It is possible in St Lucia to look for hippos by boat. This town in KwaZulu Natal in South Africa is known for the Hippo and Crocodile Cruises. In an open boat, a guide will sail you through the estuary in search of wildlife such as hippos and a Nile crocodiles. It is part of the famous iSimalangiso Wetland Park.

Hippos and crocodiles

According to researchers, around 800 hippos and around 1,000 crocodiles live in this part of the iSimalangiso Wetland Park, part of St Lucia. This area is where most of the hippos of South Africa live. And you can see this for yourself from up close during a cruise.

Hippos roaming the streets of St Lucia

The town St Lucia is located in the middle of the wetlands in eastern South Africa. Which means that you might pass a hippo going down the street. Local population has already become accustomed to it, but for tourists, it can be a spectacular sighting.

Pay attention when you walk around town, hippos can be very dangerous if they feel you are in the way. And you might not expect it, but they can be remarkably fast, both on land as well as in the water.

Where you can experience something special. Hippos often walk through the streets here. Something that the locals have already become accustomed to. It is therefore important to pay attention when you walk around here. Because hippos are very dangerous if you stand in their way. And these animals are remarkably fast, both on land and in the water.

In and around St Lucia live the most hippos in all of South Africa. Therefore it is the best place to do a tour like a Hippo cruise. But also for exploring Isimalingiso Wetland Park and its surrounding dunes.

A Hippo cruise in St Lucia.
A Hippo cruise in St Lucia. Corno van den Berg

The wetlands can best be explored through various tours. Including a Hippo Cruise, a boat trip past hippos. But I can also recommend a night safari to see the Big Five, where you will see hippos on the land as they look for fresh grass. With some luck, you can see them grazing in large groups.

A Hippo cruise

You can book this tour in the town of St Lucia. But if you want to be sure you can go according to your planning, you can also book online in advance.

At the end of the day, the light is soft and will give nicer pictures. Also, the temperature will slowly come down, making the hippos more active than in the early afternoon.

The boats come in various sizes; from small to bigger ones, with an upper deck for example. As for the specifics of the tours, so you can decide yourself what you want. On all boats, there is enough space to walk around so you can see all sides of the boat and the wetlands. Also making it possible to take pictures from different angles and from up close.

A three-meter long Nile crocodile near St Lucia.
A three-meter long Nile crocodile near St Lucia. Corno van den Berg

The boat will explore the estuary via a stream, which looks more like a river. You will see hippos resting in the water all around you. As it is very shallow, the animals stand in the water. You will sail towards a group and float for a while so you can have a good look.

The captain will also look for Nile crocodiles, which can be found on the riverside as they warm up from the sun. You have to be lucky to see one. During my tour, I only saw two. And they were not that big. Other tourists, told me however they had seen very large crocodiles.

Th behaviour of hippos

Hippos can also quarrel.
SHippos can also quarrel. Corno van den Berg

Interesting to see is how the hippos live together. This is very visible during your safari. Often it is peaceful but they tend to quarrel once in a while. Which provides fantastic pictures as the hippos have to be assertive to one another. You will also see them closely sleep together with their head’s on each others’ backs. You see them yawning, showing their impressive teeth. Watching them in their natural habitat will also make you understand why they are labelled ‘dangerous’.

More wildlife

A weaver bird at its nest.
A weaver bird at its nest. Corno van den Berg

On your safari, you will also see other animals. In particular various types of weavers; the gold weaver and the brown thrower. These birds build their nest hanging from the reeds; unprecedented examples of architecture. These colourful birds are loud and you can hear them from far away. The nests are usually hanging together.

You can also expect various species of kingfishers trying to catch a fish here. As well as herons, anhingas, cormorants and with some luck a bird of prey.