Rafting on some of Ethiopia’s rivers is a world-class experience that can rival the experience on any other river, whether in Africa or any other continent. The people, wildlife, canyons, rapids, creek waterfalls, hot springs, and remoteness of it all are all simply unparalleled, especially on the Omo River, but also on the Abay (Blue Nile), Beshilo, and Tekezze Rivers. The experience of meeting excited villagers along the riverbanks from some of the most isolated and decorative cultures in the world is one to remember and that of floating past hippos, crocs, baboons, and endemic colobus monkeys, among many others, is like a dream.
The longer trips seem to erase the realities of the calendar and the clock. Modern society, global positioning systems and cameras aside, seems to fade away. Fishing for catfish, sliding down creek waterfalls, and swimming in pools add to the excitement of the rafting itself. Camaraderie builds an intimate closeness so simply, compared to the competitive relationships of everyday life.
While camping along sandy riverbanks under the stars after an open-fire meal, anticipation builds over what the next day will bring. When the mind is given the opportunity to contemplate life, away from all the distractions of modern society, in one of the most roadless parts of the world, values are often molded in ways that are life changing. This is an experience that nothing can erase. For a tamer experience than the aforementioned rivers, the Awash River winds through undulating hills past farm after farm, a bit closer to civilization.
While not nearly as remote at the Omo or as dramatic as most other rivers, it is a good way to get out of the city and visit the countryside, even if just for the weekend. The Baro River, on the other hand, combines the remote cultures of the Omo with the tamer course of the Awash. It is the only commercially navigable river in Ethiopia and used to boast its own port.
Generally, rafting can only be done at certain times of the year, usually during the dry season. Also, due to the extensive preparation and permission from the concerned government authorities, it should be set up far in advance. Some tour operators are more experienced and own their own rafts, while others rent them and rely on the experience of others. The former should have lower prices for the boats, but may have higher prices for their more experienced staff. It can be worth paying extra for staff experience, but this may not cure the jitters when approaching a thundering river horizon. More experienced outfits will also know whether or not security is needed and what kind.