Rivers in Africa are in many ways the lifeblood of the continent, with millions of people and animals relying on African rivers for fresh water, food, and transportation. Without its rivers, Africa would be a barren wasteland, unable to support the incredible variety of wildlife that brings visitors from around the world to enjoy wildlife safaris.
Whilst there are rivers in every corner of Africa – including some of the longest rivers in the world – this post looks specifically at the best rivers of Africa to enjoy epic wildlife sightings. For this reason, we’ve not included the Nile River or rivers in West Africa, but have focussed on the wildlife-rich rivers in Central, Southern and East Africa:
The Chobe River – the ultimate river safari?
Angola, Botswana, Namibia & Zambia
Changing names from the Cuando River to the Linvanti River and finally the Chobe River as it flows from Angola southeast into the Limpopo River, the river forms a green belt through the wild African bush that draws high concentrations of wildlife.
Passing through the northern section of Botswana’s Chobe National Park, the river is one of the only water sources during the rain-free winter months, drawing wildlife from hundreds of miles around. Cruise safaris on the Chobe have an excellent chance of seeing large herds of elephant, buffalo, giraffe, and antelope, plus some of the hundreds of species of African birds that frequent the area.
The Congo River – Africa’s rainforest river
Angola, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Tanzania & Zambia
Perhaps the most mysterious African river, and certainly its second-longest (after the Nile River) the Congo River winds its way – in part – through the impenetrable virgin rainforest of Central Africa.
Given the global deforestation of rainforest, the whole Congo River and basin region is considered critical to the ecological health of the world. Crossing the equator twice on its journey from the southern DRC to the Atlantic Ocean, the Congo River is a water source to forest-dwelling species as diverse as forest elephant, gorilla, lion, hyena, antelope, and over 600 species of fish.
The Limpopo River – big five territory
Botswana, Mozambique, South Africa & Zimbabwe
Starting in South Africa and emptying into the Indian Ocean, the Limpopo passes through the northern-most region of Kruger National Park, and along the length of Mozambique’s Parc Nacional de Limpopo. The scenery along this long stretch is spectacular, as is the opportunity to see the full range of southern Africa’s wildlife in its natural habitat. Expect Nile crocodiles, hippos and elephants aplenty, along with a good chance of spotting big cats skulking the river banks.
The Luangwa River – hippo heaven
One of the Zambezi’s major tributaries, the Luangwa River flows southwest through Zambia’s Luangwa valley before it joins the Zambezi. The valley has been a protected game area in various guises for more than 100 years, and today the river passes through or forms the border of a number of national parks and private game reserves.
The effects of these conservation efforts are clear, as the river attracts huge amounts and diversity of all sorts of African wildlife, large and small, including an incredible 1,000 hippopotami, so you’ll have a good chance of confirming the pink hippo milk myth for yourself!
The Okavango – wildlife perfection
Angola, Botswana & Namibia
It’s hard to describe the Okavango Delta without overdoing the superlatives. This huge floodplain of up to 15,000 km2 at its peak is a magnet for wildlife across southwestern Africa.
The river originates in the Angolan Highlands but, unlike most other rivers, doesn’t end in the sea, and rather forms the world’s largest inland delta, emptying into the Kalahari Desert in Botswana. This allows the delta to support some of the most incredible arrays of wildlife in Africa, and due to its remoteness is an area that has a very low level of human activity – perfect for the ultimate African safari!
The Sabie River – South Africa’s finest
South Africa & Mozambique
The shortest river to make this list, at just 230 km the Sabie River starts in South Africa’s Drakensberg Mountains and flows eastwards towards the Indian Ocean, passing through private game reserves and the Kruger National Park along the way. Game viewing in and around the Sabie River as it passes through these wildlife hotspots is nothing short of spectacular, with the chance to see all of the big five, as well as pretty much any other southern African animal. In short, the Sabie is one of the very best African rivers for wildlife spotting, whatever your budget.
The Zambezi River – epic waterfalls
Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia & Zimbabwe
The mighty Zambezi River is Africa’s fourth longest river, starting in Zambia and flowing over 2,500 km through six countries before ending in the Indian Ocean.
The river travels through a number of national parks and reserves – perhaps most spectacularly feeding the Victoria Falls on the Zimbabwe/Zambia border. Parts of the Zambezi are gentle enough to allow for canoe safaris, giving close-up views of hippos and crocodiles, and with some luck elephants and antelopes too.
What are the major rivers of Africa?
These 10 major rivers of Africa are the continents’ largest, starting with the longest and shown in descending order. The list gives the river name, length in kilometers, and each country the river flows through (or, in many cases, serves as a border for).
Nile-Kagera River: 6,853 km
The Nile is the world’s longest river, and flows through: Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania & Uganda.
Congo-Chambeshi River: 4,700 km
Flows through: Angola, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of the Congo, Rwanda Tanzania & Zambia.
Niger River: 4,200 km
Flows through: Algeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea, Mali, Niger & Nigeria.
Zambezi River: 2,693 km
Flows through: Angola, Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Tanzania, Zambia & Zimbabwe.
Ubangi-Uele River: 2,270 km
Flows through: Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo & Republic of the Congo.
Kasai River: 2,153 km
Flows through: Angola & the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Orange River: 2,092 km
Flows through: Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia & South Africa. The Orange River serves as a border between Namibia and South Africa.
Limpopo River: 1,800 km
Flows through: Botswana, Mozambique, South Africa & Zimbabwe.
Senegal River: 1,641 km
Flows through: Guinea, Mali, Mauritania & Senegal.
Blue Nile: 1,600 km
Flows through: Ethiopia & Sudan.
And that’s our take on Africa’s most epic rivers for wildlife viewing. Have you visited any of these – or any other African rivers with great wildlife viewing? We’d love to hear more – let us know in the comments section below!