The Zambezi is one of the world’s greater white water rafting destinations. If you are thinking about taking on this spectacular river, you will want to choose a reputable Zambezi rafting outfitter that will provide the best possible experience, both for you and the local people in Zambia or Zimbabwe. So what should you look for?
The Zambezi river has numerous grade IV and V rapids. This is big white water but even absolute beginners can safely enjoy it under the expert guidance of local guides, emphasis on local. The most experienced teams on the river are those who have been raised on it and know it inside and out. For example, Water by Nature’s rafting manager Lovemore Kalinda, started life as a porter on the river in his late teens and has been rafting and kayaking it ever since. The rest of our team is just as experienced on this river. These are the people you want looking after you.
What’s more, you want an outfitter with guides who have IRF rafting qualifications, pre-hospital medical care training, a comprehensive expedition first aid kit including a defibrillator in the unlikely event of medical emergencies, and safety kayakers and a safety cataraft on every trip. The Zambezi has a reputation (not helped by YouTube) as a river renowned for flips. You want an outfitter who minimises flips, with a priority on keeping people in the boat. This is important when some of our guests are in their seventies or teens. We want to ensure everyone can safely enjoy this magnificent river. It is also worth checking the outfitter’s life jackets meets CE (European) and US Coastguard (US approved) standards.
Several international outfitters outsource their trips to companies with local rafting specialists who provide the logistics and guides for their trips. While this is standard practice in the rafting industry, when it comes to the Zambezi, it’s best to book directly with a company with on-the-ground operations to ensure your trip goes off without a hitch. What’s more, by booking direct, there is no commission being paid which has a knock on impact for local guides, who typically get paid significantly less than their international counterparts. Water by Nature has an in-country team based in Livingstone, with guides who are paid the same rate as international guides, which supports them, their families and their local community. Few other companies do this.
Rafting the Zambezi can span a short day trip to a seven-day expedition. Very few organisations start their trips directly below Victoria Falls (the most amazing lunch spot in the world) and even fewer raft all the way and run Ghostrider, the last and biggest rapid on the Zambezi. Many Zambezi rafting outfitters take out at the proposed Batoka Gorge dam site as it is logistically easier but misses out on this iconic piece of white water. Ask for their itinerary and if they don’t include Ghostrider, they’re not doing the real Zambezi. Water by Nature goes end-to-end, so you don’t miss the good stuff.
Many outfitters either require their guests to hike out of the gorge, a hot 750-foot vertical climb, not an ideal way to end a trip. Some offer a vehicle transfer from the dam site. But we prefer to do it in style – for the same price. Water by Nature built a helicopter landing pad below Ghostrider so we could give our guests the ultimate end to their rafting expedition – a helicopter flight up the Batoka Gorge and over Victoria Falls, with breathtaking views. So be out of breath hiking or breathless from the views? The choice depends on the outfitter you go with.
Not all food, drinks, chairs, sleeping mats, tents and company are created equal. Ask your outfitter for the meals they provide and what camping equipment they supply to ensure you are comfortable. Do they have an expedition water filter for clean water? We outfit our trips to an exceptional standard with customers raving about the home made lasagne and chocolate cake cooked over open fires, ice cold drinks and comfortable seat and beds.
If you are going to raft the Zambezi, choose your outfitter wisely. Safety, how they treat local guides, guide knowledge and experience, the trip itinerary, your exit from the gorge, and the comfort levels should all factor in.
If you aren’t sure what’s best for you and have questions, feel free to ask us. We will give you impartial advice, regardless of whether you go with us or not. We simply want anyone who rafts the Zambezi to have an incredible time with a huge amount of fun.
by Hamish McMaster
Hamish McMaster is the Water By Nature owner. He has spent the past 25 years exploring and playing on the world's great rivers. He still loves nothing more than getting out there and sharing adventures.
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