Rivers play a particularly important role for animals, the environment, and people. Not only do they provide habitats, water, and food, but they also serve as a channel of transportation for locals and tourists.
However, as beautiful and as valuable they may be, rivers can still be quite dangerous. What makes a river dangerous? Aside from slippery rocks and strong currents, flash flooding and attacks from local animals are all contributing factors to a river’s safety (or lack thereof).
Of all the well-known dangerous rivers, nothing compares to the Zambezi River.
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About the Zambezi River
Located in Africa, the Zambezi River is the fourth-longest river on the continent and flows from Central Africa to the Indian Ocean. The river spans up to 1,599 miles that stretch through six countries: Zambia, Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, and Zimbabwe. The term Zambezi or “Great River” is the river’s namesake and comes from the Tonga people.
Like most sites in Africa, the Zambezi River holds a legend about Nyami Nyami, the river god. It is believed the construction of the Kariba Dam separated Nyami Nyami and his wife, which eventually caused floods and deaths as a consequence. Despite its drawbacks, it serves as the main source of electricity to the surrounding areas via two dams: the Kariba Dam and the Cahora Bassa Dam.
The river is divided into three sections: Upper Zambezi, Middle Zambezi, and Lower Zambezi. The Upper Zambezi flows for about 20 miles from the southwest of Zambia and goes through Angola, stretching for another 150 miles. From Angola, it goes back again to Zambia for about 500 miles flowing over the Chavuma falls and entering the Barotse Floodplain.
After exiting the Barotse Floodplain, the river reaches Ngonye Sioma Falls and meets the Chobe River, which forms the borders of Zambia and Zimbabwe. This is also the part where Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Namibia connect. It travels from there for another 50 miles and then meets Victoria Falls.
The Middle Zambezi begins from Victoria Falls, acting as the border of the Upper and Middle Zambezi which stretches about 600 miles. It passes through the 140-mile stretch of Lake Kariba and then to Lake Cahora Bassa. After passing the Kariba Dam, it heads towards Chirundu, the Lower Zambezi National Park, and the Mana Pools National Park.
You’ll find many famous canoe safaris and safari lodges in this area. The Middle Zambezi ends upon entering Lake Cahora Bassa, which is also where the Lower Zambezi begins. From the eastern end of Lake Cahora Bassa, the river descends for 400 miles to the Indian Ocean.
If you’re after a fishing experience, you can go on a fishing safari in Sioma Falls. For more wilderness adventures, stop by at Barotseland, Sioma Ngwezi, or Liuwa Plains to witness the great migration of wildebeests. It’s also worth mentioning that the Upper Zambezi is where a few farmers and fishermen live.
The Zambezi River is considered a grade 5 river – the highest grade – which means it is an extremely dangerous, long, and violent river. Thus, it is advised only experts with extensive experience and rescue skills brave this river.
The river is deemed to be the most dangerous for its extremely fast and strong rapids and undercurrents. And let’s not forget the river’s many falls – Chavuma Falls, Ngonye Falls, and Victoria Falls. Because of its fast rapids and strong current, the chances of getting flipped over, thrown off, and hit a rock are notably high.
Although the power of the Zambezi River is defined by its currents, the deadly animals add more danger. This river serves as a water source for people and animals alike. Don’t be deceived by the river’s calm stretches as there is a plethora of crocodiles, hippos, and even Zambezi bull sharks living in the shallows.
In the forests, you may encounter several wild animals including lions, hyenas, baboons, elephants, zebras, giraffes, and Cape buffalos. If you’re going canoeing in the river, you’ll be guided by an expert who’ll know how to handle wildlife encounters. Still, it won’t guarantee your safety.
Aside from dangerous animals, you’ll see many different types of birds who feed and hunt along the river such as eagles, kingfishers, egrets, and herons.
The Best Things to Do
If the dangers of this river don’t bother you, you’ll be pleased to know that there are plenty of recreation activities available on the Zambezi. The rushing waters and fast rapids of the river attract adventurers from around the world. And many tourists choose to come here to see the untamed side of Africa and witness the Zambezi River’s beauty.
Aside from seeing Zambia’s incredible wildlife, you’ll be overwhelmed with the many exciting activities, awe-inspiring sites, and water sports. The top activity to do on your Zambezi River adventure is river rafting. It’s the best way to enjoy the river and witness stunning views.
River rafting in the Zambezi River is preferably done in January when the water level is high. A half-day river rafting tour will take you across 10 rapids while a full-day tour will have you cruising over an impressive 25. For a more tranquil yet thrilling experience, you can go on a canoe safari and paddle through the calm river.
You’ll have a better look at the wild animals drinking water and national parks as you pass through. If you don’t like being on the water, then a guided nature walk is the way to go. You can walk alongside the river, catch a spectacular view of Victoria Falls, and take pictures.
If you plan to see Victoria Falls, we suggest booking a guided tour to help you visit nearby attractions such as Livingstone and Devil’s Pool. Lastly, there’s nothing more peaceful than catching the golden sunset via a sunset cruise. You can do the cruise at the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
On the sunset cruise, you’ll enjoy some barbecue, an open bar, and wildlife viewing. The cruise usually accommodates 20–144 people, depending on the size of the vessel.
How to Get to Zambia
Packed and ready to go? Getting to the Zambezi River isn’t too complicated, but it isn’t direct either. You’ll need to catch a flight going to Lusaka, the capital of Zambia. From there, it’ll take about 20 minutes to reach Victoria Falls airport. For smooth travel, you can go by hired cars or hotel transportation to get to your accommodation from the airport.
Tips to Remember
The best time to come to the Zambezi depends on the activities you choose to do. For instance, it is preferable to come in the summer season for birdwatching, between October and March. If you want to do game viewing, the winter season from April to October is better.
For water activities like river rafting, it is generally fine in all seasons. Before going, make sure to have sunscreen, bug repellant, a hat, and proper attire to protect your skin from the rays of the sun and insect bites. If you plan to go river rafting or canoeing, it is recommended to wear appropriate gloves to prevent blisters caused by paddling.
Other than these simple reminders, don’t forget to enjoy the adventure and appreciate the beauty and wildlife of the Zambezi River.