Remember the first time you went whitewater rafting? Your raft crested the rock or swell, and in a moment of (fun) terror, you could see the drop about to come. Over the edge you went, and with a giant splash and laughter, you and your raft mates and guide successfully traversed the rapid. Now imagine spending several days rafting a few hours each day... this is what you can look forward to on a guided whitewater rafting trip along some of the world's most famous rivers!
Whitewater rafting is an adrenaline-pumping, moderately risky activity that draws travelers from many backgrounds and skill levels. It allows you to travel all over the world (there are rivers everywhere), and see some of the world's most beautiful vistas while getting a reasonable workout in the process.
If whitewater rafting is the stuff of your travel dreams, look no further. This guide will help you choose where and how to book your next whitewater rafting trip.
Where to Go
The United States is one of the best destinations for whitewater rafting in the world -- in part because there are so many different rivers to choose from in this massive country. If you're looking for a postcard-worthy rafting experience, consider the Colorado River (or its tributary, the Green River) in Colorado. Other popular rafting rivers can be found in Alaska, California, and Texas -- where you can raft the Rio Grande along the border between the U.S. and Mexico.
Rafting in the U.S. is best in the summer months, where rainfall and snowfall from the previous winter and spring help the rivers swell.
Costa Rica has some great whitewater rafting opportunities, including many which allow you to raft right through the rainforest. The most popular river is the Pacuare River, but you can also find great rapids on the Naranjo, Savegre, Reventazon, and Corobic rivers. The best time for rafting in Costa Rica is June through October.
When you think of whitewater rafting, India might not come to mind as a top destination, but you'd be surprised to learn it has some great opportunities for rafters of all skills. In particular, the famous holy river, the Ganges, has extremely dynamic rafting opportunities. You can spend one day rafting class IV and V rapids, and the next floating serenely past temples and holy rituals on its banks. The best time to go rafting in India is October through June, after monsoon season.
Most people visit the Zambezi River when they go to admire Victoria Falls... but did you know you can also go whitewater rafting downriver from the falls? The Zambezi is the fourth-longest river on the African continent and has some of the most challenging rapids of any river on this list. Expect loads of class IV and V rapids if you choose to go rafting here; this is best for more advanced rafters looking for a thrill! The best time to go rafting on the Zambezi is July through early February.
Planning Your Trip
What to Look for in a Whitewater Rafting Trip
Arguably the most important thing to look for in a whitewater rafting trip is the safety record of the tour operator. Whitewater rafting can be a risky activity, especially if you are looking for trips that include class IV or V rapids, and it's important that the tour provider you book has a good safety record with past guests.
Also, look at past guest reviews to get a sense of how the season affects rafting conditions. Is rafting early in the season more intense, or less so? Book according to your desired level of adrenaline and you won't be unpleasantly surprised by intense whitewater or a placid float downstream.
Average Whitewater Rafting Trip Cost & Length
Whitewater rafting trips vary in cost, though on the whole, you can expect them to range $100-$200 per night. Typically, you will be rafting all day and camping each night -- though some trips provide hotels between rafting excursions, which will increase your cost.
Rafting trips range from 2-3 nights up to a week, typically. It is possible to find longer rafting trips, especially on some of the world's longest rivers.
Packing Tips & Gear Rental
In general, whitewater rafting trips will include all of the gear you need: helmet, paddle, lifejacket, and raft. Be sure to double check this with your tour provider, in case you need to bring your own.
For packing, bring moisture wicking, quick-dry fabrics -- and lots of them, as you'll likely want to change into dry clothes each day once you finish rafting. Additionally, pack river shoes which protect your feet but give you good stabilization while climbing in and out of the raft.
Qualification & Training
Whitewater rafting doesn't require training, per se; most guides will give you a demo and coaching while you're rafting, if you've never been before. If you're going out for an advanced whitewater rafting trip and you've never gone rafting, you may want to book a few smaller, shorter trips, to get some experience handling the dynamic forces that make whitewater rafting so exhilarating.
You don't need any qualification or certification to go whitewater rafting, but it's important to know that your guide has been properly certified. You can request this information from the tour operator before booking.
Activity Risks & Safety Tips
Whitewater rafting has a moderate to high level of risk, depending on the type of rapids you plan to raft. In general, you should be aware that there is always a small chance of drowning, and as such should never go rafting without a life preserver/life jacket. If you are not comfortable swimming, this might not be the best activity for you.
Additionally, more advanced whitewater rafting comes with additional risks, including being ejected from the boat or colliding with fellow raft members during intense rafting moments. As such, most tour operators provide helmets which you should also wear at all times while rafting.
While spending a long day rafting, be sure to have small snacks and water to avoid dehydration or low blood sugar, as well as sunscreen to protect your skin.