THE GREAT ZAMBEZI: WHITEWATER RAFTING IN ZAMBIA
First, what is ‘whitewater rafting’?
Basically whitewater rafting involves getting in a boat and navigating your way down a wild river through a range of rapids and sometimes over waterfalls. When you do it as part of a small group as a tourist, you’re in an inflatable boat of roughly 5-7 other people who all have paddles. Your guide will be at the rear with a couple of oars, and he/she will be in charge of navigation.
The rapids can be wild and rough, and it’s not uncommon for the boat to flip, or for people to fall out as they battle through the whipped foam of the waves. Sounds fun? I thought it sounded terrifying. I am not a confident swimmer, the water freaks me out, and I get claustrophobic so the idea of a boat flipping with me being trapped beneath it was horrifying. Nevertheless, I decided my fear was the exact reason why I SHOULD do it, and I’m sooo glad I did.
How to go whitewater rafting in Zambia
We were staying at Livingston, right next to Victoria Falls, and we enjoyed our daily walks to look at the ‘smoke that thunders’ cascade into the Zambezi River.
There are a number of companies that do whitewater rafting tours along the Zambezi, but we chose the only locally owned and run group called Maano Adventures. They were amazing and I wouldn’t recommend anyone else.
Most trips only run with a minimum of 3 people, and the other people who were scheduled on our trip pulled out at the last minute. Fortunately our trip went ahead anyway, and we actually felt it was even better, because in lieu of the other tourists, our driver picked up a few local blokes in the village to come along for the ride, It made everything ten times more hilarious.
Getting to and from the river
This part I had not prepared for. Imagine a 40 minute walk down a practically vertical hill where the ground is so soft and slippery that they have roped branches into ladders that you have to walk on - it’s like walking on a tightrope down a cliff.
At the end of your exhausting day rafting, be prepared for a similarly brutal climb back up. I wasn’t.
The river isn’t all wild. You start off enjoying the serenity of the magnificent Zambezi - it truly is a magical place. It feels so much more special as because you climbed down the staircase from hell to get to it…
The water was warm in February, and we enjoyed a swim in between hitting the rapids. Some of the lower ‘class’ rapids are gentle enough to swim down, which is incredible fun.
You’ll need all your strength to navigate through the higher class rapids with your oar, though. You crash through the waves at full force and several times you’re almost thrown out of the boat. The water smacks you across the face and sometimes you think you’re going to drown. It’s brilliant.
When a rapid gets particularly wild your guide will tell you to ‘get down’ - and thats when you hunch behind the lip of the boat and hold onto the safety rope for dear life. And these, my dear, are the best moments.