Africa Cruises: What to Know About the Growing Cruise Destination

Africa Cruises
by Suzie Dundas Mar 26, 2024

When most Americans think of cruises, they probably think of island-hopping in the Caribbean or cruising by glaciers in Alaska from afar. That may be appealing for some people, but for others, the idea of being lazy on a ship of thousands of people for a week doesn’t sound like much of a vacation.

But what if instead of doing a major Caribbean cruise, you did something far more adventurous: a major African cruise with wildlife safaris every day?

Most major US cruise lines that offer cruises to Africa make stops around southern Africa, taking advantage of a huge selling point of countries like South Africa, Botswana, Mozambique, and Madagascar: safaris. Africa cruises tend to be longer than those sailing from Miami or Cozumel, but they can be far more exciting, offering the chance to go on a safari drive in Africa almost every day without the need to sleep in the bush, drive long distances, deal with logistics or planning, or even unpack more than once. You’ll visit some of the best countries in the world for safaris without the need to switch hotels or fly between remote destinations.

Here’s what to know about cruises to Africa with the major US cruise lines.

What cruise lines go to Africa?

africa cruises - sunset near madagascar

Relatively few of the major cruise lines in the US offer cruises to Africa. Photo: Suzie Dundas

It may be surprising to know that not that many of the major US cruise lines offer dedicated Africa cruises. If you’re keen on a “small ship” cruise or an adventure cruise with a company like Mantis Journeys or Swan Hellenic, you’ll find many more options. But they can be quite pricey, and won’t earn you any points if you’re a member of a major cruise reward program.

Fortunately, a few of the most popular big cruise lines are starting to offer cruises to Africa.

Norwegian Cruise Lines: I went with Norwegian and I’d absolutely do another one, despite some hiccups (more on that below). For the best mix of comfort and price, it’s hard to beat. In 2025, Norwegian has 13 different trips to Africa, leaving primarily from Cape Town, Qatar, and Mauritius. The various trips make stops in places like Seychelles, Mozambique, South Africa, Kenya, Réunion, Tanzania, Senegal, Gambia, Sao Tome and Principe, Madagascar, and more. Prices for 2025 cruises start around $1,900 per person with lots of included perks — but in the weeks before I left for my 12-day southern Africa cruise, I saw rates listed as low at $599 per person. You won’t beat that.

Silver Sea: Silver Sea has 17 Africa cruises in 2025, leaving mostly from Cape Town. It has slightly fewer safari-focused ports of call, but also makes stops in places like Namibia, Seychelles, and Madagascar. Cruises are much smaller than Norwegian’s at around 600-700 guests per cruise, and it tends to be much pricier: the cheapest 2025 Africa cruise is a 15-day round-trip from Cape Town, South Africa, starting at $8,500 per person.

MSC: MSC has a smaller amount of Africa cruises available, and only makes stops at six ports: three in South Africa, as well as Namibia, Mozambique, and Mauritius. The company has seven Africa cruises available in 2025, the longest of which is only five nights. That makes an MSC cruise a good add-on to a longer trip through South Africa, rather than using it as your entire vacation. The least-expensive is $687 per person for a three-night sail.

Africa cruise excursions

african cruises - elephants in addo safari cruise

A herd of Elephants in Addo Elephant Park, South Africa, as seen via a 4×4 excursion from the Norwegian Dawn. Photo: Suzie Dundas

Without a doubt, the most popular type of shore excursion on an African cruise is the game drive. You’ll find game drives through national parks or private reserves offered at nearly every port of call on a cruise to Africa. That allows guests to go on a safari nearly every day of their cruise if they’d like, though there are a few things to keep in mind.

The excursions may be pricier than you’re used to on other cruises. On my Norwegian cruise, the cost for an activity including transportation from the ship, a two-hour game drive, and transportation back to the ship (no lunch, no other activities) ranged from $179 for the closer safari parks to more than $400 for all-day trips to further away safari parks that included lunch and drinks. That’s to be expected, considering the long bus rides to some of the parks and the fact that the fee includes park fees, gas/fuel, the services of a safari guide, and transportation to the parks/reserves.

My cruise on the Norwegian Dawn was inexpensive, so it made it easier to spend more money on the excursions. But you should plan to spend a higher percentage of your vacation funds on excursions, especially as some ports don’t offer a lot to do within walking distance.

Pro tip: popular excursions on Africa cruises often sell out. Book them in advance; you can always cancel if you change your mind later. Before booking, check out Matador’s guide to shore excursions and how to figure out if they’re worth the cost.

Africa independent excursions

africa cruises - independent excursions and safaris

Third-party and local companies like “Safari for Six” can be good options for travelers who don’t care to book through the cruise line excursion desk. Photo: Suzie Dundas

You absolutely do not need to book excursions through your cruise company. Booking through local companies (or websites like Viator and GetYourGuide) can be a lot cheaper and good alternatives if the excursion you want is sold out or not offered through your cruise company. They also put more money directly into the pockets of locals who may not otherwise see much economic gain from cruise traffic. But unlike cruises in Western destinations, you may not be able to just do an online search for “cruise excursions” and book something easily from your phone.

In much of Africa, booking via Facebook or WhatsApp is common, and legitimate companies may not even have websites. So you’ll need to be a bit of a savvy traveler to book them. The downside of booking excursions not through your ship means the ship will leave without you if you’re late. But it’s very, very rare for companies to get cruisers back to their ships too late — it’s not good for business if online reviewers say “I missed my cruise.” Reputable companies will be happy to answer questions and communicate before you book via email or WhatsApp. Many tourist guides in Africa speak four or five languages, so be sure to ask if your tour will be English-speaking, or a mixed-language group.

You can also find guides through unofficial Facebook pages. Most cruises have an unofficial Facebook page. Just type in the name of your ship on Facebook, and you’ll probably find them. On these pages, it’s common for guides and guiding companies post ads for their services, and for other travelers to make recommendations of companies they’ve used.

I found the company we used in Richards Bay, South Africa (Shout out to Safari for Six) via a comment on a Facebook page for the Norwegian Dawn ship, and we had a great time. For $170 per person, we got to do a two-hour boat safari, plus a four-hour game drive with lunch.

What’s different about Africa cruises vs. tropical cruises?

africa cruises - pool area

On many Africa cruises, the only pool or lounging time you’ll have is on the ship, as many ports of call are focused on adventures and wildlife, not beaches. Photo: Suzie Dundas

Aside from the obvious (you’ll be visiting cities in Africa, not tropical islands), there are a few things to prepare for if you’re thinking about looking more info Africa cruises.

  • Some ports of call and harbors in Africa are fairly new to welcoming big ships, so they may not have all the kinks worked out. Be flexible and patient, and don’t expect to have tourist-friendly restaurants and stores within walking distance at each port. It’s essential to do some light research to figure out what to expect at each port. For example, when my cruise stopped in Richards Bay, South Africa, people were shocked to learn that the port is also a coal shipping terminal, and that there’s not much to do within walking distance. Had they spent even five minutes researching the port, they could have figure that out and planned accordingly.
  • You may want to get some extra vaccinations and carry preventative medicine. It’s up to you. But depending on where you’re going, you may want to carry malaria pills, or get some basic vaccinations like DPT (diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus), or a yellow fever vaccine if you’re traveling on the western coast of Africa. Even without vaccines, you’re still unlikely to catch any diseases, but som travelers may find that being vaccinated agains them gives them a little extra peace of mind. You can get most basic international vaccinations at local pharmacies like CVS and Rite-Aid. (In South Africa, most parks are malaria-free.)

How active are cruises to Africa?

africa cruises - cape of good hope

On my trip, a day tour of Cape Town included the opportunity for a quick and steep hike to a lighthouse near the top of the Cape of Good Hope. Photo: Suzie Dundas

On Africa cruises, you’ll likely still have excursion options like beach visits and snorkeling trips, but they’ll likely be fewer and far between. Most excursions won’t be quite as leisurely as those you’d find on Caribbean or South Pacific cruises, though they still cater to older and less-active audiences. But if you’re going on a cruise to relax and put your toes in the sand, you won’t find that at as many ports in Africa as you would in the tropics.

What you will, find, however, are bouncy Jeep rides across dirt roads to go in search of elephants, chances to visit small communities for traditional outdoor BBQs, opportunities to paddle small canoes through birdwatching reserves, and options for visiting botanical gardens or budding wine-tasting regions.Yes, if you want something very active, like a distance hike or rock climbing trip, you’ll probably need to book it on your own. But most cruises to Africa will have a few more soft adventure-type excursions at each port than you’d find with more beach-focused cruises.

For frequent active travelers, it may seem tame. But for people used to more traditional cruises, it’ll likely be a bit more active and adventurous than you’re used to.

The downsides of Africa cruises

safari cruises - SF to cape town

Depending on where you live, getting to the starting point for your cruise could add days of travel on either end. Photo: Google Maps

While safari cruises are pretty exciting, they have some downsides. The first is usually the cost and time to get to the starting point. Popular departure ports include Cape Town, South Africa; Dubai, UAE; and Doha, Qatar. None of these destinations are particularly close for travelers in the US, nor are they inexpensive to reach. So you’ll need to take travel time and cost into account when planning. Consider also that most cruises to Africa are on the long side (usually at least 10 days).

The second downside is one relevant to most cruises: you don’t get to spend much time in each destination. This can be a bit of a downside on game drives, since most animals tend to me more active at dawn and dusk, as opposed to the middle of the day. Since you’ll arrive around 7 or 8 AM every morning and need to be back on board by about 5 PM each day, your only options for game drives are in the middle of the day. You’ll still see animals, but just that your chances are a little lower of seeing more elusive species, like lions and leopards.

Who should consider an Africa cruise?

group of people on cruise chairs

Africa cruises can be ideal for mixed-generation trips, where some travelers want to take it easy but others want to spend their days on adventures. Photo: Virrage Images/Shutterstock

The honest answer here is that most everyone would enjoy an Africa cruise. But the more dialed in answer is that they’re well-suited to people who have always dreamed of going on safari vacations or seeing far-away villages and landscapes, but who aren’t comfortable navigating foreign countries on their own. Seeing Africa by cruise ship takes away much of the uncertainty and unknowns that can make some travelers hesitant to travel too far out of their comfort zones. It’s also a heck of a lot easier to plan a cruise than it is to put together an entire safari trip.

That makes Africa cruises an obvious choice for older travelers or travelers who are new to international travel. There was a running joke on my shjp that it was “Africa Lite:” a chance to get a taste of the continent, and travelers who wanted to see more could return for dedicated land-based trips after their cruises. I would feel much more comfortable having my retired parents experience a safari via a cruise ship, rather than sending them to navigate traveling through Johannesburg on their own.

Africa cruises would also be great for multi-generational trips with kids, parents, and grandparents. Cruises in general are well-suited to that type of travel group, but Africa cruises are especially ideal as they allow everyone to safely “adventure” together, even if ages range from 5 to 95. They’re also great for friend groups where some travelers have a taste for adventure, and others are more afraid of the unknown. Everyone can safely do what they want on excursions, but meet up each evening for dinner, drinks, and entertainment.

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