A Day on the Zambezi River

“Are we going to be able to cross that?”

“I don’t think so,” I reply to a group of guests from Jollyboys Backpackers. “The geometry of it doesn’t work.”

The bus driver asks us to step out of the vehicle and then proceeds to slam the vehicle into the walls over a deep ditch grooved into the road.  It wouldn’t be a day in Africa without a breakdown, flat tire, or bus stuck on a dirt road.  It can be frustrating, but like good travellers our group makes the most of it.  The girls find a group of village kids and start playing “What Time is it Mr. Wolf”.  The boys help try to dig out the bus, we push rocks under the tires and push along with about 10 other locals that have come to our aid.

Zambezi River

We decide it’s best to inflate the canoes and hike the last couple kilometers to the river front.  We balance the boats on our heads and moan with each step to the shore.

After a quick bit of explanation, we all step into our boats and push our way into the light rapids of the Zambezi River.  Light shrieks ring out across the waters as small waves dance off the surface of the water and into the boats.  The river starts quickly and chops in white-tipped waves before smoothing out into a scene of reflective waters and reflective moods.  There are few places I feel more at peace than the river.  We float casually down the river; Zambia on our left and Zimbabwe on our right.

Zambezi River

In the distance, the sound of a family of hippos can be heard.  When they call out, it sounds like a cow is laughing on the shores.  I see the rippling of water and spot the eyes of one of the huge mammals.  Farther down the river, I spy a family of hippos sleeping on the shore, they look like rocks in the distance.  Again they call out, issuing a territorial warning.

Zambezi River

As our canoe journey ends, we are whisked away on a game drive through the national park.  Though it’s small, the river side park swells from wildlife.  At one point, there is a giraffe on the road, a herd of elephants across the road, and a group of antelope grazing in an open field.  Through my travels in West and Central Africa, finding wildlife was a mission, here in Livingstone it’s hard to avoid them.  Between buffalo and brightly-painted bee-eaters, the abundance of wildlife is much more impressive than I ever imagined.

Zambezi River, Elephant

The safari truck ends at the river, and we end the day the only way that one should ever end a day: with gin and tonic.  The booze cruise starts gently up the Zambezi River and quickly turns becomes rowdy.  In a complete juxtaposition from the canoe ride in the morning, this evening is far from a scene of peace and serenity.  The boat is a pub on water, and I imagine that the voices of passengers must ring out across the water warning all animals of our presence.  To my surprise however, we come across a family of hippos bobbing their heads up and down through the water.

Zambezi River Booze Cruise

As the sky turns a soft yellow and then burns a bright red after the sun meets the horizon.  The beauty of the sun setting on the river delivers another moment of peace.  Aside from the sound of clicking camera shutters and the occasional “awww”, the boat falls into full appreciation of the river, of the sunset, and of nature in general.  There are few places in the world as powerful as the Zambezi River, and today we’ve seen it from all all angles.

Booze Cruise Zambezi River


Author: Brendan van Son

Author: Brendan van Son is a travel writer and photographer from Alberta, Canada. He has visited 6 of the 7 continents and more countries than he has the desire to count. Check out his profile on . for a little bit more about him.

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3 Comments

  1. thank for sharing mr.. i like your post.. because, your post is very-very good…

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  2. Canoeing down the Zmabesi sounds amazing. I’d be too scared of hippos or crocs coming to close to me though I think. :-/

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  3. Mmm..this post brings back nostalgic memories of my trip to Tanzania three years ago. Africa truly is a magical place – thanks for sharing these photos and your story!

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