How to Choose Your Cruise: Africa

When we think of Africa, we tend to imagine its yawning plains, its deep forests that house mountain gorillas and the towering liquid pillar of Victoria Falls. In doing so, we give short shrift to the continent’s combined 18,950 miles of shoreline, where cruise itineraries traverse bustling, urban centers, desert gems and one of the world’s most pristine island chains.

If you’re considering an Africa cruise, you’ll find such a variety of Silversea itineraries that you may have difficulty choosing. You can spend more than a week getting to know the country of South Africa (view of Cape Town, at top) as you navigate its coast. You can cruise Egypt’s seashore or sail out into the Indian Ocean. This guide answers your questions about a voyage along Africa’s shores and suggests some itineraries to tickle your cruise-planning fancy.

Map Shutterstock

What makes Africa a unique cruise destination?

The continent’s celebrity roster of land mammals draws tourists from across the globe to gawk at giraffes, elephants and more on safari, but land-based vacations in Africa cover only so much ground. Africa is surrounded by water on all sides, but it’s not widely considered for its waterfront real estate.

It should be.

The Western Sahara, known for its sparse population and its sandy desert about the size of China, inhabits 690 miles of coastline on the Atlantic Ocean. At Gabon, the North Atlantic becomes the South Atlantic Ocean, just south of the Gulf of Guinea. To the east of the African continent lies the Indian Ocean, and to the northeast, the Red Sea forms the eastern border of Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea and Djibouti. To the south, the Gulf of Aden spills out from its border with the northern tip of Somalia into the Arabian Sea.

To the north, along Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, the waters of the Mediterranean Sea continue to cut through the space dividing Africa and Europe until a narrowing between Morocco and northern neighbor Spain, which share the Strait of Gibraltar.  

Africa boasts 38 sea-bordering countries, and it hasn’t yet reached its potential for itineraries. That bodes well for the future

A safari? The Sahara? Or some other choice?

Cheetah in Kruger National Park/Shutterstock

If you’re flying to the second-largest continent in the world, you might be considering a pre- or post-cruise stay. A safari is a natural extension and is accessible from cruise ports including Cape Town, South Africa; Maputo, Mozambique; and Walvis Bay, Namibia.

Kruger National Park, one of the most popular safari destinations, is at the opposite end of South Africa from its major port in Cape Town, about 1,100 miles away, but only a four-hour drive from Mozambique’s Maputo. Botswana is also a top safari destination, and it borders South Africa as well as Namibia. Cruisers thus have access to world-class safari parks from Cape Town or Maputo.

Camels in the Egyptian Sahara/Shutterstock

The Sahara, meanwhile, the largest hot desert in the world, is spread across the whole of northern Africa, encompassing about a dozen countries and is a geographic and cultural differentiator. Although nomadic herders have largely given way to lucrative oil and gas economies, humans have inhabited the Great Desert for thousands of years.

If you are drawn to the idea of dunes stretching into the horizon and you fancy a camel ride, you might be looking at a stay in Egypt, where time exploring museums and pyramids is an easy add-on.

Or consider a stay in Senegal, which is partly within the confines of the desert (including cruise port Dakar). Also in its favor: Senegal has no current U.S. State Department travel advisories. Plus this West African country has seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites and a rich arts and music scene.

Deciding whether you are drawn to the mystique of Egypt or prefer some time in the bush on a safari will help determine where you should embark on your Africa cruise.

How an Expedition cruise in Africa differs from a Classic voyage

A giant tortoise surveys the landscape in Aldabra./Shutterstock

Silversea offers two types of sailings to Africa. A Classic cruise to Africa retains a healthy sense of adventure, including game drives and guided walks. An Expedition voyage suffuses the itinerary with even more activity.

Expedition sailings in Africa take place on Silver Cloud, which is designed as an Expedition vessel and comes with equipment for snorkeling, kayaking and getting up close to your surroundings. Jump in and snorkel the waters of Djibouti with your ship’s expedition leader, or hop in a Zodiac for a cruise around Aldabra, an island in the Seychelles that’s home to a rare giant tortoise.

Top Africa cruise itineraries

Here is a selection of Silversea’s Africa cruise itineraries for your contemplation.

Maputo, Mozambique, to Mahé, Seychelles

The Seychelles’ flying fox, the largest in the bat family. Its wingspan may measure as much as 5 feet./Shutterstock

Head to Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, and admire its Portuguese influences, including an ornate train station. During this 18-day expedition sailing, guests will traverse five African countries, including four other ports in Mozambique as well as stops in Tanzania, Madagascar, Comoros and the Seychelles. Kayaks and snorkels let guests get up close in this wildlife-rich region known for lemurs and flying foxes, among other species.

Excursions are as varied as a walk through Zanzibar’s old Stone Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and a wet landing on the large atoll of Astove in the Seychelles, for a private beach day. The sailing ends in Mahé, the largest of 115 islands in the Seychelles archipelago. More than 20 percent of the island is part of Morne Seychellois National Park, and it’s less than two miles from this verdant region to Silversea’s post-cruise resort set on Beau Vallon Beach.

Round-trip Cape Town, South Africa

Lüderitz is a bit of Germany in Namibia. whose fate was changed when diamonds were discovered./Shutterstock

A 15-night round-trip sailing from Cape Town allows guests an in-depth look at and in South Africa and Namibia. The Cape of Good Hope provides ample port cities to learn about and to discover for yourself. After a sea day, cruisers arrive in Lüderitz, a German-Namibian city with a fraught past. It has plenty of European architecture on display, a stark contrast to the surrounding ghost town and flamingo-flecked coastline.

An overnight in Walvis Bay allows proper bird- and whale-watching along the tidal lagoon. You can pair a visit to this protected wetland with a stop-in at the artisanal gin distillery in town.

Two sea days bring your ship back to the shores of South Africa for a call on Mossel Bay, where you can visit ostrich farms and  take a scenic hike along St. Blaize trail to an old lighthouse overlooking the bay. Overnights in Durban and Richards Bay allow cruisers to engage with these diverse cities drawing on Zulu, Indian and British influences, before returning to Cape Town.

Walvis Bay, Namibia, to Port Elizabeth, South Africa

Whale off Hermanus, South Africa, a popular spot for whale watching./Shutterstock

Depart from the natural nirvana of Walvis Bay on a 12-day sailing focused on South Africa. Guests of Silver Cloud will disembark at seven ports throughout the nation, including such unusual calls as Hermanus, Port Nolloth, Langebaan and East London in South Africa.

Hermanus is one of the whale-watching capitals of the world; Langebaan is the country’s top destination for birdwatching. Receive a warm welcome from the mayor of Port Nolloth, home to the Nama people, and toast new friends with a drink from a donkey cart, still used on farms and for transportation.

Mandela and the Children, part of the Route 67 art installations honoring the legacy of Nelson Mandela/Shutterstock

East London, 8,500 land miles from the U.K.’S London, is where the Xhosa people have lived for hundreds of thousands of years. Canoe and kayak opportunities on the Nahoon and Kwelera rivers join the option to visit the Mpongo Private Game Reserve while you’re in port.

You bid adieu after an overnight in Port Elizabeth, a burgeoning port city that squeezes every last bit of South Africa into the cruise’s final days, including a 4×4 safari through prime game reserves, a boat cruise around Penguin Island and plenty of ways to appreciate the legendary freedom fighter Nelson Mandela. Port Elizabeth’s Route 67 offers 67 art installations to mark each of the 67 years Mandela fought against apartheid and for the rights of all South Africans.

Round trip Aqaba (Petra), Jordan

The Treasury building in Petra, Jordan/Shutterstock

Four days in Egypt qualify this 10-day sailing round trip from Aqaba as an African cruise itinerary. You’ll find the northern side of Africa full of Middle Eastern influences as your ship sails the perimeter of the Red Sea.

Begin your journey outside Petra, whose pink hue gives Petra the nickname “Rose City.” It’s a stunning archaeological site and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.

Formula One racing fans will recognize Jeddah as the home of the Saudi Arabia Grand Prix. Cruisers arrive at the Gateway to Mecca for an overnight, with options to travel to the holy city of Medina or take a boat trip to snorkel the Bayada Reef, known as the Maldives of Jeddah. From the dock in Safaga, Egypt, guests can embark on an all-day tour of Luxor or the famed Valley of the Kings.

The port of Ain Sukhna is better known to locals as a resort town of hot springs. Visitors will want to head out for a day trip to Cairo to witness the incomparable Pyramids of Giza. Before returning to Jordan, Silver Moon guests will call on Sharm el Sheik, a coastal city offering balmy beaches, swaying palm trees and premiere dive sites. A glass-bottom boat cruise allows you to take in the beauty of the Red Sea and its schools of fish.

Cape Town, South Africa, to Dakar, Senegal

The pink in this Dakar, Senegal, lake comes from a green algae./Shutterstock

Silver Shadow snakes its way up more than 6,000 miles of Africa’s coast, from Cape Town on the continent’s southern tip to Dakar, Senegal’s capital in the northwest. On this world voyage segment, an 18-day cruise spanning seven African countries, guests will visit ports in Namibia, Angola, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Gambia, besides South Africa and Senegal.

Dakar sits on the southern edge of the Saharan desert, marrying its pink lakes and sparkling blue coastline with a diverse landscape. Take it all into the soundtrack of omnipresent Senegalese jazz and mbalax music.

Luanda, the capital of Angola, has been busy rebuilding since its civil war ended in 2002. and the presence of oil has brought wealth and development to its shores. Visitors can shop at a local market, have lunch and scope out the city’s landmarks and educate themselves about the country’s complex history as a source of slaves.

Abidjan on the Ivory Coast is known as the Paris of West Africa and is the most populous French-speaking nation on the continent. Revel in a tour of the botanical gardens as well as its Museum of Civilization.

Gambia is a rare gem on the itinerary, offering a home cooking experience. On a guided tour to a nearby market, ingredients will be gathered to make an authentic Gambian meal.

Round trip Mahé, Seychelles

Eastern Lesser bamboo lemur on Madagascar/Shuterstock

Ring in New Year’s 2025 with this special, 10-day sailing through the jaw-dropping splendor of the Seychelles and Africa’s island nations. Off East Africa in the Indian Ocean is the 115-island archipelago of the Seychelles, as well as Madagascar, the world’s fifth-largest island. Mauritius blends island life with African, European and Indian influences; Réunion maintains status as an overseas French territory. Each port brings a different flavor to the serene, aquamarine surroundings.

This itinerary travels from the mainland to fine white beaches and coral reefs and to rare and majestic creatures, including sea turtles and chameleons, and also introduces cultural layers that provide richness and nuance to your travels. When it’s not a day to lie on a stretch of sand or get in the water, you can tee off at the Avalon Golf Estate in Mauritius before visiting a tea plantation for a cuppa.

You can also head to La Petite France in Réunion to a small distillery creating essential oils and perfumes from local rose geranium. Five sea days allow guests on this itinerary to unwind on the pool deck or spa onboard in between days dedicated to touring in port.