Famous rivers of Africa

Famous rivers of Africa

There is a famous quote: ‘If the earth is a mother, rivers are her veins’. For centuries up until the present, humans and animals have continued to rely on this naturally flowing watercourse. 

Rivers are an integral part of geographical features

Rivers are an integral part of geographical features


Africa is one of the continents that is blessed to have rivers flowing over all its territories. It remains the livelihood of millions of people and wildlife. African rivers are used for food, fresh water, and transportation. Africa would be nothing but a wasteland if its rivers did not support its incredible ecology.  

In certain national parks in Africa, a river safari or cruise is an enjoyable activity. These rivers create free-lined pathways through the arid land. Moreover, they also attract animals and birds, who mainly depend on them for food and water sources. These safaris offer a unique perspective on wildlife as well as the African landscape. 


Here are five of the most famous rivers in Africa that deserve to be visited at least once.


1. Nile River 

The Nile is one of the longest rivers not only in Africa but also worldwide. It measures a staggering length of 6,650 km. Undoubtedly, it is the most popular river in Africa and is historically the longest river to ever exist.  

The Nile flows northward from Burundi through Rwanda. It then travels to Uganda, South Sudan, Ethiopia, and Egypt before finally making its way to the Mediterranean Sea. It has three major tributaries: the Blue Nile, the White Nile, and the Atbara. 

The Nile River flows through Uganda

The Nile River flows through Uganda

This river is significant as the earliest civilization began near the Nile. Today, over 160 million people depend on the fresh waters of the Nile River. Moreover, it links North and East Africa together and brings life to the African desert. 

Many fish species, including tilapia, are found in the waters of the Nile. Several wildlife species, including crocodiles and snakes, reside in the river. It also supports a variety of vegetation, including papyrus, plume thistle, blue Egyptian water lilies, and more. 

Although it is the longest river in the world, the total navigable area of the Nile River is only 1545 km2.


2. River Congo 

The River Congo is the second-longest river in Africa and the world’s deepest river, recorded at 720 feet deep. The Congo River passes through the untrodden rainforests of Central Africa. 

The river winds between Angola, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The sources of the river are found in the highlands and mountains of the East African Rift. Lake Mweru and Lake Tanganyika feed the river’s waters as well.  

Fishermen crossing the Congo River

Fishermen crossing the Congo River

The River Congo crosses the equator twice during its journey from Southern DRC to its end-stop, the Atlantic Ocean. It has become an attractive tourist spot as the river flows through Salonga National Park. 

The entire Congo region and the basin have been considered critical to the ecosystem. The river as well as the rainforest have diverse wildlife. The Congo River is an important source of water for rainforest animals. It is home to nearly 400 mammal species, 1000 types of birds, over 600 species of birds, 900 species of butterflies, and 280 species of reptiles.  

Moreover, the river has a significant place in myths and legends that are often associated with the Congo. In literature, author Joseph Conrad’s novella referred to this river as the ‘heart of darkness due to its unforgettable history.


3. Mara River 

The Mara River belongs to Narok County in Kenya and the Mara Region in Tanzania. It stretches at a length of 395 km, wherein 65% of its surface lies in Kenya while the remaining 25% is in Tanzania. 

Wildebeest crossing the Mara River

Wildebeest crossing the Mara River

The river originates from the Mara Escarpment and gets its sources from the Kenyan highlands before ending up in Lake Victoria. The Mara has four regions through which the river passes. One of them includes protected areas. The river flows into this region and becomes part of the popular Maasai Mara National Reserve. It further makes its way to Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park and joins all four of its tributaries.

The Mara River is a fantastic place to witness the amazing wildlife of Kenya and Tanzania. It is also a vital source of food for the grazing animals living in the reserve. 

On the banks of the Mara River, you can even become a witness to the natural phenomenon of the Great Migration. Close to 1.5 million wildebeest, zebras, and gazelles cross the Mara River annually throughout the Serengeti and Mara ecosystems. 

This dramatic migration is at its peak when the animals crossing the Mara are met with predators like crocodiles. The river is full of life and displays the Great Migration as a cinematic film that cannot be watched anywhere else in the world. 


4. The Chobe River 

This river is known as the Cuando River in south-central Africa, the Linyanti River below the Linyanti Swamp, before finally becoming the Chobe River in the farther east. The river flows from Angola and Namibia’s Caprivi Strip into the Linyanti swamp. The river ends up flowing into the Zambezi River. 

The Chobe River measures 731 km in length as it passes through Botswana and Namibia. The river also forms a green belt through the African bush, which in turn draws a high concentration of wildlife. 

A herd of elephants on the banks of River Chobe

A herd of elephants on the banks of River Chobe

This river passes by the famous Chobe National Park in Botswana and is the only source for animals during the dry months. This river provides the ultimate river cruise or safari for tourists, as wildlife sightings are excellent. 

Here, you can find herds of elephants, giraffes, lechwe, lions, leopards, different species of fish, reptiles like monitor lizards, and a variety of birds. 


5. The Limpopo River 

Limpopo River is the eighth-longest river found in Africa, with a length of 1,800 km. This river is also the second-largest river in South Africa.  It should not be confused with the Congo River, as it is the second-longest river on the African continent.  

The Limpopo River from an aerial view

The Limpopo River from an aerial view

The Limpopo River starts in southeast Africa, specifically South Africa, and further flows to Botswana, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe. In the end, it empties into the Indian Ocean. This river is significant as the water serves as a border. It separates three countries from one another: South Africa, Botswana, and Zimbabwe. 

The Limpopo passes through the northernmost area of Kruger National Park and offers an impressive view of Southern Africa’s landscapes. The natural wildlife habitat in this region includes hippos, elephants, and over 600 species of birds. This river is known for its serene nature and displays the majestic topography of Southern Africa.  

Aside from mountains and forests, these rivers have an integral role to play in Africa’s ecosystem. The five rivers listed in Africa are not only famous but also provide a unique perspective of the continent.  


Each river is characterised by special features and a wide range of wildlife and is associated with cultural significance. These epic rivers offer an experience that cannot be felt anywhere else in the world.


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