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Africa's Best Places to See Hippo

 
Their chortling grunts are synonymous with a waterborne safari. Sprays of mist as they surface in the golden light of dawn. Adapted to life on land and lake. If you hadn't guessed, we're talking about hippos, one of Africa's most common, but often overlooked characters. Your safari wouldn't be complete without them, so we've collated some of our favourite places to spot the abdominous hippopotamus.
The name hippopotamus is actually derived from the Ancient Greek, and it means “river horse”. The horse part is certainly stretching the imagination: a hippo hardly has equine elegance! Perhaps it’s a childhood watching Disney’s Fantasia, but we’re all very fond of these ungainly creatures, and watching them wallowing in muddy pools, then running at remarkable speed, is an unforgettable feature of many of our safaris. Here’s where you will get some of the very best hippo sightings.
Hippos on land outside of Mvuu Lodge in Malawi
Hippos on land outside of Mvuu Lodge in Malawi
 
Mvuu is Chichewa for hippo, so of course Mvuu Lodge is first on our list. The lodge is on the bank of Malawi’s Shire River, and you must take a boat trip to reach it. Looking out from the boat, you will almost certainly see the tell tale ears of hippo bobbing up and down in the water, though in daylights hours they tend to stay mostly submerged to keep cool.

The official line is that hippo are vegetarian, and mostly they do stick to a plant based diet. There are exceptions to this, however, as two of our guests discovered on a Mvuu boat safari. They saw two crocodiles and a hippo fighting in the water, and drew closer to take a look. All three animals were competing for control of another crocodile’s carcass, and the hippo was chewing on its leg!

Taking a boat ride on the Shire River is the ideal way to see hippo. Hippo are quite territorial when they are on land, but in the water they are much calmer, watching you with one eye but otherwise going about their business.
Night falls over the the boma firepit deck at Sable Alley
Night falls over the the boma firepit deck at Sable Alley
 
Botswana’s Khwai Private Reserve is wonderfully remote, so guests usually arrive by light aircraft. Sable Alley is a luxurious camp from Natural Selection, which opened in 2017.

The camp’s main building — an impressive thatched structure — is in front of a deep pool where dozens of hippos spend their days wallowing. Staying wet keeps them cool, and smothering themselves in a coating of mud helps prevent sunburn. For most of the day, you will only be able to see the tops of the hippos’ heads, however once in a while they will yawn, revealing the vastness of their jaws.

Once it is dark, the scene changes completely. At night, the hippo are much more active: they come out of the pool and walk great distances to feed. You will also hear them bellowing to one another; they are quite a noisy bunch!
Sunset over a lone hippo in Kafue National Park
Sunset over a lone hippo in Kafue National Park
 
Musekese is one of the most remote and intimate camps in Zambia: there are just four simple en suite tents, and a remarkable sense of peace. Conservation is at the very heart of the camp’s ethos, and its two founders, Phil and Tyrone both met and trained at the prestigious Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology.

The open clearing in front of the camp is Africa’s answer to Eden. Huge numbers of game congregate here throughout the day, including the larger mammals. Every now and then there is a hippo fight, which really is a dramatic spectacle. A fully grown male hippo can weigh 1,800 kg — the hippo is the second heaviest land mammal after the elephant — and with teeth bared they can cause quite a lot of damage. Sat on the wooden deck at Musekese, you will have a front row seat on whatever animal action goes on.
 
If you would like to discuss a your next safari, including hippo safaris in the company of world class guides, we would be delighted to hear from you.

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