Zambezi Inflatables and why you shouldn’t Raft the Zambezi River

| October 22, 2013 | 9 Replies

I’m going to convince you not to go whitewater rafting in Zambia. The Zambezi River, a destination known for extreme sports, is often on whitewater Top 10 lists, the water being described as a fluffy white pillow. Sounds nice right? So why not go whitewater rafting? Because inflatable kayaking on the Zambezi is better.

Zambezi Rapids

The Zambezi offers whitewater enthusiasts many eddies where they can re-group before continuing downstream.

Zambezi inflatable kayaks, specially built for the Zambezi whitewater, can handle its Class 5 rapids, and learning the basics only takes only a few minutes. This makes Zambezi inflatable whitewater kayaks perfect for beginners like me wanting an intimate experience with the Zambezi River.

Zambezi Boiling Pot

The Boiling Pot is one of the first rapids after Victoria Falls. Visitors to the Zambian side of the falls can take a 30 minute hike into the gorge and watch the action of this popular rapid up close.

Which is better? Zambezi Kayaking or Rafting?

In a kayak you are in control – Your river guide may tell you what side of the rapids are best, but where you enter, how you react, and whether you flip is up to you. When rafting the Zambezi a river guide makes the decisions, you provide the muscle power. If your raft mates are lazy the raft will flip; one person alone cannot steer the raft.

Kayaking in the Zambezi has a future – Rafting is not a skill you are likely to take home and develop, but there are plenty of opportunities to learn more about kayaking. Kayaks are affordable and a single person can easily join a group and run rivers in their hometown. Hard shelled kayaks require training, but are significantly more nimble than the inflatable kayaks (also called ‘duckies’).

Zambezi Kayaking is like Playing Guitar Hero – Sitting two feet above the river your view of what’s next is limited. You plan your line in advance, but the details in between require you to trust your instincts and react.

Victoria Falls

The main falls is a sight to see, whether from Zambia, Zimbabwe, or Livingstone Island.

What to Expect When Whitewater Kayaking the Zambezi

You will be kayaking the warm water of the Zambezi River between Zimbabwe and Zambia (that’s a lot of Z’s). The winding Batoka gorge between the two countries is 100 meters deep. The river rock is dark basalt and the gorge has plenty of life. Expect birds, lizards, and if you are lucky (?) the occasional crocodile. There is also human life: other water enthusiasts and helicopters whip through the gorge.

Victoria Falls Model

Victoria Falls is receding. It is predicted that in another 1000 years, the water, following a fault, will cut yet another gorge.

Entering the gorge – Descending to the river is the most dangerous part of the day. The slope is steep with loose scree. A rough “ladder” of nailed and gnarled branches helps, but tests your balance every step of the way.

The rapids – From Victoria Falls there are 25 rapids typically done on day runs. A full day inflatable tour from Livingstone with Kayak the Zambezi does rapids 10 to 25, as this stretch has flats (rest areas) between most rapids. This allows the guides to collect any lost kayaks, paddles, or kayakers.

Kayak on the Zambezi

Rafts are stable and sit high enough to provide a view of the upcoming rapid. Kayaks are nimble and allow you to feel the power of the river.

White and fluffy - During dry season the Zambezi River is steepest and flows through a deep channel cut in the basalt. The rapids are big but not technical. This means even if you flip and swim the rapid, you will get flushed out.

When you flip – Count to 10; this is the advice given by the guides. You will see the surface, but the large rapids keep you underwater. Eventually the rapid will spit you out, count to 10 and don’t panic. If possible grab the side of the kayak as you flip and use it for flotation. You will be in, but on top of, the rapid. In other words, you will be able to breathe without waiting to count to 10.

Exiting the gorge – There is good reason to visit Zambia. The exit on the Zambian side of the gorge has a gondola, so you can avoid the steep climb out. After paddling all day and drinking liters of the Zambezi, you will be glad to forgo the extra exercise.


Zambia-Zimbabwe Bridge

The bridge between Zambia and Zimbabwe is a well-known sight. Time it right and you can watch bungee jumpers screaming as they jump off the lower deck.

Kayaking on the Zambezi is only one whitewater activity. Rafting is by far the most popular choice, and paddle boarding is also available. If you are looking for some excitement pick the sport best suited to you, then go. The world class whitewater of the Zambezi will disappear if the Batoka Gorge Dam project is approved by Zambia and Zimbabwe.


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Category: Africa

Comments (9)

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  1. Laurie says:

    This looks amazing. I am completely jealous of your white water experience.

    • Travel Wanderings says:

      You don’t have to go all the way to Africa Laurie! You can go whitewater rafting lots of places. :) You *will* have to wait until next summer though…

  2. Alison says:

    SO COOL. Looks like a crazy fun adventure!

  3. Wow! This sounds exciting and terrifying at the same time. White water rafting and white water kayaking are something I’ve never done. Kayaking in calm lake waters, yes. Kayaking in crazy rapids, no!

    It looks like it was one hell of a ride. Africa has some amazing adventures available, doesn’t it?!

    Cheers and happy travels.
    Dariece recently posted…Our (Mis)Adventures In Ashgabat, Turkmenistan

    • Travel Wanderings says:

      Africa does have some amazing adventures, and some amazing animals too. If you’re in Livingstone and feeling brave, try the kayaking! Highly recommended.

  4. Frank says:

    Nice post – want to go back to Victoria Falls, haven’t been in 20 years. And when we do we’ll do the safest of the above because we’re a bunch of pussies ;)
    Always like hearing about your African adventures.
    Frank (bbqboy)
    Frank recently posted…Travel Forums 101: dealing with Trolls, Haters, Expats, and other “Uglies”

  5. Julie K. says:

    After my first rather unfortunate rafting experience (Trebbia in northern Italy) I thought I was done with whitewater..but you make kayaking sound like a great alternative to rafting, not to mention safer! I liked the part about not being just the helpless muscle power in particular:)
    Julie K. recently posted…Best Canadian Comic Book Creators

    • Travel Wanderings says:

      You can have some *very* different experiences with whitewater! I’ve been in a peaceful (relatively) current, and I’ve also fallen out of the boat! Maybe kayaking is just your style? :)

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