The word safari tends to evoke images of expansive savanna landscapes; roaming giraffes, lions, and zebras; and minibuses, trucks, and all-terrain vehicles. These classic safaris, however memorable and necessary to complete the African experience, tend to skip the continent's many rivers, lagoons, and lakes.
If hippos are more your thing than giraffes, consider going on an African water safari to best see the semi-aquatic mammals in their natural element.
Similar to a canoe, the mokoro is streamlined to maneuver through narrow waterways and is motor-less so as not to scare the wildlife. It is steered by a tour guide who uses a ngashi, a long pole, to propel two passengers across deep lakes and shallow channels through the reeds and marshlands of the world's largest inland delta.
Relaxing and peaceful, a ride in a mokoro provides safari-goers a unique vantage point to see the hippos, as well as the frogs, birds, and elephants common to the areas.
However, a mokoro safari is not without risk. Travelers are typically safe, but hippos are the world's most dangerous large land mammal and have been known to chase and overturn the boats to protect their territory. But if the prospect of danger excites (rather than deters) you, you can take a day tour from Maun with On the Go Tours or Odyssey Safaris.
A safer – but just as adventurous – experience can be found in Kwazulu Natal’s iSimangaliso Wetland Park, South Africa’s First World Heritage Site. The park claims to have the largest hippo population in South Africa, with approximately 800 hippos residing within the 50-mile long waters of Lake St. Lucia. In addition to hippos, 1200 crocodiles, 2,180 species of flowering plants, and 155 kinds of fish call this lake, “Africa's largest estuarine system,” home.
To see this ecosystem in all its glory, Shoreline Boat Cruises offers two-hour Hippo & Croc tours down the St. Lucia Estuary for spectacular hippo viewing. Unlike some of the other tour operators in the area, Shoreline's boats are small enough to get you up close to the wildlife – and unlike the mekoro, they have waist-high barriers to protect you as you watch the hippos eat, swim, and play.
You can book a spot on one of the cruises starting at $240.