White Water Rafting in Jinja
It all started off so standard. Just like any other white water rafting trip I’d been on. A little talk and lots of chit chat with the guides trying to keep a jovial atmosphere. But once we were on the muddied waters of the Nile River, the white water rafting was anything but standard. The rapids were scarily big. Huge monstrous teeth made from water over the rocks and with tens of teeth at every turn it looked like there was no way out but with the raft upside down. I had done Grade V before but this looked like Grade VIII. But make it we did. Rafting on the White Nile in Jinja, Uganda is as spectacular as it is scary.
White Water Rafting in Jinja – Introduction to Uganda
We had arrived in Kampala (actually Entebbe south of Kampala) in the early morn after too many hours flying and headed straight to Jinja. This 2hr journey was a crash course introduction to Uganda. The red mud, the traffic, the noise, the smells and even the huge storks (up to 4.5ft high) which patrol Kampala were all new to our senses. After some messing on the back roads of Jinja we eventually found where the rafting tour leaves from and tucked into the array of biscuits and tea they had out. There were people from all continents and everybody was giddy with nerves about the Grade V rafting that lay ahead. After picking up our lifejackets and helmets provided we all set off on the bus for the White Nile a few minutes’ drive north of Jinja down the road.
After a stern safety talk on the fabulous edge of the Nile which had just left its home of Lake Victoria, we had to split into groups of 6 depending on whether you wanted ‘safe’ or ‘exciting’. Trying to be macho I picked ‘exciting’ of course! We practiced our ‘hard right’ and ‘down’ as the guide barked instructions at us on the lake. As I said above I had been rafting on Grade V’s before but this was the first time that the safety aspect involved getting into the water, tipping over the raft, and popping up underneath so you wouldn’t panic should it happen on the fast moving water of the White Nile. It turned out to be well worth the practice.
White Water Rafting in Jinja – S*&t Creek without a Paddle
So off we went and sized up our first rapid, ‘Overtime’, which was beside an off limits rapid called ‘Dead Dutchman’! We all nearly came out of the raft on the 12ft drop on Overtime as we bounced and shimmied so much we spent more time in the air than sitting on inflatable rubber. After lots of self congratulations and high fiving we had one casualty from it as one girl decided to join the safety raft instead. It turns out she was afraid of water and had enough thrown at her on the first rapid to make her leave! I am still lost as to why she thought white water rafting would be a good idea! The rapids were intertwined with peaceful paddles on calm water where our Olympic guide (he said he represented Uganda in the Olympics) told us stories of lore from the river. The trendy rapid names continued like ‘Big Brother’ and ‘Hair of the Dog’. The Hair caught us all by surprise where after being momentarily submerged by roaring white water the raft turned fully upright at one point where 3 people and the guide fell out but myself and two others held on for dear life and stayed in. It was bizarre being in the boat with no guide. Kinda like being up s*/t creek without a paddle. You are safe and in the boat but have almost zero idea of how to steer it properly. Luckily though we were all united with our captain within a short time thanks to the little safety kayaks. There was a stop for lunch on one of the mini-lakes where we ate copious amounts of watermelon and went for a dip before setting off into the unknown again.
White Water Rafting in Jinja – My Bubble Burst
The scenery of beautiful green jungle while paddling slowly along makes you feel like you are alone in the wilderness on some far flung expedition. The guide told us about the White Nile and then pointed out some of the birds and crocs. Crocs? And I have just been swimming in it?? I was glad I didn’t know that beforehand.
Down several more rapids where we had fallers at each one but by now I was grinning confidently to myself that I hadn’t fallen out and even the guide couldn’t say that. Then we came to the last one of the 9 rapids and the big one, ‘The Bad Place’, not far from ‘The Other Place’ (also bad). The guide tried to tell us some instructions before we got there but his voice was drowned out by the roar of this rapid. Well, it wasn’t so much of a rapid as it was a waterfall. As we got closer it looked all white from what I could see through the mist. Then whoosh. Over the first one we went. I had no idea whether we were supposed to paddle hard or soft or if at all as I hung on for dear life through this washing machine.
At one stage I think I was dangling out of the boat but still hanging on. I couldn’t really tell where everybody else was but I did feel a body of some sort hit my legs. Or at least I hoped crocs didn’t hang out here. I could hang on no more and my proud record was gone as I plunged into the White Nile. 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. Being in the water going over the smaller rapids was actually good fun until we eventually reached a more placid area where we all fished up like a shoal of herring.
We regrettably headed to the shore and made our way back for a tasty lunch and a beer while discussing stories of our adventures and who managed to hold on the hardest. There were arguments of what boat turned over the most and who didn’t fall in at all, who was thrown the highest in the air and who had the biggest battle wound from our fight with the White Nile. This continued all the way back to the hostel where I had other drama that night that turned into more of an adventure than the white water rafting! This was my fourth continent to go rafting on and rafting in Jinja was definitely the best. None of the drama that I experienced in New Zealand where every grade IV or V involved getting out of the boat and looking at it for 20min before doing it which made for a very drawn out and boring trip. In Jinja it was, here is the boat, here is the river, now hold on to your paddles!
White Water Rafting in Jinja – Practicalities
Where is it?: The rafting starts just outside of the city of Jinja which is 100km east of Kampala in Uganda. Jinja sits at the start of the White Nile’s journey as it exits from Lake Victoria and flows all the way to the Mediterranean Sea.
Who does it?: There are several companies that do it. I did it with Nile River Explorers (NRE) (http://raftafrica.com/) who did a great job. Also Adrift (http://adrift.ug/) and White Nile Rafting (www.whitenilerafting.com/)
Is it safe?: Yes it is. It is as safe as any Grade V 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 chicken out.
How much does it cost?: A half day of rafting in Jinga costs US$115 per person with a full day of rafting costing US$125. This includes breakfast and lunch, safety gear and transport. A two day trip costs US$250.
When is the best time of year to go rafting?: The best time of year is probably Jan and Feb and June to Sept during the dry season. Uganda is on the equator so the weather is warm. The summer months are the busiest. The flow of the Nile is controlled by the dam so this is not affected much by the rains.
Can I do it from Kampala if I am not staying in Jinja?: Each company has free buses from Kampala but are usually done to suit full day trips. Just make sure to book in advance. It is 100km to Kampala so a taxi is relatively cheap between a few people.
Are there any combo deals?: Yes. NRE do a free dormitory stay at their hostel if you book a tour with them. Both of the other companies do deals also.