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Lake Kariba Houseboats: Everything worth knowing!

Lake Kariba houseboats offer one of the best and yet most misunderstood safari experiences, that is unless you are from Zimbabwe, Zambia, parts of South Africa and Australia. The reason behind the confusion is that the term houseboat is used differently across the world. In many parts of the world including the Netherlands, Germany, the USA and parts of the UK a houseboat is exactly as the name suggests, a boat that is primarily used to provide accommodation on water.

Unlike these moored, unmotorised houseboats common in other regions of the world, Zambezi Cruise and Safaris’ houseboats on Kariba are luxury recreational vessels that leisurely cruise the majestic lake.  These boats allow you to see game from a different point of view as they come to drink.

Picture yourself aboard a sturdy boat, gliding along Lake Kariba’s sun-kissed waters. The breeze carries whispers of ancient legends—the spirits of elephants, lions, and crocodiles that have roamed the banks of the Zambezi for centuries. You become part of this timeless narrative as the boat cuts through the ripples.

Table of Contents

What is a houseboat?

A houseboat is more than a vessel; it's a floating sanctuary. By definition, a houseboat is a home on the water. Some of the vessels called houseboats are not motorized while others are designed for pleasure cruising.

Click to open Zambezi Trader cruise boat page

What are Lake Kariba houseboats?

These modern floating abodes still have the spirit of opulence, luxury, and exclusivity that the very first floating homes had. However, unlike most floating homes, the houseboats on Lake Kariba are fully motorised allowing them to cruise Kariba and her many waterways. An experience that has been coined as the ultimate land & lake safari in Africa.

Why is it called a houseboat?

The name itself reveals its essence. A houseboat is essentially a house on the water—a harmonious blend of nautical engineering and domestic comfort. It's where you wake up to sunrise over the lake, sip coffee or a gin & tonic on the deck, and fall asleep to the gentle lapping of waves against the hull. The term "Kariba houseboat" encapsulates this fusion of home and adventure.

What is another name for a houseboat?

Houseboats go by many different names depending on the region. In Zimbabwe, cruise boat is used interchangeably with houseboat. Other common synonyms for houseboats include riverboats, pontoons, motorboats and cruisers. Of course, this list is far from being exhaustive.

What is the difference between a boat and a houseboat?

Boats are primarily used for cruising pleasures while houseboats are essentially abodes with amenities and comforts found in a home. The major difference between the two is that houseboats are designed for longer stays on the water.

Umbozha crew waving from the deck of this luxury Lake Kariba Houseboat

Can you sail a houseboat?

Yes, you can sail a houseboat, at least you can sail a Kariba houseboat. However, when you hire one of Zambezi Cruise and Safaris' top cruise boats, the vessel comes with a captain and crew to sail the boat for you while you enjoy your vacation.

Is a yacht a houseboat?

A yacht can be called a houseboat. Both houseboats and yachts have similar “homely comforts”. The big difference between the two is that yachts are built for speed cruising while houseboats are designed for slower voyages which offer more comfort.

Zambezi Trader Houseboat cruising on Lake Kariba

What is the difference between a houseboat and a cruise ship?

The difference between cruise ships and houseboats is mainly in size. The former are larger and carry more passengers than the latter. Also, houseboats offer a more intimate, exclusive and personal experience than their sea-ferring cousins. Cruise ships operate in big water bodies like oceans and seas whereas houseboats are mainly found on small inland waterways like rivers and lakes.

Characteristics of a houseboat, what is inside?

Open decks

Unlike traditional boats, houseboats flaunt wide-open decks. Lounge on sun beds, watch birds soar and spot wildlife as you drift across Lake Kariba. The upper deck often features a plunge pool—a refreshing oasis under the African sun and stars.

Spacious cabins

Houseboats boast well-appointed cabins, each with its own character. Air-condition sanctuaries, some with baths and others with showers, provide respite after a day of exploration.

Slow and steady

Houseboats move leisurely, allowing you to savour every moment. While speed may be sacrificed, the unhurried journey has ample opportunities for wildlife viewing and scenic appreciation.

Umbozha crew waving from the deck of this luxury Lake Kariba Houseboat

Crew and comfort

A dedicated crew tends to your needs—the captain, chef, and deckhands ensure your voyage is seamless. Listen to music, catch up on DSTV, or even work out in the limited onboard gym and spa. Relax and immerse yourself viewing in nature from a different perspective.

Can you sleep on the houseboat?

Yes, you can sleep on board. Imagine drifting off to the gentle rocking of the water, cocooned in your cosy cabin as you traverse the majestic Lake Kariba. The houseboat cabin becomes your floating haven, a place where dreams blend seamlessly with the natural wonders of Zimbabwe. Whether you are basking in the sun by the pool or jacuzzi (some houseboats on Lake Kariba like the Karabezi have jacuzzies) savouring a gourmet meal or gazing at the star-studded sky. A houseboat experience promises an unforgettable journey. It is not just a houseboat it is an invitation to explore the magic of Lake Kariba in style, luxury and comfort.
There are plenty of places and opportunities to catch some shut eye during your Lake Kariba cruise. You can rest on the sun loungers as you bask in the sun or cool off in the onboard pool or jacuzzi.

What energy do Lake Kariba houseboats use: Electricity & fuel

The houseboats on Lake Kariba are usually equipped with a solar system which sustains each houseboat's appliances. The solar systems are backed up by petrol or diesel generators but these mainly run the air conditioning units. Plug points are square and can accommodate various gadgets, but clients should bring adaptors if necessary. As for fuel, houseboats in Lake Kariba typically use diesel and the tender boats use gasoline (petrol). For cooking, houseboats in Kariba use liquified petroleum gas (LPG).

How big is a houseboat

Houseboat sizes vary according to different specifications. Some houseboats have 1 deck whilst some have 2 decks, and some are very big and have up to 3 decks. Below is this list and specifications of the best houseboats on Kariba fully owned and operated by Zambezi Cruise & Safaris.

Top Lake Kariba luxury houseboats

Zambezi Trader Houseboat cruising on Lake Kariba

The Zambezi Trader

The Zambezi Trader houseboat is a 160-foot-long, 48-foot-wide, and 220-ton luxury cruise boat, and holds the title of the largest houseboat on Lake Kariba. It can accommodate large groups of up to 150 passengers on day trips, promising an unforgettable magical holiday cruise. Explore the entire 270 km length of this magnificent inland sea aboard this iconic ship offering bespoke Lake Kariba cruises. The “Trader” as she is affectionately known, has 24 air-conditioned cabins on 3 decks. The top deck also comes with a large, covered area and a cocktail bar; a spectacular venue for hosting functions such as weddings, parties and conferences. Every room on the top deck has its own balcony with views of the lake and unmatched natural beauty of Kariba.

The Karabezi Houseboat cruising on Lake Kariba

MV Karabezi Houseboat

The Karabezi’s name is a combination of “Kariba” and Zambezi”. With her 5 cabins, this luxurious Lake Kariba houseboat is one of the most intimate vessels in the Zambezi Cruise & Safaris fleet. All cabins on the river cruise boat have en-suite showers and a water closet, except one which has a bathroom across the passage. Together with chic décor, this Zambezi riverboat boasts a spacious parlour and dining room with breathtaking views of the expansive countryside. A flight of stairs takes you to the top deck, where our skipper pilots the river cruise boat. From here, you can enjoy a beautiful view from above as well as unwind on a day bed outside. With six-person seats in the jacuzzi, you may choose to cool yourself or just lie on the sun loungers while taking in the breathtaking views of African nature

Newly refurbished Sovereign cruise boat on Kariba

Sovereign Cruise boat

The Sovereign houseboat is a 10-cabin, completely air-conditioned vessel that cruises the broad waters of Lake Kariba. This luxury cruiser's cabins have an en-suite shower and water closet. The huge lounge, dining area, and bar are also well-decorated, with broad windows providing breathtaking views of the African wilderness beyond. While onboard this houseboat floating in Middle Zambezi, you will enjoy both intense animal experiences and calm times

The MV Umbozha Houseboat

The Umbozha Houseboat offers 9 cabins with private bathrooms and showers. Each sleeping room boasts a modern design, gorgeous timber furnishings, and breathtaking views of the lake. All of the boat's cabins have a distinctive modern vibe and are equipped with air conditioning. Large windows, in the lounge and dining area of this houseboat, provide panoramic views of the surrounding scenery. The lounge has a stairway that leads to the upper deck were you can unwind on a daybed and take in the changing scenery.

The Shikra Cruise boat

The Shikra houseboat was named after a bird of prey, the goshawk. This Lake Kariba tour boat features ten luxurious rooms, each with an en-suite bathroom and water closet. This catamaran, travelling the full length of the lake, features substantially scaled salon and dining rooms, each with stunning views of the countryside and Lake Kariba. A staircase leads to the Shikra's upper deck. From here, our skipper pilots this Zambezi cruise boat. The top deck has amazing vistas as well as day beds for relaxing in the open African air. You may want to escape the heat of the midday sun by taking a plunge in the pool or kicking back and relaxing on the sun loungers, all the while surrounded by endless vistas of the magnificent African wilderness.

The Most Luxurious Houseboat in Kariba: The Zambezi Trader

The Zambezi Trader is not just a vessel; it’s a symphony of grace and elegance. Anchored in the glistening embrace of Zimbabwe’s majestic Lake Kariba, it offers unparalleled opulence. Let every moment captivate your senses—from the rhythmic caress of Kariba’s waters to the distant harmonies of the wild. This floating palace of serenity is designed to offer the highest luxury while you traverse the waters of Africa’s most iconic lake

Luxurious Kariba Houseboat Accommodation

Cabins

The Zambezi Trader features three decks with well-appointed cabins. These cabins are situated right on the waterline, offering stunning views. The boat has 16 twin cabins, 5 family cabins with 4 twin beds each, and 8 luxury cabins with king-size beds. All cabins are en-suite and air-conditioned

Deck C on the Zambezi Trader with sun lounger
Top deck

The top deck boasts a large, covered area and a cocktail bar, perfect for hosting immersive functions such as weddings, parties, and conferences. Private verandas with lake vistas provide unparalleled comfort. This deck has 8 luxury cabins fully air-conditioned with king-sized beds. This deck can sleep up to 16 pax

Space on Deck B to Deck C
Middle deck

The middle deck, also known as the B deck has 5 family cabins with 4 twin beds each. All family cabins are en-suite. This deck can sleep up to 20 pax.

Twin Beds in Zambezi Trader's Deck A Cabins
Bottom deck

This deck has 16 twin cabins which are all ensuite. This deck can sleep up to 32 pax. It is also known as deck A

Zambezi Trader Houseboat: Amenities & Activities

Swimming pool

Yes, you read that right! Out of all the amenities that the Zambezi Trader boasts, the rooftop swimming pool will transport you to a state of hypnosis while surrounded by breathtaking views

Wi-Fi

Stay connected and keep in touch with the onboard Wi-Fi.

Delicious meals

The onboard chef ensures that guests are treated to delectable meals throughout the cruise safari.

Room service

Experience personalised service from the experienced staff.

Who Owns Houseboats

Well, anyone can own a houseboat! However, at a cost of approximately a quarter of a million United States dollars, most people prefer to charter or hire Kariba houseboats.

Zambezi Cruise and Safaris owns the largest fleet of luxurious houseboats on Lake Kariba.

Insights into the History of Lake Kariba Houseboat Cruises

Safari cruises in the Middle Zambezi really got started after the completion of the Kariba dam wall in 1959. The success of this form safari holiday rested on the great fishing opportunities, especially of the fighting tiger fish, as well as the allure of the abundant and diverse wildlife. Today, even though there are several boats on Lake Kariba, the traffic in this gigantic inland waterway is minimal.

History of Zambezi Cruise Safaris

Founded by passionate conservationists and travel enthusiasts, Zambezi Cruise & Safaris (ZC&S), now a prominent and leading hospitality group in Zimbabwe, etched its name in the annals of African adventure. In the heart of Zimbabwe, where the Zambezi River flows majestically, Zambezi Cruise & Safaris was born. The Zambezi River, one of Africa’s most powerful and life-sustaining waterways, became the canvas for Zambezi Cruise & Safaris’ endeavours. ZC&S set out with a clear vision: to create unforgettable experiences that blend luxury, wildlife, and natural beauty. The group currently offers unique land and lake experiences, from cruises on the iconic Lake Kariba to safari experiences at any one of the lodges around Zimbabwe

Sun setting over the waters of Lake kariba

Lake Kariba: An Iconic Destination

Lake Kariba, a man-made wonder, became the focal point of Zambezi Cruise & Safaris’ adventures. With its vast expanse, abundant wildlife, and stunning vistas, it beckoned explorers from around the world. The houseboats, part of their fleet, have transformed Lake Kariba into a floating paradise. Each vessel, from Umbozha to Sovereign, Karabezi to Shikra, and the magnificent Zambezi Trader promise luxury, relaxation, and immersion in nature

Luxury safari cruises on Lake Kariba

Zambezi Cruise & Safaris pioneered the concept of river cruise luxury on Lake Kariba. The fleet of houseboats, traversing the middle Zambezi, offer breathtaking vistas, stunning sunrises and sunsets, as well as a genuinely intimate connection with wildlife. Close ties with African Parks allow Zambezi Cruise & Safaris to offer epic wildlife safari cruises in Lake Kariba with game drives into the Matusadona National Park directly from the cruise vessels, creating the ultimate land and lake experiences. The safari cruises combine comfort, elegance, and wildlife encounters, making them a hidden gem for discerning travellers

What makes Lake Kariba houseboat holidays so special: 5 great reasons to go on a cruise boat safari

  1. Zambezi Cruise And Safaris owns the largest fleet of cruise boats on Lake Kariba: The impressive fleet stands out! With a total fleet capacity of 150 PAX split among five luxurious houseboats, Zambezi Cruise & Safaris is the top houseboat operator on the Lake. And, while there are several houseboats on the lake, none compare to the cruisers that make up the ZC&S fleet.
  2. Luxury and comfort: Kariba cruise boat owners are NOT equal, likewise, not all boats are “decked out”, so to speak. The company’s dedication to luxury is the reason all the vessels in the fleet are furnished to a similarly high standard. All ZC&S houseboats on Kariba feature fully air-conditioned en-suite cabins, lounge/dining areas, and contemporary designs.
  3. Stunning views: Each houseboat offers breathtaking views of Lake Kariba, the Matusadona Mountains, or the Zambezi escarpment. All vessels have cabins, lounges, dining rooms and bars with wide windows to make sure you take in as much of the scenery as possible.
  4. Professional crew: Friendly and knowledgeable crews on all ZC&S Lake Kariba houseboats ensure unforgettable experiences. From delicious meals to Lake Kariba trivia and fishing tips, they’ve got you covered.
  5. Lake Kariba houseboat activities: Lake activities during wildlife cruises on Kariba are a true highlight of the experience. Enjoy fishing, game viewing from tender boats, stargazing, a visit to the Tongan Fishing Village and game walks as you explore Africa’s last true wilderness

How to book a Lake Kariba houseboat holiday with Zambezi Cruise & Safaris

Zambezi Cruise and Safaris boasts an impressive fleet of houseboats, each designed for comfort, luxury, and adventure. So, how do you book your unforgettable Lake Kariba houseboat safari experience? Below we have outlined the simple step-by-step process for when you want to charter or hire any of our Lake Kariba houseboats.

Step One

Visit the ZC&S website, the cruise boat section, and select the Kariba houseboat you want to hire for your Lake Kariba holiday

Step Two

Click the Enquire Now button on the page of the houseboat you want to charter.

Step Three

Enter the information required in the data fields on the enquiry form including the dates you want to hire the Kariba cruiseboat.

Step Four

Receive an email from the reservations team acknowledging your interest in chartering a houseboat and prevailing rates and prices. Continue correspondence with the team until your houseboat booking is confirmed

Step Five

Wait for the hire/charter date to arrive and set off on probably the best land & lake safari experience.

Choosing the perfect Lake Kariba houseboat for your holiday

The Zambezi Trader

The “Trader” as she is affectionately known is the largest luxury houseboat on Lake Kariba. There are 29 fully air-conditioned cabins which can take up to 68 PAX sharing. The Zambezi Trader cruise boat has three spacious decks. Cabins on the upper deck have private verandas with lake vistas, similarly, the top deck has a large, covered area and a cocktail bar perfect for hosting functions and conferences. Everything on this boat is designed for passengers to enjoy unparalleled comfort during Lake Kariba holiday cruises. The Trader is big enough to be called a ship and can take large parties of up to 150 PAX on Lake Kariba day trips. There is a gym, spa, library, 2 pools and 2 bar areas as well as tender boats for water-based activities.

Dining area on Zambezi Trader's Deck C
Corporate Functions, Conferences & Events on Lake Kariba

The Zambezi Trader, a houseboat designed for business events, offers a unique twist to conferences. Imagine brainstorming sessions against the backdrop of Lake Kariba, surrounded by nature’s tranquillity.

Weddings on a boat: The Zambezi Trader

This majestic houseboat offers unique opportunities for memorable and exotic weddings. You can have your wedding ceremony and/ or reception either on the boat or one of the Lake Kariba Islands. With a capacity of 68 passengers sleeping on board and many more for day weddings this "ship" is the perfect vessel for cruise weddings in wild Africa.

Newly refurbished cabins on the Umbozha Houseboat looking better than before

MV Umbozha

The Umbozha cruiser comes with 9 en-suite cabins. The cabins on the houseboat all have stylish interiors with beautiful wooden furnishings. Fully air-conditioned cabins also offer stunning views of the Lake and beyond. The Umbozha’s top deck comes with daybeds and shade to relax as you enjoy the passing landscape. There is also a 4m x 3m swimming pool on the houseboat to escape the African sun. For lake activities like fishing, game viewing and exploring inlets, the Umbozha has tender boats in tow

MV Sovereign Houseboat

With 10 fully air-conditioned cabins, the Sovereign houseboat cruising Lake Kariba is the epitome of lake and land safari luxury. Cabins on the cruise boat are all en-suite. The large lounge, dining room and bar, furnished to a high standard, offer grand views of the Zambezi wildness beyond. Enjoy fully immersive wildlife experiences as you relax aboard this magnificent houseboat.

The Shikra Houseboat

This Lake Kariba cruise boat traversing the entire length of the lake is a 10-cabin vessel. Each cabin comes with an en-suite shower and water closet. The lounge and dining areas on the houseboat both offer panoramic views of the land and Lake Kariba. The karabezi is a spacious boat also furnished with a 4.5m x 2.4m swimming pool to cool off during those hot Kariba days. Tender boats on tow allow you to enjoy other lake safari activities such as game viewing from the boat, fishing, beach barbeques, as well as, bird watching.

MV Karabezi Cruise boat

This 5-cabin Kariba cruiser is one of the smaller vessel in the Zambezi Cruise & Safaris fleet. But do not let the size of the boat fool you, this boat is just as magnificent as the rest. Like other vessels in the fleet, all cabins(except one which has a bathroom across the passage) have en-suite showers and a water closet. The Karabezi houseboat has large windows in the cabins, lounge and dining areas which offer sweeping views of the lake and landscape beyond. You can also relax on day beds at the top deck, from where the captain sails the houseboat. Or, dip in the onboard jacuzzi as you escape the Kariba heat, all the while surrounded by endless views of the stunning African wilderness.

Lake Kariba Houseboat Packages

Enjoy 3-night Lake Kariba houseboat packages starting from US$3999 for the entire boat.

Packages include luxury cabins, tender boats for lake exploration, and a professional crew (captain, chef, and deckhand).

Additional Perks:

Receive a 50% discount on a one-night stay at Kariba Safari Lodge or Crowned Eagle Boutique Hotel before or after your Lake Kariba Houseboat cruise.

Kariba Houseboat Prices

Zambezi Cruise and Safaris’ houseboat specials for 2024 are more generous than ever. The rates vary based on the season and type of houseboat:

Off-Peak Season (wet or dry):

US$1450 for a 3-night cruise

US$1150 for an additional 3rd night

Peak Season (wet or dry):

US$1650 for a 3-night cruise

US$1350 for an additional 3rd night

Legacy and Beyond

Zambezi Cruise & Safaris continues to weave its enchanting spell on travellers. Whether it’s a cruise on one of the top Lake Kariba houseboats or an outdoor wedding at Pamuzinda Safari Lodge, the legacy lives on. The Zambezi whispers tales of adventure, and Zambezi Cruise & Safaris invites you to listen closely.

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Lake Kariba Houseboats: Everything worth knowing!

Lake Kariba Houseboats: Everything worth knowing!
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