7 Reasons Why You Should Raft the Zambezi

Published 14 February 2017

Nick Hobbs

Often in life your family, your friends, your teachers and your colleagues will urge you to take caution on any number of fronts. “You need to crawl before you can walk!” “You need to walk before you can run!” and “Only fools rush in!” they’ll tell you. All of these people of course have your best interests at heart and they certainly do have a point too; proceeding with caution is often wise. I would however argue that living a life slightly closer to that of an extreme base jumper rather than that of a reclusive hermit existing in a bunker sustained by tins of baked beans is a good way to experience all that life has to offer while also ensuring you live long enough to get to the next adventure.

Nick rafting on the Zambezi image: Nick Hobbs

It should come as no surprise therefore that one of the things I love about Africa is the opportunity to live somewhere further from the norm and closer to the extreme. For that reason, being able to pitch up in Victoria Falls with little more than a hundred meter swimming badge and then being able to fling myself down the most turbulent commercially navigable white water in the world has always been a source of enormous joy to me! There are loads of other extreme activities around and each no doubt has its merits but to me rafting the Zambezi is the ultimate and here I’ve given you a few reasons why you should try it:

Nick rafting on the Zambezi image: Nick Hobbs

You’ll have been extreme without the worry

Rapids with names like Stairway to Heaven, The Devil’s Toilet Bowl and The Washing Machine give an indication of what’s in store for those looking to take on the Mighty Zambezi. Of course in reality the health and safety measures in place here are second to none and all of those taking part in a trip down this stretch of the river are accompanied by an expert and experienced guide. Everyone is equipped with helmets and life jackets and for those who are particularly worried about going overboard there is even the option to join a raft where no paddling is necessary – just hold onto the side ropes of the inflatable and away you go, steered through the rapids by your helmsman. You probably will capsize and you may well be separated from the boat and your group at some point but don’t worry, your life jacket and a support guide in a kayak will be right there to keep you safe.

Nick's rafting trip on the Zambezi image: Nick Hobbs

It’s open to almost everyone

Whether you’re on a gap year or a family holiday the cost of a half- or full-day (£120 - £140 per person) excursion is manageable for most budgets. You also don’t have to be an Olympic swimmer or even particularly fit to take part. The minimum age limit is 15 and there is no maximum so the parameters are wide and as long as you have the right attitude (i.e. I know this is the experience of a lifetime and I am loving every minute of it) then you are pretty well suited to rafting the Zambezi.

Batoka Gorge

You’ll be blown away by the scenery

I have been fortunate enough to raft down the Zambezi starting from both the Zimbabwe and the Zambian sides, but regardless of which edge of the border you opt for the route will be the same: 23 rapids along a 24 km course of the Batoka Gorge, set against one of the most dramatic backdrops imaginable. It’s a curious rollercoaster (literally) between rapids where all you need to concentrate on is the water around you and tranquil stretches of calm where the towering cliffs of the gorge rise up just meters away from you and the sounds of the distant Victoria Falls and the surrounding bush are all that you can hear.

Aerial view of Victoria Falls

You’ll have plenty of photos to show your friends

In the age of the selfie, when everyone seems to be walking around with a Go-Pro strapped to some part of his or her anatomy, it is a pleasant change to be able to forget about all that and just get out on the water and experience nature’s awesome force. That said, everyone loves a Facebook post and so thankfully all of the operators have cameras strategically positioned along the river ready to take that action shot of you bailing out as the raft is swallowed up by the white water. You can buy pictures and videos of the day (although unfortunately no one can edit out the expressions of fear on your face) from the shop following the adventure.

Raft from above

You’ll get your money’s worth and a beer at the end of it

For just over £100 per person you can take part in a ‘full-day’ of rafting which starts at 9am and finishes around mid-late afternoon, making this a really good value option. The price includes transfers to and from your hotel to the briefing station, a full safety talk on dry land, all of your safety equipment including helmets and life jackets plus paddles, then a further safety briefing and introduction to rafting once on the water. Lunch during the trip is also included and this is an experience in itself, usually taking place on the banks of the river at an appropriate spot. In addition to the location, in my experience the quality of the food on offer has also always been excellent. Following the trip, there is more food and a few well-deserved beers once out of the gorge, usually enjoyed with a few new friends. Compare all of that with the price of a bungee jump, a microlight or a helicopter flight and the amount of time you get to enjoy each and it’s a no-brainer – rafting wins every time for me.

The Zambezi River

You’ll get your cardio in

Given that most people in Victoria Falls will be coming from or going to some time on safari it is always nice to stretch your legs before embarking on several days sat in the back of a Land Cruiser and white water rafting on the Zambezi will certainly provide some exercise. Most people probably enter into the rafting thinking the adrenaline is the only thing that will raise their heart rate, they soon realise how wrong they were once the rafting is over and the walk out of the gorge begins. I won’t spoil the surprise too much but my advice would be to start the ascent slow and keep it that way. Do though mind out of the way of your guides who will be running past you as they casually jog the same route… carrying the deflated rafts and other equipment on their backs as they go! Yes, I felt embarrassed too.

You can go there, do it and get the T-shirt too!

Before people wore their shared Instagram snaps like a badge of honor they had to rely on simply buying a t-shirt to let complete strangers know that they had been somewhere and done something. That’s still totally possible after rafting the Zambezi and even if wearing the t-shirt doesn’t replace the posts, likes and shares it surely will at least supplement them. So invest in a t-shirt, buy the video and photos and your friends at home will be in doubt about what you’ve been up to!

Spend two nights at Victoria Falls on Round the World Experts' Cape, Kruger & Falls holiday, or add a stay in Livingstone to any of our South Africa holidays. Give our Africa Experts a call for further information.

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