Tara River Canyon: The Surreal Rafting Adventure
The minibus stopped abruptly.
“Go back”, we shouted. “You’ve missed the sign!”
The driver was speeding on the winding mountain road in the falling darkness. Earlier that day, he was driving with 40 km/h (25 mi/h) on roads where 90 km/h (56 mi/h) were allowed.
“Finally”, we thought after 15 hours in the narrow seats. “We can now relax and have fun in the camp in the Tara River canyon!”
We had started the journey at 5 AM that same day. We got lost. Twice. Or was it three times? In the same little town in Serbia.
We had crossed four borders. Borders, which didn’t even exist before the 1990s.
We were shivering with cold in the morning and sweating from the afternoon sun.
Arriving in the pouring rain, we had to run over the soaking grass to the open-air restaurant.
Now, all we wanted was a hot shower and some food.
The food was being prepared, we could smell it. The showers, however, were a new surprise for our exhausted bodies. They were outdoors, some 50 m (165 ft.) away from our bungalows.
Surviving Camping Misfortunes And Devouring Scrumptious Delicacies
Let’s go back to the beginning.
Our group of travellers and bloggers was invited to join the rafting tour on the rivers Drina and Tara in Bosnia and Herzegovina by the Bulgarian tour agency which organises the trips.
At 5 AM, we were already waiting to board the minibus in Sofia, the starting point for Bulgarian groups. The journey ahead of us was 580 km (360 mi).
The camp Rafting Centar Drina – Tara is located in Bosnia and Herzegovina, nearby the little town of Foča and 90 km (56 mi) away from the capital Sarajevo. Too bad that due to the poor organisation we didn’t manage to visit the once completely destroyed city and enjoy all the awesome things to do in Sarajevo…
The distances are not huge but unfortunately, since ex-Yugoslavia was chopped into seven separate republics, we had to cross four borders. Now, crossing a border is no big deal for travellers, but waiting about four hours at said borders was extreme.
Add to this an unprepared driver who’s never been on this route and lost us three times on the hill slopes of Užice, and you’ll know why we had 15 hours to admire the Tara Mountains and the Drina river.
Now, don’t get me wrong, none of us complained about the beauty of the Balkans!
We passed by picturesque villages, medieval castles, and monasteries on mountaintops. The road drove by the turquoise waters of the Drina River through tunnels cut directly in the limestone rocks.
We gazed through the window to get a better look at the magnificent Mehmed Paša Sokolović Bridge, the bridge on the Drina River. We even made an extra stop at the wooden town Drvengrad to stretch our legs in the sun.
When we arrived at the Drina – Tara centre, we found that the camp differed considerably from the description on the website. The bungalows – although very clean – were basic and primitive, as well as tiny and unheated. The toilets, the showers, and the restaurant were in the open.
The magnificent views of the mountains surrounding the camp, the calming sound of river Drina’s turquoise waters beneath the restaurant, and the scrumptious food made up a bit for the lack of comfort. Still, we needed quite a lot of rakia (the fiery high-percentage alcoholic drink of the Balkans) in our systems to survive the cold April nights.
The local cuisine is famous for its delectable cheese and home-cured hams, which melt in the mouth. Add to this perfectly grilled fresh trout, savouring hot stews, steaming freshly baked bread and pastries, and you’ll understand why all other discomforts were easily forgotten.
Conquering The Tara River Canyon And Crossing Fictitious Borders
The next day the camp woke up slowly to mountains covered in fog and low-hanging clouds. The view was stunning and the air was fresh. Luckily, the fog and the clouds lifted just in time for our rafting adventure through the Tara River canyon.
All geared up, we boarded the vehicles and drove to yet another border. We crossed into Montenegro on a winding mountain road, made a U-turn, and crossed the border again to head to the rafting starting point.
The river Tara forms the borderline between Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina. We boarded the rubber rafts and started after a brief safety instructions demonstration.
The first rapids were amusing, the clear water of the river Tara splashed our faces but the neoprene suits kept us warm despite the low temperatures.
The views on both sides of the river were incredible. The left shore is Montenegrin and the right one is Bosnian. We rafted between the two Balkan countries in no man’s land. Towering limestone walls rose hundreds of metres high above the valley.
The Tara river canyon is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is 1,300 m (4,265 ft.) deep, making it the deepest canyon in Europe and one of the deepest in the world. For comparison, the Grand Canyon is 1,737 m (5,697 ft.) at its deepest point. No surprise then that locals like to call the river Tara The Colorado of the Balkans.
Tara’s waters are so pure you can drink them safely. The river stones serve as natural filters. Only after a heavy rainfall, the waters become muddy but the stones clean them in no time.
We paddled for 3 hours through 26 rapids, the longest of which is 500 m (1640 ft.). You don’t need previous rafting experience and even children can join the adventure. Still, if you don’t pay attention there’s always the risk of taking an unexpected bath in the refreshingly cool waters of Tara or losing your paddle.
The distance we covered was about 25 km (15.5 mi). On the way downstream, we passed stunning waterfalls, stopped to relax, jumped and swam in the slower waters.
The river waters have the most amazing turquoise colour and are so crystal clear that the river seems shallow. It feels like you can just lean and grab a stone. We simply had to jump in and try it. Well, we couldn’t reach the riverbed as it actually lies 2 to 4 m (6.5 to 13 ft.) deep but the chilly water felt great on our adrenaline-infused muscles.
About 5 km (3 mi) before we reached the camp, we passed the Piva River. It merges into Tara and the two rivers start the river Drina. The waters of Drina were calmer and there were fewer rapids so we enjoyed the jaw-dropping views and anticipated the awaiting delicious lunch.
Fighting Low Temperatures And Bad Organisation
On the next day of our rafting adventure, we had the possibility of going another 25 km (15.5 mi) downstream Tara river canyon, rafting from the camp to the nearby town Foča, or joining a jeep safari in the mountains.
We chose to do something different from the day before and boarded the jeeps in the starting rain. We were taken to Sutjeska National park, home of the most poisonous snake and the most healing herb in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Of course, at this time of the year, none of them was present.
Unfortunately, fog and low clouds obscured the view of the 81 m (266 ft.) high Skakavac waterfall but the misty forest and the mountains still looked magnificent.
Next, we drove a few more minutes to a trail, which would take us to a mountaintop with breathtaking views. The jeeps stopped at 1,560 m (5,120 ft.) altitude, we jumped, realised it was raining a bit, but still followed our Bosnian guide up the trail. He said the distance was only 3 km (2 mi) so a little rain couldn’t scare us.
After a few steps on the trail, we realised there was still snow on the ground. At first, there were little piles, which we could easily avoid. Not before long, though, the whole path was covered in snow and there was no way around it.
The guide was already speeding up in front of us, and the promised 3 km didn’t sound so far away. So we kept walking.
More than an hour later, we reached the mountaintop to see mostly clouds. We were drenched in rain, our feet were wet from the melting snow, and our bodies were exhausted. It turned out that the organiser, who invited us and insisted the weather conditions were fine, never actually walked the trail before and was completely unaware there was still snow on the path.
Back at the camp, the mood was lousy. People gathered around the fire to keep themselves warm and dry their clothes and shoes. Luckily, there were enough fiery local drinks – rakia and red wine – to help keep the body temperature and the spirits up.
Learning Invaluable Lessons And New Ways To Keep Ourselves Warm
Travel is about learning and experiencing new things.
For some of us, it was the first time white water rafting. For others, it was the first travelling through Serbia and Bosnia & Herzegovina.
The places we saw, the nature we were fortunate to admire, and the delicacies we devoured somehow managed to make up for the bad organisation, the long ride, the rain, the wet shoes, and the primitive accommodation.
The lessons we learned about history, geography, local cuisine, and ourselves are invaluable. The experiences we shared and the new friends we made are unforgettable. The new ways we discovered to keep ourselves warm are priceless.
Next time we decide to go rafting in the Tara River Canyon, however, we’ll plan and organise everything ourselves and research the accommodation in detail.
Have you immersed yourself in a rafting adventure before? How did it go for you?
In case this is not the kind of experience you’re dreaming about, check these adrenaline-pumping adventures from all around the world as well! I’m sure you’ll find a suitable thrill to match your travel style.
Disclaimer: we were invited to take part in the rafting adventure through the Tara River canyon by the organisers. The expressed opinions are, as always, my own and were not influenced by the invitation.