As we speed along the river, my heart pounds. Our instructor shouts out commands, but we can barely hear him above the rushing water as we hurtle along the rapids. And then all is calm again. We catch our breath and take in the beautiful surroundings.
Starting with my own experience in Slovenia, 18 bloggers recommend their favourite places (and one not so great) for the best white-water rafting in the world, from the River Ganges in India to the Colorado River, USA.
White-water rafting classification levels
As a guide to what you might expect from any white-water rafting experience, rivers are graded according to how difficult they are to negotiate. Level one, for example, is a calm stretch of flowing water with only small waves. Most rivers have some sections that could be classed as level one, providing a relaxing experience and, if mixed with more demanding levels, offering a welcome break between more adrenaline-inducing rapids. At the other extreme, level six rivers are only for the most experienced and skillful experts. No outfitter or tour operator should be taking people along such rivers, however, as Talek from Travels With Talek found out, not everyone obeys the rules or follows proper safety procedures. Talek learned the hard way that you should never go white-water rafting without checking the qualifications of the outfitters, especially in countries where health and safety rules are not enforced.
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18 of the best white-water rafting locations in the world
White-water rafting in Europe
Savinja River, near Rečica, Slovenia
Slovenia, where I had my first experience of white-water rafting, has some of the most stunning rivers in the world, with unbelievably vivid turquoise water. Our hosts were Kamp Menina, near the small village of Rečica, in Savinja — a wonderful campsite with a myriad of activities on hand and a fabulous range of accommodation, from basic camping pitches to glamping log cabins.
Recommended for you: Glamping by Lake Bled, Slovenia
After a safety briefing, we got changed into wetsuits and, of course, we were all given life jackets and helmets. A short drive brought us to the starting point of our adventure. I had imagined a big inflatable raft with room for six or more people, so I was a little surprised when I saw what looked more like inflatable kayaks and found out there would just be three of us in our boat. The start was gentle enough but at times the rapids whipped up and we had to work hard to steer the boat where we wanted it to go (to varying degrees of success). Yes, it was a little scary, but I loved it!
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Murillo de Gállego, Spain
Shoba, Just Go Places
Northern Spain, just south of the Pyrenees, is a great location for all sorts of water activities, thanks to the steady flow of runoff water from the mountains into its rivers. UR Pirineos is a specialist company that can take you white-water rafting near the city of Huesca in the Murillo de Gállego, the staff speak English well and can provide you with all the equipment you need. They can also arrange accommodation if you would like to explore the area further.
The white-water rafting here is good for a mixed-ability group including families because there are two courses. There is a gentler course for beginners (including children from the age of eight) and a more challenging course for intermediates. The guides are well-versed in safety and you can rest assured that your kids will be in good hands. You can even spend the week here camping as a family and enjoying all the other water activities, like canyoning and stand-up paddle boarding. It’s a fun way to cool down during the brutally hot summer days this area is known for. Read more about Shoba’s travels in Spain.
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White-water rafting in Asia
Sara, Mindful Travel by Sara
There is nothing better for adventure and sports lovers than white-water rafting in the Ayung, Bali’s longest river. This place is perfect to enjoy a fun activity and surprise you with a truly stunning natural environment.
This water sport allows you to take on your fears and have the best adventure experience with your friends and family members. Besides, the location is very convenient, as the Ayung River is located a few kilometers from Ubud, one of the most popular destinations in Bali.
The rafting in the Ayung River lasts around two to three hours, descending 12 km along the way.
I would say this white-water rafting experience is good for beginners who are used to water sports, as the rafting experience includes a short training session and you will get instructions from your guide. Once you are done with the training you will step on your raft and handle the harsh vortexes of river water and experience challenging level two and three rapids. Bear in mind that children under six and adults over 65 cannot participate in this activity.
White-water rafting in the Ayung River is a perfect option for those looking for a great adventure activity in Bali. Do you dare to try it?
The experience is totally worth it!
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River Ganges, Rishikesh, Uttarakhand, India
Oindrila, Oindrila Goes Footloose
Uttarakhand is one of India’s best states not only to see the Himalayas, but also to indulge in some river rafting through the mighty River Ganges that flows through its valleys.
The white-water rafting experience in Rishikesh takes the rafters through a mix of level two through level five rapids. You can select from distances ranging from 10 to 15 km, depending on how many rapids you wish to tackle. Even though beginners are allowed to participate, you need an experienced guide and a lot of strength to row through the longest river in the country. You are not allowed to take photographs until you cross all the rapids and reach a calm section of the Ganges.
Locally known as the Ganga, this river can be 90 feet deep in places, and unless one is careful it is easy to get hurled into the sharp rocks along the way. The best part about rafting here is the thrill of navigating a fierce body of water while enjoying the gorgeous views of the Shivaliks (part of the Lesser Himalayas).
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Indus and Zanskar near Nimmu village in Ladakh, India
Somnath, Travel Crusade
When it comes to white-water rafting in India, there’s none better than that found at the confluence of two mighty rivers, the Indus and Zanskar, near Nimmu village in Ladakh.
It is a great sight to see to two rivers collide and people gather from all around the town to watch it. The entire vista is surrounded by the captivating mountains of the Trans Himalayas and it is here, surrounded by this natural beauty, that travellers can enjoy white-water rafting on trips of around an hour to view the confluence.
Our experience started at Nimmu, about 35 kms from the capital city of Leh. I found it an enriching experience to observe the confluence while rafting and I would encourage fellow travellers to undertake this voyage once in their lifetime.
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Cagayan de Oro, Mindanao, Philippines
Richard, The Travel Tramp
Mindanao might be the Philippines’ second largest island; however, few foreign tourists dare to visit as the only news that ever leaves it is that of conflict and war. I decided to go to Cagayan de Oro, Mindanao’s main city, and instead of bombings and terror I found a city that is fast becoming the adventure capital of the Philippines, mainly because of the exceptional white-water rafting opportunities nearby.
I travelled out into the countryside, and rafted along the Cagayan de Oro River, hitting the rapids with a group of Filipino tourists who were surprised that a westerner would brave this part of their country. The setting was serene and stunning, the river was quiet and peaceful, punctuated by moments of adrenaline as the rapids appeared around the next bend and the raft was plunged between rocks and white water. The best part about the experience is that almost no one outside the Philippines knows how good the rafting is in Mindanao. The river is perfect and there are grades for every ability. And despite Mindanao’s reputation, I found it to be a safe place to visit. Read more about Richard’s white-water rafting adventure.
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Trishuli River, Nepal
Inma, A World to Travel
Perfect for beginners, this is an activity included in many classic Nepal circuits and tours as it makes the ideal stop between Kathmandu and Pokhara, and is also a great warm-up for those heading to the mountains. That was the case with us, as before trekking in the footsteps of the Annapurnas, we stopped at the Trishuli River for a good 2 hours’ white-water rafting experience. Really enjoyable, we were allowed to jump in the water towards the end and swam a couple of hundred meters alongside the raft.
The Trishuli River comes from the Gandaki river system and it mixes with other rivers such as the Bheri River, the Marsyangdi River, and the Seti River.
It’s one of Nepal’s most popular rafting rivers for it’s ravines, it’s exciting and easy rapids — such as Twin Rock, Ladies Delight and Scout Upset — and the convenient access from Kathmandu. Recommended especially for those who have limited time and would like to take a family trip and everyone else in love with stunning landscapes and water sports.
White-water rafting in North America
Colorado River through Estes Park in the Colorado Rockies
LeAnna, Well Traveled Nebraskan
On a recent family reunion trip to the stunning Colorado Rockies in the USA, our giant gang of almost 70 people stayed in Estes Park. During one of our days, we had kids from as young as seven, as well as adults, join a variety of levels of white-water rafting down the Colorado river, which cuts through the Estes National Park.
Even with one boat tipping, sending its inhabitants into the chilly waters, by the end of the day, everyone came out of the river with laughter and smiles! Various sections of the river were available for rafting, giving our party opportunities to split into smaller groups based on daredevil willingness levels, with everyone getting a chance to experience white-water rafting at their own comfort (or adrenaline-pumping!) levels.
We enjoyed the flexibility of the trip (we could choose a half or full day) as well as the drive to the river, giving us the chance to see the Colorado Rockies’ wildlife and beautiful scenery. We were even given a picnic lunch to enjoy at the end.
We booked through the YMCA of the Rockies, with Rapid Transit Rafting, who took care of everything we needed for an adventurous and fun day.
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Nantahala River, Tennessee, USA
Halef, The Round the World Guys
Nantahala River is located between Tennessee and North Carolina on the East Coast of the United States. It is one of the best river systems in the area to do any water activity, including white-water rafting. You can start your adventure in Nantahala at the NOC Ocoee Outpost, near the town of Cleveland, Tennessee. It is about a two-hour drive north of Atlanta, our home base.
White-water rafting in Nantahala River is a great activity for beginners because it’s mostly level two rapids with a few level three and four throughout the eight-mile route. Either way, a guide will also help you to navigate the three-hour journey through the beautiful Nantahala National Forest.
Transportation and gear will be provided by the Nantahala Outdoor Center. All you have to bring is a waterproof camera, a swimsuit or trunks, a spare set of dry clothes, and a great sense of adventure!
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Rio Pescados, Jalcomulco, Mexico
Rio Pescados flows through the tiny town of Jalcomulco in Veracruz, Mexico. I went rafting here with Jalco Expediciones and loved it. The river was suitable for beginners, like me, but during some seasons and at different points there are more advanced stretches. There were several rapids on the section I did, some calm areas for swimming and a high rock that is safe to jump from. It all makes for a fun experience.
One thing that made this river have a special place in my heart is that it is in danger. The river not only generates income for Jalcomulco and other towns through tourism, but also from agriculture and fishing. Unfortunately, the Veracruz government approved a contract with a Brazilian hydropower company to dam the river, which will have a devastating effect on the local people.
In 2014 the locals set up a protest camp on the highway, next to the river. Local volunteers man the camp day and night. As of yet, the contract has not been cancelled, and the locals will not budge.
I had such great fun rafting on this river, and it would be such a shame for it to disappear. Not to mention the devastation it would cause for the local people. I honestly believe that with the correct funding Jalcomulco could become Mexico’s own Queenstown. Read more about Nat’s adventures in Mexico.
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White-water rafting in Central and South America
Pacuare River, Costa Rica
Clemens, Travellers Archive
Flowing into the Caribbean, the Pacuare River in Costa Rica is one of the best places in the world to go white-water rafting. It flows within a deep river gorge flanked by towering trees, vines, and waterfalls. And it is home to a huge variety of tropical animals, including colourful toucans and parrots, sloths, frogs and morpho butterflies, as well as an enormous number of bird species. Pacuare contains everything from level two to level five rapids, as well as multiple waterfalls. But it’s also suitable for beginners.
Named by National Geographic as one of the top ten rivers in the world, the most popular ways to experience the Pacuare River is by joining an overnight rafting trip. You will explore pristine rainforest, paddle through roaring rapids, splash in waterfalls, and stay overnight at a typical eco-lodge, ending the day with a candlelit dinner overlooking the river. One thing is sure, rafting the Pacuare River is one of Costa Rica’s biggest adventures.
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Chiriquí river, Panama
Noel, Travel Photo Discovery
Bordering both Northern Panama and Costa Rica, the Chiriquí River is a fantastic rafting area that combines both gorgeous scenery with thrilling white-water spots in both countries, at a few different points along its course.
From our pick-up point in Boquete, Panama it took about an hour to get to the staging area where we had a quick briefing on equipment, safety measures and other instructions from the tour leaders. The ride is challenging in places, with some level three rapids, but there are also stretches of calm water where we could jump off the rafts and float down the river on our own. Along the way we stopped at a tranquil beach area where the guides quickly set up lunch for everyone (mostly sandwiches, crisps and fresh fruit). The full-day trip is fun but hot, so bring enough covering and sunscreen. Read more about Noel’s experience, River rafting adventure in Boquete, Panama.
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Sarapiqui River in Costa Rica
Stuart, Go Eat Do
The Sarapiqui River in Costa Rica is widely regarded as one of the best places in the world for white-water rafting. The waterway courses through a tropical environment, meaning the water is mild. Temperature-wise, it’s pleasant to swim in the river. There are also opportunities to spot wildlife from the raft while travelling down the river.
One of the advantages of paddling in the Sarapiqui is that it offers something to rafters of varied levels of experience, with stretches that fall into levels one through four. That means anyone from beginners to experienced rafters can have fun out on the river.
Several established companies operate rafting tours on the river. I took a half-day trip with Aguas Bravas based out of the town of Sarapiqui. I was positively impressed by the diligent safety briefing and experience level of my guide, Pablo, who provided sound instructions throughout the adventure.
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Río Samaná in Antioquia, Colombia
Dorene, Travel Life Experiences
Colombia has some of the most incredible rivers and biodiverse ecosystems in the world, making it an excellent destination for rafting. San Gil, Santander is the most well-known for rafting, because of its easy access to rivers and its safety record, even during Colombia’s 53-year war. Now that the armed conflict years are over, there is a safe passage to some of the most untouched, pristine rivers found in the world.
The most incredible river is the Río Samaná, just two hours outside the city of Medellín, Antioquia. Once controlled by paramilitary groups on one side of the river, and guerillas on the other, this area is now open not only for travellers but for Colombians who are at last able to discover their own country. With over 40km of world-class white-water rafting, the four+ rapids will get your heart pumping.
The rafting is not easy, it’s best for intermediate and experienced rafters looking for a challenge. Be prepared too for awe-inspiring landscapes of dense green jungle and rocky caverns, and to learn about new plant species, only recently discovered, that don’t exist anywhere else in the world. You can find more information about the Río Samaná, rafting, videos and history here.
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Rio Juramento, near Salta, Argentina
Claudia, My Adventures Across the World
Rio Juramento, in Argentina, is a fantastic place to go white-water rafting. The typical starting point is located about 2 hours’ drive from the city of Salta, in a beautiful canyon through which the river runs. Here, the water is quite warm, so it is pleasant to jump in when not paddling. The river has both level two and three rapids, so it is a perfect place for beginners.
The best company to choose for rafting in this area is Salta Rafting. The overall experience is incredible, thanks to the gorgeous setting and to the guides who do an excellent job training beginners and encouraging them throughout the day.
The actual rafting lasts around 1 hour and 30 minutes, which goes incredibly fast as it is so much fun. After that, the group is taken back to base camp to shower before being invited for a delicious asado meal (Argentinian style barbecue). Those who are still looking for an adrenaline rush can then go ziplining on what are possibly the most thrilling lines in the world. Read more about Claudia’s travels in Argentina.
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White-water rafting in New Zealand
Buller Gorge, New Zealand
Tom, The Travelling Tom
New Zealand is the adrenaline capital of the world, and there are plenty of places to go white-water rafting. However, Buller Gorge on the West Coast of the South Island, is one of the best. Whether you’re a novice or an experienced rafter, it’s an ideal place to go rafting.
I had never been white-water rafting before and thoroughly enjoyed my experience, even if it was a little testing at times. The rapids started out tamely at first, which is good if you’re a beginner, as you can ease into things at the start.
Once you make your way down the river, it starts to pick up and become more intense. However, it’s nothing too difficult, and despite our raft being occupied mainly by beginners, we all managed to stay afloat!
The experience was fantastic, and one I would highly recommend. The guide was very helpful and knowledgeable, telling us how we could improve our technique and navigate the river. They even took us for a hot drink after we had finished!
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White-water rafting in Africa
Nile River, Uganda
Natasha, The World Pursuit
One of the best (and scariest) spots I have ever been white-water rafting was in Uganda. Rafting down the Nile River is an exhilarating experience that many do not get to try, as it is so remote. Visitors must first travel to the small town of Jinja, a few hours outside of Kampala. Jinja is dubbed “the adventure capital of East Africa,” and for good reason. Jinja is the source of the Nile River, which is the world’s longest river!
It’s possible to simply enjoy a few days of relaxation on the Nile, or you can go to the other extreme and go white-water rafting. We went with Nalubale Rafting and had a great experience. They take a lot of care and practice safe measures with their staff. Which trust me, you will need on the Nile, it’s intense. Our raft flipped four times in rough conditions, so depending on your interest level and experience this could be for you, although there were many first-timers as well. Read more about Natasha’s adventures in Uganda.
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Zambezi River, Zimbabwe
National Geographic’s book Journeys of a Lifetime quotes the Zambezi River as one of the best rivers in the world for white water rafting. In particular, the Batoka Gorge, below the Victoria Falls, provides a thrilling experience in a dramatic setting. You can also go ziplining there, something I’d love to do. However, as Talek found out the hard way, not all outfitters are equal!
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Talek, Travels With Talek
White-water rafting down the Zambezi River in Zimbabwe was not part of the plan, but once we saw the sign we figured…why not?” explains Talek. “Before we shoved off into turbulent waters the guide gave us some cursory instructions which we could have figured out by ourselves. Basically, the lesson consisted of how to hold onto the rope and not let go, no matter what.
Just a few minutes along the river the guide sheepishly admitted that some of the rapids were level six, which is illegal anywhere in the world. We were shocked but there was nothing we could do about it as we approached a raging rapid called the Devil’s Throat. The raft overturned and we were swept violently into the water, gasping for breath. A fellow rafter pulled us into the raft and we held on for dear life until it was over.
Thinking back on this rafting trip from hell, I realised the people putting it together were not professionals under the supervision of a responsible, authorized outfitter. My message to fellow rafters is to research the outfitters thoroughly to ensure they have all the necessary licenses and authorisations to run a rafting trip.”
As I found out in Slovenia, white-water rafting is a fabulous way to step out of your comfort zone and it is something I’d really love to try again.
I’m over fifty, overweight and not particularly fit, so if I can do it, I bet you can too!
Please note the opinions expressed are those of the individual bloggers and do not necessarily reflect my views.
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