As I wrapped my legs around the back of a kayak and held on tight, praying that my butt wouldn’t scuff the rocks beneath the rapids, I had the good sense to wonder if I’d chosen my day’s activity wisely. Especially considering our rafting guide was the kind who just loved the boat to flip, his motto being along the lines of “the wetter, the better”.
I was in Jinja, the adventure capital of sub-Saharan Africa in land-locked Uganda, and I was white water rafting on the source of the Nile. The kayak I was fiercely gripping to had come to rescue me from the current, following the upturning of our raft on a particularly furious rapid.
I’m sure our guide Kirk could have kept us dry through the manoeuvring of that rapid had he wanted to, but he much preferred to send us hurtling into the froth like croc bait. Still, with African Fish Eagles soaring in the sapphire sky and the dazzling Malachite Kingfishers flitting in and out of the reeds like airborne jewels, being speedily carried down river – whilst simultaneously trying to save my contact lenses but not swallow the Nile – was fairly enjoyable.
I’ve done rafting before in Colorado, and loved it, but I definitely got a more hair-raising experience in Uganda, a country which is not perceived as having such an adventurous streak. Yet that’s Uganda for you – always contradicting the perceptions that visitors arrive with.
Jinja and the Source of the Nile
Jinja itself is famously known for being where Africa’s great river, the Nile, begins – and it is definitely one of Uganda’s loveliest towns to spend time in. Peaceful and low-key compared to the chaos of the country’s capital, Kampala, there are some decent coffee shops and eateries which cater to international tastes. There’s also good array of local craft and art shops for souvenir shopping.
Jinja’s biggest draw though is the fact that it is an adventure-lovers paradise, with several rafting and adventure companies offering an array of activities from quad-biking through to horse-riding to kayaking. Mainly people come for the Nile rafting though, and yes, there is a chance of spotting Nile crocodiles along the way.
Luckily for us, the biggest reptile we encountered was a monitor lizard, sunning itself across two rocks. We’d been out on the raft since around 10am and spent the heat of the day on the water, and in the water, navigating grade five rapids, around 8 or 9 in total (with a couple of flips) by the end of the day.
And being treated with to a barbecue (veggie burgers for me!) late afternoon washed down with a Club beer, once all the adrenaline had worked itself through our bodies, felt well-deserved.
Tips for White Water Rafting in Jinja
The worst that happened to me on my rafting day was that I scuffed some skin off my toe on the rocks when heading onto the boat. Pretty bad, huh?
And if you don’t want to listen to my dad (which being an intrepid traveller, I doubt you will), and fancy giving rafting in Jinja a go, then here are my tips:
- Choose a reputable company to book with (of course), and be aware that you do get what you pay for. There are a couple of big operators in Jinja who have been safely taking adventurers rafting for many years. Do your research before you go such as through guide books, and ask many questions.
- Wear comfortable clothes that dry off easily or don’t feel too heavy when wet. If you’re female, rafting shorts and t-shirts are probably better than a bikini, because modest dress is preferable in Uganda. And also – you’ll be exposed to the mid-day sun without cover, and your sun-cream will have many opportunities to wash off, so you don’t want to burn.
- Bring sun-cream and also spare contact lenses if you wear them. They will be stored in a special dry bag for you. Don’t worry abut a hat because you’ll wear a helmet, but you won’t be able to bring anything else like cameras. If you have any medication you need, also bring that.
- Take a spare bag with a change of clothes and a towel that can go in the rafting truck which will be picking you up at the end point, so that you can get nice and dry when your adventure is over.
- You can do the rafting in a day from Kampala if you don’t want to stay in Jinja, as the main companies will collect you and drop you back off, but the town is really nice and has a good backpacker vibe (especially up at Explorers River Camp where we stayed). So spend a night or two here, but still use the provided transport that the company will offer to get you to and from Kampala.
Andrea Wren is a freelance journalist, travel writer and blogger based in the UK. She blogs at Butterflyist.com, a site which inspires people to have the confidence to push their comfort zones and see the world. Here you can also get her free eBook ‘Travel More, Work Less and Live Life’. Find Andrea on Twitter via @thebutterflyist.