It all started off so normal. Just like any other rafting trip I’d been on. A safety briefing and lots of chit chat with the guides trying to keep a jovial atmosphere. But once we were in the muddied waters of the Nile River, the white water rafting was anything but normal. The rapids were terrifying. Huge angry whirls of water, churning like the world’s largest open air washing machine were rushing up to suck up our boat. I had done Grade 3 rapids before in Sri Lanka before but this looked like Grade 100. There was no time to be terrified before we went under… But I survived and lived to tell my tale through this blog. Rafting on the White Nile in Jinja, Uganda is as spectacular as it is scary.
The source of the Nile is one of the most spectacular areas for white-water rafting that I have ever seen! While it’s certainly an activity only for the adventurous, don’t let fear hold you back as this activity is very safe and companies in charge take good care of you! (All rafting trips are accompanied by a fleet of rescue kayaks and a safety boat). During the day of rafting, you will also enjoy breathtaking scenery and the opportunity to swim and relax on the river.
PLANNING and booking White Water Rafting in Uganda
White water rafting happens in the small town of Jinja. There’s an abundance of companies based in Jinja offering the experience and honestly all of them are priced similarly depending on what you need offered. You can expect to pay around 140USD per person if you need transportation to and from Kampla or Entebbe and around 100USD if you have your own transportation.
The company we used is called Kiira Rafting and I strongly recommend them. They kept us safe and were quite organised. We arranged our own transport to and from Kampala and so we paid 100USD per person for the white water rafting. That included:
- Breakfast before rafting
- All equipment
- Fruit snacks while on the river
- Lunch after rafting
- Use of a shower and changing facilities
- Photos & video footage
For breakfast and lunch- they did take into account our dietary restrictions.
What to bring for white water rafting in Uganda
Here are some things I had with me (and was grateful for) and some things I wish had:
- Swimsuit with quick dry t shirt and shorts over- don’t just wear a bikini. You will most likely lose it in the river (not joking). Make sure everything fits you snugly.
- Waterproof sunscreen and bug spray
- A change of clothes for after the rafting. Its better to rinse off that water as soon as you can and change into clean clothes!
- Water shoes or outdoor sandals- How I wish I had these because there were points where we had to exit the river and walk on hot rocks. If you’re wearing shoes/sandals in the boat, make sure they strap up tightly and fit you well.
HOW FIT DO I NEED TO BE FOR white water rafting in Uganda?
As long as you can walk, climb in and out of a boat and are reasonably comfortable being in water you’ll be fine. There is no particular ‘fitness’ required for this activity but its not suitable for anyone isn’t comfortable around water.
At this point in my recollection, I want to point out that this is white water rafting. Not tubing. Not boating. Not cruising.
You will get wet. You will fall in. You will capsize. You will have moments of powerlessness as you surrender to the rapids.
Please do not consider doing this activity if you aren’t ok with that. It will be a waste of an entire day and 100USD to just sit on the safety boat in the blazing sun and watch others have a good time.
The crew are strong and are well trained to help you in any emergency whether you can swim, whether you need assistance getting back into the boat or in any other situation.
HOW MUCH TIME SHOULD I ALLOCATE TO THIS ACTIVITY?
This is an entire day activity; expect to leave Kampala around 7am and only finish with the white water rafting around 4pm.
Is it white water rafting in Uganda safe?
Yes it is. It is as safe as any white water rafting can be. You receive a helmet and life jacket initially and are put through your paces before you meet any rapids. There are also several smaller safety kayaks which are on hand throughout the trip to help you if you are in the water. And finally there is a larger safety raft which you can sit on and it avoids almost all the rapids should you opt out at any point.
My Experience White Water Rafting in Uganda
When we arrived at the rafting headquarters, I was impressed to see how modern everything looked. I don’t know why I was expecting a small hut next to the river but that was not at all what greeted us. The starting point was actually a bar with the most beautiful view of the River Nile. It helped to build my anticipation.
After paying, we got our stuff and transferred into the rafting company’s matatu (a minivan usually used for public transport) which would be our vehicle for the remainder of the day. Our first stop was a big breakfast which consisted of a scrumptious and filling veggie wrap with fried potatoes for me and others enjoyed eggs and sausages with fried potatoes as well. This was our last opportunity to use the bathroom.
After breakfast, we headed back into the matatu and drove for a while before disembarking at a nondescript point. That’s where we all put on life jackets and helmets. The crew spent a long time making sure that these fit us tightly. We were surprised at the size of the team that came along, though. Besides the 5 of us and Joffrey (our leader), there were at least 4 other people in the trucks. Four would later join us on the river in separate boats and kayaks—to rescue us if we fell overboard, and to carry some mid-morning refreshments. There was even a photographer to take pictures while we were on the river. The rest took care of things like on-shore transport. It was slightly odd to have so many people hovering around us, but with the amount of equipment as well as checking (and double checking), I understood it.
After being strapped into our lifejackets, we hit the water. Joffrey gave us a lesson in basic safety, paddling and working together. He even offered to tip us into the water so we would know what it felt like and didn’t panic if it really happened. But, one person in our party really did not want to be flipped into the water so he just asked the rest of us to jump in. The water- by the way was a wonderfully warm but refreshing temperature.
We had gotten over our nervousness by the time we hit the first rapid- which we cruised over- but by the time the next one was approaching, I had to remember what lay before me. I kept going over the mantra in my head:
-Swim away from the boat
-Let go of the paddles
-Lay back and relax until you can safely make your way back into the boat
Easier said than done right?
Of course the second one rapid a steep dip and as we approached it, the front of the raft was ravaged by water and flipped front first. Who was sitting in the front? Of course I was. It was black then wet then light as I swam away from the boat as fast as I could so I didn’t get trapped under.
My concern though was mainly for the less confident members of the team and as I rose to the surface I saw one of the team members near the boat trying to grab at it. I yelled at her, “MOVE. AWAY. FROM. BOAT” before I went under again, swallowing a mouthful of the Nile.
Thankfully she heard me and the instructor came to her aid. We were all fine, and we hit calm waters very quickly. All we had to do was float for a bit then make our way back to the raft.
I thought to myself, “That was fine! I am basically a pro now!”
Little did I know what else was in store for me.
The rapids were intertwined with peaceful paddles on calm water and we enjoyed luscious pineapples on the boat punctuated by floating alongside the raft. In fact, each of us got one huge quarter of a pineapple, which we happily wolfed down while the juice ran down our chins and fingers. There were times where we had to get out of the river and the boat was carried to a safe point in order to avoid rapids that were not suitable for us to cross.
As the day progressed, our team started to thin out. One person had opted out before the first rapid and an additional two also climbed out before we reached the end of our course. Joffrey explained that for the last 20 minutes, we had the option to end our journey there; continue on to a grade 3 rapid or brave another level 5 rapid. The group conceded to the grade 5 and Joffrey led us to what he called “The Bad Place”. That was the legitimate name of the area, I kid you not. Perched on the tip of a grade 6 level rapid, The Bad Place would inspire fear in even the most confident of swimmers (of which I am most certainly not).
“We are going to go under. You know what to do,” were Joffrey’s last words as he got into the raft with us and pushed away from the shoreline. We were in the raft for not even a minute before I was hit in the face with a wall of water and found myself flying through the air only to be sucked down. For a few seconds that seemed like hours, the world consisted of blinding white and a deafening roar.
With superhuman effort I broke the surface, gulping at the air and then with a huge splash I went under again.
Down and around I went. And around and around. It is scary not knowing what way is up and not being able to get there but I did remember to keep my legs up (so you don’t hit the rocks) and that I was wearing a lifejacket so I would surface eventually. Then pop! I surfaced on a very fast moving river only to see carnage. An upside down boat and people bobbing all over the place like yellow plastic ducks. “Keep calm, just try to breathe” I repeated to myself over and over. I was struggling to breathe as the water crashed over me so I tried to wave over the emergency kayaker who came to help me in record time.
Eventually we all managed to regroup and swim against the placid current back to land. My limbs were like jelly and I felt weak.
But wow. I did it. I survived what was undoubtedly the scariest moment of my life.
When we made it back to our team members who had opted out, some were crying and others looked shocked to see us. Apparently watching us was even worse than being in the raft because we looked like ragdolls being tossed around the river.
The matatu took us back to the restaurant for a shower and hot lunch (which was much needed) before we headed back into our vehicle for the long drive back to Kampala.
So IS it WORTH IT?
Yes. Yes. And yes.
There is a part of me- up until right now- that cannot believe I wilfully put myself through that. It was equal parts horrific and thrilling. But it was also incredibly fun and a mindful experience that taught me 3 things about myself:
-I can really stay calm when I have to. Willing myself not to panic actually worked and led to me having a wonderful time, safely.
-I am not useless in the water. Not being the best swimmer- and repeatedly failing to pick up the skill from childhood well into adulthood- always left me feeling vulnerable despite my love for the water. But actually just being confident in the water and trusting my instincts instead of panicking really helped more than any technical swimming skills in this case.
-I’m constantly fighting my own fears, but the only thing I fear more than leaving my comfort zone is staying in my comfort zone. So, I will continue to push my boundaries and try new things even though a part of me is terrified and hates it all.
MY LAST TIPS:
- Shop around for the best deal with the various companies to see what they offer. Ugandans are better on whatsapp than with email.
- Take a change of clothes to leave in the matatu as you’ll want to rinse off and change after the rafting.
- Take a moment to lay back in the river as your life jacket keeps you afloat and savour the fact that you’re in Uganda, bobbing along the River Nile.
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