White water rafting on the Nile

While most people come to Uganda for the chance to track gorillas and chimps, one other activity often ends up being a surprise highlight: white water rafting on the River Nile. Even first-time rafters report that spending a half or full day paddling and plunging down the river, crashing through deep rapids or gliding over silky green sections of calm water, is exhilarating. A riverside barbecue half way through or at the end rounds off the experience, and in fact the whole experience of rafting rounds out a trip to Uganda, too, complementing the awesomeness of hanging out with gorillas with the adrenaline of plunging down the longest river in the world.

What does white water rafting
on the Nile entail?

White water rafting on the Nile in Uganda is considered to be amongst the best in the world, with routes full of variety, from quiet pools and forested islands to thunderous rapids and drops. The Nile here includes several grade IV and V rapids to navigate, with evocative – and slightly terrifying – names such as Hypoxia, Superhole, Real Deal and Jaws.

The base for rafting excursions is the pretty town of Jinja, the source of the Nile and about 80km east of Kampala on the shore of Lake Victoria. The town has become the adventure sports capital of East Africa, famous for its rafting, but with lots of other adrenaline fuelled activities on offer, from kayaking to mountain biking and bungee jumping.

You will be rafting with highly trained guides who know the river intimately, and the rafting companies used on organised tours have excellent safety records and use well maintained rafting equipment. The river water is warm, which is a bonus, as you’ll definitely get wet and you’ll probably fall out, too. Grade V rapids can flip rafts over, sending you into the river, but lots of people enjoy this kind of immersive experience (yes, pun intended). Safety kayakers will stay close to the raft at all times and can quickly paddle over to fetch you if you do fall in.
There are no hippos on the stretch of the Nile where rafting takes place, and as crocs don’t like populated areas they are rarely seen, either – so you might fall in, but at least you won’t get eaten. Wear plenty of sun protection when rafting, and anyone reliant on glasses should bring contact lenses if they have them.
Rafting runs every day on the Nile since the river’s flow is controlled by dams and not influenced by seasonal rains. A new dam will flood another section of the Nile once the frequently delayed Isimba hydroelectric power station project is completed, and several sections of white water will be lost then, including features legendary amongst keen rafters, such as Nile Special, Kulu Shaker and Hair of the Dog.
The river has been flooded before, back in 2011 when the Bujagali hydroelectric power plant was completed and 16 rapids were lost beneath the newly created Bujagali Lake. Both projects have been big threats to the Ugandans who benefit from the rafting and tourism industry, but happily there are still a great many rapids unaffected and lots of unspoiled river stretches to enjoy.
There is typically the choice of a full or half day of rafting and on any organised tour, the rafting is always optional. If rafting doesn’t appeal, you can try an alternative, such as joining a village walk, visiting a community project or just enjoying a mooch around Jinja to pick up some souvenirs and see the source of the Nile, at Coronation Park, marked by a garden and monument honoring British explorer John Hanning Speke.
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Written by Joanna Simmons
Photo credits: [Page banner: Michell Zappa] [Rafting the Nile: Michell Zappa] [Rafting the Waterfall: Michell Zappa]