The first image of Africa that comes to mind is often desert or a savanna, so it’s a delight to discover that beyond the often photographed Victoria Falls, there are other places, equally magnetic and just as ancient, where you can raft down a river and have the adventure of your life. Below are some of the most phenomenal waterfalls that make white water rafting in Africa all the more tantalizing for the active traveler.
Outside of Marrakech, Ouzoud Falls is perhaps the most visited Moroccan natural attraction drawing locals and tourists alike. Melting snow from the surrounding High Atlas mountains feeds the falls, which plunge 110 meters into a multi-tiered drop. The volume of water gushing forth and the olive groves in the vicinity create a lush contrast against the reddish cliffs and arid environment of the area. It’s a fitting backdrop – and the perfect picnic area – for the start of Class III to IV rapids that never seem to let up. There are hundreds of rapids to encounter as the river winds through the gorges and passes remote Berber villages, with the most memorable being ‘The Wall,’ ‘The Squeeze,’ and ‘Rock the Casbah.’ The height of rafting season runs through March to April when the spring temperatures are comfortably warm.
Murchison Falls, Uganda
As the tallest waterfall in Uganda, Murchison Falls is where the 50-meter wide Victoria Nile River squeezes through a 7-meter gorge and ferociously tumbles 43 meters to the rock chutes below before continuing its journey to Lake Albert. White water activity takes place upstream between the top of the falls and Bujagali Lake near Jinja, the source of the Nile Uganda.
Some of the most hair-raising Class V rapids (requiring expert skill) in Africa are found in this section of the river broken every now and then by calm stretches of water, so you can walk around and rejoin the raft if you are not yet ready to be sucked in and spit out screaming. However you navigate the rapids, the scenery will make it all worthwhile. Big game can be spotted on the riverbanks downstream from the launch point at the foot of the falls named Paraa, or “the place of hippopotamus.” The best time to go is from June to September to take advantage of warm weather.
Augrabies Falls, South Africa
The Orange River, South Africa’s longest, stops its meandering at “Ankoerebis“ or the place of big noise. The river then plunges 60 meters into a 240-meter gorge of stark desert rock koppies (small hills). In rainy season, Augrabies Falls dumps water with three times the force of Niagara Falls in average season. The most thrilling white water action, however, takes place just above the falls where ‘roller coaster,’ ‘rhino,’ and ‘blind faith’ rapids are sure to test your skills and get your adrenaline pumping. When you’ve had your share of screams, let your pounding heart subside with the sense of isolation that the stark ochre gorge and wide open sky brings. Rafting can be enjoyed year-round, but is busiest during summer from November to March.
Blue Nile Falls, Ethiopia
The Blue Nile supplies most of the Nile River that flows through Egypt. As it flows south from its source at Lake Tana and courses westward across Ethiopia, the Blue Nile plunges 45 meters over “Tis Abay” Falls or “great smoke” before it continues northwest into Sudan. The river carved the high raised tableland to create the Grand Canyon of the Nile that runs for 800 kilometers all the way close to the Sudanese border. There are plenty of access points along the river to let you choose the kind of rapids you want to run and the kind of villagers you want to interact with. If you want to get tossed up and down, back and forth, the Northern Gorge has Class IV and Class V rapids. The rest of the river is classed as III or IV. As the outflow from the lake is controlled by a dam, August through to October seem to be the best time to get on the raft.
Tugela Falls, South Africa
The second highest waterfall in the world, trailing Angel Falls by a mere 30 meters, is South Africa’s Tugela Falls. Plunging at a acrophobic height of 948 meters (that’s 3,110 feet!), the falls traces its source in the mountains of KwaZulu-Natal, and flows as Tugela River on its way to the Indian Ocean. The river carved the Tugela Canyon further downstream where the water transforms into a raging torrent of rapids with names like ‘shark’s fin,’ ‘jaws,’ ‘rocky horror,’ and ‘Horrible Horace.’ If those monikers get your motor going, the best time to come is in summer from November to March.
Kalandula Falls, Angola
Spanning 600 meters during rainy season, Kalandula Falls is easily one of the largest waterfalls in Africa by volume. Even in drier months, the falls remain a respectable 410 meters wide. The Lucala River fans out into smaller trickles by the crevices and boulders before plummeting 100 meters around the horseshoe rim of the falls, allowing you to stand on the edge and look at the water cascade down the rock terraces that the falls itself has carved over the years. Rafting is ideal on the river before the falls as the rocks it has pulverized over the years are being quarried.
The thundering “Mosi oa-Tunya” is one of Africa’s incredible physical spectacles and one of the world’s eye-popping natural wonders. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Victoria Falls was created when a fissure on the earth cut the flow of the mighty Zambezi River on its serpentine way to the Indian Ocean, forming a natural boundary between Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Rushing headlong into a vertical chasm 100 meters deep and spanning 1.5 kilometers, the full width of the river, Victoria Falls is celebrated as the world’s biggest curtain of falling water. White water action is most ideal at the foot of the falls in the Batoka Gorge, with the river here regarded by many as the best rafting river there is – Class III to Class V rapids are broken every now and then by calm pools. Accessibility plays a huge part in Victoria Falls’ immense popularity, and if you can tolerate the crowd, August to December is the best time to come for white water action.
This article originally appeared on Demand Africa.
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