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If you’re looking for an adrenaline rush while visiting Victoria Falls, don’t miss the chance to go whitewater rafting on the mighty Zambezi River. It’s widely considered the best one-day commercial white water rafting trip in the world.
Between the high concentration of technical rapids and stunning views of the gorge that separates two countries, this is by far one of the best Victoria Falls activities. However, this activity is not for the faint-hearted! White water rafting on the Zambezi River is one of the most epic, adrenaline-producing day trips I’ve ever gone on.
All you need to know about White Water Rafting in Victoria Falls
The Rapids on the Zambezi River
The Zambezi River has a high concentration of grade four and five rapids, which as far as rapids go is quite technical. To give you an idea, the highest level a rapid can go is six.
Don’t worry, the guides are extremely knowledgeable about the rapids and do this tour on a daily basis. As long as you listen to their instructions, you can still go whitewater rafting even as a beginner. You just need to be comfortable with the fact that the raft will probably flip over! Here’s a video showing us capsizing on a rapid:
The full-day rafting tour takes you through 21 named rapids. Some of my favorite names are “Devil’s Toilet Bowl” and “Commerical Suicide” – encouraging, right? There are also some smaller rapids between the named one, but these are so minor in comparison (grade one or two) that they don’t even bother to name them.
What to expect on the White Water Rafting Day Tour
There is the option to do a half-day rafting tour (either rapids 1-13 in the morning or 14-21 in the afternoon) or a full-day tour with all 21 rapids. I opted for the full-day adventure which starts bright and early around 7:30 am with pickup from the hotel.
We were taken inside Victoria Falls National Park and given a briefing on safety and what to expect. There were six people in my group, three older men and a couple from England. The three men had done it last year, so it gave me reassurance that they survived and booked the tour again. They told me that they didn’t flip the last year, which I soon discovered does not mean anything.
After the briefing, we were given a safety jacket, paddle and walked down to the bottom of the gorge at ‘boiling point’, which is directly under Victoria Falls. This isn’t an easy walk, it’s quite steep. Walking down over the jagged rocks to get into the raft was actually one of the scariest parts of the day!
Once in the raft, the guides got us to practice some techniques and we started the journey with the first rapid hitting us almost right away. Good thing it was hot outside because we were completely soaked by 9 am. Good start to an adventure!
For most of the morning, we managed to avoid flipping the raft, until we got to “the three sisters” which is a series of three rapids in a row. The second one got the best of us, and we all ended up in the water. I actually found it really scary when we flipped, as I was submerged under the water for what felt like an eternity, and the rapids just pull you down the river. The important thing to remember is that this only lasts a minute, and to remain as calm as possible. It’s easier said than done, but by the third time we flipped, I was much less scared. It gets better, I promise!
The group of three men on my tour had only signed up for the half-day, so we dropped them off after the 13th rapid and continued on our journey. After that last flip, I think they were grateful to be out of the water! No one else joined us for the second half of the day, so a couple of the staff who had been in kayaks joined us to balance the raft. The staff gave us some snacks to enjoy while we calmly floated down the river.
The difference between the rapids and calm sections of the river is insane. There were many points throughout the day where we were able to get out of the raft and go swimming gently down the river. This is such a nice way to cool off in the hot weather, and overall an incredibly relaxing experience. The Zambezi River flows through the Bakota Gorge which is just stunning. We were able to spot many birds from the raft!
The second half of the rafting trip is more intense, as you are almost guaranteed to flip on ‘Oblivion’, the last rapid of the day. We actually flipped once before that as well. If you are nervous to go rafting, I suggest going on the half-day tour in the morning.
Even though there were many points where my heart was racing, I had so much fun on the full-day white-water rafting trip on the Zambezi River. I’ve been rafting at least a dozen times before this, and nothing comes close in comparison.
Once the rafting ends, we had to walk up back up the gorge. This isn’t an easy hike, especially after such a crazy day. It’s a steep incline of about 250m. Thankfully, we were rewarded with beer and lunch after the hike!
Best time to go White Water Rafting on the Zambezi River
The water level on the Zambezi River is completely dictated by rainfall in the area, which means there are distinct seasons in which you can go white water rafting in Victoria Falls.
During the low water season, which typically runs from August to December, all the rapids are open (1-21). During high water season (May-July, and Jan-March), the first ten rapids are closed for safety reasons. The rafting usually closes from the beginning of April until approximately the beginning of June depending on high water levels.
If you want to get the full experience of white water rafting in Victoria Falls, then plan your trip for August-December. This also coincides with the dry season in Zambia/Zimbabwe, when the weather is extremely hot. Rafting is the perfect activity to do in such hot weather, as the water keeps you cool. Just remember to apply lots of sunscreens throughout the day. They have containers you can keep it in! I forgot mine and got a bad sunburn.
Is White Water Rafting safe?
White water rafting in Victoria Falls is not an activity for the faint-hearted, but it’s safer then you’d probably think. These companies have been running rafting tours for years, and the guides do this on a daily basis. They provide you with a safety briefing beforehand and will direct the group on what to do for each rapid. Multiple staff come with you on the journey, including extra guides who will be in kayaks to help you should the raft capsize. You can raft the Zambezi as a beginner, but having some prior experience will definitely help you feel more confident.
I always recommend traveling with travel insurance, especially if you are participating in adventure activities such as rafting. I use and recommend World Nomad’s, specifically because they cover adventure activities like rafting (up to grade five). Having insurance will protect you financially should something happen.
I’ve rafted several times around the world and nothing compares to my experience on the Zambezi River. Although I felt safe the entire time (and obviously survived) I did feel scared when the raft capsized. Although there are many moments in this tour that are relaxing, you do need to be prepared for some adrenaline-inducing ones.
How to book a White Water Rafting Tour
White water rafting is one of the most popular tours in Vic Falls so if you want to go it’s important to book in advance. You can either book online or through a tour agency or hotel. Rafting can be arranged from either the Zimbabwe or Zambia side, as the river is shared by both countries. I booked my tour in Livingstone through Livingstone Adventures. I was guided by a company called Bundu Adventures who were very professional and fun to be around. At the time, they were having a promotion where you could get a free sunset cruise if you booked the full-day rafting, so look out for that!
If you are really into rafting, there are also multi-day tours you can book that take you further down the Zambezi river. I didn’t do this, but camping under the stars at night after a day of rafting sounds like a magical time.
Going white water rafting in Victoria Falls is a once in a lifetime experience and I highly recommend it if you are visiting this area. I had so much fun on the full day rafting trip. I don’t know how any future rafting trips I take will ever compare!
Looking for more adventure in Victoria Falls? Check out my post on the top adventures to do in Livingstone. There’s so much more to do, like taking a helicopter flight over Victoria Falls or swimming on top of them at the Devil’s pool.
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This was definitely on my list when I visited Zambia but I was with a group and didn’t fulfill it! I loved reading about the experience; maybe one day I’ll return and have a (maybe less adrenaline-filled) fun experience too!
Aw that’s too bad! I hope you can go back and do it someday!
Thanks! Me too 🙂