When to go:
NOW! I went to Uganda in February, I chose then as at this point water levels were low in the U.K. I had also spoken to a few people who had been before and said February is a good time to go, as people would have left after being at the Nile River Festival making the que at Nile Special a lot smaller meaning more goes on the wave. I also chose then as the dam that is being built lower down is going to flood Nile Special and Hairy Lemon Island and I wanted to get the full experience of being in Uganda Kayaking.
Where to stay:
On this trip I stayed at the Hairy Lemon, I payed $35 a night to camp on the island which seems quite expensive compared to other places in the area but this did include Breakfast, Lunch, Afternoon Tea/Coffee and Dinner which is all home cooked and locally produced making the food super fresh. Each morning you will be greeted by the local Red Tailed Monkeys that live high up in the treees around the island the best time to see them is in the morning on your way to breakfast.
You stay on an island so it is very secure the only way people can get on to the island is by boat. Being on an island in the middle of Uganda does have its limitations though there is not much electricity on the island, they do have some solar panels but these are used to fuel the lights in the bar and eating area in the evening and to fuel the small office out back so this does mean there’s no wifi (which was actually nice to live without, and made relaxing a lot more easier). To keep my GoPro and Phone charged I bought a small solar panel and battery pack from Amazon before I left. During the day I would leave it out to charge while I was kayaking and by the time I got back it would all be charged up and ready to use in the evening. The island is in the perfect location for a Kayaker as its a 10 minute paddle at the most up stream to Nile Special Wave; this is also the easiest spot to carch a boda boda (motorcycle) for river runs which you can order by using the mobile phone from hairy lemon before you leave the island. You will find each day or each session you’ll be looking at a pole next to the volley ball net in the bay at hairy lemon to work out what the water level is doing. It changes on the regular so asking the guys who have been paddling there for months on end what’s best to do is the best idea as they know what levels are good on the pole for each feature on the river.
If your after Wifi to post about your trip or get in contact with your family back home to let them know your safe, the best place is Jinja where they have some really nice cafes and bars for you to sit enjoy good food and drinks while you use the wifi.
The White Nile:
Running the river you definitely need a guide or someone who knows the river. As I went out on my own the second day I got some freestyle coaching at Nile Special for the day from Kayak The Nile, and even though I spent the day at Special I was able to get some tips and hints about the local area and the river. While I was on the island there were other Kayakers staying there who had been out there for a long time, had learnt how to run the river, knew which channels to take and where each rapid was which was helpful to get adice for paddling down the river.
If your staying on hairy lemon island you will catch a boda boda from Nile Special and they drive you up to Super Hole (about 30mins on the back of the motor bike). On the way up you will drive through Uganda and get a real feel of the country along the red dust roads lined with banana and papaya trees, through the villages where the little kids come out running along side you waving and shouting Muzunga Muzunga (this translates to white person).
You’ll arrive at the get on and paddle down to Super Hole, this Hole is a great place for practising your tricks on a smaller scale wave with less consequences after it. From here you carry on down the river and paddle across a small lake where you come to the top of the biggest rapids and have to choose which one you want to run that day. From left to right you have Kalagala (grade 5), Hypoxia (grade 6, very rarely run, very dangerous rapid) and Itanda (grade 5). This is where you need a guide as you need to take the right chanel to get to the right rapid where you either run it or walk round it. What ever pictures or videos you have seen they don’t compare to the scale of any these rapids in real life, these are some of the biggest rapids I have seen in my life and the roar power of each of these rapids is incredible! Once you or your guide have picked which rapid you’re going to run that day, whether it’s Kalagala or Itanda you’re in for the paddle of your life and when you successfully make it through the adrenaline rush and feeling of success is epic.
After the adrenaline hit from the rapids above, the river mellows out a bit but there are still plenty of channels to negotiate along with rapids involving big wave trains. The rapids are ran in order: Vengeance, Hair of the Dog, Virgins Wave and Kula Shaker, before a flat water paddle to the top of Nile Special, Bell and Club Wave and then a short paddle back to the beach at Hairy Lemon Island. Overall this section of river is about 30kms long but only takes you 3 hours to do, depending how long you spend at some of the features.
What a wave! This wave is incredible it changes depending on the water level. It will either be paddle on or tow on to the wave. Towing on is an art but with tips from the regulars at the wave you soon get the feel for it. You can spend hours surfing the wave trying to perfect your tricks but also can spend hours watching the regulars/pros throw down some huge tricks!
Getting to and from the airport:
I flew with Turkish Airlines who only fly either early morning or late at night. The average cost for the flight was £350 return and was around 10 hours long with a stop in Istanbul. On arrival to Entebbe airport in Uganda you will have to buy a visa which costs $50 and the one I got lasted for 3 months.
Taxi from Entebbe airport to hairy lemon normally takes around 3 hours, and costs on average $60 they prefer payment in larger US dollar bills such as $50 + $10 as they get better exchange rate. If you don’t have any large bills they will try to haggle you for more money.
How to get around:
A taxi from hairy lemon to Jinja will cost around 75,000 Ugandan shillings so if you book a taxi with 3 people it will cost around 25,000 Ugandan shillings per person, the more people that go the cheaper it will be for you. A boda boda from Nile special to Super hole will cost around 20,000 Ugandan shillings per person. When riding the boda boda it’s actually easier to hold on to your own boat and paddle and make sure you sit on the back of your spray deck as this stops the metal bar burning you and also stops it rubbing against your skin.
Take some sterilised personal syringes with you because if you are rushed into hospital out there they do prefer you to turn up with your own and it gives you Peace of mind knowing where the syringe has come from. Imodium Tablets and Rehydration sachets are also great to take especially if you do end up with a bad stomach and have to travel to the airport 3 hours away with no stops on the way makes a big difference!
Bilharziasis Disease – this is found in the water and you can get the tablets that cure you of it from any pharmacy in Jinja and it is very cheap worth getting to take home with you as symptoms for it don’t come till after 4-6 weeks after being exposed to the water.
Malaria – take your anti malaria tablet everyday and wear bug spray in the evenings. In Jinja at the pharmacy you can buy a malaria test kit to take home with you as well as the tablet that cures you from it these are very cheap to buy in Uganda compared to back home in U.K.
Drink lots of water and cover up with a long sleeve top and sun cream each day! 1.5 litre bottles of water are sold behind the bar at hairy lemon and cost $1 each you will end up drinking lots.
What to take:
My kit list for this trip consisted of:
Kayak, paddle, Buoyancy Aid, helmet, shorty cag, spray deck, watershoes, shorts, baselayers, GoPro, tent, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, off river clothes, hoody, first aid kit, watershed, note pad and pen, lots of reading books, cards, sandals, sunglasses, hat, sun cream, tripod, Nikon dslr, multitool, battery pack charger, solar panel, granola bars and head torch.
Exchanging larger dollars for Ugandan shillings is better as you get more for your money. So try your best to exchange nothing less than $100 bills to get best rates for your money.
Uganda is an incredible place to visit as a Kayaker and the hairy lemon is the Kayakers dream place to stay. I haven’t been anywhere where your so disconnected with the outside world and can really focus on your paddling. Being 10 minutes away from Nile Special one of the best surfing waves in the world for freestyle kayaking, and being able rock up to the wave and stay as long as you want and then leave, go back for a nap in a hammock and then do it all again into late sunset sessions. If you want coaching or guiding speak to the guys at Kayak The Nile they do great deals and make it worth your money! All in all if you get the chance or are thinking of going, get out there it’s super cheap to stay and live out there, relaxing and your personal kayaking will come a long way. Make sure you get there soon before the dam is complete in early 2018 which will sadly flood the Hairy Lemon and Nile Special but there is still plenty of kayaking to do in this amazing country!
If you have any comments or have any questions about kayaking in Uganda please feel free to leave comments below and I will do my best to answer them.