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The Congo: Congo
The Nile may be the longest river in Africa, but the Congo is the most African. This 2,900-mile juggernaut arcs across equatorial Africa like a giant anaconda before emptying into the Atlantic Ocean. The river's huge counterclockwise sweep drains more than a million square miles of territory, much of it the legendary (and mythical) African jungle of literature and celluloid. This, after all, is the river that inspired Conrad's novel Heart of Darkness, (which in turn inspired the Hollywood film Apocalypse Now), and was long seen as the passageway into the heart of what was once known as"deepest, darkest Africa." The Congo is the kind of river Johnny Weismuller used to dive into — knife in mouth — to slay an impossibly large crocodile in true Tarzan fashion. Crocodiles still swim the Congo, as do hippopotamuses, manatees and hundreds of species of fish. And some 250 kinds of outrageously plumaged birds inhabit the lush forest hugging the river for much of its course. The Congo remains the busiest "highway" in Africa, with more than 9,000 miles of navigable river throughout its entire system, which should be more than ample for anyone who wants to explore the myth and reality of the "Dark Continent."

The Nile: Egypt
Cleopatra and Marc Antony turned her royal barge into history's first"Love Boat" more than 2,000 years ago. Although seduction by an Egyptian queen isn't on the itinerary of modern-day Nile cruises, you can still enjoy many of the same riverside monuments witnessed by history's most famous star-crossed lovers. Egypt, the Greek historian and traveler Herodotus said, is the gift of the Nile — the world's longest and best-known river. Without its waters, Egypt would be just another patch of North African desert, utterly devoid of the 5,000-year-old history evident for mile after mile along the shores of this legendary river. During its 4,000-mile course, the Nile drains and flows through half a dozen countries, but Egypt is the star attraction. Herodotus journeyed up the Nile in 457 B.C., and visitors have been following in his footsteps ever since, from Alexander to Napoleon. No other river on earth even comes close to boasting as many archeological treasures along its shores, including the temples of Luxor, the colossi at Abu Simbel and the tombs in Valley of the Kings. The problem here is not what to see but what to skip, since an endless amount of side trips beckon the traveler. Gawk at the Great Pyramid of Cheops (the only one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World still standing), marvel at the enormous temple complex at Karnak and ponder the inscrutable face of the mythical Sphinx. If you tire of admiring man-made wonders, take a cruise in a felucca and look for Nile crocodiles. Or try catching a Nile Perch, which can tip the scales at 175 pounds.

The Zambezi: Zimbabwe
When you hear the name"Zambezi," you may also expect to hear the name "David Livingstone." If so, you presumed correctly. Years before being tracked down by Henry Stanley, the Scottish explorer charted most of the Zambezi in the 1850s, searching for a trade route to the East African coast. The mighty Zambezi (which means "Great River" in the tongue of the native Tonga) flows eastward for some 2,200 miles from the Central African Plateau to the Indian Ocean. During its long, winding course, the Zambezi crosses or creates the borders of Angola, Zambia, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique. About halfway along its course, the Zambezi plunges several hundred feet to form one of the world's natural wonders: Victoria Falls. The turbulent stretch of river below the falls is best left to thrill seekers, but there's plenty of placid water above the falls for those more interested in wildlife than whitewater. The Zambezi, much of which has been set aside as a protected wilderness, supports one of the highest concentrations of wildlife in southern Africa. So don't pass up the opportunity for a uniquely African adventure: a canoe safari. Paddle under the great branches of mahogany trees and watch the elephants ambling down to the shore for a drink, hippos surfacing like submarines and crocodiles cruising for a snack.

Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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