White water rafting the Zambezi – good things to know

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Last Updated on: 16th March 2024, 01:31 pm

The Zambezi River below Victoria Falls is a consistent entry in any list of the “top 10 white-water rafting destinations in the world”. The standard one-day run has many class 4 and class 5 rapids.

Intense, turbulent, challenging and powerful are words that aptly describe rapids of this level of difficulty. The Zambezi River offers a wild, thrilling adventure. If this sounds too exciting for you, please read further for my personal experience: I am not an adrenaline junkie but loved it.

White-water rafting seasons on the Zambezi

The rafting options available depend on the seasonal levels of the river.

The image below provides an approximate indication of the seasons which vary from year to year.

Rafting seasons on the Zambezi River – Image credit: The Travel Info Blogger

Low water is generally regarded as the most exciting experience.
During very high water, the rafting companies do not operate on this part of the river for safety reasons.

The Zambezi River Authority website provides a good representation of past and current river flows per month and year:

Getting to the river

Side view of the gorge at Victoria Falls – Photo credit: The Travel Info Blogger

Depending on the season, and also the length of run that you choose, the trips put on and take off at different entry and exit points in the Batoka Gorge.

I could not find definitive information regarding the elevation change for the descent into the gorge and the ascent out. Based on the information available:

  • The descent to the river from close to Victoria Falls is about 100m (328 ft)
  • The ascent out of the gorge is about 180 m (591 ft)

There are rafting companies on both the Zimbabwean (Victoria Falls) and Zambian (Livingstone) sides of the river.

My white-water rafting experience

My Zambezi rafting trip was in low-water season (end of September). I had only rafted once before and the maximum grade of rapids on that trip was class 2+. I therefore could not believe my eyes when I saw the size of the waves on the Zambezi!

I chose to be in a stern-mount raft (as it has less chance of flipping). Even so, we flipped on a rapid named Oblivion, advertised as “the biggest of them all”. I did a full somersault while still holding on to the rope of the rubber raft for dear life. The water swirled and I wasn’t surfacing, so I let go. As we had been taught, I positioned myself feet first down the rapid. The life jacket popped me back up every time I got smashed under by the huge waves. Maybe stupidly, I was laughing – Oblivion taught me the exhilaration of adrenaline.

What to wear?

White-water rafting fun on the Zambezi River – Photo credit: Shockwave Adventures

You need to wear shoes to walk in and out of the gorge. If they will stay on your feet, they can be worn on the raft or they can be tied to the raft and must not mind getting a good wash.

You will be in the sun for many hours. I prefer wearing leggings and a quick-drying top with long sleeves as I burn easily. You will be allowed to store sun cream in the raft’s dry bag.

I wore disposable contact lenses for the day. Somehow, they stuck to my eyes. I do not see how glasses or sunglasses could stay secured to your head in those rough conditions.

Dry clothes can be left with the support team, and you can then change at the end of the trip.

The future

It seems that the Zambian and Zimbabwean governments are going to proceed with plans to build the Batoka Gorge hydroelectric power station 47 km (29 mi) downstream from Victoria Falls. If this does materialize, then white-water rafting on the Zambezi as we know it, will never be the same.

3 replies on “White water rafting the Zambezi – good things to know”

Hi Peter, I can easily answer your question – yes there are crocodiles in this part of the Zambezi River below Victoria Falls – I saw a small one sunning itself next to a pool with my own eyes!
When I interviewed one of the operators, he said that it is assumed that small crocodiles sometimes get washed over the falls. The fast-flowing water does not suit them, and they then move downstream to calmer areas. Larger crocs have been known to visit. He said that the white-water rafting operators know where crocodiles can be found and in 27 years (at the time of the interview) they have never had an incident.

Wow, what an experience, Chantal! Pity about the proposed HE scheme. Had pictures of you in mind during yr tumble:) Have never done white water rafting, but wud love to.

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