You can learn a lot about a place by understanding its relationship to water. From geology to drinking to agriculture to recreation to various spiritual and cultural practices, water tells an important story about the people who use it and inhabit its shores.
Good news for adventurous travelers who want to experience new cultures without spending their days confined inside museums, river rafting offers a chance to literally be part of the water that shapes some of the most interesting places on the planet. Here are ten rivers to consider adding to your bucket list:
1. Ruakuri Cave, New Zealand. You’ve been river rafting, but have you been river rafting underground? Yeah, didn’t think so. Part of the Waitomo Caves complex, the Ruakuri Cave offers hidden delights like subterranean waterfalls, amazing limestone formations, and real-life glowworms. Book a guided tour to ensure you have access to the right gear and the local knowledge.
2. Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, Arizona. Astronauts have seen the Grand Canyon from space, but you can see it up close and personal from the very bottom by booking a half or full day rafting trip on the Colorado River, which varies from super chill to super thunderous and wild depending on which section you cover, so choose wisely.
3. Zambezi River (Bakota Gorge), Zambia. Hailed as one of the seven wonders of the natural world, Victoria Falls provides an epic locale for a rafting tour that might easily involve navigating 20 rapids in a single day. With work just beginning on the construction of a hydro-electric dam 56 kilometers downstream of the Falls, you’d be wise to check this one off your bucket list sooner rather than later.
4. Chilko River, British Columbia. Home to the longest, continuous stretch of commercially-navigable Class IV whitewater in North America, the Chilko River winds through alpine forests, narrow canyons, high desert plateaus and skyscraping hoodoos, making it one of the best and most unique ways to sightsee in Canada. Tours are commonly about a week-long — perfect for inclusion in a long excursion through the great white north.
5. Futaleufu River, Chile. Nestled beneath the spires and snow-packed crowns of the Andes, rafting “the Fu” (as the cool kids call it) is an excellent way to have a true Patagonia travel adventure. Many guided trips will also include optional mountain biking, rappelling, and horseback riding, so you’ll get the full land and sea experience.
6. Bhote Kosi, Nepal. Regarded as one of the best short whitewater rafting trips in the world, the Bhote Kosi is the steepest river that is rafted in Nepal. With continuous rapid action making this river a full-on commitment and a huge adrenaline rush, this is an ideal trip for those wanting a short but intense and thrilling rafting trip. It is better suited to those who have some previous rafting experience and who have time in their travel schedule to check out the surrounding Himalayas on foot or by bus, not while they’re also trying to stay in the boat.
7. Pacuare River, Costa Rica. A true river gorge, the Pacuare is flanked by steep, green walls where waterfalls flowing on either side punctuate your trip. A perfect choice for wildlife enthusiasts, expect to see sloths, toucans, parrots, coatis, morpho butterflies and colorful frogs in between keeping your eyes on the rapids.
8. Paro Chhu, Bhutan. If you’re interested in making your rafting trip a spiritual experience, the Paro Chhu will take you by the numerous monasteries located in Paro Valley, and many tours will also include an optional hike to Buddha Point. BYOPF (that’s Bring Your Own Prayer Flags)
9. Neretva River, Bosnia & Herzegovina. The ancient Romans called the river Neretva – ‘Queen – the goddess that flows’ (remember, this was a time before Beyonce). The most interesting rafting tours on the Neretva river go from the village Glavaticevo to the city Konjic and take visitors through a beautiful canyon and numerous waterfalls. Many tours will also include breaks on beautiful Mali (Small) and Veliki (Big) canyons, areas that are mostly untouched by man and offer views that are not visible from the road.
10. Cal Salmon River, USA. Ranking as one of the most difficult rivers to raft in the state of California, the Cal Salmon River is known for its steep, powerful rapids that seem to come one after another in many spots. The technicality of the river makes it best for those with some previous experience (and the not faint of heart), but the payoffs are many. The canyon’s beauty is so stunning that it is protected by Congress as a National Wild and Scenic River, for example.