Posted by Beth | April 17, 2016
Whitewater rafting is one of our favorite adventure activities and rafting the Nile River in particular has been at the top of our adventure bucket list since my visit to Uganda on The World Race. Thus when we confirmed we’d be spending time in Uganda, we knew a trip to the launching pad city of Jinja was in order. We’ve rafted some crazy rapids in Colorado and even in Peru, but African rafting was the best yet.
A bit of background on the experience first. The Nile river is the longest in the world and snakes through northeastern Africa, widening into lakes and slimming down into rushing rapids. There is a bit of debate around the topic, but the locals we talked to and the general internet seems to believe that the Nile starts in Uganda where Lake Victoria flows into the “White Nile”, leading northward all the way to Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea. The section we rafted was extremely deep, thus even though we rafted giant waterfalls and massive swells sure to tip your boat, the depth of the river makes it relatively safe as you are unlikely to be trapped underwater
There a few operators you can use to raft in Jinja. Volunteers with CLD typically go with Nile River Explorers, which we thought was a great deal. The price included transportation to and from Kampala, free lodging if you’re camping or staying in the dorms, food (breakfast before, snacks and water on the boat, and a buffet lunch with soda or beer after), and of course all of your equipment, guide and the rafting itself. The price for the full-day rafting trip is US$140.
For the full-day tour we spent about four hours on the river. There were eight different rapids, so if you are familiar with rafting that long of a time period and only eight rapids means lots of long stretches of paddling. But the eight rapids we rafted were crazy. The very first one was a 12-foot waterfall drop straight down and they only got more intense from there.
Caleb and I got to ride in the front the whole time as we had some fairly timid raft mates, and Caleb fell out of the boat on more than half of the rapids. The photographer actually got an epic shot of him mid-air flying out of the raft, but we were too cheap to pay US$60 for a copy of the photos.
On one of the rapids we both ended up in the river after our guides attempt to “surf” an 8 foot swell landed all the passengers (and himself) in the water. Caleb and I initially were floating in the same general vicinity, but were quickly separated when a massive wave hit us and sucked us both under again, eventually spitting us out on opposite sides of the river. He was rescued by the safety boat and I was rescued by the safety kayaker, after several minutes of floating up and down, in and out of giant rapids. This tipping scenario seems to be common of most boats as the current of the river makes an extreme white water crash, safer than normal. Of course we were fine in the end and were wishing we could do it again the next day, or better yet try our hand at boogie boarding through the rapids, which is also an option offered by Nile River Explorers for a bit more. If you are interested in the how to’s of making this experience happen, check the details below.
There are two separate lodging areas you can choose from, but we’d highly recommend to stay at the Explorers River Camp, versus the Backpackers lodge which is in Jinja town. The River Camp was set in a beautiful location right on the water. There’s a restaurant and bar on site, the ‘Fork ‘n Paddle,’ that served decent western food and had satellite TV and free Internet (though only really worked near the office).
The bathrooms were clean and plenty big. There were even partial outdoor showers with a view over the Nile, but after finding myself in one with a frog, cold water and a family of four in the stall next to me, I’d recommend sticking to the hot, clean showers in the main bath houses. As I mentioned, if you’re rafting, one night lodging is free if you’re willing to stay in a dorm room or camp, with your own equipment. For a small fee you can choose to upgrade to an ensuite room or a safari tent as well.
If staying at the river camp, a free shuttle will take you into town to the main office in the morning where the rafting buses leave from. Transportation to and from Jinja from Kampala is also complimentary. We can’t comment on the ride there, as we were dropped off by Pastor Ben, but for the ride home it wasn’t really a bus as advertised, but a semi-private taxi van. It typically drops off in the center of Kampala but we were able to negotiate with the driver to take us all the way to our base camp for an extra fee.
We only spent one night at the river camp and rafted the next day, but if you have more time it’s a lovely place to hang out for a few days. Other affordable activities offered on site included nightly yoga classes ($5), kayak or stand up paddle boards (from US$20), sunset cruises ($20), horseback riding (from US$30), fishing safaris (from US $80) or quad biking (US $49). We never actually made it down to the waterfront but I believe there was a short zip line as well as some form of water trampoline/bounce pillow. There’s also a spa with a stunning view that seemed to offer affordable treatments.