World-Class Rafting on Uganda's White Nile

At more than 4,000 miles, the Nile is the longest river on earth. And everyone who has tried to find its source—from armies sent by ancient Egyptian kings to such explorers as Herodotus and John Speke—will vouch that the terrain it traverses is as rough as any on the planet.

First run by Cam McLeay and his New Zealand-based Adrift Adventures in 1996, Uganda's Victoria (White) Nile, which roars to life minutes after slipping quietly from Lake Victoria, has everything an adventure-seeking paddler could ask for and more. And that includes a range from red-tail monkeys that scamper away with your supper to wooden canoes laden with friendly Acholi natives. Of course, what appeals to McLeay and other adrenaline junkies is the river's whitewater, which often runs with more volume than any other commercially run river on the planet. Class IV-V rapids with such names as Bujugali Falls, Total Gunga, Easy Rider, Sibling Rivalry, Big Brother and Overtime—the first half of which is usually portaged—are on par with big-water rapids the world over, at times dwarfing those found even in the Grand Canyon. The rapids are so numerous and challenging, in fact, that the site was selected to host the World Whitewater Rafting Championships in 1999.

The combination of the scenery and the challenge make this one of the world's best whitewater trips.

Day trips start below Lake Victoria's Owens Falls Dam, which holds back the fourth largest lake in the world, and end in a coffee field near a native village. Overnight trips continue down to Lake Kyoga and offer mid-river camping on a forested island. Since you're in the area anyway, you can also play Dian Fossey and schedule visits to nearby mountain gorilla communities and such national treasures as Lake Mburo National Park. Longer river trips are also available. The range includes a package offering whitewater on The Big One (Adrift's moniker for the leg below the Lake Victoria dam), an overnight stay in Masindi, six days rafting from the Karuma Bridge to the Annihilator (a rapid requiring a two-day portage), two more days rafting from Big Monday to S-Bends rapids, and then two days exploring the cascading Murchison Falls in the heart of Uganda's largest national park. And no matter what length trip you choose, be prepared to encounter hippos and crocodiles defending their territories with more tenacity than the ancient Egyptian kings.
Difficulty: As big as whitewater gets: Solid Class IV-V
Price Range: The Big One day trip will run you around $100; two-day trips closer to $250. Or you can go large with a two-day raft trip followed by a Gorilla and Game Park tour for $1,900.
Best time to go: With water released out of Lake Victoria upstream, the section can be rafted year-round. Go in the summer for the warmest water and weather.

Published: 8 Jul 2005 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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