruise is an ideal way to uncover the many hidden lures and charms of these far-flung isles. Greek-ownedVariety Cruises runs seven-night sailings here year-round, aboard the recently renovated 44-passenger M/Y Pegasus motor yacht. Cruising round-trip from Mahé, the boat stops at different island locales each day, with highlights like Praslin, site of the UNESCO-protected Vallée de Mai Nature Reserve; the nearby Côte d’Or beaches, boasting some of the world’s most superlative surf-and-sand; or Curieuse Island, home to some 250 giant tortoises. Back on deck, enjoy open-air BBQs; kayaking, snorkeling, or fishing from the ship’s swimming platform; or seaside pampering at the mini-spa on the lower deck.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Seychelles Guide
South Africa, Mozambique & Namibia
Leave the kitchen hassles behind this Thanksgiving and set out instead on this 15-night African sailing with upscale Regent Seven Seas. Cruising round-trip from Cape Town on November 16, 2016, guests aboard the newly renovated, 490-passenger Seven Seas Navigator will trace the coast of South Africa (with stops in Mossel Bay, Richards Bay, Durban, East London, and Port Elizabeth), as well as dip into Mozambique (at Maputo) and Namibia (at Walvis Bay). The line’s all-inclusive fares bundle in lots of extras, too, like round-trip air from the United States, and several options for three-night pre- or post-cruise land-based extensions, focused heavily on South African safari lodge experiences.
South Africa, Madagascar & More
British-owned Voyages of Discovery offers enrichment-focused sailings, with a smattering of African voyages highlighted each year. Their one-off 14-night cruise coming in March 2017 is a combined voyage to select African islands with calls along South Africa’s coast. Kicking off in Mauritius, guests will have a chance to visit the islands of Reunion and Madagascar, before swooping along coastal South Africa, with safari-primed stops in Richards Bay (gateway to Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park) and Port Elizabeth (close to Addo Elephant National Park), as well as in bustling multicultural cities like Durban and Cape Town, where it ultimately disembarks. Onboard the 540-passenger Voyager, guests can enjoy lectures from special guest speakers, workshops with professional photographers, and amenities that include a handful of bars, hot tubs, a plunge pool, gym, and spa with sauna.
Set off to cruise Africa’s Indian Ocean islands aboard upscale Ponant‘s 264-passenger Le Lyrial. Embarking in April, the line’s new 15-night expedition leaves from mainland South Africa at Durban to tour several rarely visited island destinations in Madagascar, the “Scattered Islands,” and the Seychelles, where it ultimately disembarks in Victoria (the Seychelles’ capital city). En route, head out on naturalist-led Zodiac excursions to the Scattered Islands’ nature reserves, habitat to numerous marine turtles, and the Seychelles’ Aldabra Atoll.
Here’s a new take on the conventional African safari vacation: a safari cruise with a focus on South African game reserves. Most of the scheduled sailings run round-trip from Cape Town, with slight itinerary variations that might also feature a stop in Namibia or Mozambique. Silversea’s 296-passenger, all-suite Silver Cloud (where every guestroom has its own butler!) is a great option. Cruising from Cape Town, one of their standout itineraries (held annually in December/January) takes in several safari-primed stops in South Africa (access Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park from Richards Bay, or Addo Elephant National Park from Port Elizabeth, for instance), as well as a stopover in Namibia’s Walvis Bay. Bonus: the line bundles its all-inclusive rates with airfare from the United States, as well as a three-night pre- or post-cruise land-based safari at South Africa’s Kruger National Park.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s South Africa Guide
Cape Town to Accra
Silversea is the leader in African cruising, and their expedition arm offers immersive itineraries complete with an expert expedition team and Zodiac excursions that are unlike any other on the market. Try, for instance, their annual 18-night expedition on the 132-passenger Silver Explorer, which traverses the length of Africa’s west coast to reveal fascinating and seldom-visited locales. Cruise from Cape Town to call on ports in Namibia, Angola, Congo, São Tomé and Príncipe, Cameroon, Benin, and Togo, before disembarking in Accra, Ghana. Along the way, excursions for nature and wildlife viewing (from whales and sea turtles to desert plains and spectacular rock formations) are available, along with history- and culture-themed outings that might include stilt villages, markets, or former whaling stations.
This little-visited Atlantic Ocean archipelago (set off the coast of northwest Africa) makes up an enticingly remote island nation that’s rich in natural wonders and African and Portuguese colonial heritage. The isles are well suited to cruising, although such itineraries here are rare. Happily, Variety Cruises has seven-night Cape Verde island sailings in November 2016 (with one timed perfectly to coincide with Thanksgiving) aboard the line’s 49-passenger, three-masted M/S Panorama. Sailing round-trip from Praia, the unique routes take in several Cape Verde islands, including Fogo, famed for its soaring volcano, and the verdant San Antão, site of the sugarcane-rich fields of the lush Paúl Valley.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Africa Guide