The Zambezi has a reputation as the greatest white water rafting adventure. It is one of the world’s longest fivers and is full of grade V rapids plus some rather dangerous wildlife. But can anyone raft the Zambezi river? The answer, plain and simple is: Yes.
As a guide, I have enjoyed more than 1000 trips down the Zambezi River, and feel it is time to dispel the myth that you can’t raft the Zambezi without flipping. Yes, of course you can – with an experienced guide.
Guides choose a line through the rapids, and decide from challenging or more straightforward lines. Even in the biggest waters, it is possible to take a more difficult line through a rapid and not flip.
If you are thinking of taking a day trip on the Zambezi, first check out a video of the previous day’s trip. If you see the guide holding on going into a rapid, you may want to choose a different Zambezi rafting company!
The clue is in the job title: Guide. They should be guiding you through the rapids. So, let your guide know what line you would like to take. They should always give you options and listen to you.
On saying all of this, flips and swims do happen, it’s just that it’s best to relax and enjoy the ride. And if you do go in, the water temperature is 24°C – a welcome relief from the 30-40°C above the surface!
The best time to raft the Zambezi is during Low Water, from early August until mid-December. At this time you will get to raft from rapids 1 to 24 on a day trip, or from Ghostrider to Matetsi on a multi-day.
During other periods, the river is generally less challenging and the rapids not as big. At some times you will only be able to raft from rapids 11 to 24. The weather is best between early August and mid-October. After this you’ll get thunderstorms and rain.
But is the Zambezi River top dog when it comes to white water rafting adventures? Well the Zambezi ranks as one of the best white water rafting rivers and has predominantly grade 4 rapids. However, there are some big grade 5 rapids, but it depends on water levels. However, Gulliver’s Travels, Open Season, Upper Moemba and Ghostrider are all grade 5.
There are also some rapids on the Zambezi that are un-navigable, such as Commercial Suicide, Lower Moemba, Deep Throat and Chabango Falls (Damsite). Clients are walked around these rapids for their own safety.
What makes them unrunnable? Well, since a capsize is almost certain, and the consequences of a swim in such torrid water can be life threatening, so guides give them a wide berth. But not to worry, there are plenty more fun big water rapids to raft.
But is the Zambezi the greatest white water rafting adventure? Possibly. The fact it is in Africa adds to the allure, as does the wildlife you can see on the range of different Zambezi rafting holidays that are available. Add to that the other adventures around Victoria Falls and in Zambia and Zimbabwe and it makes it quite an adventure.
Every year, we organise charity trips down the Zambezi. Recently, we took 73-year-old Barbara on a seven-day river trip down the Zambezi, and yes, she rafted everything! If she can do it, ask yourself, can you? Of course you can!
Possibly the hardest part of the rafting day trip on the Zambezi is the walk out of the Batoka Gorge at the end of the day. However, many companies now use the gondola at rapid 25 to avoid the added effort.
On some multiday trips, guests get to fly out by helicopter along the river and back to town. This is an amazing end to a greatest white water rafting adventure! You get to re-trace your steps and see some of the big rapids you conquered.
This post was written by Zambezi River rafting guide Mark Kalch. Check out the Zambezi River rafting holidays to book your next trip.